The Doctrine of Discovery in Africa

I am currently researching and planning to write about how European countries applied the international law of colonialism, the Doctrine of Discovery, to divide up Africa.

My initial research shows European countries did apply the Doctrine.

In 1885, thirteen European countries signed a treaty in which they agreed to partition enormous areas of Africa based on several of the elements of the Doctrine.[10] The seven European countries that primarily colonized Africa justified their colonial systems and the theft of lands, assets, and human rights on the elements of the international law of Discovery.[11] For example, European countries signed countless treaties with African nations that, while recognizing African sovereignty and governments to some extent, actually limited African self-determination and self-governance and exploited the peoples, lands, and resources.[12] European countries enacted numerous laws and created colonial administrations to govern and exploit Africa, and European and colonial judicial systems had to resolve many issues about the ownership of Indigenous rights, lands, and resources in Africa.[13]


[10] See, e.g., General Act of the Berlin Conference on West Africa (1885) (at; S.E. Crowe, The Berlin West African Conference 1884-1885, at 3, 95-191 (1942).


[11] See, e.g., 3 Colonial Africa, 1885-1939, at xvii-48 (Toyin Falola ed, 2002); M.E. Chamberlain, The Scramble for Africa 28-83 (2d ed. 1999); 6 The Cambridge History of Africa 1870-1905, at 26-729 (Roland Oliver & G.N. Sanderson eds, 1985); VII U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, General History of Africa: Africa under Colonial Domination 1880-1935 (A. Adu Boahen ed, 1985); Colonialism in Africa 1870-1960 (Peter Duignan & L.H. Gann eds, 1969-1975) (5 volumes); see also Robert J. Miller, The International Law Doctrine of Discovery and the European Colonization of Africa (2012) (work in progress).


[12] See, e.g., 3 Colonial Africa, supra note 11, at 5-6, 8-9, 29, 33; 6 The Cambridge History of Africa, supra note 11, at 127, 442, 449, 453, 724-27.


[13] See, e.g., The Western Sahara (Advisory Opinion), Int'l Ct Justice 4 (1975); Amodu Tijani v. Secretary, Southern Nigeria, 2 A.C. 399 (1921) (Privy Council); 3 Colonial Africa, supra note 11, at 16-20.


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