From 1885 to 1908, Belgian King Leopold II took control of the Congo. He turned the nation into a moneymaking machine by farming ivory and rubber and building a fortune on the labor of the people who lived there.
Things quickly got out of control. Leopold’s harsh policies to keep people working turned into a brutal reign of mutilations and terror that led to the deaths of an estimated 10 million people in a few short years.
Life in the Congo Free State was a waking nightmare, the likes of which the world had never seen. Hopefully, we will never see it again.
10. Thirty-Two Towns Were Destroyed While Mapping The Congo
King Leopold II hired a British explorer, Henry Morton Stanley, to help him establish the Congo Free State. Stanley had already explored and mapped most of the Congo River and had experience with the people who lived there.
Stanley wasn’t evil; he entered the country with no intention other than to explore. His men and the natives of the Congo, though, had vastly different cultures. They didn’t understand each other. Those misunderstandings turned into terrible fears and soon boiled into brutal violence.
At one point in the expedition, seven tribes convened and confronted Stanley. They had seen him writing in his journal. This, they were sure, was a form of witchcraft. He would have to burn his notebook, they demanded, or he and his men would be killed.
Stanley struck back. He started shooting at the Congolese when he saw them. By the end of the expedition, he had burned down 32 of their towns. His men, though, were even worse. Men in the rear column went wild and started kidnapping and raping African women or flogging the men to deathfor the smallest infractions.
This was the start of the Congo Free State. Leopold II hired these men to turn the area into a workhouse, and they did it by enslaving the people. Their cruelty set the tone for the future of the state and the darkness that would soon envelop the Congo.