Located on the continent of Africa there are two nations that border the Central Congo River. These nations are called The Democratic Republic of the Congo (Congo-Kinshasa) and The Republic of Congo (Congo-Brazzaville). It should be noted that the Congo-Kinshasa was colonized by the Belgian empire and is located southeast of the Central Congo River and that the Congo-Brazzaville located north of the river, was colonized by the French Empire during the colonization era. The Congo that is essential to this research is that of the Belgian Empire, Congo-Kinshasa. The Belgian Empire at the time, was under the rule of King Leopold II of Belgium, who began colonizing the country, beginning in the late 19th century.
Leopold’s interest in the nation was that of greed and selfishness. King Leopold was driven to find some imperial territory for himself (Cleary). He was overrun with the idea of imperialist expansion and ambition. The king began preparing actions that would take place to fulfil his plan. During the course of study it was shown that Leopold’s behavior towards the young colony was brutal. He treated the citizens of the country inhumanely. He took advantage of their lands, natural resources, and labor.
Leopold administered the Congo in a notoriously brutal manner, using it to augment his own personal wealth. The Congo’s wealth, which included its numerous rubber trees, was brutally extracted using what was basically slave labor (Achberger). The Belgian King displayed ignorance of the people and their needs, he and his council covered their acts with ideas of missionary trips and bringing modernity to the people. Leopold’s intentions for the young nation was never to truly see it succeed nor develop it as a vassal, but essentially an opportunity to advance himself, thus leading to brutal consequences for the nation with decades to follow. Leopold’s quote in which he stated, “I do not want to miss a good chance of getting us a slice of this magnificent African cake” breathes light on his mentality and beginning of a historical tragedy. The atrocious acts of King Leopold lead to the devastating effects on Congo-Kinshasa that had many repercussions, for not only the development of a country but also the soul of a nation.
The Belgian Colonization of the Democratic Republic of Congo led to failure in education, loss of heritage, and development in a nation, through the use of brutal force, dominance, as well as economic exploitation.Before being able to fully examine the postcolonial effects of brutality on a nation; in depth background and study on the leader of such campaign was needed. Thus causing a frenzy on the background into the King of Belgium. King Leopold II of Belgium reigned from 1886 to 1909 as the King of the Belgians. He was born on April 9, 1835 in the Brussels, Belgium. He died on 17 of December, 1909 in Laeken, City of Brussels, Belgium.
He died not too long after his power over the young colony was retracted, due to his lack of concern and behavior in the development of the country. Leopold’s actions in the colony was so terrible that it is said, “His crimes were worse than even the most barbarous dictators of the 20th century.” The Belgian gain and power over the Congo basin, occurred during the Berlin Conference.
The Berlin Conference was a meeting that occurred in 1884 to 1885. It formalized and divided the major European powers in Africa. This granted the Congo River Basin to King Leopold. Although the difference in this distribution of power, was that instead of power being vested in the Belgium Government it was bestowed upon King Leopold himself. This made the vassal personal property to the King of Belgium. The nation formerly known as Congo-Kinshasa was then changed to the “Congo Free State”. Thusly meaning that any ruling upon the nation came directly from that of Leopold.
This would prove devastating to the nation, due to the fact that there was no form of reformation or laws in place to protect the humanity of the people. Ironically the name “The Congo Free State” given to the nation by its overlord fell short, as King Leopold began his exploration and exploitation of the country. Another organization to note is the International African Society. This council of people were put together by that of King Leopold in order to organize and finance exploration of the continent. Under the blessing of the Catholic Church the king began sending his agents beginning in the rainforest of the Congo. Although another factor that came forth before any analysis could take place on King Leopold’s actions and impact on the nation.
This factor was that of a group known as the Force Publique (Public Force). Force Publique was a colonial army, created largely from local Africans and a handful of Belgian officers in order to marshal labor, quell revolts, and enforce the collection of rubber and ivory (Peterson). These organizations and factors were some of the key elements that played a role in the fate of the Congo Free State and the soul of the nation.Education for the Congolese was a tactic used to diminish their society and exploit their lands. King Leopold lacked to properly educate his subjects.
Lack of centralized education for the Congolese meant they remained ignorant of the imminent fate upon them. In the Congo the citizens had no identity to step into, causing the stagnant state of their country. With the majority of their population dim to knowledge there could be no one to step up and allow them to develop as other surrounding nations had.
Given that the Congo was the third largest country at the time on the continent, along with their many ethnic groups and resources it would have given them grounds to become a wealthy and powerful nation. Due to the heavy ties between religion and education, the missionaries were charged with the power of education. In the education system of the Congo the people were only taught basic principles and were not permitted to higher education unless is pertained advancement in the missionary field. Thus causing instability in the nation, for they lacked the engineers, politicians, and doctors needed to advance a society. This caused the question to arise: What were the missionaries’ concepts and teachings to the Congolese? Under the rule of King Leopold II the missionaries taught the value of being colonized. “Even so, most missionaries could still only muster very little appreciation for the traditional milieu”(Charles and Hulstaert). The missionaries’ had little concern for the people’s customs, traditions, or former educational structure.
The missionaries teachings was not something that helped develop the people of the Congo Free State, it caused them to become more dependent on the Belgians. The missionaries taught the Congolese that they needed religion and they need a colony. Forming a sort of Stockholm syndrome for the natives. A discussion was carried out by Alphonse Cayen, a major in the Belgian military at the time he stated (add a footnote), “In order to educate the nation, encourage vocations, in short to form public opinion in a colonial regard, it is of primary importance to organise colonial education in the schools of all levels in an interesting and intuitive way.”This quote by Major Cayen better develops the conceptualized idea of the Belgian nobles and their king. They only sought after in the nation what would benefit them.
The Humanitarian facade that King Leopold placed was a ruse to bring down the young colony it caused the nation to implode, as mentioned previously Leopold caused a Stockholm syndrome to form by denying proper education and stripping the people of their heritage. Diminishing their education and heritage made the Congolese an easy task. It did not take much to break them down, for they were already down. The Congolese developed a Stockholm syndrome that stripped them of their heritage and stability in their country causing a stagnant nation. Prior to King Leopold’s exploration and colonization of the Congo Free State the country was very rich in minerals and resources. Though after Leopold’s footing in a country, which he never set foot in he managed to strip a nation of their soul and cause a lasting effect of dependency.
Years and decades after Leopold’s touching on the country there are still effects of dependency, economic failure, political instability, as well as lack of educational developments. Why did this country feel that they needed the Belgians? The Congolese people had become indoctrinated by the Belgians; they were taught in their educational system as well as in their daily lives that they were godless savages that needed the protection of the Belgian King, in order to become a prosperous country. After reading and discovering the behaviors of the Congolese people after the colonization era and brutal mistreatment, it caused for questioning of what this behavior might stem from.
The Congolese people displayed direct signs of Stockholm syndrome. As explained by Katherine Westcott, Stockholm syndrome is when, “The hostages experience a powerful, primitive positive feeling towards their captor. They are in denial that this is the person who put them in that situation. In their mind, they think this is the person who is going to let them live.” The Congolese believed that King Leopold was the reason they were living. Despite the rampant murders of their people and exploitation of their lands what more could they ask for, especially given the fact that they were in the Darkness of Africa and King Leopold had come to deliver their souls. Leopold’s gruesome tactics of genocide and the use Force Publique drained the Congo Free State of economic stability and limited any chance of postcolonial success.
With Leopold’s two decades in the Congo Free State he managed to murder and estimated amount of ten million people. The question came about how could one man cause all this harm? King Leopold stole the soul of a nation. He placed their own people against them, as previously mentioned, they were known as the Force Publique. The Force Publique were sent to enforce the quotas set by their King, failure to meet quota meant mutilation. This was a major mental crisis for the Congolese people. They were forced to work on rubber plantations, hunt elephants for the ivory, mine cobalt, and other sorts of resources, that would then be taken manufactured and sold on the global market. Meanwhile the profits gain would be lost to them, never to come back to their economy thus leaving them even more impoverished than when they started.
The economy of the nation was being drained from both ends. Their lands were being raped and their labor force was diminished, with a mounting death toll they could not stop. The Colonial mismanagement and oppression led not only to the killing and maiming of native peoples, but also to overwork, disease, starvation, and a host of other factors that all combined in a massive loss of life.(Peterson). Now given the idea that the people became dependent to Leopold as well as fear for their lives, due to the Force Publique they lost their soul and their heritage. The people began to conform to their treacherous lives for nearly three decades.
The country became stagnant because they were not able to stand on their own. There was no culture aspect or anything to believe in. The Congolese population had diminished rather quickly, it was genocide carried out under the lie of a humanitarian effort. The Congolese could not up rise or rebel. Rebellions were put down swiftly and violently, often by killing all those who refused to work. The bodies of rebels were often displayed as a warning to others (Peterson). With the mass genocide and Force Publique as a form civil law it affected the economy greatly.
The economy was impacted because they had less people in the labor force compared to when they started and the mutilation of limbs put the people at a disadvantage. But that was not where the situation peaked the extraction of resources and the slave trade with in the nation also put a drain on the economy.Belgian extraction of ivory, rubber, and cobalt as well as the Atlantic Slave Trade further placed the Congo colony into an economic downturn. The term economic downturn is used to describe the lowest point of an economy. On a graph the economic downturn would be the trough of the cycle.
And this was the state that the Congo Free State was in, while the King of Belgium personally became wealthier. Every district had quotas for producing ivory, gold, diamonds, rubber, and anything else the land had to give up. Leopold II handpicked governors, each of whom he gave dictatorial powers over their realms. Each official was paid entirely by commission, and thus had great incentive to pillage the soil to the maximum of his ability (Stockton). A discussion was held by David Kenneth a history writer he explained, “King Leopold extracted ivory and rubber from the Congo to use in the manufacture of goods in Belgium. These goods in turn sold on the international market for a profit.
The people who actually performed the work in the Congo received none of these profits. Leopold enriched himself at the expense of the Africans. Further ensuring the impoverishment of the people, Leopold enacted laws preventing European traders from paying Africans currency in exchange for rubber. Instead, Europeans could only exchange other goods, in a barter system, to any Africans who might somehow come into possession of rubber (Kenneth).” The Congolese were not able to profit in any way from their hard work and labor, and going back to the discussion by David Kenneth if the Africans were to come into any resources they could not personally receive any monetary value. Money is an important medium of exchange and is needed for the upturn in an economy.
The Congolese did not receive that privilege, the fact that they were only allowed to work on a barter system means that anything they exchanged was essentially less profitable than what they were giving. Nevertheless there was a greater problem at hand for the people. Before the Belgians entered their country they were already being hunted and captured by the Arabs east and sold in the Arabian Slave. However, when King Leopold came to power he may have been able to stop the Arabs from enslaving his people, but he began doing the same thing.
He began selling the Congolese people in the Atlantic Slave Trade. Leopold’s hypocritical rhetoric claimed he wanted to develop the Congo to protect the natives from the Afro-Arab slave traders who still operated in Kenya and Tanzania. Leopold promised to build schools, homes, and to liberate the Congolese people from Arab slave traders. But under the rule of Leopold, very little was done to improve the wellbeing (footnote needed) of the citizens, and instead a regime was instituted that operated solely through force of might. He was even funded by Britain in 1883, to help stop this event that was occurring. Nevertheless the power of wealth caused Leopold to fall deeper into his lies and essentially become a hypocrite as he sold of his people to the new world and progressively became wealthier in the process.King Leopold’s actions in the Congo-Arab War benefited the Congo people but led to further failure in their economy. Although King Leopold was a disgraceful man, not only to himself but to an entire nation, he did manage to end one thing in Africa even though it was done out of selfishness.
A war between the people of the Congo Free State and the Arabs of the east broke out on November of 1892. The lead of the Arab group was Sefu bin Hamid, the son of Tippu Tip. Fighting occurred in the eastern Congo between 1892 and 1894. It was a proxy war, with most of the fighting being done by native Congolese, who aligned themselves with either side or sometimes switched sides. The causes of the war were mainly economic, since Leopold and the Arabs were contending to gain control of the wealth of the Congo. The war ended in January 1894 with a victory of Leopold’s Force Publique. Initially King Leopold II collaborated with the Arabs but competition over the control of ivory and Leopold II’s humanitarian pledges to the Berlin Conference to end slavery, turned his stance to confrontational.
(Georges Nzongola-Ntalaja: The Congo: From Leopold to Kabila: A People’s History, 2002, ISBN 1842770535, page 21) King Leopold managed to end Hamid’s slave trade in the Congo but essentially the win barely benefited the people they were still being tortured and brutalized they just had one less factor that was inflicting the pain upon them. The impact of the Congo- Arab War was essentially just another element in King Leopold’s colonization of the people that was used to take advantage of their lands and resources. King Leopold fought this proxy war to make sure he had no competition, meanwhile he was stealing their resources and selling them with no profit for the people or their economy. He single-handedly brought down a whole nation and an economy.Overall King Leopold’s reign in The Congo Free State was one of great tragedy and infliction of pain for the people that inhabited these lands. King Leopold’s rule became so know and unaccepted by the other major European Powers that he was stripped of his title and lands conceding all power to the Belgian Government in 1908, and the country’s name was changed to the Belgian Congo.
King Leopold had a negative effect on this country and there is no way to disregard that. Never mind the fact that he ended the Arabian Slave trade with in the country, ity then caused for the Congolese to be sold on a greater field, which was the Atlantic Slave Trade. King Leopold’s rule war so atrocious that the Congo Free State, commonly known as the Democratic Republic of the Congo, still faces economical problem, educational rifts, and political corruption. Leopold had a lasting effect on the country that is still existing in the modern perspective of things nearly centuries after he was removed from power. Through the extensive research and information gathered it could be stated that Leopold’s reign in the Congo Free State had detrimental effects on the country.
The people lost everything they had and were treated worse than can be described. The Belgian Colonization of the Congo under the rule of King Leopold II of Belgium was impacted the country poorly, while he was able to build an imperial force and gain millions of the backs of forced labor and brutality.