For more than three hundred years, several European voyagers had traveled into the broad Congo estuary with intentions to struggle against the waterfalls and fast-moving waters which come into being barely one hundred miles inland and then journey up the river towards its unidentified, mysterious source. All attempts were futile until Henry Morton Stanley was appointed by King Leopold of Belgium, to discover uncharted area basin of Congo in the late nineteen century. King Leopold intended to establish a colony for Belgium because he was thirsty for power (Hoschild, 1998). He wanted complete authority of a land that would flourish so that Belgium could become one of the most dominant and powerful nation of that time. This paper seeks to discuss King Leopold rule in Congo in the lights of broad and diverse academic resources.
Leopold and Free Estate
King Leopold utilized his political intelligence when taking over Congo as a colony of Belgium without the objections of other European nations. He presented his ‘Free State’ campaign to Britain and United States and informed them that his intention was to civilize the barbarians of the region. His supposed plans included setting up schools to educate, creating job opportunities, trade, etc so that the barbarians of Congo can flourish with rest of the world (Wesseling, 2004). Consequently, he got support of United States and other European nations which ended up focusing upon the aggressive, vicious misuse of the native for his own economical and authoritative gain.
Leopold’s Rule in Congo
The first rule which was passed by the King was in 1885 which formally proclaimed the existence of Congo. It affirmed that all unoccupied lands belong to the government without defining it. Leopold was interested in harvesting whatever he could get his hands on. He considered both vacant and nonvacant land as his property. He believed that tusks of elephants, vegetables of villagers, etc were his possessions. It was evident that he made no distinctions between the tusks of wild elephants or crops of natives which he used to feed his soldiers (Ascherson, 2001). Since he had successfully convinced other nations that his intentions for Congo are humanitarian, his appointed explorer, Henry Morton Stanley, was committing atrocities in the region. He and his group members were forcefully occupying lands of natives along the Congo River, enslaving them to cater ivory trade and making treaties with the African tribe leaders which allowed them to take whatever they wanted without surrendering anything of value in exchanged. They got hold of the native lands by exchanging goods such as clothes, coats, marketable wares, bottles of gin, etc (Benedetto, 1996).
King Leopold’s Concession Companies
Leopold has introduced concession companies which intended to develop transportation system and introduction of cash economy in the region. However, the companies exploited the natives and their natural resources (Shaloff, 2000). The main aim and objective of his concession companies was to get wild rubber. Bicycles and motor cars were gaining popularity in Europe and North America which popularized rubber in the world market.
Natives were forced to collect rubber. They were driven by the soldiers into the bush. If anyone one of them retaliated, they were either brutally shot or their hands were cut off. The soldiers often targeted helpless women and children. Racial discrimination was evident in the official policy of paternalism which clearly made distinctions between white and black. The use of gun was not the only way which showed racial discrimination, there were several other instances of abuse and mistreatments. The story of a woman named Ilanga in King Leopold’s Ghost is a tragic tale which depicts abuse and mistreatment. She described the day when the white soldiers came to her village and forcefully pulled out her family out of their homes, to become slaves.
They were forcefully dragged into the road, with cords wrapped around their neck. Her sister’s baby was thrown on the grass and left to die. She further described the murder of her husband which took place in front of her. Her husband retaliated and refused to walk more. The soldiers started beating him and struck his head with the end of the gun. Two or more soldiers stabbed him with knife and he died instantly (Hoschild, 1998). The entire region had become ocean of corpses with odor of decomposed bodies noticeable.
Ivory was high in demand in the late nineteenth century. Congo was rich in ivory which was ready to be exploited by Leopold. It had increased Belgium’s economy and increased his personal riches. However, it had devastating affect on Congolese. They were forced to carry heavy loads and their payment was food. Children as young as seven were forced to carry twenty two pounds. This led to high death rates among porters because they were forced to cover long distances. The authorities believed they had the privilege to commit these atrocities against the natives so that they increase their profit.
Justification for Committing Atrocities against Europeans
The Europeans believed that they had to set up a distinct line between the whites and blacks. People of color were viewed as barbarians and uncivilized individuals who had no power. They justified their behavior because of the power they had. They were middle class individuals who never experienced power in their homeland and were struggling to get rich(Thomas et al, 2005). For the whites, Congo was a region to acquire wealth and power. They had the authority and power to run a district as big as Belgium, impose taxes, collect ivory or rubber, carry out forced labor without paying them and impose punishment whenever they wanted too. The authorities were profiting with ivory and rubber trade and they were rewarded according to the amount they supplied. They exploited the native laborers so that they could generate more revenues. For them, the people of color were nothing but a means of increasing the size of their pockets.
Problems Caused by Imperialism
With the surge of gaining power in Africa, Imperialism caused war among the greater powers of Europe (Thomas et al, 2005). Because African colonies offered cheap goods and cheap labor, this created rivalries among the stronger European nations. Consequently, it also gave rise to World War I.
King Leopold intentions were to acquire wealth from Congo by exploiting its natives and natural resources. He had cleverly fooled United States and other European nations into thinking that his intentions were humanitarian. After declaring Congo as a ‘Free State’, he carried out massive carnage of Congolese. They were subjected to racial discrimination and were forced to work in ivory and rubber trade. If they retaliated, they were brutally killed. Congo was only means of increasing the size of Leopold’s pocket.
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Ascherson, Neal (2001). The King Incorporated: Leopold II in the Age of Trusts. London: George Allen & Unwin.