King Leopold II of Belgium laid claim to the Congo and declared it his territory while exerting physical threats to the indigenous people of the Congo (Kongo). He declared the people and the land to be his property, and he quickly turned the country into a moneymaking venture for himself and his throne.
Kongo was rich in numerous minerals but was richer in Ivory and rubber. He set up a system that was brutally harsh on the people – a system that killed and mutilated the indigenous peoples.
The people of the Kongo were then enslaved in their land. Since the slave trade had been aborted and abolished in Europe and America, the Europeans found a way to bring slavery to Africa. They came to steal resources from the Africans, and kill them in large numbers while at it.
King Leopold II of Belgium
The Exploration and Mapping Out of The Congo (Kongo)
After the Belin Conference, King Leopold II needed to explore and map out the Congo so as to determine its resources, people, and best routes for his planned exploitation.
He hired and sent a British explorer, named Henry Morton Stanley, to the Congo. Stanley’s job was to establish the Congo Free State. He chose Stanley because he had some form of experience with the people and the area since he had mapped out the Congo River, and was familiar with some of the indigenous people.
Although historians have tried to say that Stanley did not have any initial intentions of hurting the Congo people, we still don’t think that should exonerate him of his crimes against the people. His first crime was entering the Congo without the invitation of the indigenous people and then going ahead to map out their land without their permission.
The presence and behavior of Stanley and his men angered the natives of Congo, and this sparked off misunderstandings and later chaos.
Seven various indigenous peoples of the Congo got together and confronted Stanley and his men. The people had witnessed Stanley writing and drawing in his journal, and to them, that was a plot to undo them. They asked him to burn his book or he and his men would be killed. It was obvious that the natives didn’t want what was in his journal to get out of their land. And that was for good reason – the gods were wise.
Stanley continued his exploration and expedition and started to shoot at the Congolese whenever they came close, or he saw them. By the time he had gotten to the end of his exploration, he had succeeded in burning down over 32 towns of the natives and killing many of them.
His men were out of control, and they committed all manner of atrocities on the Congolese people. They went about kidnapping and raping the women and flogging the men to death for any little misunderstanding.
This was how the Congo Free State was created – on the foundations of terror, murder, rape, and arson.
The Enslavement of The Entire Congo Population
When Stanley sent his report to King Leopold, he reported of temples filled with Ivory (elephant tusks), and also the presence of rubber all over the Congo. The resources were bountiful, and Leopold was determined to create wealth out of it.
King Leopold II took ownership of two-thirds of the Congo land by force and mandated the real owners of the land to work for him as slaves. A few accounts mentioned that the people were paid pennies for their labor, but it was soon stopped, and then they were forced to work for 20 days in a month without pay.
The government and officials of King Leopold II stated that the harvesting of rubber was then a required tax that everyone who lived on the land would pay to the crown. This simply meant that Leopold stole a people’s lands and resources, and forced them to work as slaves on their own lands.
Because of the high expectation of wealth and profit from the rubber and ivory, the officials of King Leopold II made the quotas very huge and difficult to reach. It meant that the people would labor and toil for 20 days to meet their rubber quota, and then the remaining 10 days in a month was left to them to farm, and work to provide food for themselves and their families.
The Maiming and Killing of Congolese Who Didn’t Meet Their Quota
European Official possing with Congo boy with cut off limb | Source: Wikimedia
By the 1890s, Leopold II, through his officials, increased the rubber quota of the then battered and suppressed Congolese. The rubber business was booming in Europe, and he had to meet with the market demands. That meant more work hours for the indigenous people. The situation turned from bad to worse, as the penalty for not meeting your quota was the cutting off of a limb or death.
Leopold II had an army which was made up of about 19,000 troops. They were European mercenaries hired to protect his government and business interest and also act as a police force. They were called the Force Publique. The army also forcefully recruited Africans into their lower ranks. These Africans were press-ganged into service and were killed if they refused.
It was the Force Publique that enforced the quota of rubber tax to be collected by the people. Some of the officers who were made to enforce these rules were the Africans, but a large amount of them were the whites.
The European officials were so brutal and bent on their hate and target for the rubber that they set up a law for the soldiers to cut off and deliver the hand of anyone of the Congolese people who was killed for not meeting their quota.
To punish the Congolese men whom they had forced into service, they would make them submit a basket full of hands of their people or face execution. This was a way for turning the people against themselves – a trick that the Europeans have used all over the world and especially Africa, to divide the people.
The Deadly Collection Of Rubber
Congo man collecting Rubber sap from vine | Source: Wikimedia
After many years of collecting and tapping the rubber in the Congo, the sources started to dwindle and become somewhat scarce. Collecting the rubber was then more difficult, as many of the people had to climb tall trees to reach the vines. Sometimes the people could slip from the trees and fall to their deaths.
The fear of losing their limb or being killed forced the Congolese to sometimes cut off the vine, so they could tap more rubber sap. It worked but it meant that those vines were then useless and could not be tapped again in the future. So, cutting off the vine was also a crime, punishable by death or severe beatings.
On one of the days, a commissioner caught one of the Congolese who cut off a vine. He wrote a note of recommendation in his journal about it and said: “We must fight them until their absolute submission has been obtained… or their complete extermination.”
Some commissioners did not kill or cut off the limbs of people who did not meet their quota. They beat them so bad, and the majority were injured beyond recognition. Sometimes the beaten might lead to death.
The Congolese workers were given discs to wear around their necks, to keep count of their quota. Any of the Congolese who did not meet his quota would be flogged 25, and most time 100 lashes with whips made from hippopotamus hide. These whips had the power to peel off the skin once it gets in contact with it.
The Death of Millions Was Caused By Disease
Asides from the shooting and maiming of the indigenous people of Congo, one other factor that caused the death of millions was the disease outbreaks. The health of the workers was not put into consideration by the Belgians, who fed them rotten meat, food, and most times starved them.
The environment was made unhealthy with all the human parts, and decimation of the natural environment. The rotten food made the men sick, and a plague broke out.
The men had to go into the deep jungle to harvest the rubber. They were bitten by Tsetse flies, and that spread untold sicknesses and deaths all over the Congo and even into other African nations.
The sleeping sickness which often led to death wiped out over 500,000 people in Congo alone.
But this did not make the Belgians stop. They continued the exploitation and enslavement of the Congo people, for the economic gains of their resources.
The Burning of Congolese Villages
The research and accounts of the many atrocities carried out against the Black man in Congo is one that would literally put any conscious Black person in tears. During the course of this research, we were forced many times to pause in anger and disbelief.
One of the painful accounts of the genocide on the Congolese was the burning of their villages. The commissioners and their officers often gave an entire village a certain quota to meet. When a village fails to meet its quota, the soldiers would surround the village, slaughter the people and then burn the village to the ground.
Various accounts by victims and eyewitnesses said that these happened all the time, in quick succession. In the area where a Swedish missionary lived, he reported that 45 towns were burnt down within a short period of time.
What was more heartbreaking to hear was that many of these villages were burnt down for no good reason at all. Of course, what reason will a killer and a thief need not to kill people whom their scientists and religion had taught them to be lesser animals or sub-humans? None whatsoever.
In a particular instance, the soldiers burnt a village down, killed 50 of the men and took 28 of the women as prisoners, with chains around their necks. This particular village had met their quota but was still killed and burnt, because the officers said that the rubber that was tapped by the villagers was not of good quality. I mean, how do the villagers get to control the outcome of the rubber that comes out from the trees?
The Torture of Women and Children for Quota Fulfillment
men and Children with severed limbs | Photo credit: Alice Harris
The Belgian officials and their European mercenary troops made torture and amputations a necessary tool in forcing the people to be scared and work for free.
They were feeding off the fears of the Congolese people, through psychological terror. It was reported that the European soldiers would kidnap the women from the villages that didn’t meet their rubber quota, so as to force the men to meet their quota. Most of the women were kept as prisoners and slaves by the Europeans.
To make it worse, the men had to buy back their wives with their live stocks after they had met their quota.
On a particular occasion, a soldier was asked to raid a town who had not met their quota. His commander gave him strict orders to decimate the town and make an example of them.
He gave an account saying that: “He ordered us to cut off the heads of the men and hang them on the village palisades, also their sexual members,” the soldier said, “and to hang the women and children on the palisade in the form of a cross.”
This was how wicked the Europeans were during their time in Congo.
A father staring at the remains of his daughter | Photo credit: rarehistoricalphotos.com
The Intervention by The International Community
The atrocities of King Leopold II and his army continued for over a decade till it reached a point where the missionaries had to write to the various governments and organizations of the world in protest.
The pieces of evidence presented by America missionary G.W. Williams, and by writers such as Mark Twain and Joseph Conrad, were instrumental in the prosecution of the King Leopold II’s atrocities in the Congo.
Others who gave reports on the genocide were a British journalist called Edmund Dene Morel, a British Diplomat called Casement, and a missionary called William Shephard.
The reports and testimonies of these men and many others were published in international media, which gave much attention to the evil that was going on in the Congo. Many people around the world cried out against the atrocities and called for the respect of human rights.
The many pieces of evidence that were submitted in the reports were then confirmed in 1905 when an investigation was concluded. The commission that was in charge of the investigation published a damning report of the genocide that was going on in the Congo.
The reports of the commission together with the reports of the missionaries raised a lot of opposition from other governments and the Belgian people, against King Leopold II.
Diplomatic talks and pressure from many quarters would later make Leopold II renounce his rule over the Free State of the Congo, and subsequently handing it over to the Belgium government, and then Congo was named the Belgian Congo.
After the atrocities, he and his murderous army walked away without blemish, leaving the people of the Congo to suffer the effects of that Genocide for the next 100 years and more. Congo till today is still a property of the Europeans and has been put in constant conflict by European powers who seek to steal its resources while keeping the people divided.
It would interest you to know that the entire carving up of Congo by Killer Leopold II did not first come in the form of Genocide. No. He went to Congo as a charity and humanitarian organization.
He came bearing gifts and promised to change the living standards of the Congo people for the better. And his charity organization was said to have received huge donations from around the world.
He impressed the people of the world with such smooth and compelling words and made them believe that donating to his course was the only holiest and the noblest thing to do. In a speech, he said: “To open to civilization the only part of our globe which it has not yet penetrated, to pierce the darkness which hangs over entire peoples, is, I dare say, a crusade worthy of this century of progress.”
But they didn’t know that he was secretly seeking for funds with which to pay large armies and build infrastructures that would facilitate and hasting the enslavement of the people of the Congo, and the stealing of the resources.
Leopold II was heard behind closed doors telling one of his ambassadors that “I do not want to miss a good chance of getting us a slice of this magnificent African cake.”
This is the legacy of King Leopold II in Africa. And while he was tearing Congo apart, the British, French, German, Portuguese, Spanish and others were busy slaughtering Africans and stealing their resources too.