King Leopold II reigned in Belgium between 1835 -1909. His reign was the longest for any monarch in the history of his country, but also one of the most brutal colonial regime in recorded history. Many Australians may not know much about King Leopold II. He was the founder and sole owner of the Congo Free State (current Democratic Republic of the Congo-DRC) in central Africa.
King Leopold II
The city of Brussels recently had to cancel plans to hold an homage to Leopold II on Thursday 17th December 2015, responding to mounting pressure from civil society groups raising awareness on the role played by the King in the colonial history of the DRC. Leopold’s regime ruthlessly massacred approximately 10 million Congolese in his pursuit for personal enrichment. Some historians actually estimate the massacre to have reached up to15 million dead.
A view of Kinshasa, the capital city of the DRC, formerly known as Leopoldville.
Leopold II amassed a massive fortune from the Congo by collecting ivory initially, before focusing on Rubber when this commodity became more precious and more expensive than gold, in late 19th century. The Belgian monarch used forced labor to compel Congolese natives to harvest and process Rubber for his business. In the process, massive violations of human rights were perpetrated by his mercenary force known as “Force Publique”. Millions of Native Congolese were forcibly removed from their families and sent to collect rubber from the jungle and those who refused or resisted were simply executed. The Force Publique was so ruthless that it systematically chopped the arms of any workers, if they returned from the forest without bringing any rubber.
There is a growing consensus both in Belgium and internationally to acknowledge the plight of the Congolese people under Leopold II regime and many are now calling on the government of Belgium to pay compensation to the DRC. For several decades the efforts of many Congolese civil society groups to raise this issue in the Congo and on the international scene were stifled under Mobutu Regime. The dictator was more interested in protecting the interests of the Belgian government in return for its protection and financial assistance to maintain his own regime in power.
For more information about the suffering of the Congolese people under the rule of King Leopold II, read King Leopold’s Ghost, by ADam Hoschschild. If you are interested in working with members of the Congolese community in Australia in seeking justice and reparation for this issue, please email “firstname.lastname@example.org”