History

King Leopold

King Leopold II

During the 1800’s the Congo was taken over by King Leopold, who was the second king of the Belgians. It wasn’t until the 1870’s that Leopold held an interest for Congo and decided to conquer the country (Frost).

One of the main reasons the Congo was justified was due to Africa being unclaimed by anyone. It was easily taken over by King Leopold’s right hand man, Henry Morton Stanley. There was no threat by a military and it was not a powerful state (Hochschild 61-62). When Stanley explored the country more, he came upon a profitable object, ivory. It became the most popular commodity in trade and because of that, the Congo was beginning to be viewed as having value (Hochscild 118). The more ivory sent to Belgium, the more money was earned (Hochschild 137). Rubber was also a popular and useful trade commodity for King Leopold. In the late 1890’s, rubber was the leading export of the Congo.Because of this, the Congo became the most profitable colony in Africa (Hochschild 159-160).

King Leopold used his conniving tactics to keep the Congo a slave colony. The other countries did not know about the starving Africans, porters, raped hostages, emaciated rubber slaves, and severed hands. Leopold needed money to expand in Africa so he convinced other countries to approve of backing an international colony (Hochschild 86). He told an interviewer that he spent the money developing Congo because he was doing a Christian duty to the poor Africans (pg. 106). Obviously this wasn’t true but not many people questioned King Leopold actions. He came off as a trustworthy leader who cared about the well being of others. But in reality, he only strived for enlarging his property and becoming one the most powerful leaders.

The Europeans treated the Congo in the most inhumane ways. This is shown by King Leopold’s army, Force Publique. To get slaves, the army would take over villages by physical force. The men and women would be separated, with chains around their feet and necks. If the women were carrying babies, soldiers would take their babies and fling them on the ground to be left for dead (Hochschild 133). During the time rubber was an important factor in the trade, Leopold’s men would sometimes burn and clear out villages who refused to be taken into slavery (Hochschild 166). At other times, if the village refused, the army arrested 10 natives and proceeded to put them in a big tent, attached with large stones to make it descend into the river. The soldiers also made young men kill or rape their own mothers or sisters (Hochschild 146). African women were an asset for the Force Publique. When they would take over villages, women were imprisoned when the people refused to transport supplies and sell favorable goods below market prices. When captured, women were compelled to work in the fields and also work as prostitutes. On the contrary, it wasn’t just adult women that were captured and treated with disrespect. Young school girls were abducted and treated just as bad or worse(Hochschild 126).

In the 23 years that King Leopold held reign over the Congo, 10 million Congolese were killed. He did this by using the Force Publique to do his terrorizing and killing. This was shown by the Force Publique cutting off their hands and genitals, flog them to death, starvation, force labor, held children and women ransom so they could burn villages (Ankomah).

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Ankomah, Baffour. “The Butcher of Congo.” Black Radical Congress. IC Publications, Oct. 1999. Web. 02 May 2015.

Frost, Bob. “Leopold II: King of Belgium, Mass Murderer.” Leopold II of Belgium. HistoryAccess.com, 2000. Web. 05 Apr. 2015.

Hochschild, Adam. King Leopold’s Ghost: A Story of Greed, Terror, and Heroism in Colonial Africa. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1998. Print.

~Contributed by Sheena B