Leopold Ii as a King-Sovereign of the Congo Free State – a Great Diplomat, Businessman or a Man Who Caused a Genocide?

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Leopold II as a King-Sovereign of the Congo Free State
– a great diplomat, businessman or a man who caused a genocide?

Mgr. Lucie Tamášová



The beginning of the Congo Free State3

Desire for colonies3

Founding of the International African Association4

Leopold’s Beginnings in Congo with Morton Stanley5

Stanley in Congo7

International Association of the Congo and the Berlin Conference9

Terror and profit in Colonial Congo12

The first critic of Leopold’s administration in Congo12

What was taking place in Congo in this time14

Chicotte Beating17

The Force Publique18

What was it like to be captured and enslaved by the Congo’s white conquerors?19

Invention of the rubber tires and its influence on Congo22

Forced Labor for harvesting the rubber23

The severed hands as a prove24

The painful end of Leopold’s Congo26

How many people had to die?26

The annexation of Congo by Belgian Parliament28



We think that communism and fascism represented something new in history because they caused tens of millions of deaths and had totalitarian ideologies that censored all dissent. We forget that tens of millions of Africans had already died under colonial rule. Colonialism could also be a totalitarian – what, after all, was more so than a forced labor system? Censorship was tight: an African in the Belgian Congo had no more chance of advocating freedom in the local press than a dissident in Stalin’s Soviet Union. Colonialism was also justified by an elaborate ideology, embodied in everything from Kipling’s poetry and Stanley’s lectures to sermons and books about the shapes of skulls, lazy natives, and the genius of European civilization. And to speak, as Leopold’s officials did, of forced laborers as libertés, or “liberated men”, was to use language as perverted as that above the gate at Auschwitz, Arbeit Macht Frei. Communism, fascism, and European colonialism each asserted the right to totally control its subjects’ lives. In all three cases, the impact lingered long after the system officially died.

Adam Hochschild, September 2005

Leopold II of Belgium started the European nations’ “scramble” for territory in Africa at the end of the nineteenth century. While the other colonial powers, such as France, Britain, Portugal and Germany established colonies, Leopold proclaimed himself King-Sovereign of the Congo Free State. Ivory and rubber brought him great wealth and harvesting of the crop brought lots of hardships, pain and death to the Congolese gatherers.

Even though most probably more than 10milion people died during the period of his rule, not many people know about what happened. Leopold II is more perceived as the “King Builder” than the King that had caused such an atrocity.

Is this thanks to the great forgetting and lack of information, or because he was such a good diplomat that was able to keep his reputation clean?

The beginning of the Congo Free State

Desire for colonies

Leopold has been affected by the colonist ambitions of his father, Leopold I. During the reign of Leopold I. fifty-one attempts to found a colony were made; none of them was successful[1]. Leopold II became King of the Belgians on the death of his father in December 1865 and thereafter pursued the idea of a Belgian colony with calculating, not to say demonic, vigour. The Far East, and trade with China, was the principal object of his interest at the time. After his proposals were rejected by the Chinese, he decided that the Philippines would provide excellent base for his interests. But this plan and other plans (e.g. with New Guinea, Tongking, Vietnam…) also collapsed. At the end, Leopold set his sights firmly on Africa. Sub-Saharan Africa was a logical place for an aspiring colonialist to look in the mid 1870s. About 80 percent of the entire continent was still...
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