Italy got very little out of the partition of Africa. Tunis, which Italy coveted, went instead to France. Italy’s major effort centered on the lands at the southern end of the Red Sea, but after the defeat by the Abyssinians in 1896, Italy had to be content with a few thousand square miles, most of it desert, in Eritrea and Somaliland.
Italian efforts to add to this insignificant empire by taking Tripoli from its nominal Turkish ruler succeeded in 1912. The Italians also secured Rhodes and other islands off the southwestern corner of Anatolia, known collectively as the Dodecanese (the twelve). These acquisitions were the fruit of the Italo-Turkish War of 1911-1912.
Until the 1880s Bismarck had resisted calls for imperialism, for he felt that domestic unity and military strength on the European continent were paramount. In 1882 a German Colonial League was founded by north German merchants who feared that without overseas expansion Germany would not keep pace with Britain. Two years later Germany signed treaties creating a German protectorate in Southwest Africa, largely as a strategic challenge to Britain, and acquired Togoland and the Cameroons (Kamerun).
In 1885 Germany declared an official protectorate over East Africa, but only Tanganyika and Zanzibar had any potential economic significance, and the latter was traded to Britain in 1890 for the tiny British-held island of Heligoland, in the North Sea. In the Pacific, the Germans picked up some small islands and a large territory on the island of New Guinea. Germany also took part in the attempted partition of China, taking a ninety-nine-year lease on Kiachow Bay, on the north China coast.
The Portuguese had sought to extend their trading activities into the interior of both Angola and Mozambique, and they continued to control the strategic island of Sao Tome in the Bight of Biafra. The Belgians helped to establish an International African Association 1876, with the purported goals of suppressing the illegal slave trade and gathering scientific information; the association sent Henry Morton Stanley (1841-1904) to open up the region of the Congo, at which he worked persistently until 1884.
The Germans and British feared this expansion, and they also feared that Belgian or French exploration would threaten the Portuguese territories, which controlled the approaches to the Congo River. Thus in 1884 an Anglo-Portuguese treaty guaranteed freedom of navigation on the Congo to all nations; however, British public opinion and the press opposed this support of Portugal.
The treaty was shelved, and Bismarck summoned an international convention in Berlin to settle the Congo and Portuguese issues. The Congo basin was declared a free trade area by the conference in 1885; the independent state of the Congo—with King Leopold of Belgium as its sovereign— was recognized; and the Portuguese were left in possession of their territories, though frequently challenged by the British along the borders of Mozambique and by the Germans from south of Angola.
Thus Belgium, through the enterprise of its shrewd and ruthless king, Leopold II (r. 1865-1909), managed to acquire a large part of equatorial Africa. This project began as the Congo Free State; it ended up in 1908 simply as the Belgian Congo. The Belgians developed the Congo into one of the most profitable of colonies, thanks to its copper, rubber, and other riches, and Belgium made no move to prepare the Congolese for eventual self- government.
The Belgian Congo became one of the three foci of anti-imperial debate before World War I. The others were the rise of pro-Boer sentiment and opposition to the Boer War in Britain, and a sustained effort in the United States to prevent that country from acquiring an empire as the fruit of the Spanish-American War.