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The colonial government under the reign of king leopold ii

Encyclopedia of Modern Europe: Leopold II, King of the Belgians—as his country's rulers have traditionally been known—was born in 1835. He took the throne in 1865, on the death of his father, who had been the young nation's first king.

Who was King Leopold II and what did he have to do with Congo?

In most of western Europe, monarchs were then rapidly losing power to elected parliaments, and so Leopold did not leave a great mark on Belgium's internal politics. But he left an enormous impact overseas. Shrewd, ruthless, ambitious, and openly frustrated with being king of such a small country, he was eager to acquire a colony.

  • As the price of rubber soared, the quotas increased, and as vines near a village were drained dry, men desperate to free their wives and daughters would have to walk days or weeks to find new vines to tap;
  • In 1885, various socialist and social democratic groups drew together and formed the Labour Party.

After studying how Spain and Holland had won great colonial wealth, he made a string of unsuccessful attempts to buy or lease colonies in various parts of the world.

In the 1870s, as Europe rapidly began conquering almost all of Africa, he saw his chance. The Belgian government was not interested in colonies, but for the king that posed no problem.

Leopold II

Leopold hired the British explorer Henry Morton Stanley, and for five years, starting in 1879, Stanley served as the king's man in Africa. Then, using these treaties as ammunition, the king managed to persuade first the United Statesand then the major nations of Europe, to recognize this huge region as his own. One-thirteenth the land area of the African continent and more than seventy-six times the size of Belgium, it was the world's only colony owned by one man. At the beginning of his colonial rule the main commodity Leopold was after was ivory—much valued in Europe for the way it could be carved into jewelry, statuettes, piano keys, and even false teeth.


Joseph Conrad unforgettably portrayed the greed and cruelty of the race for Congo ivory in his great novella Heart of Darkness 1902. Conrad had been a steamboat officer on the Congo River in 1890.

  • Abandoning the promises of the Berlin Conference in the late 1890s, the Free State government restricted foreign access and extorted forced labor from the natives;
  • In the Force Publique , black people could not pass the rank of non-commissioned officer;
  • Obtaining the Congo Free State[ edit ] Further information;
  • At the beginning of his colonial rule the main commodity Leopold was after was ivory—much valued in Europe for the way it could be carved into jewelry, statuettes, piano keys, and even false teeth;
  • The public systems were centrally administered.

Soon, however, the Congo was profoundly affected by something that happened in Europe: This, followed quickly by the invention of the automobile, created a huge worldwide rubber boom by the early 1890s. Wild rubber vines grew throughout the rain forest of Leopold's Congo, and to gather it he turned much of the territory's male population into forced labor. The king maintained a private army of some nineteen thousand soldiers, black conscripts under white officers.

For some twenty years, troops came into village after village, and held the women hostage in order to make the men go into the forest and gather a monthly quota of wild rubber. As rubber prices soared, men were forced to do this for weeks out of each month.

The results were immense profits for the king and a human disaster for the Congolese. Huge numbers of male forced laborers were worked to death while women hostages starved.

  • Arthur Lewis Piper was the first person to use and bring tryparsamide, the Rockefeller Foundation's drug to cure sleeping sickness, to the Congo;
  • The ITM was, and still is one of the world's leading institutes for training and research in tropical medicine and the organisation of health care in developing countries;
  • Tens of thousands of others were shot down in failed rebellions against the regime.

And with women in custody and men turned into forced laborers, there were few people left to plant and harvest food and to hunt and fish. In addition, tens of thousands died in unsuccessful rebellions. Hundreds of thousands fled the forced labor regime, but they had nowhere to go but remote rain forest areas where there was little food and shelter.

Famine raged, the birthrate dropped, and disease killed millions who would otherwise have survived. From all these causes, the best demographic estimates suggest that the population of the Congo was slashed by 50 percent, from roughly 20 million people in 1880 to roughly 10 million in 1920. Belgian colonial authorities at the time, including the official Commission for the Protection of the Natives, also estimated that the population had dropped by half. The forced labor regime began to moderate only in the early 1920s, when officials realized that, without changes, they would soon have no labor force left.

  1. After King Leopold sold his personal colony to the government of Belgium, the atrocities stopped in the Congo but the working conditions remained terrible.
  2. Private, foreign, and missionary schools were favoured everywhere as alternatives for the upper classes to the inadequate public schools. Furthermore, as in any society where men and women are separated, traumatized, or in flight as refugees, the birth rate dropped precipitously.
  3. The same difficulties prevailed in the other Middle Eastern countries, though Turkey established—with World Bank support—a network of modern vocational schools. Leopold extracted a fortune from the Congo, initially by the collection of ivory , and after a rise in the price of rubber in the 1890s, by forced labour from the natives to harvest and process rubber.

This he spent on palaces and monuments in Belgium, on clothes for his teenaged mistress, and on his vast array of properties on the French Riviera. International protests forced him to turn the Congo over to Belgium in 1908, but he managed to extract additional payments from the Belgian government for doing so.

He died, unpopular at home but with his fortune intact, the following year.