King Leoplds Rule In the Congo



In the late eighteen hundreds, Henry Morton Stanley penetrated what today is
called Zaire. Stanley crossed Africa from Zanzibar to the Atlantic ocean and he traced the
course of the Congo River ( El-Ayout 272). The government financed Stanley to
penetrate the Congo and gain as much land as possible. He gained land by making treaties
with the tribal chiefs on behalf of an organization brought by the King (El-Ayout 272),
enabling him to gain lots of land under Belgium.
In 1865 King Leopold II ascended the throne of Belgium. At the time Belgium
could not keep up with trade because the country was too small (Anstey 1), so Belgium
colonized in Congo. In 1884 the Berlin Conference gave King Leopold II complete
control over Congo (El-Yassat). Rubber was abundant in Congo, therefore King Leopold
used his maximum potential to get more land, and extract more rubber, even if it needed
lives.
Depopulation among the natives in the Congo was caused by Belgian control. The
way the Belgians acquired land, forced labor from the natives, taxed inhabitants and the
responsibilities the state put on the officers, such as killing any native not working,
attributed towards depopulation.
Congo was eighty times larger than Belgium, this made administration a difficult
task. In order to pay for administration, King Leopold initiated a system of the
exploitation of vacant land to obtain the natural resources the land gave them. (Anstey 4)
This movement was called the Ordinance of 1885, it declared that any vacant land
belonged to the state. The prime resource in the Congo was rubber, a great demand in
Europe (Anstey 4). This act led to depopulation because the Congolese were forced out of
their land or were induced into forced labor, very similar to slavery.
Without roads or trains, transportation of supplies and resources would take too
much time to transport out of Congo and ship it to itís buyers. Major roads were built by
the use of forced labor (Mitchell). King Leopolds officers would be the supervisors of the
whole operation of collecting and transporting rubber. Here is a primary source written in
1899, a state official told a British consular officer his method of collection in Ubangi
region:
His method of procedure was to arrive in canoes at a village,
the inhabitants of which invariably bolted on their arrival; the
soldiers were then landed, and commenced looting, taking all
the chickens, grain, etc., out of the houses; after this they atta-
the natives until able to seize their women; these women were
kept as hostages until the Chief of the district brought in the
required number of kilograms of rubber.
The rubber having been brought, the women were
sold back to their owners for a couple of goats a-piece, and
so he continued from village to village until the requisite am-
ount of rubber had been collected (Anstey 6)
This system guaranteed that King Leopold received his rubber, but to get the
natives to work was a different situation. King Leopold set up a harsh system of taxation
toward the natives. The Belgian Administration thought that the Congolese should pay
taxes, but the Congolese had no currency, therefore tax had to be paid by labor (Anstey
5). Labor seemed one of the harshest ways to pay tax because the government owned you
and could do anything they wanted to if you did not listen to them. Labor tax included 40
hours per month of labor, and if this tax was not met any state official could do anything
they wish to the inhabitants, even kill them (Anstey 5).
One great reason for depopulation among natives was the responsibilities that the
state gave to the officials. The officers were expected to force the natives to do their job,
if the natives refused to do the work, or if they were slow workers, harsh penalties were
given to them on the spot without trial. Most of these penalties were mutilations like
cutting off body parts, or just killing them on the spot. The best way to understand how
the state officials caused depopulation is by reading primary sources that describe what
an official was responsible to do during his work time. The following