King Leopold II atrocities in the Congo do not arouse the same outrage that talking about horrible people like Hitler do. King Leopold II obsessive quest for financial gain in the Congo led to one of humanity’s worst periods of moral degeneration.
From 1865 to 1909, King Leopold II reigned as King of Belgium and is remembered for his brutality and exploitation of the Congo Free State, a sizable region in central Africa that he personally owned.
Millions of Congolese people were murdered, tortured, or mutilated during his rule, and the nation was plundered for its natural riches, especially rubber.
The Belgian king owned the colony in the Congo, known as the Congo Free State, as private property, and there was little oversight over what took place there.
King Leopold II had always believed that acquiring a colonial empire in the Far East or in Africa was essential in order to boost the prestige of Belgium and hence the standing of the nation. The public and government in Belgium did not like the idea of obtaining a colony.
It was viewed as an unnecessary undertaking that would have little benefit for the nation. This unwillingness shown by the politicians to embark on an expedition to acquire colonies did not discourage Leopold from securing a colony of his choice.
In the late 1800s, when European nations were competing for territories in Africa, Leopold II developed an interest in the Congo. He viewed the Congo as an opportunity to expand Belgium’s global influence, and also as a possible source of money.
He founded the Congo Free State in 1885, which he personally controlled through a private holding corporation that he dubbed the International African Society or the International Association for the Exploration and Civilization of the Congo.
The authority to supervise the territory’s exploration and surveying along the Congo River was granted to the organisation. In truth, the group was only interested in making money in the Congo and was not doing any good.
Other European leaders at the Berlin Conference in 1884–1885 acknowledged the 2,350,000 km2 of Leopold’s controlled area.
The Congo Free State was envisioned at that time as a free trade zone and a state acting as a buffer between the French and British spheres of influence. Leopold’s personal power over the Congo had been fully established.
Millions of Congolese people died as a result of the widespread violence, forced labour, and resource exploitation that marked Leopold’s rule over the Congo.
Leopold’s primary goal in conquering the Congo was to gather the greatest possible amount of wealth from the region, and he succeeded in doing so by employing a range of exploitative techniques.
Forced Labour by King Leopold II
One of the most infamous aspects of Leopold’s dictatorship is the forced labour system, which was implemented to meet the rising demand for rubber.
Rubber was in high demand for use in a variety of industrial products, such as tyres and rubber bands, therefore Leopold thought the Congo could become a source of income through the trade in rubber.
The colony initially focused on exporting ivory, but this proved to be less successful than investors, managers, and even Leopold himself had anticipated.
The colonial government was perpetually in debt, but the development of the automobile and the ensuing demand for rubber drastically altered Leopold’s colonial situation.
Leopold was delighted by the sharp rise in demand for rubber. The Congo was one of the locations in the globe at the time with a significant source of wild rubber. The collection of wild rubber became the first emphasis.
They utilised the locals as cheap labour, and the horrifying cruelty associated with rubber extraction is still one of the darker events in Africa’s history.
Male Congolese were forced to work in the rubber industry in order to sell to Europe and North America. Exports increased dramatically between 1895 and 1900.
The forced labour system resulted in many Congolese deaths and had a severe impact on the social and economy of the country.
Many people were unable to work or care for their families due to the harsh working conditions, forcing many families to be split apart as men and children were taken away to work on the plantations.
King Leopold II role in Forced Taxation
The Congolese people were forced to pay taxes in the form of rubber and ivory under Leopold’s reign, which was added to the system of forced labour.
Individuals were forced to remove land in order to establish rubber trees and go on ivory hunts. This strategy resulted in significant deforestation and was used to remove more resources from the Congo.
The system of mandatory taxation caused great harm to the Congolese people, who were already suffering under the cruel conditions of the forced labour system.
The suffering of the Congolese people was made worse by environmental harm and resource extraction, which also contributed to the widespread misery and poverty that characterized Leopold’s reign.
Power Abuse And Corruption
Power abuse and corruption were prevalent throughout Leopold’s rule. In the Congo, his operatives frequently engaged in extortion, theft, and cruelty, and there was little monitoring of their actions.
Not only were outsiders who disagreed with Leopold’s views victims of brutality and cruelty, but also European missionaries and other outsiders.
The enormous suffering endured by the Congolese people was made worse by the rampant corruption and abuse of authority that characterised Leopold’s regime, further weakening any sense of justice or fairness.
The lack of accountability for the actions of Leopold’s agents further undermined the trust and confidence of the Congolese people in their rulers.
The Belgian government utilised coercive methods to make sure the quotas were fulfilled by making individuals work. They destroyed entire towns, killed or imprisoned rebels, and maimed individuals who didn’t satisfy their quotas.
The “cut hands” policy, in which people who didn’t achieve their quotas had their hands amputated, is the most well-known instance of this.
Tens of thousands of hands were amputated as a result of this policy, which was carried out by the Belgian Force Publique, a military group in charge of following King Leopold II orders.
Nothing was governed by law, and there was minimal oversight because private corporations were granted the authority to manage the entire production process, including the rubber extraction. The rubber quotas were essentially paid for with chopped-off hands.
Sometimes the villagers themselves would gather the hands in addition to the soldiers from Force Publique. Because the rubber requirements were impossible to meet, minor battles would start between villages as they competed for resources.
To convince the white officers that the terror system used to force rubber extraction was in place, hands were used as a kind of payment.
Each hand proved a killing, but occasionally the troops would amputate the victims’ hands to conserve ammo, leaving the victim to either perish or survive. It was a “cheating” technique to conserve ammo.
Inconceivable acts of human violence were motivated by the quest for profits. It was a terrible period in human history.
Leopold II’s ruthlessness was not just confined to the rubber business. Additionally, he expropriated their properties and encouraged European settlers to settle in the Congo, which led to the eviction of numerous indigenous people.
The first genocide in history occurred when colonial rule was imposed by Belgium for the King’s financial gain, resulting in a massive decline in the local population. Little food was produced because the rubber took centre stage.
Famine and starvation that followed caused many more deaths. Some of the men who defied colonial instructions were sent to jails where the circumstances were horrific, resulting in mass murder.
Diseases including smallpox, sexual illnesses (syphilis and gonorrhoea), and amoebic dysentery were spread to the native population by white people. Another common cause of death was sleeping sickness.
According to estimates, Leopold’s policies caused anywhere between 3 and 15 million Congolese people to perish.
Many of these deaths were brought on by illness, starvation, and other issues that were directly related to King Leopold II exploitation of the Congo. It was all about chasing profits with no regard for the person’s wellbeing or dignity.
International Outrage And Legacy
The suffering of the Congolese people during Leopold’s rule was well-documented by witnesses and human rights organisations, and it eventually aroused outrage on a global scale.
King Leopold II personal influence over the region was practically ended when the Belgian parliament agreed in 1908 to annex the Congo Free State.
However, his legislation’s influence persisted for a very long time after his passing. The Congolese people weren’t able to separate from Belgium and start rebuilding their nation until the 1960s.
Leopold’s power caused great suffering and ruin, yet he was never held accountable for his actions. He died in 1909 with considerable money, having made it mostly via the exploitation of the Congolese people and their resources.
King Leopold II is seen as a dictator in modern times for abusing and exploiting the Congolese for his personal gain.
His harsh dictatorship in the Congo has left a legacy of terror and suffering, and he is highly despised for it.
The atrocities carried out during his rule serve as a reminder of the damaging effects of colonialism and the necessity of respecting everyone’s human rights.
The Congo Free State was the name of Leopold’s colony, but it was an abomination; there was nothing free about it.