King Leopold's Congo: Aspects of the Development of Race Relations in the Congo Independent State

King Leopold's Congo: Aspects of the Development of Race Relations in the Congo Independent State

King Leopold's Congo: Aspects of the Development of Race Relations in the Congo Independent State

King Leopold's Congo: Aspects of the Development of Race Relations in the Congo Independent State

Excerpt

The history of the Congo Independent State is unique in that of European colonisation. This vast African territory, made up of the low-lying Congo basin and large areas of higher ground to the north-east and the south-east, was subjected not to the final authority of the Parliament of a European colonial power, but to the direction of one man, Leopold II, the King of the Belgians. A constitutional monarch in Belgium, Leopold was an absolute despot in the Congo, legally answerable to nobody for the way in which he used his power. From 1885 to 1908—the crucial years during which the Congo was being opened up to European exploration and settlement—Leopold alone controlled its destinies. The Sovereign who never set foot in his African kingdom was very largely responsible for the way in which relations between Europeans and Africans developed there.

The history of Leopold II's Congo enterprise has long been obscured by polemic. In Belgian textbooks the King has usually been presented as a philanthropic monarch responsible for putting an end to the Arab slave-trade in the Congo and for bringing the benefits of civilisation to a vast region of central Africa. Elsewhere, he has often been regarded as a self-seeking despot who oppressed the Africans for the sake of the rubber which he was able to obtain from the country and thus made their condition far worse than it had been before the coming of Europeans. There is a certain degree of truth in both presentations; the reality is far more complex than partisans of either view are ready to admit.

While there exists a mass of polemical literature concerning the Congo Independent State, there is no modern definitive history. The principal secondary works which attempt a general history, A. J. Wauters's Histoire politique du Congo belge, F. Masoin 's Histoire de l'Etat Indépendant du Congo, and A. Berrie dale Keith 's The Belgian Congo and the Berlin Act, are now out of date, but the recent work of Professor J. Stengers (several of whose articles are cited) provides a partial compensation for the lack of a complete objective study of the history of the Congo Independent State. The present study in no way attempts to . . .

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