As requested by Ziga: Why Isn’t Belgium’s King Leopold II As Reviled As Hitler Or Stalin?

By Richard Stockton
Published September 16, 2016
Updated August 15, 2018
[SIZE=6]Leopold II’s rule over the Congo was a horror story with a body count on par with Hitler’s, so why haven’t more people heard of him?[/SIZE]
Wikimedia Commons
Belgium is not the first European country we think of when we hear the words “blood-soaked tyranny.” Historically, the little country has always been more famous for beer than epic crimes against humanity.

But there was a time, at the peak of European imperialism in Africa, when Belgium’s King Leopold II ran a personal empire so vast and cruel, it rivaled – and even exceeded – the crimes of even the worst 20th century dictators.
This empire was known as the Congo Free State and Leopold II stood as its undisputed slave master. For almost 30 years, rather than being a regular colony of a European government the way South Africa or the Spanish Sahara were, Congo was administered as the private property of this one man for his personal enrichment.
This world’s largest plantation was 76 times the size of Belgium, possessed rich mineral and agricultural resources, and had lost perhaps half of its population by the time the first census counted only 10 million people living there in 1924.
[SIZE=6]His Majesty King Leopold II[/SIZE]
Wikimedia CommonsKing Leopold II.

Nothing about Leopold II’s youth suggested a future mass murderer. Born the heir to Belgium’s throne in 1835, he spent his days doing all of the things a European prince would be expected to do before ascending to the throne of a minor state: learning to ride and shoot, taking part in state ceremonies, getting appointed to the army, marrying an Austrian princess, and so on.
Leopold II took the throne in 1865 and he ruled with the kind of soft touch Belgians expected from their king in the wake of the multiple revolutions and reforms that had democratized the country over the preceding few decades. Indeed, the young King Leopold really only ever put pressure on the senate in his (constant) attempts to get Belgium involved in building an overseas empire like all the bigger countries had.
This became an obsession for Leopold II. He was convinced, like most statesmen of his time, that a nation’s greatness was directly proportional to the amount of lucre it could suck out of equatorial colonies, and he wanted Belgium to have as much as possible before other countries came along and tried to take it.
First, in 1866, he tried to get the Philippines from Queen Isabella II of Spain. However, his negotiations collapsed when Isabella was overthrown in 1868. That’s when he started talking about Africa.

[SIZE=6]Justifications For Conquest[/SIZE]
Wikimedia CommonsAn illustration from HM Stanley’s “The Congo and the founding of its free state; a story of work and exploration (1885).”
In 1878, Henry Stanley presumed to meet Dr. Livingstone deep inside the Congo rain forest. The international press made both men out to be heroes – bold explorers in the heart of darkest Africa. What went unsaid in the breathless newspaper accounts of the two men’s famous expeditions is what they were doing in the Congo in the first place.
A few years before the two expeditions met up, Leopold II had formed the International African Society to organize and finance exploration of the continent. Officially, this was a prelude to a kind of international philanthropic enterprise, in which the “benevolent” king would shower natives with the blessings of Christianity, starched shirts, and steam engines.

Stanley and Livingstone’s expeditions composed a major part of opening up the rain forest to the king’s agents. This ruse that King Leopold II was working overtime to get Africans into heaven, worked far longer than it should have and the king’s claim to the ironically named “Congo Free State” was formally recognized at the Congress of Berlin in 1885.
To be fair, it is possible that Leopold II, a fairly observant Belgian Catholic, really did want to introduce his new chattel to Jesus. But he did this in the most literal, and ruthless, way possible: by killing a huge number of them and making life generally unbearable for the rest as they labored to dig up gold, hunted to kill elephants for ivory, and hacked down their native forest to clear land for rubber plantations all over the country.
The Belgian government lent Leopold II the necessary seed capital for this “humanitarian” project – and after he paid that debt off, literally 100 percent of the profits went straight to him. This was not a Belgian colony; it belonged to one man, and he seemed determined to squeeze every drop out of his fiefdom while he still could.

[SIZE=6]King Leopold II’s Rule By Atrocity[/SIZE]
Wikimedia Commons
Generally speaking, colonists need to employ some form of violence to acquire and maintain control of the colonized, and the more exploitative the arrangements on the ground, the more violent the colony’s rulers have to be to get what they want. During the 25 years that the Congo Free State existed, it set a new standard for cruelty that horrified even the other imperial powers of Europe.
The conquest started with Leopold bolstering his relatively weak position by making alliances with local powers. Chief among these was the Arab slave trader Tippu Tip.
Tip’s group had a considerable presence on the ground and sent regular shipments of slaves and ivory down to the Zanzibar coast. This made Tip a rival to Leopold II, and the Belgian king’s pretense of ending slavery in Africa made any negotiation awkward. Nevertheless, Leopold II eventually appointed Tip as a provincial governor in exchange for his noninterference in the king’s colonization of the western regions.

Tip used his position to ramp up his slave trading and ivory hunting, and the generally anti-slavery European public brought pressure on Leopold II to break it off. The king eventually did this in the most destructive way possible: he raised a proxy army of Congolese mercenaries to fight against Tip’s forces all over the densely populated areas near the Great Rift Valley.
After a couple of years, and an impossible to estimate death toll, they had expelled Tip and his fellow Arab slavers. The imperial double-cross left Leopold II in complete control.
Hybrid/YouTubeRubber plantation workers in Boma, wearing their neck chains.
With the field cleared of rivals, King Leopold II reorganized his mercenaries into a ruthless group of occupiers called the Force Publique and set them to enforcing his will across the colony.

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.
Governors press-ganged huge numbers of native Congolese into agricultural labor; they forced an unknown number underground, where they worked to death in the mines.
These governors — vis a vis the labor of their slave workers — looted Congo’s natural resources with industrial efficiency.
They slaughtered ivory-bearing elephants in massive hunts that saw hundreds or thousands of local beaters driving game past a raised platform occupied by European hunters armed with half a dozen rifles each. Hunters used this method, known as a battue, extensively in the Victorian Period, and was scalable such that it could empty a whole ecosystem of its large animals.

Under the reign of Leopold II, the Congo’s unique wildlife was fair game for sport killing by almost any hunter who could book passage and pay for a hunting license.
Wikimedia Commons
Elsewhere, violence took place on rubber plantations. These establishments take a lot of work to maintain, and rubber trees can’t really grow on a commercial scale in an old-growth rain forest. Clear cutting that forest is a big job that delays the crop and cuts into profits.
To save time and money, the king’s agents routinely depopulated villages – where most of the clearance work had already been done – to make room for the King’s cash crop. By the late 1890s, with economical rubber production shifting to India and Indonesia, the destroyed villages were simply abandoned, with their few surviving inhabitants left to fend for themselves or make their way to another village deeper in the forest.

The greed of the Congo’s overlords knew no boundaries, and the lengths to which they went to gratify it were likewise extreme. Just as Christopher Columbus had done in Hispaniola 400 years earlier, Leopold II imposed quotas on every man in his realm for production of raw materials.
Men who failed to meet their ivory and gold quota even once would face mutilation, with hands and feet being the most popular sites for amputation. If the man could not be caught, or if he needed both hands to work, Forces Publique men would cut the hands off of his wife or children.
Wikimedia CommonsNsala of Wala contemplates the severed hand and foot of his five-year-old daughter in 1904.
The king’s appalling system began to take its toll on a scale unheard of since the Mongol rampage across Asia. Nobody knows how many people lived in the Congo Free State in 1885, but the area, which was three times the size of Texas, may have had up to 20 million people before colonization.

At the time of the 1924 census, that figure had fallen to 10 million. Central Africa is so remote, and the terrain is so difficult to travel across, that no other European colonies reported a major refugee influx. The perhaps 10 million people who disappeared in the colony during this time were most likely dead.
No single cause took them all. Instead, the World War I-level mass death was mostly the result of starvation, disease, overwork, infections caused by mutilation, and outright executions of the slow, the rebellious, and the families of fugitives.
Eventually, tales of the nightmare unfolding in the Free State reached the outside world. People railed against the practices in the United States, Britain, and the Netherlands, all of which coincidentally owned large rubber-producing colonies of their own and were thus in competition with Leopold II for profits.
By 1908, Leopold II had no choice but to cede his land to the Belgian government. The government introduced some cosmetic reforms right away – it became technically illegal to randomly kill Congolese civilians, for example, and administrators went from a quota-and-commission system to one in which they received pay only when their terms ended, and then only if their work was judged “satisfactory.” The government also changed the colony’s name to the Belgian Congo.

And that’s about it. Whippings and mutilations continued for years in the Congo, with every penny in profit siphoned out until independence in 1971.

[SIZE=6]Lasting Institutions[/SIZE]
Wikimedia Commons
Just as many adults have a hard time overcoming a bad childhood, the Democratic Republic of Congo is still coping with trauma directly inflicted by the rule of King Leopold II. The corrupt commissions and bonus system Belgium put in place for colonial administrators stayed after the Europeans left, and Congo hasn’t had an honest government yet.

The Great African War swept over the Congo during the 1990s, killing perhaps 6 million people in the biggest bloodletting since World War II. This struggle saw the Kinshasa government overthrown in 1997 with an equally bloodthirsty dictatorship put in its place.
Foreign countries still own virtually all of Congo’s natural resources, and they guard their extraction rights with UN peacekeepers and hired paramilitaries. Virtually everybody in the country lives in desperate poverty, despite living in what is (per square mile) the most resource-rich country on Earth.
The life of a modern citizen of the DRC sounds like what you’d expect for a society that’s just survived a nuclear war. Relative to Americans, Congolese people:
[li]Are 12 times more likely to die in infancy.[/li][li]Have a life expectancy 23 years shorter.[/li][li]Make 99.24% less money.[/li][li]Spend 99.83% less on health care.[/li][li]Are 83.33% more likely to be HIV-positive.[/li][/ul]
Leopold II, king of the Belgians and for a time the world’s largest landowner, died peacefully on the 44th anniversary of his coronation in December 1909. He is remembered for his large bequests to the nation and the graceful buildings he commissioned with his own money.

@ziga tuanze hapo
@LeoK pia kuja hapa
kwani mlisomea wapi?

and heres more
ingia gugu, hes your friend

Workers stand next to drying rubber, Belgian Congo.

Often African nations are described as unstable. There is a great deal of truth in this statement as almost all post-colonial African nations have experienced political violence and severe economic mismanagement during the mid and late twentieth century.

Of all African nations, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) has had an especially tumultuous post-colonial experience. Formerly a Belgian colony, the DRC still faces violence in the eastern portion of the country as well as political, economic, and social instability throughout.

There are many historical reasons for the DRC’s instability but Belgian colonial education policies are a key cause of this instability.

In 1884-1885, the Berlin West Africa Conference effectively divided up the African continent amongst the Great Powers of Europe. Attended by the colonial powers of Great Britain, France, Spain, Portugal, Germany, and Belgium, among others, the Conference created artificial state boundaries as well as a colonial system that was in effect for the next sixty years.

Among these territories, the Congo was a unique case. Granted to King Leopold II of Belgium, the Congo was a “personal” concession for the King, rather than a colony. The King, not the Belgian government, effectively owned and controlled the Congo. 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. This rubber was then exported to fuel the industrial growth of both nineteenth- and early twentieth-century Europe and America.
King Leopold II of Belgium, as a Garter Knight.

Despite his growing reliance on the wealth of the Congo, Leopold never visited this territory himself. By 1908, the territory was so poorly managed that an international furor condemning Leopold had erupted. That same year, in an attempt to stem this furor, the Congo was ceded to Belgium and placed under the control of the Belgian government, not its king. Belgium then administered the Congo as a colony until independence in 1960.

Unlike other early twentieth-century colonial powers in Africa, Belgium did not directly oversee the education of the Congo’s indigenous population. Rather, it turned the responsibility for education over to missionaries.

In 1908, the Congo had 587 missionaries, mostly Catholic, who educated only 46,075 students, a very small fraction of the many residents. This small number of students stemmed from many factors. The number of missionaries was insufficient to educate a large population. But the missionary’s educational agenda, which often undermined indigenous African culture and promoted colonial domination, also deterred many Africans from pursuing European educations.

Throughout the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the primary role of the Church, both in religion and education, was to promote colonialism. Many Congolese villagers at first avoided the mission schools because they had a religious agenda that threatened to undermine their cultural values and beliefs.
Map of Church Mission areas in the Belgian Congo, Hippolyte d’Ursel.

Along with concerns about the type of education the Congolese should receive, the Church also believed that higher education should be reserved only for those entering the priesthood. As a result, most students who did attend school in the Congo received only a basic primary education. This practice was reinforced by the Belgian colonial administration, which discouraged higher education for Africans. It was only in 1954 that the first Congolese citizen was admitted to a university for purposes other than religious education.

Belgian colonial education policy stood in stark contrast to the colonial educational policies of Britain and France. While government policies that discouraged the educational and vocational promotion of African peoples were a characteristic of every early twentieth-century colonial system, both Britain and France sent numerous missionaries to their colonies. These missionaries often founded schools and created educational programs for the communities that they worked in. But the British and French governments, unlike Belgium, also took strong control over the education of their colonial subjects.

With the Congo, Belgium not only took a less active role in education, it also used Catholic missionaries as a form of civil servants who were paid by the government. Ironically, Belgium’s hands-off policy toward education, which was characteristic of Belgian colonial policies overall, reflected the government’s reluctance in being a colonial power; the government had only agreed to take over the Congo to save its king from the public humiliation and outcry of the international community which had been horrified by Leopold’s brutal policies.
Chained Congolese slaves on a Belgian Rubber Plantation.

By the eve of Congolese independence in June 1960, the aspiring nation had only sixteen African university graduates out of a population of more than thirteen million. There were no Congolese engineers or physicians.

Perhaps most crucially, the lack of centralized education left the new nation in a stunted state of growth. Across the African continent, educated Africans had often played a key role in the independence movements and these leaders had then stepped in to govern the new nations which emerged in the 1960s. In many of these new African states, a uniform educational system had helped to promote national unity and identity—both of which were desperately needed as the colonial map had created artificially constructed nations that had numerous different and even competing ethnic groups.

In the Congo, educated Africans who could serve to unify the nation were basically non-existent. This was unfortunate because the Congo, as the third largest country in Africa, was home to many distinct ethnic groups and possessed incredible wealth in its natural resources. While post-colonial African nations needed to establish and create a national identity in the wake of colonialism and although all of these nations required an educated citizenry, the absence of these in the ethnically diverse Congo contributed greatly to its instability in the decades that followed.

No one single factor can be said to have caused the Congo’s road to independence to be a rocky one but the lack of educational opportunities for the Congolese when they were the colonial subjects of Belgium was clearly a central factor in the new country’s instability.
Sewing class in a Congolese school, c. 1957.

Jessica Achberger is a doctoral candidate in the Department of History at the University of Texas at Austin.
Her work focuses on the foreign policy and political and economic development of Zambia In addition to her academic writing, she contributes regularly to ChinAfricamagazine the Zambian Economist, among other publications. She is the website administrator for the Network for Historical Research in Zambia. She currently resides just outside Lusaka, Zambia.

Because victims were black people

Motha fucking Tippu Tip was part black and looked like any average African…not bana tushikane kaa wa afrika hii ushens ya kuleta aibu ndogo ndogo na zingine kubwa tuwache.Na hii autocorrect haijui swa na ngoso yake ni mbaya vitu ya wachinku nkt…

Because black people are not considered as human beings. I thought this would be common knowledge by now…

this is what is in gugu, the whole real story has never been told and i dont think it will

Oman people are dark-skinned

Bcoz of connections with Africa and slave his grandmother was a black mistress from sumwhere near Dar es salaam read on the same.

because africans have no history of themselves.