THE CONGO FREE STATE GENOCIDE: CIRCA 1895 TO 1912
“Our only program, I am anxious to repeat, is the work of moral and material regeneration, and we must do this among a population whose degeneration in its inherited conditions it is difficult to measure. The many horrors and atrocities which disgrace humanity give way little by little before our intervention.” King Léopold II of Belgium. 1
“…his early dreams faded away to be replaced by unscrupulous cupidity, and step by step he was led downwards until he, the man of holy aspirations in 1885, stands now in 1909 with such a cloud of terrible direct personal responsibility resting upon him as no man in modern European history has had to bear.” Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, commenting on King Léopold II’s crimes against humanity. 1
“There are times, young fellah, when every one of us must make a stand for human right and justice, or you never feel clean again.” Lord John Roxton, a character in The Lost World by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Roxton was based on the life of Roger Casement, a leader of the Congo Free State reform campaign. 2
Léopold II’s personal kingdom:
King Léopold II (1835 – 1909) occupied the Belgium throne from 1865 until his death in 1909. Outside of Belgium, however, he is chiefly remembered as the personal owner of the Congo Free State. This was a private project undertaken by the King to extract rubber and ivory from his personal colony, relying on slavery. He was ultimately responsible for the death of possibly tens of millions of Africans. 3
Léopold fervently believed that overseas colonies were the key to a country’s greatness, and worked tirelessly to acquire colonial territory for Belgium. However, neither the Belgian people nor the Belgian government were interested, and Léopold eventually began trying to acquire a colony in his private capacity as an ordinary citizen.
After a number of unsuccessful schemes for colonies in Africa or Asia, in 1876 he organized a private holding company, Association Internationale Africaine, which was disguised as an international scientific and philanthropic association. In 1879, under the auspices of the holding company, he hired the famous explorer Henry Morton Stanley to establish a colony in the Congo region. Stanley gained control of the area from local chiefs through “cloth and trinket” treaties. The chiefs thought that they were signing friendship treaties; in fact, they were selling their land. Much diplomatic and economic maneuvering resulted in the Berlin Conference of 1884-5, at which representatives of 14 European countries and the United States recognized Léopold as sovereign of most of the area he and Stanley had laid claim to. On 1885-FEB-05, the result was the Congo Free State (later the Belgian Congo, then Zaire, and now the Democratic Republic of Congo). At 905,000 square miles, (2.344 million km2), it was an area 76 times larger than Belgium, which Léopold was free to rule as a personal domain. He became sole ruler of a population that Stanley had estimated at 30 million people, without constitution, without international supervision, without ever having been to the Congo, and without more than a tiny handful of his new subjects having heard of him.
The genocide, mutilations and other crimes against humanity:
Under Léopold II’s administration, the Congo Free State was subject to a terror regime, including atrocities such as mass killings and maimings which were used to subjugate the indigenous tribes of the Congo region and to procure slave labor.
He set in train a brutal colonial regime to maximize profitability. The first change was the introduction of the concept of terres vacantes — “vacant” land, which was anything that no European was living on. This was deemed to belong to the state, and servants of the state (i.e., any white men in Léopold’s employ) were encouraged to exploit it.
Next, the Free State was divided into two economic zones: the Free Trade Zone 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, which was in turn the personal property of King Léopold.
Natives were required to provide State officials with set quotas of rubber and ivory at a fixed, government-mandated price, to provide food to the local post, and to provide 10% of their number as full-time forced laborers — slaves in all but name — and another 25% part-time.
To enforce the rubber quotas, the Force Publique (FP) was called in. The FP was an army whose purpose was to terrorize the local population. The officers were white agents of the State. Of the black soldiers, many were cannibals from the most fierce tribes from upper Congo. Others had been kidnapped during the raids on villages in their childhood and brought to Catholic missions, when 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 (mostly women), flogged, and raped the natives. They also burned recalcitrant villages, and above all, took human hands as trophies on the orders of white officers to show that bullets hadn’t been wasted.
One junior white officer described a raid to punish a village that had protested. The white officer in command: “ordered us to cut off the heads of the men and hang them on the village palisades, also their sexual members, and to hang the women and the children on the palisade in the form of a cross.” After seeing a native 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’.” In the words of author Peter Forbath’s: “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 judicial murder. 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 hand was severed, and waiting till the soldiers left before seeking help.
To visit the country was difficult. Missionaries were allowed only on sufferance, and mostly only if they were Belgian Catholics who Léopold could keep quiet. White employees were forbidden to leave the country. Nevertheless, rumors circulated and Léopold ran an enormous publicity campaign to discredit them, even creating a bogus 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, eyewitness reports from missionaries dismissed as attempts by Protestants to smear honest Catholic priests. And for a decade or more, Léopold was successful. The secret was out, but few believed it.
Eventually, the most telling blows came from a most unexpected source. Edmund Dene Morel, a clerk in a major Liverpool shipping office and a part-time journalist began to wonder why the ships that brought vast loads of rubber from the Congo returned full of guns and ammunition for the Force Publique. He left his job and became a full-time investigative journalist, and then (aided by merchants who wanted to break into Léopold’s monopoly or, as chocolate millionaire William Cadbury who joined his campaign later, used their money to support humanitarian causes), a publisher. In 1902 Joseph Conrad’s novel Heart of Darkness was released: based on his brief experience as a steamer captain on the Congo ten years before, it encapsulated the public’s growing concerns about what was happening in the Congo. 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. In 1904, Sir Roger Casement, then the British Consul, delivered a long, detailed eyewitness report which was made public. The British Congo Reform Association, founded by Morel with Casement’s support, demanded action. The United States and many European nations followed suit. The British Parliament demanded a meeting of the 14 signatory powers to review the 1885 Berlin Agreement. The Belgian Parliament, pushed by socialist leader Emile Vandervelde and other critics of the King’s Congolese policy, forced Léopold to set up an independent commission of enquiry, and despite the King’s efforts, in 1905 it confirmed Casement’s report in every damning detail.
Léopold offered to reform his regime, but few took him seriously. All nations were now agreed that the King’s rule must be ended as soon as possible. No nation was willing to take on the responsibility, and it was not seriously considered to return control of the land back to the native population. Belgium was the obvious European candidate to run the Congo, but the Belgians were still unwilling. For two years Belgium debated the question and held fresh elections on the issue; meanwhile Léopold opportunistically enlarged the Domaine de la Couronne so as to milk the last possible ounce of personal profit while he could.
Finally, on 1908-NOV-15, four years after the Casement Report and six years after Heart of Darkness was first printed, the Parliament of Belgium annexed the Congo Free State and took over its administration. However, the international scrutiny was no major loss to Léopold 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 Léopold’s private dominion and bailed out the company, but the rubber boom was already over.
Author Conan Doyle met Morel in 1909 and was inspired to write The Crime of the Congo — a book which he finished in eight days. It is “filled with graphic descriptions of violence and illustrated with photos of mutilated people, dealt with the atrocities committed in the Belgian Congo on behalf of King Leopold II.” He later campaigned for and end to the atrocities in the Congo.
The situation in the Congo finally improved. However, the territory given the ironic title of Congo Free State is now ironically titled The Democratic Republic of the Congo. Much of the instability of the present country can be traced to the atrocities of Léopold II.
The death toll:
Estimates of the total death toll vary considerably. The massive reduction of the population of the Congo was noted by all who have compared the country at the beginning of the colonial rule and the beginning of the 20th century . Estimates of observers of the time, as well as modern scholars (most authoritatively Jan Vansina, professor emeritus of history and anthropology at the University of Wisconsin), show that the population halved during this period. According to Roger Casement’s report, this depopulation was caused mainly by four causes: indiscriminate “war”, starvation, reduction of births and diseases. Sleeping sickness ravaged the country and was used by the regime to justify demographic decrease. Opponents of King Léopold’s rule concluded that the administration itself was to be considered responsible for the spreading of this dreadful epidemic. One of the greatest specialists of sleeping sickness, P.G.Janssens, Professeur émérite de l’Université de Gand, blamed “…the brutal change of ancestral conditions and ways of life that has accompanied the accelerated occupation of the territories.”
In the absence of a census (the first was made in 1924), it’s even more difficult to quantify the population loss of the period.
British diplomat Roger Casement’s famous 1904 report estimated the death toll at 3 million for just twelve of the twenty years history of Léopold’s regime.
Investigative reporter and author Peter Forbath estimated at least 5 million deaths.
Adam Hochschild, estimated 10 million.
The Encyclopædia Britannica gives a total population decline of 8 million to 30 million.
Léopold II’s reputation today:
In the Democratic Republic of Congo: Léopold II is still a controversial figure. In 2005 his statue was taken down just hours after it was re-erected in the capital, Kinshasa. The Congolese culture minister, Christoph Muzungu decided to reinstate the statue, arguing people should see the positive aspects of the king as well as the negative. But just hours after the six-metre (20 ft.) statue was erected in the middle of a circle near Kinshasa’s central station, it was taken down again, without explanation.
In Belgium: Léopold II is perceived by many Belgians as the “King-Builder” (“le Roi-Bâtisseur” in French, “Koning-Bouwer” in Dutch) because he commissioned a great number of buildings and urban projects in Antwerp, Brussels, Ostend and elsewhere in Belgium. The buildings include the Royal Glasshouses at Laeken, the Japanese tower, the Chinese pavilion, the Musée du Congo (now called the Royal Museum for Central Africa) and their surrounding park in Tervuren, the Jubilee Triple Arch in Brussels and the Antwerp train station hall. He funded these buildings with the wealth generated by the exploitation of the Congo.
There has been a “Great Forgetting“, as Adam Hochschild describes in his book King Leopold’s Ghost: “The Congo offer a striking example of the politics of forgetting. Leopold and the Belgian colonial officials who followed him went to extraordinary lengths to try to erase potentially incriminating evidence from the historical records.“
Remarkably the colonial Royal Museum for Central Africa (Tervuren Museum) does not mention anything at all about the atrocities committed in the Congo Free State. The Tervuren Museum has a large collection of colonial objects but of the largest injustice in Congo, Hochschild wrote: “there is no sign whatsoever.” Another example is to be found on the sea walk of Blankenberge, a popular coastal resort, where a monument shows a colonialist with a black child at his feet (supposedly bringing him “civilization”) without any comment.
The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. These hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.
- “King Léopold II of Belgium,” MoreOrLess, at: http://www.moreorless.au.com/
- “Conan Doyle and the Belgian Congo,” at: http://www.siracd.com/
- “Congo Free State,” Wikipedia, at: http://en.wikipedia.org/
- Peter Forbath: The River Congo: The Discovery, Exploration and Exploitation of the World’s Most Dramatic Rivers,” Harper & Row, (1977). ISBN .
1 Comment »
or go to
From the Archives
Peretz and the dangers of obsessive love
By Lawrence Davidson | September 20, 2010
… Martin Peretz is a good example of that subset of Americans whose single-minded dedication to Israel makes them, for all intents and purposes, agents of a foreign power. Indeed, in his willingness to pronounce his affection in the most indiscreet way, Peretz can be seen as their spokesman. These folks get very upset when you describe them this way, but that is because they have so mixed up America and Israel that, in their minds, there is no real difference between the two. As the Bard once said, “love is blind and lovers cannot see what petty follies they themselves commit”. Alas, these follies are far from petty. …Read full article
Aletho News Exclusive Content
This article will examine some of the connections between the US and UK National Security apparatus and the appearance of the anthropogenic global warming (AGW) theory beginning after the accident at Three Mile Island. … continue
Also by Aletho News:
September 19, 2011
March 8, 2011
January 2, 2011
October 10, 2010
July 5, 2010
February 25, 2010
February 7, 2010
January 5, 2010
December 26, 2009
December 19, 2009
December 4, 2009
May 9, 2009
- 29th August 2014 | International Solidarity Movement, Nablus Team |Kufr Qaddum August 31, 2014
- 29th August 2014 |Bil’in Weekly demonstration August 31, 2014
- Even the sky belongs to us August 29, 2014
- Self-healing in Gaza August 29, 2014
- Injured and forced to walk August 27, 2014
- Obama Buggers Europe: Sanctions Deepen the Recession August 23, 2014
Looking for something?
TagsAfghanistan Africa al-Akhbar Al-Manar American Civil Liberties Union American Israel Public Affairs Committee Argentina Bashar al-Assad Benjamin Netanyahu Brazil Britain Canada Central Intelligence Agency China CIA Colombia East Jerusalem Egypt European Union FBI Federal Bureau of Investigation France Fukushima Gaza Germany Gilad Atzmon Hamas Hebron Hezbollah Honduras Hugo Chávez Human rights India Intelligence International Atomic Energy Agency International Middle East Media Center International Solidarity Movement Internet Iran Iraq Iraq War Israel Israeli settlement Japan Jerusalem John Kerry Latin America Lebanon Libya Ma'an Middle East National Security Agency NATO New York Times NSA Obama Pakistan Palestine Palestinian prisoners in Israel Police Press TV Russia Sanctions against Iran Saudi Arabia South America Syria Turkey UK Ukraine United Nations United States USA Venezuela West Bank Zionism
Visits Since December 2009
- 1,852,218 hits
Contact:atheonews (at) gmail.com
- Jews, Hollywood, and Gaza: Some Thoughts September 2, 2014
- Democrats Are Doomed September 1, 2014
- Palestine’s ever decreasing circles September 1, 2014
- Defending Apartheid: Then in South Africa, Now in Palestine September 1, 2014
- 2 million British households to miss energy rebate September 1, 2014
- Immortal Technique: The War vs Us All featuring Mumia Abu Jamal September 1, 2014
- Nebraska Cops Receive no Jail Time for Stealing Memory Card, Despite Big Talk from County Attorney August 31, 2014
- Five point action plan for political advocacy in the UK on Palestine around reconstruction August 31, 2014
- UK’s MI6 aided torture of Nepal rebels: Report August 31, 2014
- Jim Page: I’d Rather Be Dancing (Rachel Corrie’s Song) August 31, 2014
- Russian ‘Soldiers Mothers Committees’ — a US Covert Op? August 31, 2014
- Where do Ukraine’s rebels get arms from? Old Soviet bases, says Russia’s top brass August 30, 2014
- U.S. Senators Urge Ecuador to Restore Relations with Israel August 30, 2014
- So, I Asked the Russian Ambassador What He Thinks of NATO August 30, 2014
- US sanctions contravene Iran nuclear deal: FM spokeswoman August 30, 2014
- Laptop of Death, 2.0 August 30, 2014
- Declared missing: Russian diplomats detained in Kiev under dubious pretext August 30, 2014
- Citizen’s Arrest of Tony Blair: Megamix August 30, 2014
Categories"Hope and Change" Aletho News Civil Liberties Corruption Deception Economics Environmentalism Ethnic Cleansing, Racism, Zionism False Flag Terrorism Full Spectrum Dominance Illegal Occupation Islamophobia Mainstream Media, Warmongering Malthusian Ideology, Phony Scarcity Militarism Nuclear Power Science and Pseudo-Science Solidarity and Activism Subjugation - Torture Supremacism, Social Darwinism Timeless or most popular Video War Crimes Wars for Israel
This site is provided as a research and reference tool. Although we make every reasonable effort to ensure that the information and data provided at this site are useful, accurate, and current, we cannot guarantee that the information and data provided here will be error-free. By using this site, you assume all responsibility for and risk arising from your use of and reliance upon the contents of this site.
This site and the information available through it do not, and are not intended to constitute legal advice. Should you require legal advice, you should consult your own attorney.
Nothing within this site or linked to by this site constitutes investment advice or medical advice.
Materials accessible from or added to this site by third parties, such as comments posted, are strictly the responsibility of the third party who added such materials or made them accessible and we neither endorse nor undertake to control, monitor, edit or assume responsibility for any such third-party material.
The posting of stories, commentaries, reports, documents and links (embedded or otherwise) on this site does not in any way, shape or form, implied or otherwise, necessarily express or suggest endorsement or support of any of such posted material or parts therein.
The word "alleged" is deemed to occur before the word "fraud." Since the rule of law still applies. To peasants, at least.
This site contains copyrighted material the use of which has not always been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. We are making such material available in our efforts to advance understanding of environmental, political, human rights, economic, democracy, scientific, and social justice issues, etc. We believe this constitutes a 'fair use' of any such copyrighted material as provided for in section 107 of the US Copyright Law. In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, the material on this site is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes. For more info go to: http://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/17/107.shtml. If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond 'fair use', you must obtain permission from the copyright owner.
This is information for anyone that wishes to challenge our “fair use” of copyrighted material.
If you are a legal copyright holder or a designated agent for such and you believe that content residing on or accessible through our website infringes a copyright and falls outside the boundaries of “Fair Use”, please send a notice of infringement by contacting email@example.com.
We will respond and take necessary action immediately.
If notice is given of an alleged copyright violation we will act expeditiously to remove or disable access to the material(s) in question.
All 3rd party material posted on this website is copyright the respective owners / authors. Aletho News makes no claim of copyright on such material.