Prior to the conference, European diplomacy treated African indigenous peoples in the same way as natives of the New World and provided commercial evidence with tribal leaders. This is evident from examples such as Portuguese trade with the Kingdom of Congo. With the exception of trade posts along the coast, the continent has been largely ignored. This changed as a result of King Leopold of Belgium`s desire for personal glory and wealth, and by the mid-19th century Africa was considered ripe for exploration, trade and colonization. Beginning in the 17th century, the Netherlands began to explore and colonize Africa. While the Dutch fought a long war of independence against Spain, Portugal united with Spain from 1580 to 1640. As a result, the Netherlands` growing colonial ambitions were mainly directed against Portugal. To this end, two Dutch companies were established: the West Indies Company, powerful on the entire Atlantic Ocean, and the East Indies Company, powerful on the Indian Ocean. Technological progress has facilitated expansionism abroad. Industrialization has led to rapid progress in transport and communications, particularly in the forms of steam navigation, railways and telegraphs. Medical advances have also been important, especially medicines for tropical diseases. The development of quinine, an effective treatment for malaria, has enabled Europeans to reach large areas of the tropics.
France has recaptured Tunisia, one of the last states of the barbarian pirates, under the pretext of another incident of piracy. Pierre de Brazza`s French claims quickly consolidated, with France controlling the present-day Republic of Congo in 1881 and Guinea in 1884. Italy became a member of the Triple Alliance by dismantling Bismarck`s carefully crafted plans with the state and forcing Germany to engage in Africa. When, in 1882, Britain realized the geopolitical extent of Portuguese control over the coasts and France`s eastward intrusion into Ethiopia, the Nile and the Suez Canal, Britain saw its vital trade route through Egypt and its Indian empire threatened. The Portuguese explorer Prince Henry, known as a navigator, was the first European to methodically explore Africa and the ocean route to India. From his home in the Algarve region of southern Portugal, he led successive expeditions to tour Africa and reach India. In 1420, Henry sent an expedition to secure the uninhabited but strategic island of Madeira. In 1425, he also tried to secure the Canary Islands, which were already under Castilian control. In 1431, another Portuguese expedition reached and annexed the Azores. The conference that Portugal had proposed in applying its particular right to control the mouth of the Congo was necessary because of the jealousy and suspicions with which the great European powers regarded the attempts of the other to contemplate colonial expansion in Africa. The general act of the Berlin conference declared the Congo River basin neutral (a fact that did not prevent the Allies from extending the war to this territory during the First World War); guaranteed freedom for trade and navigation for all states in the watershed; to ban the slave trade; and rejected Portugal`s claims on the mouth of the Congo River, thus allowing the creation of the independent free state of Congo, which Britain, France and Germany had already accepted in principle.