The Berlin Conference
After the Slave Trade ended in 1863, tension rose among Britain, France, Portugal, and the Netherlands over the division of Africa. Diplomats feared an outbreak of war if the conflict remained unsolved.
To resolve the conflict, in 1885, a conference was called in Berlin. The participants adopted the Berlin Act, which set ground rules for commercial trading and future European claims in Africa.
The Berlin Act declared the Congo River basin to be neutral, guaranteeing freedom of trade shipping for all states in the basin and forbidding slave trade.
"The trade of all nations shall enjoy complete freedom.
All flags, without distinction of nationality, shall have free access.
All differential dues on vessels, as well as on merchandise, are forbidden.
No power which exercises or shall exercise sovereign rights in the above-mentioned
regions shall be allowed to grant therein a monopoly of favour of any kind in the matters of trade."
-Rules agreed upon at the Berlin Conference, A Brief History of the Congo
In Belgium, King Leopold II paid careful attention to Africa, particularly the Congo. Because of its remote location, the Congo basin had escaped the notice of the European powers. If he focused on this portion of Africa, he was unlikely to face opposition when trying to gain control of the Congo.
“To open civilization the only part of our globe which it has not yet penetrated, to pierce the darkness which hangs over entire peoples, is, I dare say, a crusade worthy of this century of progress.”