Report done by: Oliver Wallace
The Democratic Republic of the Congo is the largest country in Africa in size. It is about 80 times larger than Belgium the country that colonized it. It is estimated that the population of the Congo was approximately 30 million in 1908 but no one can be sure as the first census was in 1924. It's population today is about 65 million people. The population of Belgium today is about 11 million people. The Congo is located almost in the middle of Africa except for a small strip of land that connects to the Atlantic Ocean. The northern third of the country is tropical rain forest and the southern two-thirds of the country is grasslands.
Europe had almost no colonies in Africa in the 1870's. The Belgian government had no interest in establishing a colony in Africa because there seemed to be no economic benefit to investing in Africa. So in 1878 King Leopold the Second hired Henry M. Stanley, an English explorer, to explore the area of the Congo. The King persuaded other European leaders to recognize him as the personal ruler of the Congo area.
Leopold formed his own personal company to control the Congo. All profits from the Congo would go directly to him. It is estimated that from 1885 to 1908 Leopold gained what would be well over a hundred million dollars in today's money. Leopold instructed Henry Stanley to sign treaties with African chiefs in the Congo and to acquire as much territory as possible. In exchange for signing the treaties the chiefs were given bolts of cloth and trinkets. The Congo in the 1870's consisted of hundreds of small tribes with each tribe having a chief. There was no central power among the natives. There were no schools and the people practised their own form of religion. The tribes kept to their own small areas and lived off the land.
In 1885 King Leopold the Second took control of the Congo area and ran it as his own personal country. He did not have to answer to the Belgium government as to what he was doing. The native people were not included in any decision making. He treated the people extremely harshly through the men that he hired to control the Congo and extract valuable resources from the country. Leopold became extremely wealthy from the resources such as natural rubber that was extracted from the country. The native peoples were treated worse than slaves.
Eye Witness accounts:
The British vice consul in 1899 gave a terrifying example of how the Force Publique carried out this task:
"An example of what is done was told me up the Ubangi [River]. This offic... method... 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 attacked 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 apiece, and so he continued from village to village until the requisite amount of rubber had been collected."
An account in 1884 describes the actions of an officer known as Fievez taken against those who refused to collect rubber or failed to meet their quota: "I made war against them. One example was enough: a hundred heads cut off, and there have been plenty of supplies ever since. My goal is ultimately humanitarian. I killed a hundred people... but that allowed five hundred others to live."
King Leopold and his representatives tried to hide their terrible actions from the outside world. By 1900 the European and United States press exposed the conditions in the Congo to the world. On November 15, 1908 King Leopold formally turned control of the Congo Free State over to the parliament of Belgium and its name was changed to Belgian Congo.
In 1908 Belgium set up a governor general who controlled the Belgian Congo. He had a colonial council of 14 members. No natives or tribal chiefs were included in the running of the new country. The people became much better off under Belgium rule than when King Leopold was in control.
From 1908 to 1960 the Roman Catholic church and the Protestant churches sent missionaries to the Belgian Congo to convert the people to Christianity. They had no regard to the natives own beliefs and culture. The churches set up schools in the country and virtually controlled all of the education in the country.
In the 1950's some political rights were given to the Africans. On June 30, 1960 the Congo was granted its independence from Belgium.