King Leopold II of Belgium was responsible for the deaths and mutilation of 10 million Congolese Africans during the late 1800’s. The spoils of modern day Belgium owes much to the people of the Congo River Basin.
In a testament to the hideous brutality of the European colonial era and imperialism in its finest form, during the 1880s, when Europe was busy dividing up the continent of Africa like a vast chocolate cake, King Leopold II of Belgium laid personal claim to the largely uncharted Congo Free State. The 905,000 square miles (76 times larger than Belgium) of African rainforest held a vast fortune in rubber plantations, a commodity in high demand in late 19th century industrial Europe.
Dark hearted Leopold II
In 1876, Leopold formed the philanthropic organisation “Association Internationale Africaine“ (International African Association) and became its single shareholder. Under the guise of missionary work and westernisation of African peoples, Leopold II used the International African Association to further his ambitions of empire building in the hope if bringing international prestige to relatively small Belgium. In reality, the International African Association was a vehicle to enslave the people of the Congo River Basin and enrich Leopold II.
In the 23 years (1885-1908) Leopold II ruled the Congo he massacred 10 million Africans by cutting off their hands and genitals, flogging them to death, starving them into forced labour, holding children ransom and burning villages. The ironic part of this story is that Leopold II committed these atrocities by not even setting foot in the Congo.
It must be noted however, that whilst much attention has been given to Leopold’s atrocities in the Congo, in the same period acts of brutality were being committed on native peoples elsewhere in the world. Britain on the Aborigines in Australasia, the United States on native Americans and Pilipino , French on Northwest Congolese, Spanish on the north and central native Americans, Portuguese on the Angolans and Amazonians and Germans on Southwest Africans. However, so severe was the brutality of the genocide in Leopold’s Congo that many a European visitor publicly condemned Leopold and the Belgium government. The veracity of the crimes was so well known that Sir Arthur Conan Doyle penned the book, “The crime of the Congo” in 1909, highlighting the plight of the Congolese.
Unable to read or write, the Congolese tribal Chiefs, unwittingly sold their tribe members into a lifetime of slavery for pieces of cloth.
In return for "one piece of cloth per month to each of the undersigned chiefs, besides present of cloth in hand, they promised to freely of their own accord, for themselves and their heirs and successors for ever...give up to the said Association [set up by Leopold] the sovereignty and all sovereign and governing rights to all their territories...and to assist by labour or otherwise, any works, improvements or expeditions which the said Association shall cause at any time to be carried out in any part of these territories... All roads and waterways running through this country, the right of collecting tolls on the same, and all game, fishing, mining and forest rights, are to be the absolute property of the said Association."Severed hands
Such was the brutality of Leopold’s Congo that those who failed to meet the rubber quotas set by the Belgian officers, were routinely flogged with the chicote or had their hands severed (the chicotte was a whip made out of raw, sun-dried hippopotamus hide, cut into a long sharp-edged cork-screw strip. It was applied to bare buttocks, and left permanent scars. Twenty strokes of it sent victims into unconsciousness and a 100 or more strokes were often fatal. The chicotte was freely used by both Leopold's men and the French).
Congolese posing with the severed hands of those who failed to make the daily rubber sap quota
Leopold used a private mercenary force, Force Publique (FP), to do his terrorising and killing. White Officers commanded black soldiers many of whom were cannibals from tribes in the upper Congo and others had been kidnapped as children during raids on surrounding villages and raised in missionaries.
A FP junior officer described a raid to punish a village that had protested, in the following words. “The commanding officer ordered us to cut off the heads of the men and hang them on the village palisades, also their sexual members, and to hang the women and the children on the palisade in the form of a cross."
Some survived their hands being hacked off
Leopold II was at one stage reputed to be the richest man in the world with a personal fortune somewhere between $100 million and $500 million dollars (US). Most of his wealth was handed over to the Belgian government after his death.
Present day Congo
Present day Democratic Republic of Congo is estimated to hold $24 trillion (US) in untapped minerals, mostly diamonds. Following the independence of The Congo from Belgium in June 1960, Patrice Lumumba, leader of the Mouvement National Congolais (MNC), was elected Congo’s first democratically elected president. Ten weeks later following a coup de tat headed by General Mobutu Sese Seko, Patrice Lumumba was murdered by firing squad. Evidence has recently emerged that shows the US and Belgian government’s involvement in his murder.
Mobutu who institutionalised corruption in the country apparently looted up to $4 billion (US) before he was subsequently ousted by rebel leader Laurent Kabila. Kabila was assassinated in 2001 and after a brief return to civil war, his son, Joseph Kabila became democratically elected president in 2006.