Guest Author - Rebecca Graf
The treatment Africans experienced at the hands of the European powers that looked to the large continent for resources varied across the land though over all suppression was the foundation. Upon closer analysis, the Belgian Congo was one that was deliberately raped and pillaged. Compared to the other regions of Africa, the Congo was treated the harshest and suffered long-term effects.
King Leopold of Belgium saw a grand opportunity not just for his country but for himself personally. By giving Leopold control of the Congo basin, European powers would have free access to the area in a tax free area. It was to benefit all of Europe. What most of the world did not realize, including the United States, was the true intent of Leopold: greed. There was wealth to be found in his personal playground, and Leopold knew how to create an altruistic illusion that the world would swallow.
The Belgian Congo was not really Belgian aside from the fact that it was owned and governed by the Belgian king. Research has shown that Belgium had little to do with the Congo. Many times, the country refused to help Leopold out financially to run the country but were perfectly fine in accepting payments from the area. This was not a European territory as much as it was Leopold’s personal financial playground. He was the dictator that told the world he would take care of the land and the people as the “exploitation of natural resources began.”
Within the Congo basin was ivory and rubber. Technology was advancing around the world causing rubber to become high in demand. Money flowed into the Congo as Leopold used it to show the world of the small country’s power. He built impressive buildings and expanded the Antwerp harbor. The industrial revolution was giving Leopold everything he desired, but it came at a cost to the Africans. Overnight, Leopold had claimed the vast majority of the land from the natives and forced them to work it. What was once the “ancestral wandering-laces of the natives” were now owned by Leopold as was everything it contained: the rubber, the camwood, the copal, the ivory, and the skins.”
There was rubber and ivory to be had for the taking that would line Leopold’s pockets. There was also another resource that was abundant in the region needed to obtain the rubber and ivory: human labor. Leopold looked at the male population of the Congo ‘Free State’ as “slave laborers” sent for years at a time “gathering the Congo’s abundant wild rubber.” The ‘Free State’ claimed to protect the natives and help abolish the slave trade. In a sense, it did as it created a new form of slavery that was not exposed for many years. This new form of slavery was described as a form of indentured servitude where the “blacks [were] to be found over in terms of seven years’ service to their masters” with no say so in the conditions or the actual transaction. This servitude was not taking the natives as servants where they could earn their way out or get an improved life. It would become a form of slavery that most often ended in death.
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