Three Monkeys Online

A Curious, Alternative Magazine

The Congo Free State – a colony of gross excess.

He adopted a twin track approach to policy for the new Colony. His overt policy was that stations set up throughout the territory by Sir Henry Stanley would be used to support religious missions, facilitate trade and military actions against the slave trade, thereby bettering and civilizing the Africans. This was a subterfuge which masked his covert policy of using the posts purely as tools to facilitate the extraction of the countries resources. Having begun by claiming all vacant land for the state, Leopold consolidated his hold on the territory in 1891 by decreeing that all the produce of the vacant lands belonged to the state. Leopold, though a wealthy individual, did not have state investment available to put into the colony and he set out to maximize the revenue from the CFS with the minimum of expenditure. He placed huge tracts under the control of concession companies such as the Anglo-Belgian India Rubber Company and Societe Anveroise in order to maximize the exploitation of resources without cost to the state. The companies paid rent and taxes to the state and Leopold also retained a 50% stake in the companies. In 1896 he created the domain du couronne, a 112,000 square mile territory deemed to be his private property. The Colony was administered directly from Brussels and the state apparatus on the ground involved little more than the post commanders who operated with the power of overlords backed by the Force Publique, a military style police force. The role of the post commander was to marshall local labour to be used to collect and transport, initially, ivory and later rubber. All else was secondary. Taxes were only payable in labour and were imposed to force the people to work for the state in what amounted to slave conditions. Work quotas were imposed on villages and enforced by terror tactics on the part of the Force Publique. The system was driven by greed and terror; bonuses were paid to the post commanders for exceeding their quotas while the people risked destruction of their villages, hostage taking and murder if they failed to meet the quotas. The Force Publique itself used forced labour; its soldiers both victims and purveyors of terror in a barbaric hierarchy which was exemplified by the practice of cutting off hands to prove kills and account for bullets to their white masters. In some military units there was even a &ldquokeeper of the hands” whose job was the smoking of the hands to preserve them. The horror of the system that operated in the CFS inspired Joseph Conrad to write Heart of Darkness and more recently, it provided the dark background to Francis Ford Coppola's film Apocalypse Now.2 It took some time for the excesses to come to light but the death knell for the CFS was sounded by men like E.D.Morel, the shipping clerk who realized something was wrong when he noticed that there were no exports, apart from arms, to match imports from the CFS and Roger Casement whose cogent and authoritative testimony lent authority to the clamour for reform.

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