African Colonialism: The Belgian Congo

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The nineteenth century saw the abolition of slavery among most of the world’s great powers but a dramatic increase in African colonialism. The rush to gain precious African land motivated all the major powers including England, France, Germany, Spain, and Portugal to possess holdings in the continent. The European powers obtained colonies throughout Africa for social and religious reasons but mainly for economic ones. Leopold II of Belgium under the guise of African advancement and free trade, obtained the Congo secretly to enrich himself on the backs of the native population. Unrestricted in his power, Leopold II ruled the Congo with an iron fist extracting as much profit from the region as possible at the expense of the Congolese and their …show more content…
However, England, France, and Germany operated similarly run colonies neighboring the Congo suggesting that the Belgium Congo was targeted. From the get go, the Belgian Congo centralized around the exploitation of the Congolese and the massive export of profit out of the region back to Leopold. At first Ivory was the key “cash crop” in the Congo with large amounts of Africans being conscripted into the hunt for elephants. Leopold created a system of commissions that encouraged his men to extract ivory at the lowest possible price point in order to increase their own profit (Hochschild, 160). This lead increasingly to outright theft and murder by ivory hunters extracting the ivory out of the homes of Africans without regard for the inhabitants. And yet …show more content…
First, the Belgian Congo was operated exclusively by Leopold II unlike the other powers which had congressional oversight and the backing of their national economy. This is important because rather than going up against the full force of a country the powers had to take on one eccentric king. In addition, Belgium was a small country on a bigger stage and was not keen on colonialism abroad(Hochschild, 277). The other powers were also better at hiding their intentions behind humanitarian causes whereas it was clear that Leopold’s chief concern was financial gain. Leopold’s Congo also did not operate under the free trade agreement enacted in the Berlin Treaty which was a chief concern of the other powers. However, other African colonies functioned under similar methods as the Belgian Congo. Forced cultivation of rubber in other regions was heavily inspired by Leopold’s Congo (Hochschild, 280). Harsh conditions and sub human attitudes towards the Africans were widely seen as in the Congo. However, the public’s backlash remained entirely focused on the Congo. Part of this is due to E.D. Morel’s unwavering passion but another major reason lies in Leopold and Belgium’s inability to compete and defend themselves on the world stage. The Belgian Congo was an easy target and amounted to a “feel good” project that enabled the major powers to

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