The Belgians of the Congo Free State in Africa obtained a vast amount of riches; however, much of it was taken out and brought back to Europe. Belgian ruler King Leopold made himself the dictator of the Congo and spent the riches to form what was nearly his own private colony, the Congo Free State. As we look at how Belgium profited from the colonization of Congo, I am going to refer to the books and films we used in class to help explore and define this topic more proficiently. Belgium discovered many natural materials that were very valuable for the times and could potentially benefit Africa and the western world.
These materials, such as rubber and ivory were so valuable that many extremes were taken in order to receive as much as possible. One of the extremes being the cutting off of laborers hands that didn’t gather enough rubber. Belgium also received a majority of their money from the taxes they were able to issue when in control of the Congo (Leopold’s Ghost, 168). They could tax as much and whatever they wanted, thus producing a profit. But natives paid for Belgium’s profits by paying these taxes and doing the necessary labor for obtaining these materials. Much like in the film, The Curse of the Congo, where the Rwanden rebels taxed diamond shop owners in Kisangani large amounts of money to fund their militia.
When Stanly was sent on the expedition to the Congo by King Leopold, he discovered the potential of this area. He found that the river possessed about one sixth of the world’s hydroelectric potential. Also, this river was wide and consisted of interconnected waterways in which steamboats could travel through (King Leopold’s
Ghost, 62). While Stanly was exploring the Congo area, he discovered that the villages were small and most did not speak the same language. Therefore, it would be easier to take the area over. Soon after exploring the area, Stanly had treaties written up in which chiefs of the villages had to sign. Stanly, including his assistants, would trick the Africans into signing the treaty by fooling them that whites had supernatural powers (King Leopold’s Ghost, 109). Since the chiefs were unaware of the actual agreement that they were signing, Leopold succeeded in taking over the Congo (King Leopold’s Ghost, 72). The area he then controlled was bigger thanmany countries put together and contained many valuable materials.
One of these materials was ivory which was found in elephant tusks. Ivory was used in many products during the nineteenth century some of which include false teeth, combs, fans, piano keys, napkin rings, etc. The Congo possessed elephant tusks that were much bigger than ones found in India, and that is what ivory dealers preferred. The main goal was to send as much ivory as possible because the more you sent, the more you made (King Leopold’s Ghost, 137). White officials were allowed to punish their workers as they liked. In the selection, Ota Benga, a man had left his village to hunt for elephant in order to obtain some ivory. When he returned he found his family and village dead. His children lay face down on the ground, his wife’s head lay among ashes, and many other corpses as well lie among the ashes (Ota Benga, 104). Ivory was the most appreciated material of the time and that is why natives suffered so much. They were needed to do the labor. If that wasn’t hard enough on the natives, along came another material that the Congo possessed that ended up being more valuable than ivory. This
occurred in1890, when Dunlop Company began making tires (King Leopold’s Ghost, 158). The desire for ivory was still present, but rubber became more important during this time. This became the main source of revenue for the Congo because labor was the only requirement needed in order to attain rubber. This was a problem though because they needed people willing to work as rubber gatherers in order to receive the possible profits. Therefore, they resorted to capturing the natives’ women in return for the gathering of rubber. Since the Congo operated by quotas, one had to establish that quota or they would have to pay the consequences. When the men reached the quota, their wife would be returned, but if one refused to gather, their wife would be killed (King Leopold’s Ghost, 161).
Mutilation was another commodity during the times. In the movie, Tools of Exploitation, white men condemned the slave trade but that didn’t mean they were civil to the natives. They caused other problems such as the mutilation of people such as the cutting off of their hands. Natives did not receive money for doing this work; instead they were paying for the profits gained by Belgium.
According to the movie, This Magnificent Cake, Africans were paying for the colonization of Africa because they were the ones that had to pay taxes. Not only did they pay taxes, they did all the labor involved in gaining the materials. In return, they lost their land, homes, family members, and food. Their land and homes were taken for profit reasons. Their family members may have been taken away in return for their labor work or they may have died from diseases. And with no food to eat, they starved to death. All this inhumanity was all done to these natives just to receive as much money as
possible. As stated Black Livingstone, even after Leopold gave up his reign to the Belgium government, taxes were unfair and people were forced to work because they did not want to lose such a valuable source of profit.
The Congo had all the potential in the world to become a great resource for not only Africa but the rest of the world. But once money becomes an issue in society, people are willing to go to any length to get as much money as they possibly can. This is what happened in the Congo. Natives were pushed out of their land and forced to work in return for nothing. They provided Belgium with the profits whether they wanted to or not.
Their families were killed by disease, starvation, or brute force. Populations dropped enormously from twenty million to ten million. These natives were treated inhuman and were totally taken advantage of by Belgium. Rubber and ivory may have been valuable to the world, but not valuable enough for the so many lives lost. Greed took control over the Congo, and it took years and many strong abolitionists to make the rest of the world realize this.
In conclusion, Belgians of the Congo Free State degraded the Congo by taking there valuable goods (rubber, ivory, and labor) at little or no profit to the Africans of the Congo. In this process they murdered and mutilated millions of lives just to gain an undeserved profit.