The turmoil and stabilization throughoutthe history of the majority of the countries of Africa is one of the manypolarizing topics in the world community. From Angola to Zimbabwe, conflict isnothing new to the continent. The Democratic Republic of Congo is no strangerto conflicts involving other countries in Africa or from various rebel groups.
Even though the slave trade is one of the best known causes of the poor conditionsthe natives to Congo endured. The colonization by King Leopold II of Belgium isprobably the worst, because King Leopold II essentially established slavery inCongo, without verification European powers recognized King Leopold’s claim tothe Congo basin, and he used a private company to rule of the basin. Leopold believed that Belgium needed colonies to ensure itsprosperity, and sensing that the Belgians would not support colonial ventures,he privately set about establishing a colonial empire (Lagasse). The people ofBelgium and the government did not want to seek out and acquire colonies. SinceKing Leopold II did not have the support from his government, he did not havethe funds to acquire the colonies he so desired.
Unfortunately, while actingunder the guise of abolitionist, Leopold’s agents in the Congo immediatelybegan a peonage that was about as close to slavery as possible (Davis). Eventhough the raw materials that was being exported out of the Congo basin wasbeing paid for, it did not meet the market value at the time. King Leopold IIwas able to hide the fact that he did rule over slavery in the Congo basin foralmost twenty years. In those twenty years it is estimated that the amount ofdeaths that were caused while under his rule reaches twenty one million. Sincethere was no census conducted until 1924, there is only an estimate of the numberof deaths. The International Conference held in Berlinbetween November 1884 and February 1885 was convened because relationshipsbetween the great powers of Europe seemed, for the first time, likely to beseriously affected by the activities of their representatives on the WestAfrican coast (Hargreaves). The major powers in Europe wanted to securetheir claims on the vast resources that the African continent provided. One ofthe reasons the international conference was convened was to establish commercetransiting the Congo River.
Since King Leopold began colonizing the territoryprior to the international conference, he had claim to the area. Since it wasestablished that a nation that had control claim the area, and King Leopold IIalready had wrested control on the Congo basin from the ruling tribal leadersin the area, the Congo Free State was at the time a colony belonging toBelgium. The European powers did not seek out verification of the control ofthe area, nor did they inspect the conditions under which King Leopold ruledover the colony. Effectively being implicit to the cruelty of which KingLeopold ruled over the Congo basin. KingLeopold II hired a private company to maintain a presence in Congo in order toimpart his rule. Outside of the forced labor, the conditions the privatecompany’s actions brought upon the Congolese were abhorrent. At the time,Africans were still not considered to be equal to white men, and the ForcePublique hired by King Leopold II ruled over the Congolese with cruelty.
It wasat the hands of the Force Publique that caused the deaths of the estimatedtwenty one million lives. Even though it was a possibility that if thegovernment was in control over the region the conditions would have been thesame. The commissioning of the private company was a major contributing factorto the harsh conditions the Congolese had to endure.
Inconclusion, King Leopold II’s rule over Congo was one of the worst crimes inAfrica. After slavery was abolished in the Americas, he established forcedlabor upon the Congolese. King Leopold managed to validate his claim to theregion without verification from European powers, which allowed for theabhorrent conditions the Congolese endured during his reign.
The privatecompany he commissioned cause millions of deaths, which drastically reduced thepopulation of the area.