February 5th

 

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A Punch cartoon from 1906 depicting King Leopold II as a rubber vine attacking a Congolese male

On February 5th 1885 King Leopold II of the Kingdom of Belgium established a ‘personal union’ with the so-called Congo Free State as part of modern European colonialism.

This ‘union’ was part of the New Imperialism of the 19th and 20th century where the European powers, United States of America and Empire of Japan attempted to acquire colonial territory, largely in Asia and Africa.

10 years prior to his acquisition of the central African nation, Leopold II hosted a geographic conference in Brussels, inviting explorers and philanthropists to take the opportunity of “humanitarian” expansion in the region to “civilise” the region. The King held a significant superiority complex in regard to the European people compared with those of Africa, and felt he had a legitimate claim in the region whilst maintaining the impression that his work was philanthropic by nature.

The atrocities which were to occur in the Congo were some of the worst in history, but sadly such treatment atypical in colonial nations of the 19th century. The raw materials abundant in the state, including ivory, rubber and minerals, were extracted in an industrialised, and ruthlessly efficient manner. Congolese labourers were used as slave-like workers who were brutally mutilated, such acts included the severing of hands or fingers. Moreover, some historians estimate that the population of the country fell anywhere from  3 million to 13 million, or as much as 25% of the population. Indeed, some historians argue that these events constitute a genocide in the country and in 2005 Andrew Dismore introduced an early day motion calling for the recognition of the “colonial genocide” and called for the Belgian government to issue a formal apology – it gained the support of 48 MPs.

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2 thoughts on “February 5th

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