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The Congo Free State: A Legacy Of Apathy, Exploitation And Brutality

2298 words - 9 pages

Between 1885 and 1908, Belgium’s Leopold II ruled Congo, a region in central Africa, as his personal colony, exploiting the resources and inhabitants for his own gain. Leopold allowed and encouraged Europeans and other Westerners to enter Congo and set up companies whose primary purpose was to gather rubber, which was abundant but difficult to get to in the Congo, using the Congolese as the laborers for the Europeans. Rubber gathering in Congo brutally exploited the inhabitants of the Congo, while at the same time robbed Congo of wealth, as the rubber was “sold” to the Europeans at prices far below what the rubber was actually worth. Only when others, specifically the British and the Americans, revealed the horrible conditions of the Congo, did the Belgian government reluctantly take over control of Congo, but the damage was done. Scholars, such as Martin Meredith, state that Leopold II was “An ambitious, greedy, and devious monarch” whose “Principle aim … was to amass as large a fortune for himself as possible.” Meredith also quotes Joseph Conrad, who described the Congo Free State “As ‘the vilest scramble for loot that ever disfigured the history of human conscience.’” Yet, there are some scholars and officials who support Leopold II and the Congo Free State. Upon independence, The Belgian king, Baudouin I, stated that “‘The independence of the Congo constitutes the culmination of the work conceived by the genius of King Leopold II.’” Also, museums in Belgium have presented exhibitions, in the words of Jan-Bart Gewald, “Which unfortunately attempted to qualify, indeed play down, the colonial past in the Congo.” The Congo colonial experience, was harmful to Congo both in the colonial era and in the post-colonial era, because of the lack of Belgian and international attention on the colony except for short times, the widespread economic exploitation of the rubber resources of the region, and the brutal mistreatment and near-genocide of the Congolese by those in charge of rubber collecting.
While Leopold II, the King of Belgium, desperately wanted an overseas colony, the Belgian people did not share his enthusiasm, which created the feelings of neglect and apathy Belgium had towards Congo. The Congo Free State, established “In the margins of the Berlin Conference” in 1885, allowed Leopold to “gain international recognition of his possession” which he had begun to take control of since the 1870s. However, while Leopold was securing control of the Congo, the Belgian people were not interested in controlling colonies, as they believed that colonies “Would merely soak up resources that would be better used for social purposes at home.” Thus, while the Belgian king administered Congo as a colony, the Belgian people and government did not control Congo. In effect, “Leopold would act in two entirely separate capacities: In Belgium, he would rule as a Constitutional Monarch, while in the Congo, he would rule as an autocrat.” Since Belgium...

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