Congo Free State

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Congo Free State
État indépendant du Congo
State in Personal union with the Kingdom of Belgium

1885–1908
Flag Coat of arms
Motto
French: Travail et progrès
(Work and Progress)
Anthem
Vers l'avenir
Capital Boma
Languages French (de facto official),
more than 200 indigenous languages
Government Absolute monarchy
Sovereign
 -  1885-1908 Leopold II of Belgium
Governor-general
 -  1885–1886 Francis Walter de Winton (first)
 -  1900-1908 Théophile Wahis (last)
Historical era New Imperialism
 -  Established July 1[1] 1885
 -  Annexation by Belgium November 15, 1908
Currency Congolese franc

The Congo Free State (French: État indépendant du Congo) was a large area in Central Africa that was privately controlled by Leopold II, King of the Belgians. Leopold was able to procure the region by convincing the European community that he was involved in humanitarian and philanthropic work; through the use of several smokescreen organizations he was able to lay claim to most of the Congo Basin. Leopold eventually allowed the concept of a philanthropic International Association of the Congo involved in the Congo to end. On May 29, 1885, the king named his new colony the Congo Free State. The state included the entire area of the present Democratic Republic of the Congo and existed from 1885 to 1908.

Leopold's reign in the Congo eventually earned infamy due to the increasingly brutal mistreatment of the local peoples and plunder of natural resources. Leopold extracted ivory, rubber, and minerals in the upper Congo basin for sale on the world market, even though his nominal purpose in the region was to uplift the local people and develop the area. Under Leopold II's administration, the Congo Free State became one of the greatest international scandals of the early 20th century. The report of the British Consul Roger Casement led to the arrest and punishment of white officials who had been responsible for killings during a rubber-collecting expedition in 1903.

The loss of life and atrocities inspired literature such as Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness, and raised an international outcry. Excess deaths in this period are believed to number up to 10 million.[2] One view is that the forced labour system directly and indirectly eliminated 20% of the population.[3] European and U.S. reformers exposed the conditions in the Congo Free State to the public through the Congo Reform Association. Also active in exposing the activities of the Congo Free State was the author Arthur Conan Doyle, whose book The Crime of the Congo was widely read in the early 1900s. By 1908, public pressure and diplomatic manoeuvres led to the end of Leopold II's rule and to the annexation of the Congo as a colony of Belgium, known as the Belgian Congo.

Part of a series on the
History of the Democratic Republic of the Congo
Coat of arms of the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
Early history pre–1876
Colonization 1876–1885
Congo Free State 1885–1908
Belgian Congo 1908–1960
Congo Crisis 1960–1966
Zaire 1967–1997
First Congo War 1996–1997
Second Congo War 1998–2003
Transitional government 2003–2006
Portal icon Democratic Republic of the Congo portal

Background[edit]

Kingdom of the Kongo[edit]

By the 15th century AD, the farming Bakongo people (ba being the plural prefix) were unified as the Kingdom of Kongo under a ruler called the manikongo, residing in a fertile area on the lower Congo River. The capital was M'banza-Kongo. With efficient organization, they were able to conquer their neighbors and extract tribute.

They were experts in metalwork, pottery, and weaving raffia cloth. They stimulated interregional trade via a tribute system controlled by the manikongo. Later, maize (corn) and cassava (manioc) would be introduced to the region via trade with the Portuguese at their ports at Luanda and Benguela. The maize and cassava would result in population growth in the region and other parts of Africa, replacing millet as a main staple.

Early European exploration[edit]

Diogo Cão discovered the mouth of the Congo River in 1482, causing Portugal to claim the region as England did with River Victoria. Until the middle of the 19th century, the Congo was at the heart of independent Africa, as European colonialists seldom entered the interior. Along with fierce local resistance,[citation needed] the rainforest, swamps, and attendant malaria, and other diseases such as sleeping sickness made it a difficult environment for European invasion forces. Western states were at first reluctant to colonize the area in the absence of obvious economic benefits.

Stanley's exploration[edit]

Henry Morton Stanley, whose exploration of the Congo region at the invitation of Leopold II led to the establishment of the Congo Free State under Leopold's personal sovereignty

In 1876 Leopold II, King of the Belgians hosted a geographic conference in Brussels, inviting famous explorers, philanthropists, and members of geographic societies to stir up interest in a "humanitarian" endeavor for Europeans to take in central Africa so as to improve and civilize the lives of the indigenous peoples. At the conference, Leopold organized the International African Association with the cooperation of European and American explorers and the support of several European governments, and was himself elected chairman. Leopold used the Association for the promotion of plans to seize independent Central Africa under this philanthropic guise.

Henry Morton Stanley, famous for making contact with British missionary David Livingstone in Africa in 1871, had later explored the region during a journey that ended in 1877 described in Stanley's novel Through the Dark Continent (1878). Failing to enlist British interests in the development of the Congo region, Stanley took service with the Leopold II, who hired him to help the king to gain a foothold in the region and secretly wished to annex the region for himself.[4]

From August 1879 to June 1884 Stanley was in the Congo basin, where he built a road from the lower Congo up to Stanley Pool and launched steamers on the upper river. While exploring the Congo for Leopold, Stanley set up treaties with the local chiefs and with native leaders.[4] Few to none of these tribal leaders had a realistic idea of what they were signing, and, in essence, the documents gave over all rights of their respective pieces of land to King Leopold II. With Stanley's help, Leopold was able to claim a great area along the Congo, and military posts were established.

Christian de Bonchamps, a French explorer who served Leopold in Katanga, expressed attitudes towards such treaties shared by many Europeans, saying, "The treaties with these little African tyrants, which generally consist of four long pages of which they do not understand a word, and to which they sign a cross in order to have peace and to receive gifts, are really only serious matters for the European powers, in the event of disputes over the territories. They do not concern the black sovereign who signs them for a moment."[5]

King Leopold's campaign[edit]

Leopold II, King of the Belgians and de facto owner of the Congo Free State from 1885 to 1908

Leopold began to carefully create a plan to convince other European powers of the legitimacy of his claim to the region, all while maintaining the guise that his work was for the benefit of the native peoples under the name of a philanthropic "Association". His desire for territory and colonial control in Africa is evident when he stated:

I do not want to risk...losing a fine chance to secure for ourselves a slice of this magnificent African cake

—King Leopold II, speaking to one of his aides in London[6]

The king launched a publicity campaign in Britain, drawing attention to Portugal's slavery record to distract critics and offering to drive slave traders from the Congo basin. He also secretly told British merchant houses that if he was given formal control of the Congo for this and other humanitarian purposes, he would then give them the same most favored nation (MFN) status Portugal offered. At the same time, Leopold promised Bismarck he would not give any one nation special status, and that German traders would be as welcome as any other.

Leopold then offered France the support of the Association for French ownership of the entire northern bank, and sweetened the deal by proposing that, if his personal wealth proved insufficient to hold the entire Congo, as seemed utterly inevitable, that it should revert to France.

He also enlisted the aid of the United States, sending President Chester A. Arthur carefully edited copies of the cloth-and-trinket treaties British explorer Henry Morton Stanley claimed to have negotiated with various local authorities, and proposing that, as an entirely disinterested humanitarian body, the Association would administer the Congo for the good of all, handing over power to the locals as soon as they were ready for that grave responsibility.

Lobbying and claiming the region[edit]

Leopold was able to attract scientific and humanitarian backing for the International African Association (French: Association internationale africaine), which he formed during a Brussels Geographic Conference of geographic societies, explorers, and dignitaries he hosted in 1876. After 1879 and the crumbling of the International African Association, Leopold's work was done under the auspices of the "Committee for Studies of the Upper Congo" (French: Comité d'études du Haut-Congo). The committee was made of a group of businessmen who had shares in the Congo, with Leopold holding a large block by proxy. The committee itself eventually disintegrated (but Leopold continued to refer to it and use the defunct organization as a smokescreen for his operations in laying claim to the Congo region)

To give his African operations a name that could serve for a political entity, Leopold created the International Association of the Congo (French: Association internationale du Congo) as a new cover organization. This organization sought to combine the numerous small territories acquired into one sovereign state and asked for recognition from the European Powers. On April 22, 1884, thanks to the successful lobbying of businessman Henry Shelton Sanford at Leopold's request, President Chester A. Arthur of the United States decided that the cessions claimed by Leopold from the local leaders were lawful and recognized the International Association of the Congo's claim on the region.

Berlin Conference[edit]

In November 1884, Otto von Bismarck convened a 14-nation conference to submit the Congo question to international control. Most major powers attended the Berlin Conference, and drafted an international code governing the way that European countries should behave as they acquired African territory. The conference officially recognized the International Congo Association, and specified that it should have no connection with Belgium or any other country, but would be under the personal control of King Leopold, i.e. personal union.

It drew specific boundaries and specified that all nations should have access to do business in the Congo with no tariffs. The slave trade would be suppressed. In 1885, Leopold emerged triumphant. France was given 666,000 km2 (257,000 sq mi) on the north bank (modern Congo-Brazzaville and the Central African Republic), Portugal 909,000 km2 (351,000 sq mi) to the south (modern Angola), and Leopold's personal organisation received the balance: 2,344,000 km2 (905,000 sq mi), with about 30 million people. However, it still remained for these territories to be occupied under the conference's Principle of Effectivity.

International recognition[edit]

Following the United States's recognition of Leopold's colony, other European powers deliberated on the news. Portugal flirted with the French at first, but the British offered to support Portugal's claim to the entire Congo in return for a free trade agreement and to spite their French rivals. Britain was uneasy at French expansion and had a technical claim on the Congo via Lieutenant Cameron's 1873 expedition from Zanzibar to bring home Livingstone's body, but was reluctant to take on yet another expensive, unproductive colony. Bismarck of Germany had vast new holdings in South-West Africa, and had no plans for the Congo, but was happy to see rivals Britain and France excluded from the colony. Eventually, the Congo Free State was recognized as a neutral independent sovereignty[4] by various European and North American states.

Leopold's rule[edit]

Cecil Rhodes attempted to expand British territory northward into the Congo basin, presenting a problem for Leopold.

Leopold no longer needed the façade of the Association, and replaced it with an appointed cabinet of Belgians who would do his bidding. To the temporary new capital of Boma, he sent a Governor-General and a chief of police. The vast Congo basin was split up into 14 administrative districts, each district into zones, each zone into sectors, and each sector into posts. From the District Commissioners down to post level, every appointed head was European.

Three main problems presented themselves over the next few years.

  1. Beyond Stanley's eight trading stations, the Free State was unmapped jungle, and offered no commercial return.
  2. Cecil Rhodes, then Prime Minister of the British Cape Colony (part of modern South Africa) was expanding his British South Africa Company's charter lands from the south and threatening to occupy Katanga (southern Congo) by exploiting the 'Principle of Effectivity' loophole in the Berlin Treaty, supported by Harry Johnston, British Commissioner for Central Africa who was London's representative in the region.[7]
  3. The slaving gangs of Zanzibar trader Tippu Tip had established a strong presence in the north and east of the country and the area to the east of it (modern Uganda), and had effectively established an independent slave state.

Economics[edit]

Leopold could not meet the costs of running the Congo Free State, so he set in motion a regime to maximize profitability. The first change was the introduction of the concept of terres vacantes—"vacant" land, which was any land that did not contain a habitation or a currently cultivated garden plot. All of this land (i.e. most of the country) was therefore deemed to belong to the state, and servants of the state (namely any men in Leopold's employ) were encouraged to exploit it.

Shortly after the anti-slavery conference he held in Brussels in 1889, Leopold issued a new decree which said that Africans could only sell their harvested products (mostly ivory and rubber) to the state. This law grew out of the earlier decree which had said that all “unoccupied” land belonged to the state. Any ivory or rubber collected from the state-owned land, the reasoning went, must belong to the state. Suddenly, the only outlet the local population had for their products was the state, which could set purchase prices and therefore could control the amount of income, if any, the Congolese could receive for their work.

Private trading companies began to lose out to the Free State government, which not only paid no taxes but also collected all the potential income. These companies were outraged by the restrictions on free trade, which the Berlin Act had so carefully protected years before. Their protests against the violation of free trade caused Leopold to take another, less obvious tack to make money.

The concessions and the Domaine de la Couronne

In October 1892, Leopold granted concessions to two companies. Each company was given a large amount of land in the Congo Free State on which to collect rubber and ivory for sale in Europe. These companies, which Leopold largely controlled through friends of his, were allowed to detain Africans who did not work hard enough, to police their vast areas as they saw fit, and to take all the products of the forest for themselves.

The Free Trade Zone in the Congo was open to entrepreneurs of any European nation, who were allowed to buy 10- and 15-year monopoly leases on anything of value: ivory from a particular district, or the rubber concession, for example. The other zone—almost two-thirds of the Congo—became the Domaine Privé: the exclusive private property of the State, in turn Leopold's. Although legally they were separate from the state, in practice they had all the same resources at their disposal.

In 1893, Leopold excised the most readily accessible 259,000 km2 (100,000 sq mi) portion of the Free Trade Zone and declared it to be the Domaine de la Couronne, literally, “Field of the Crown” – a large portion of the land in the center of the country went to Leopold himself. Here the same rules applied as in the Domaine Privé except that all revenue went directly to Leopold. Although the concession companies and the Domaine paid taxes to the state, their ability to use the Congolese to extract resources from the land enabled them to begin to make vast sums of money. They forced out private traders, and destroyed the already weak Congolese economies.

Scramble for Katanga[edit]

Early in Leopold's rule, the second problem—the British South Africa Company's expansionism into the southern Congo Basin—was addressed. The distant Yeke Kingdom, in Katanga on the upper Lualaba River, had signed no treaties, and was known to be rich in copper and thought to have much gold from its slave-trading activities. Its powerful mwami (big chief), Msiri, had already rejected a treaty brought by Alfred Sharpe on behalf of Rhodes. In 1891 a Free State expedition extracted a letter from Msiri agreeing to their agents coming to Katanga, and later that year Leopold sent the well-armed Stairs Expedition, led by William Grant Stairs, to take possession of Katanga one way or another.[8]

Msiri tried to play the Free State off against Rhodes, and when negotiations bogged down, Stairs flew the Free State flag anyway, and gave Msiri an ultimatum. Instead, Msiri decamped to another stockade. Stairs sent a force to capture him, but he stood his ground, whereupon Captain Omer Bodson shot Msiri dead and was fatally wounded in the resulting fight.[9] The expedition cut off Msiri's head and put it on a pole, as he had often done to his enemies. This was to impress upon the locals that his rule was really ended,[5] after which the successor chief recognized by Stairs signed the treaty.

War with Arab slavers[edit]

Main article : 1892–1894 war in the Eastern Congo

In the short term, the third problem, that of the African slavers, like Zanzibari/Swahili strongman Tippu Tip was solved. Leopold negotiated an alliance and later appointed Tip as Governor of Stanley Falls district. In the longer term this was unsatisfactory. At home Leopold found it embarrassing to be allied with Tip because of anti-slavery sentiment. Even worse, Tip and Leopold were direct commercial rivals: every person that Tippu Tip extracted from his realm into chattel slavery, every pound of ivory, was a loss to Leopold. This, and Leopold's humanitarian pledges to the Berlin Conference to end slavery, meant war was inevitable.

Both sides fought by proxy, arming and leading the populations of the upper Congo forests in a conflict. Tip's muskets were no match for Leopold's artillery and machine guns. By early 1894 the war was over.

Economy during Leopold's rule[edit]

Clearing tropical forests ate away at profit margins. However, ample plots of cleared land were already available. Above, a Congolese farming village (Baringa, Equateur) is emptied and leveled to make way for a rubber plantation.

While the war against African powers was ending, the quest for income was increasing, fueled by the concessionaire policy. District officials' salaries were reduced to a bare minimum, and made up with a commission payment based on the profit that their area returned to Leopold. After widespread criticism, this "primes system" was substituted for the allocation de retraite in which a large part of the payment was granted, at the end of the service, only to those territorial agents and magistrates whose conduct was judged "satisfactory" by their superiors. This meant in practice that nothing changed. Congolese communities in the Domaine Privé were not merely forbidden by law to sell items to anyone but the State: they were required to provide State officials with set quotas of rubber and ivory at a fixed, government-mandated price and to provide food to the local post.[10]

The rubber came from wild vines in the jungle, unlike the rubber from Brazil, which was tapped from trees. To extract the rubber, instead of tapping the vines, the Congolese workers would slash them and lather their bodies with the rubber latex. When the latex hardened, it would be scraped off the skin in a painful manner, as it took off the worker's hair with it.[11]

The Force Publique (FP) was called in to enforce the rubber quotas. The officers were white agents of the State. Of the black soldiers, many were from far-off peoples of the upper Congo while others had been kidnapped during the raids on villages in their childhood and brought to Roman Catholic missions, where they received a military training in conditions close to slavery. Armed with modern weapons and the chicotte—a bull whip made of hippopotamus hide—the Force Publique routinely took and tortured hostages, flogged, and raped Congolese people. They also burned recalcitrant villages, and above all, took human hands as trophies on the orders of their officers to show that bullets hadn't been wasted. (As officers were concerned that their subordinates might waste their ammunition on hunting animals for sport, they required soldiers to submit one hand for every bullet spent.)[12]

This was all contrary to the promises of uplift made at the Berlin Conference which recognized the Congo Free State. Starting with Conan Doyle, historians have blamed this on the rubber boom of the 1890s combined with lack of enforcement by the other Powers of the conditions made by the Conference.

Humanitarian disaster[edit]

Mutilation[edit]

Congolese children and wives whose fathers failed to meet rubber collection quotas were often punished by having their hands cut off.
Nsala, of the district of Wala, looking at the severed hand and foot of his five-year old daughter, Boali, who was killed and allegedly cannibalized by the members of Anglo-Belgian India Rubber Company (A.B.I.R.) militia. Source: E. D Morel, King Leopold's rule in Africa, between pages 144 and 145

Failure to meet the rubber collection quotas was punishable by death. Meanwhile, the Force Publique were required to provide a hand of their victims as proof when they had shot and killed someone, as it was believed that they would otherwise use the munitions (imported from Europe at considerable cost) for hunting.[12] As a consequence, the rubber quotas were in part paid off in chopped-off hands. Sometimes the hands were collected by the soldiers of the Force Publique, sometimes by the villages themselves. There were even small wars where villages attacked neighbouring villages to gather hands, since their rubber quotas were too unrealistic to fill.

One junior European officer described a raid to punish a village that had protested. The European officer in command 'ordered us to cut off the heads of the men and hang them on the village palisades ... and to hang the women and the children on the palisade in the form of a cross.'[13] After seeing a Congolese person killed for the first time, a Danish missionary wrote: 'The soldier said "Don't take this to heart so much. They kill us if we don't bring the rubber. The Commissioner has promised us if we have plenty of hands he will shorten our service."'[14] In Forbath's words:

The baskets of severed hands, set down at the feet of the European post commanders, became the symbol of the Congo Free State. ... The collection of hands became an end in itself. Force Publique soldiers brought them to the stations in place of rubber; they even went out to harvest them instead of rubber... They became a sort of currency. They came to be used to make up for shortfalls in rubber quotas, to replace... the people who were demanded for the forced labour gangs; and the Force Publique soldiers were paid their bonuses on the basis of how many hands they collected.

In theory, each right hand proved a killing. In practice, soldiers sometimes "cheated" by simply cutting off the hand and leaving the victim to live or die. More than a few survivors later said that they had lived through a massacre by acting dead, not moving even when their hands were severed, and waiting till the soldiers left before seeking help. In some instances a soldier could shorten his service term by bringing more hands than the other soldiers, which led to widespread mutilations and dismemberment.

Death toll[edit]

A reduction of the population of the Congo is noted by all who have compared the country at the beginning of Leopold's control with the beginning of Belgian state rule in 1908, but estimates of the deaths toll vary considerably. Estimates of contemporary observers, as well as some modern scholars (such as Jan Vansina, professor emeritus of history and anthropology at the University of Wisconsin), suggest that the population decreased by half during this period.[15] Others dispute this; the scholars at the Royal Museum for Central Africa in Tervuren, Belgium, find a decrease of 15% over the first forty years of colonial rule (up to the census of 1924).

According to British diplomat Roger Casement, this depopulation had four main causes: "indiscriminate war", starvation, reduction of births and diseases.[16] Sleeping sickness ravaged the country and was used by the regime to account for demographic decrease. Opponents of King Leopold's rule stated, however, that the administration itself was to be considered responsible for the spreading of the epidemic.[17] One of the greatest specialists on sleeping sickness, P.G. Janssens, Professor at the Ghent University, wrote:[citation needed]

It seems reasonable to admit the existence on the territories of the Congo Free State, of French Congo and Angola of a certain number of permanent sources that have been put again in activity by the brutal changement of ancestral conditions and ways of life that has accompanied the occupation of the territories.

In the absence of a census (the first was taken in 1924) to provide even an opening figure,[18] it is impossible to quantify population changes in the period. Despite this, Forbath claimed the loss was at least 5 million;[19] Adam Hochschild, and Isidore Ndaywel è Nziem, 10 million;[20][21] However no verifiable records exist. Louis and Stengers state that population figures at the start of Leopold's control are only "wild guesses", while calling E.D. Morel's attempt and others at coming to a figure for population losses as "but figments of the imagination".[22] To put these population changes in context sourced references state that in 1900, Africa had between 90 million[23] and 133 million people.[24]

End and annexation as Belgian Congo[edit]

Proclamation from Inspector-general Ghislain to the population fo the Congo, announcing the annexation of the territory by Belgium in 1908.

Leopold ran up high debts with his Congo investments before the beginning of the worldwide rubber boom in the 1890s. Prices increased throughout the decade as industries discovered new uses for rubber in tires, hoses, tubing, insulation for telegraph and telephone cables and wiring. By the late 1890s, wild rubber had far surpassed ivory as the main source of revenue from the Congo Free State. The peak year was 1903, with rubber fetching the highest price and concessionary companies raking in the highest profits.

However, the boom sparked efforts to find lower-cost producers. Congolese concessionary companies started facing competition from rubber cultivation in Southeast Asia and Latin America. As plantations were begun in other tropical areas—mostly under the ownership of the rival British firms—world rubber prices started to dip. Competition heightened the drive to exploit forced labour in the Congo in order to lower production costs. Meanwhile, the cost of enforcement was eating away at profit margins, along with the toll taken by the increasingly unsustainable harvesting methods. As competition from other areas of rubber cultivation mounted, Leopold's private rule was left increasingly vulnerable to international scrutiny.

Like Arthur Conan Doyle in his Crime of the Congo, Mark Twain (above) saw a colonial regime that had abandoned its civilizing mission. Twain's King Leopold's Soliloquy was a biting, sarcastic satire aimed at King Leopold.

International criticism[edit]

Missionaries were allowed only on sufferance, and Leopold was able to silence the Belgian Catholics. Rumours circulated so Leopold attempted to discredit them, even creating a "Commission for the Protection of the Natives" to root out the "few isolated instances" of abuse. Publishers were bribed, critics accused of running secret campaigns to further other nations' colonial ambitions, and eyewitness reports from missionaries such as William Henry Sheppard dismissed as attempts by Protestants to smear Catholic priests.[citation needed] For at least a decade, Leopold was successful.

E. D. Morel, a clerk in a major Liverpool shipping office and a part-time journalist, noticed that ships that brought vast loads of rubber from the Congo returned only with guns and ammunition for the Force Publique. He became a journalist and then a publisher, attempting to discredit Leopold's regime. Joseph Conrad's novel Heart of Darkness was released in 1902, based on a brief experience as a steamer captain on the Congo 12 years before. In 1903, Morel and those who agreed with him in the House of Commons succeeded in passing a resolution which called on the British government to conduct an inquiry into alleged violations of the Berlin Agreement.

Roger Casement, then the British Consul at Boma (at the mouth of the Congo River), delivered a long, detailed eyewitness report which was published in 1904. The British Congo Reform Association, founded by Morel with Casement's support, demanded action. Other European nations and the US followed suit. The British Parliament demanded a meeting of the 14 signatory powers to review the 1885 Berlin Agreement. The Belgian Parliament, pushed by Emile Vandervelde and other critics of the King's Congolese policy, forced Leopold to set up an independent commission of inquiry, and despite the King's efforts, in 1905 it confirmed Casement's report.

The mass-deaths in the Congo Free State became a cause célèbre in the last years of the 19th century. The Congo Reform Movement, which included among its members Mark Twain, Joseph Conrad, Booker T. Washington, and Bertrand Russell, led a vigorous international movement against the maltreatment of the Congolese population.[25][26]

Leopold offered to reform his regime, but international opinion supported an end to the King's rule, while no nation was willing to accept this responsibility. Belgium was the obvious European candidate to run the Congo; for two years, it debated the question and held new elections on the issue.

The Parliament of Belgium annexed the Congo Free State and took over its administration on November 15, 1908. However, the international scrutiny was no major loss to Leopold or the concessionary companies in the Belgian Congo. By then Southeast Asia and Latin America had become lower-cost producers of rubber. Along with the effects of resource depletion in the Congo, international commodity prices had fallen to a level that rendered Congolese extraction unprofitable. The state took over Leopold's private dominion and bailed out the company, but the rubber boom was over.

Order of the Crown[edit]

The Order of the Crown, originally created in 1897 under the authority of Leopold II, rewarded supposed heroic deeds and service achieved while serving in the Congo Free State. The Order was made a decoration of the Belgian state with the abolition of the Congo Free State in 1908 and is still awarded today.

Public recognition and legacy[edit]

Early 20th-century exposure[edit]

A 1906 Punch cartoon depicting Leopold II as a rubber vine entangling a Congolese man.
  • E. D. Morel, a British journalist and shipping agent who understood, checking the commercial documents of the Congo Free State, that while millions of dollars worth of rubber and ivory were coming out of the Congo, all that was going back was rifles and chains. From this evidence, he inferred that the Congo was a slave state, and devoted the rest of his life to destroying it.
  • Roger Casement, British diplomat and Irish patriot, who put the force of the British government behind the international protest against the Belgians.

Early 21st-century exposure[edit]

English language works alluding to Congo Free State[edit]

  • Joseph Conrad's 1899–1902 novel, Heart of Darkness, which was met with widespread disapproval by authorities and widespread controversy amongst the public.
  • Vachel Lindsay's 1914 poem, The Congo, references Leopold II's atrocities in the Congo:
Listen to the yell of Leopold's ghost,
Burning in Hell for his hand-maimed host.
Hear how the demons chuckle and yell,
Cutting his hands off, down in Hell.

This stanza was the source of the title of Adam Hochschild's King Leopold's Ghost, a history of the atrocities in the Congo Free State.

  • Francis Ford Coppola's 1979 Apocalypse Now, a popular film about the Vietnam War, draws heavily from Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness.

Lack of recognition and use of the word "genocide"[edit]

Adam Hochschild does not characterize the deaths as the result of a deliberate policy of genocide, but rather as the result of a brutal system of forced labor. The Guardian reported in July 2001 that, after initial outrage by Belgian historians following the publications of Hochschild's book, the state-funded Museum of the Belgian Congo would finance an investigation into Hochschild's allegations. The investigatory panel, likely to be headed by Professor Jean-Luc Vellut, was scheduled to report its findings in 2004.[26]

An exhibition by the Museum of the Belgian Congo, called "The Memory of Congo" (February 4, 2005 – October 9, 2005), was set up to tell the truth of what happened in both the Free State and Belgium's later colony. Critics of the museum include Hochschild, who wrote an article for the New York Review of Books claiming he found "distortions and evasions" in the exhibition and stated "The exhibit deals with this question in a wall panel misleadingly headed 'Genocide in the Congo?' This is a red herring, for no reputable historian of the Congo has made charges of genocide; a forced labor system, although it may be equally deadly, is different."[28][dead link] Early Day Motion 2251 presented to the British Parliament on 24 May 2006 called for recognition of "the tragedy of King Leopold's regime" as genocide and gained the signatures of 48 MPs.

See also[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Encyclopædia Britannica
  2. ^ Osborn, Andrew (July 30, 2002). "Belgium confronts its colonial demons". The Guardian (London). 
  3. ^ [1] In the Heart of Darkness (Adam Hochschild - The New York Review of Books)
  4. ^ a b c New International Encyclopedia.
  5. ^ a b René de Pont-Jest: L'Expédition du Katanga, d'après les notes de voyage du marquis Christian de Bonchamps published 1892 in: Edouard Charton (editor): Le Tour du Monde magazine, website accessed 5 May 2007. Section I: "D'ailleurs ces lettres de soumission de ces petits tyrans africains, auxquels on lit quatre longues pages, dont, le plus souvent, ils ne comprennent pas un mot, et qu'ils approuvent d'une croix, afin d'avoir la, paix et des présents, ne sont sérieuses que pour les puissances européennes, en cas de contestations de territoires. Quant au souverain noir qui les signe, il ne s'en inquiète pas un seul instant."
  6. ^ Adam Hochschild, King Leopold's Ghost (1999), p. 58.
  7. ^ Joseph Moloney: With Captain Stairs to Katanga. Sampson Low, Marston & Co, London (1893), p11.
  8. ^ Moloney (1893): Chapter X–XI.
  9. ^ Moloney (1893): Chapter X–XI.
  10. ^ Hochschild, Adam (1999). King Leopold's Ghost. Mariner Books. pp. 161–162, 229–230. 
  11. ^ Hochschild, Adam. King Leopold's Ghost: A Story of Greed, Terror, and Heroism in Colonial Africa. Boston and New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1998, 161.
  12. ^ a b Cawthorne, Nigel. The World's Worst Atrocities, 1999. Octopus Publishing Group. ISBN 0-7537-0090-5.
  13. ^ Bourne, Henry Richard Fox (1903). Civilisation in Congoland: A Story of International Wrong-doing. London: P. S. King & Son. p. 253. Retrieved 2007-09-26. 
  14. ^ Forbath, Peter (1977). The River Congo: The Discovery, Exploration and Exploitation of the World's Most Dramatic Rivers. Harper & Row. p. 374. ISBN 0-06-122490-1. 
  15. ^ Hochschild p.232–233.
  16. ^ Hochschild p.226–232.
  17. ^ Hochschild p.230–231.
  18. ^ Shelton, Dinah (2005). Encyclopedia of Genocide and Crimes Against Humanity. Detroit, Michigan: Macmillan. p. 621. ISBN 0-02-865849-3. 
  19. ^ Forbath, Peter. The River Congo: The Discovery, Exploration, and Exploitation of the World's Most Dramatic River, 1991 (Paperback). Harper & Row. ISBN 0-06-122490-1. 
  20. ^ a b Hochschild.
  21. ^ Isidore Ndaywel è Nziem. Histoire générale du Congo: De l'héritage ancien à la République Démocratique. 
  22. ^ Wm. Roger Louis and Jean Stengers: E.D. Morel's History of the Congo Reform Movement p.252-7
  23. ^ (African Studies Review 49.1 (2006) 179–181)
  24. ^ (World Population Prospects: The 2006 Revision)
  25. ^ R. J. Rummel Exemplifying the Horror of European Colonization:Leopold's Congo"
  26. ^ a b Andrew Osborn. "Belgium exhumes its colonial demons". The Guardian, July 13, 2002.
  27. ^ "Forever in chains: The Tragic History of Congo". The Independent (London). July 28, 2006. Retrieved April 1, 2010. 
  28. ^ Adam Hochschild, In the Heart of Darkness, New York Review of Books, 26 October 2005.

References[edit]

Further reading[edit]

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Coordinates: 5°51′S 13°03′E / 5.850°S 13.050°E / -5.850; 13.050