The 19th century European Curse across Africa: Part Two

To understand the influence of a little country (Belgium) over another 80 times as big as it, (the Congo in Africa) I had to read the history. Coming from Britain, I knew too well of our tiny size but the dominant and aggressive role we have played in recent world history.


……..”After a series of incidents, the revolution erupted in Brussels in 1830. William I sent in his troops, but they were expelled on September 27th, 1830. The rebels received support from volunteers outside the city. Following this rising Belgium separated from the Northern Netherlands. A provisional government declared independence on October 4th, 1830. On November 3rd of the same year, a National Congress was elected by an electorate of 30,000 men, who paid a given level of taxes or who had special qualifications. On February 7th, 1831 the national congress adopted a constitution which, for its time, was very progressive. 

A diplomatic conference on the future of Belgium opened in London on the November 4th. The great powers of the time recognised the secession of Belgium from the (Northern) Netherlands. Leopold I of Saxe-Coburg became the first King of the Belgians (1831 – 1865). In 1865 he was succeeded by his son Leopold II (1865 – 1909). Under their reign Belgium became the second most important industrial power.” 

Source: https://www.belgium.be/en/about_belgium/country/history/belgium_from_1830

Belgium itself, is a small country in northwest Europe that joined Europe’s race for colonies in the late 19th century.

Many European countries wanted to colonize distant parts of the world in order to exploit the resources and “civilize” the inhabitants of these less-developed countries. Britain and Germany often contested territory. 

In 1884-1885, the Berlin West Africa Conference effectively divided up the African continent amongst the Great Powers of Europe. Attended by the colonial powers of Great Britain, France, Spain, Portugal, Germany, and Belgium, among others, the Conference created artificial state boundaries as well as a colonial system that was in effect for the next sixty years. 

Among these territories, the Congo was a unique case. Granted to King Leopold II of Belgium, the Congo was a “personal” concession for the King, rather than a colony. The King, not the Belgian government, effectively owned and controlled the Congo.

The drawing and redrawing of territory continued over time. For example:

Extract below is from https://ntz.info/gen/n00796.html

Anglo-German Partition Agreement

In 1886 colonial rivalry between Britain and Germany flared up again and a fresh Anglo-German Partition Agreement clearly defined German and British spheres of influence. A straight line traced between Kenya and Tanganyika along the actual boundaries divided the territories. North of the line, Kenya and Uganda went to England. The Southern part together with Ruanda-Urundi to the west went to Germany: this gave birth to German East Africa. Germany seized the occasion to reduce the mainland possessions of Sultan Barghash of Zanzibar to a 16 km wide coastal strip, keeping free access to all ports.

German East Africa 1886-1918

TANGANYIKA as a geographical and political entity did not take shape before the period of High Imperialism; it’s name only came into use after German East Africa was transferred to Britain as a mandate by the League of Nations in 1920. What is referred to here therefore is the history of the region that was to become Tanganyika. 

German CARL Peters had secured treaties with tribal leaders on East Africa’s coast, providing the German government with legitimation to negotiate with Britain over spheres of interest in East Africa. In the treaty of 1886, Germany renounced it’s claims on the WITU AREA (on Kenya’s coast, north of Mombasa) and on Uganda, and Britain recognized Germany’s claim to what was to become German East Africa. In another treaty of 1890, Germany traded the islands of Zanzibar and Pemba for the much smaller island of Heligoland, off Germany’s coast in the North Sea. The Germans bought off the Sultan of Zanzibar’s rights to the Tanganyikan coast for $ 800,000. 

The German East Africa COMPANY (founded 1887, succeeded by the German government in 1891) established BAGAMOYO as their colony’s capital, soon moving it to DARESSALAAM. The colony was called DEUTSCH-OSTAFRIKA (German East Africa). The colony’s borders had been established in treaties with Britain (Kenya, Uganda, Northern Rhodesia), Belgium (Belgian Congo) and Portugal (Mocambique); interests of the indigenous people were disregarded. From the coast, the Germans penetrated the country and established their rule. The currency was 1 Rupia = 64 Pesa.”

So the misery of the Africans deepened as Europeans redrew their “ownership” and deepened the sadness and resentment, and huge suffering of most native Africans.

The sense of superiority of white humans over black was clear cut by the mostly army and ex army new arrivals. Those who had felt downtrodden in their own lives maybe felt empowered to carry out bullying tactics they had learned from their own experience. The whites reinforced their sense of superiority every time they made a native African suffer and were rewarded by their superiors for their indifference. For small bribes, they could attract the services of some Africans to do their dirty work for them. They could convince some, such as the tall Tutsi Chiefs, to be complicit in their abusive control. The end result was to turn previously good relationships between native Africans into fearful, resentful, damaging historical memories.

War brutalises men and methods of inflicting pain were known to them which no African had knowledge of until they became the target of western weapons, land grabs, torching of villages, theft of animals, slaughter, rape, maiming of people and animals and so on.

Image of King Leopold II


Said to be one of the “deadliest dictators in history, King Leopold II (https://gohighbrow.com/leopold-ii-of-belgium/) of Belgium was responsible for exploiting Africa and her inhabitants to supply rubber and ivory to meet the demand in Europe.  In 1885 the Belgian parliament agreed that Leopold II should become the head of state of the Congo. In 1908 control of Congo was transferred to the Belgian state. The inhabitants of the Congo suffered terrible injustices during at least 25 years under Leopold II.

Belgium gained independence in 1830. Then, King Leopold II came to power in 1865 and believed that colonies would greatly enhance Belgium’s wealth and prestige. In reality, he saw the chance for personal wealth, but disguised his aims to attract loans for his venture in Africa. Leopold’s private police force, the Force Publique, terrorized and exploited Congo, largely in secrecy. 

King Leopold sent the Welshman explorer Henry Morton Stanley to the region. Stanley successfully made treaties with native tribes, set up military posts, and forced most Muslim slave traders out of the region. He acquired millions of square kilometers of central African land for Belgium.

This was a gendarmerie and military force that existed from 1885 through the period of direct Belgian colonial rule (1908-1960). In early 1886 Captain Léon Roger was sent to Congo Free State to establish the force, under which he was promoted to “Commandant of the Force Publique.” Along with Roger, a number of Belgian officers and non-commissioned officers were dispatched to the territory and formed the nucleus of the officer corps.

All of the officers of the Force Publique were white, but were comprised of a mixture of Belgian regular soldiers as well as mercenaries. There are always poor people who will accept the wages, uniform and diabolical orders of the incoming bullies in their homeland.  In this part of Africa they were known as Askari. (An askari (from Swahili: Askari, means: soldier, or military) was a local soldier serving in the armies of the European colonial powers in Africa, particularly in the African Great Lakes, Northeast Africa and Central Africa.)

Although officials always denied it, there were continual charges that, in order to terrorize its enemies, the Force Publique went out of its way to recruit cannibals. An English visitor to the Congo in the 1890s, E.S. Grogan, described Force Publique recruits as “degraded and vice-sodden cannibals” and charged that their officers expected them to supply themselves with food and clothing through “commandeering” or looting. During the Arab wars of the 1890s, Force Publique officers admitted that there were outbreaks of cannibalism in their forces, but claimed that this was the work of irregulars. Since these mercenaries were not subject to army discipline, wrote the authors of the official history of the Force Publique, “it was impossible to stop them from eating a certain number of victims after each battle”.

The Force Publique increased its numbers tenfold in the first decade of its existence, largely because of the requirements of the Arab wars. By 1898 it boasted nearly 20,000 men (although numbers plummeted thereafter, with the collapse of Leopold’s plans to occupy the southern Sudan). The army maintained a military camp in each of the Free State’s districts. More important were the base camps, where regional headquarters were located and basic training carried out. The most important of these camps were at Eambu Luku, near Boma, and at Irebu and Lisala, in the north around the junction between the Ubangi and Congo rivers. Since the latter region was a major catchment area for recruits, it was no coincidence that the Lingala language spoken there in time became the lingua franca of the army. The greatest challenge faced by the Force Publique in its early years came in the 1890s, in the so-called “Arab wars”.

Source:https://weaponsandwarfare.com/2015/12/08/the-force-publique/

A significant raw material in 19th century that began to surface was rubber and ivory. The products of rubber and ivory drove the economy of Europe. Since the 19th century era when the demand of such products was high, European countries sought to find the supply from various countries such as Africa and South America. The world population was now over 1 billion. In 10,000 BC it was 1 million. The Anthropocene Age was now accelerating.

The chance to supply rubber and Ivory to Europe motivated King Leopold II. Greed still motivates one percent of the world population and continues to cause appalling global misery to the many, whilst the few distance themselves from the suffering. He never set foot in Africa, yet he oversaw the operation which brought him immense wealth.

Rubber was not tapped from the Hevea brasiliensis tree as in Brazil since ancient times, but from vines in the equatorial forests of Central Africa. (The Atlantic Equatorial coastal forests are a tropical moist broadleaf forest ecoregion of central Africa, covering hills, plains, and mountains of the Atlantic coast of Cameroon, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, Republic of the Congo, Angola, and Democratic Republic of the Congo.

The vine, Landolphia owariensis is a species of liana from the family Apocynaceae found in tropical Africa. Latex can be extracted from this plant for the manufacture of natural rubber.

Other names for this vine are eta, the white rubber vine and the Congo rubber plant. Congo rubber was a commercial rubber exported from the Congo starting in 1890.

From 1885 to 1908, whilst  Leopold controlled the Congo region,  millions died as a result of murder, deprivation, and disease, with the native population falling by millions in this period; some writers estimate this loss to be as high as 10 million people. 

In the 1870s, Leopold II created an organization called the International African Association.

This sham was supposedly a scientific and philanthropic organization which would greatly improve the lives of native Africans by converting them to Christianity, ending the slave trade, and introducing European health and educational systems. Lies and more lies. History is littered with such pretence at ‘improving the lives of others’ when actions proved just the opposite.

In addition, King Leopold II insisted that he would maintain the Congo River regions as a free-trade zone, and he was given personal control of the region, which was nearly eighty times larger than Belgium. He named the region the “Congo Free State.” He began to economically exploit the region’s land and inhabitants. Leopold saw European industrialization. Vehicles were being built and they needed rubber for tyres and Ivory was increasing in value, demanded in many parts of the world.

African natives were forced to produce ivory, decimating the elephants. The rubber they had used locally to meet more simple needs, was now needed in vast quantity.


Leopold’s army mutilated or killed any African who didn’t produce enough of these coveted, profitable resources.

The Europeans ordered the burning of African villages, farmland, and rainforest, and kept women as hostages until rubber and mineral quotas were met. Due to this brutality and European diseases, the native population dwindled by approximately ten million people. Leopold II took the enormous profits and built lavish buildings in Belgium. He also built this house on the French Riviera, which today is the most expensive house in th world, with extensive botanical gardens.

Image of house


But the world would have remained ignorant of the atrocities carried out in the name of King Leopold II but for a Kodak camera in the hands of a 27 year old Alice Seeley Harris, the wife of missionary John Harris https://www.liverpoolmuseums.org.uk/ism/exhibitions/brutal-exposure/alice-seeley-harris.aspx

Image of Kodak camera


Image of Alice Seeley Harris

Image of Rubber Plantation workers

Despite his growing reliance on the wealth of the Congo, Leopold never visited this territory himself.  
To read some testimonies, see http://en.lisapoyakama.org/the-hacked-hands-of-the-belgian-congo/

According to the World History Archives, in 1890, a clerk at a British shipping line, Edmund Dene Morel, noticed that rubber and ivory came out of Congo, but nothing went in except soldiers and guns. He began a campaign in Britain to expose Leopold’s atrocities. Joseph Conrad’s novel Heart of Darkness furthered social interest in Africa. Eventually, British officials ordered Irish human rights activist Sir Roger Casement to provide a report. Casement’s scathing 1906 report was so severe that London’s Foreign Office would not publish the original.

By 1908, the territory was so poorly managed that an international furor condemning Leopold had erupted. That same year, in an attempt to stem this furor, the Congo was ceded to the Belgium government who took over the running of the Congo after Leopold II was removed from control. They hoped they could prove they could do a good job of running the colony…

5,926 including 3,551 Belgians. There were around 10 million native Africans and the region was in a sad state.

Leopold’s cruel, greedy activities in the current Democratic Republic of the Congo, Rwanda, and Burundi continue to affect the welfare of these countries today. 

And the final word from the blog of  Lisapo ya Kama 

“They throw facts at my head, statistics, mileages of roads, canals, and railroad tracks. I am talking about thousands of men sacrificed to the Congo-Ocean. I am talking about those who, as I write this, are digging the harbor of Abidjan by hand. I am talking about millions of men torn from their gods, their land, their habits, their life—from life, from the dance, from wisdom. I am talking about millions of men in whom fear has been cunningly instilled, who have been taught to have an inferiority complex, to tremble, kneel, despair, and behave like flunkeys.”
Hotep !

About borderslynn

Retired, living in the Scottish Borders after living most of my life in cities in England. I can now indulge my interest in all aspects of living close to nature in a wild landscape. I live on what was once the Iapetus Ocean which took millions of years to travel from the Southern Hemisphere to here in the Northern Hemisphere. That set me thinking and questioning and seeking answers.
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