Three Monkeys Online

A Curious, Alternative Magazine

The Congo Free State – a colony of gross excess.

&ldquoI foresaw that in the blinding sunshine of that land I would become acquainted with a flabby, pretending, weak-eyed devil of a rapacious and pitiless folly.”1

[Joseph Conrad]

The later half of the nineteenth century saw a dramatic surge in colonial activity, as competing capitalist powers revisited mercantilism and sought to gain access to new markets and cheap raw materials. The focus for European colonial expansion was Africa in what came to be known as &ldquothe scramble for Africa”. In the period 1870 to 1914 the European powers managed, without reference to the indigenous population, to divide Africa between them. Africa went from a continent with a few European outposts to being completely occupied. The colonial powers had much in common in terms of motivation but how each colony developed depended to a great degree on the differences between the colonizing powers and also differing local conditions. No two colonies therefore, were the same and it is worth bearing this in mind when examining the case of The Congo Free State (CFS).

As a colony it had some unique features, but to determine whether it was entirely exceptional one must analyse the underlying factors that defined the colony. Factors such as its genesis; the colonial model that was initially proposed for the Congo region would have been entirely exceptional but what actually emerged was perhaps not so. The policies pursued and the means by which these policies were implemented also need to be examined. These elements can in turn be held up to the mirror of wider colonial experience and should show that while the CFS stood out as an example of cruelty, injustice and inhumanity it would be dangerous to identify it as having been entirely unique.

Leopold II had long dreamt of acquiring a colony to add to the power and prestige of his Belgian monarchy but when the Belgian Government failed to match his enthusiasm he resorted to subterfuge to achieve his goal. He managed, through a mixture of cunning and charm to convince the world at large that his motives with regard to the Congo were entirely altruistic and that he was merely a figurehead for the International Association which he had cultivated as a supposedly disinterested organization committed to civilizing Africans. He played Britain and France off against one another and assured them that the Congo would become a neutral, free trade, buffer state, administered by the International Association. Had this come to pass the CFS would indeed have been an entirely exceptional colony but of course it did not, as Leopold had other plans. Having received international recognition at the Berlin Conference of 1885, Leopold allowed the committee to lapse leaving him as chairman at the helm of his own personal colony. Because of the manner of its creation the CFS differed from other colonies in the fact that the King ruled not on behalf of the Belgian state but on his own. The motivation behind its creation was however by no means unique. Leopold, like many other colonial powers before him, was driven by greed and a quest for power and prestige.

  • Pages: 1
  • 2
  • 3

Leave a Reply