Association Internationale Africaine

Association Internationale Africaine

The Association Internationale Africaine was an organization created by King Léopold II of Belgium to further humanitarian projects in the area of Central Africa that was to become the Congo Free State and subsequently today's Democratic Republic of the Congo.


The organization was created at the 1876 Brussels Geographic Conference to which Leopold invited nearly forty well-known experts, mainly they were schooled in the geographic sciences or were wealthy philanthropists. They hailed from a number of European countries. As a result, the Association was originally conceived as a multi-person, scientific, and humanitarian assembly but it quickly became dominated by Leopold and his economic interests in Africa. Originally, the stated goal of the group was to 'discover' the largely unexplored Congo and civilize its natives. The Association was intended to be a joint effort on the parts of all European countries present at the Conference, however, each nation formed its own national committee for exploration which would, in theory, share information with the whole of the Association, hence, a cooperative effort. However, national economic interests quickly took precedence over the group's supposedly philanthropic ideals. Each of these committees organized nationalized expeditions into the African interior and there was very little sharing of information, resulting in each nation claiming certain portions of African land for themselves.

From 1879 to 1884 famed explorer Henry Morton Stanley returned to the Congo, this time not as a reporter, but as an envoy from Leopold, and under the guise of the Belgian Committee, with the secret mission to organize a Congo state. At the same time, the French marine officer Pierre Savorgnan de Brazza traveled into the western Congo basin and raised the French flag over the newly founded Brazzaville in 1881. Portugal, which also claimed the area due to old treaties with the native Kongo Empire, made a treaty with Great Britain on February 26, 1884 to block off the Congo Society's access to the Atlantic.

At the same time, various European countries tried to acquired a foothold in Africa. France occupied Tunisia and today's Republic of the Congo in 1881 and Guinea in 1884. In 1882, Great Britain occupied the nominally Ottoman Egypt, which in turn ruled over the Sudan and parts of Somalia. In 1870 and 1882, Italy took possession of the first parts of Eritrea, while Germany declared Togo, Cameroon and South West Africa to be under its protection in 1884.

The large number of competing interests caused the Association to fracture and disintegrate over each member state's national interests. The Association's break-up eventually forced the Berlin Conference of 1884-1885, effectively ending what became known as the Scramble for Africa. Despite the failure of the initial committee, the Belgian Committee that the Association generated continued to sponsor 'humanitarian' missions into the bush. In 1878 the International Congo Society was also formed, having more economic goals, but still closely related to the former society. Leopold secretly bought off the foreign investors in the Congo Society, which was turned to imperialistic goals, with the Association serving primarily as a philanthropic front. By these means, Leopold morphed the organization's "ideology from 'national philanthropic association' to 'private commercial enterprise.' As well as from a 'commercial plan to a political reality: the Congo Free State' (Wesseling 89)" [cite web | url =$11?mode=day | title = Stockton] .

ee also

*Congo Reform Association


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