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Priceless Value No Matter What

Posted by on in General Secretary's Blog
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A three-month long conference took place in Berlin, Germany, which had a significant effect on the future of Africa. It started on November 15, 1884 and ended on February 26, 1885. Fourteen powers were represented: Portugal, Germany, Great Britain, France, Spain, Netherlands, Italy, Austria-Hungary, Belgium, Denmark, Russia, Sweden-Norway, Turkey and the USA. The conference provided a forum for the discussion of how to regulate the colonization of Africa, establishing boundaries for the relative spheres of interest of the participating countries.

Two years before the Berlin meetings, 80 percent of the large continent of Africa was under the control of local traditional rulers. The remainder, consisting mostly of the coastal areas, was under the control of Britain, France, Portugal, Spain and the Ottoman Turks.

Europe needed a new form of commerce in order to facilitate its development in the post-slave trade era and African was regarded for the material resources it possessed and the vast potential market for European goods that it represented. The scramble for Africa was well under way.

Existing boundaries in Africa were largely ignored; established kingdoms were divided; ethnic arrangements were overlooked and cultural diversity ignored. The so-called “Principle of Effective Occupation” was agreed whereby, by the mere act of occupying the land, foreign powers were accorded the “right” to control and govern the people who resided in areas of the African continent not yet claimed by a European power.

The conference handed a new map to Africa and opened the way for the orderly external appropriation of the African continent’s great wealth. The trophies that came under new ownership included gold, diamond, platinum, copper, iron ore, tin, lead, manganese, zinc, uranium, rubber, timber, palm oil, sugarcane, cotton, tea and coffee. The capture of elephants for the trade in ivory began in earnest. After the conference ended, negotiations continued and, by 1914, the fragmentation of the African continent was complete.

The foundation was laid for the undermining of social harmony. For example, cultural stratification was strengthened by aligning the local elite with metropolitan interests. Many of the people living in African communities realized they were in danger of losing their material security and social power and they expressed their disgust in rebellious acts.

The foundation was laid for the strengthening of unjust rule on the continent. In order to dominate their countries, foreign powers ensured that undemocratic leaders established repressive regimes that served the interest of the foreign powers. Millions of local people who were not compliant were eliminated.

In the final analysis, Western powers managed “the underdevelopment of Africa,” if I may borrow the language of Guyanese historian, Walter Rodney.

We cherish the hope that the time will never come again when wealthy people who lead nations and institutions in the Global West will find comfort in gathering to organize how to divide and rule the world.

When we gather in Durban, South Africa, for the 21st Baptist World Congress, we will have opportunity to learn from Africans the ways in which they are still working to overcome the legacy of colonization. Even more, we will witness firsthand the ways in which God is leading the Christians and churches in Africa into the liberating knowledge of the priceless value that God places upon them.

Neville George Callam, a Jamaican, has been serving as general secretary and chief executive officer of the Baptist World Alliance since his election in Accra, Ghana in 2007.


  • Guest
    Horace O. Russell Wednesday, 18 March 2015

    Thank you for your reminder of a sad episode in the life of Africa. The role of the Baptists in resisting as well as in facilitating "The Scramble for Africa" has yet to be carefully researched and perhaps in the upcoming Durban Assembly that challenge might be presented to some scholar or better yet a group of scholars from Europe, Africa and the African diaspora. It is known that the Jamaican Joseph Fuller, a Baptist missionary at this time was trusted by certain European powers as well as local rulers and so was instrumental in protecting local interests by the treaties he wrote and got signed.

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