Why was King Leopold so interested in the Congo area specifically? Or, was this just what he could get? What was it about the Congo that had the King of Belgium chomping at the bit to get a piece of Africa?
In a sense, it was all that he could get. Belgium was not exactly in the front of the race for Africa. Britain and France and already claimed most areas. The heart of Africa was not as familiar and was not as quickly grabbed. It was dangerous though rich. Leopold was willing to risk it especially after he sent in expeditions to explore including that of the famous Stanley. Those explorations confirmed the wealth of the region which pleased him drastically.
Leopold would get an area that could be traversed by other nations which could bring in money and there were lots of goodies for him. The reports he got back from the dark interior before he officially claimed the land said that Leopold’s men “could obtain large quantities of the ivory they craved from the inhabitants of the sparsely populated regions” that had been pillaged for human trafficking. (1) Leopold told the world he wanted to “open the interior of Africa to the benefits of trade with Europe.” (2) He knew what lurked in the depths. So did most of Europe, but they had enough on their hands with the large amounts of land they had acquired. Letting him a little bit of the spoils was nothing. As soon as he could, the king of Belgium “began the process of extracting all possible wealth out of the area with no consideration for the people who lived there.” (3) He wanted something and the Congo was the easiest for him to manipulate into his hands and it gave him the greatest rewards.
(1) Jan Vansian, Being Colonized: The Kuba Experience in Rural Congo, 1880-1960, (Madison: The University of Wisconsin Press, 2010), 11.
(2) Colonialism in the Congo: Conquest, Conflict, and Commerce, (Choices for the 21sst Century Education Program, 2005), 9, http://projects.ecfs.org/eastwest/Readings/CongoSim.pdf.
(3) Ibid, 12.