By Neenah Payne
Hitler is reviled worldwide because of the Holocaust in which six million Europeans were murdered in Germany in World War II. The Nuremberg Trials held some of the perpetrators responsible. Films, TV shows, and books frequently recount the horrors. Germany set aside more than $90 billion in payments for Holocaust survivors. Jews were given Israel as compensation.
However, almost no one has heard of the much larger genocide in the Belgian Congo (now “Democratic Republic Congo”, “DR Congo”, “DRC”, and “Zaire”) where 10-15 million people (50-75% of the population) were killed by the policies of King Leopold II of Belgium from 1885-1908. Many people in the Congo were mutilated. Some were displayed in “human zoos” in Belgium. Although the holocaust in the Congo was double that in Germany, we hear nothing about it. There have been no reparations.
King Leopold got European nations to agree to the Berlin Conference of 1884-1885 (aka known as “The Congo Conference”) where they carved up the African continent in The Scramble For Africa. His goal was endorsement of his takeover of the Congo. So, Leopold (not Belgium) owned a nation! African nations fought for independence in the 1960s. Their lands were not given back to them as Israel was to Jews.
Why The West Must Understand Africa Now shows that the Berlin Conference led to WWI and WWII. So, Leopold shares responsibility for those horrors. Yet, we are told that the murder the Austrain Archduke Franz Ferdinand started WWI. Leopold committed crimes many times greater than those of Hitler, but he is not reviled. In fact, he is celebrated in Belgium for his “humanitarianism”! Why? Is it because European lives matter, but African lives do not?
The Kingdom of Kongo (1375-1884)
The Kingdom of Kongo explains that the country was founded in 1375 AD in modern-day Angola and Democratic Republic Congo. In the 1600s, Kongo was a major trade hub for textiles, copper ware, iron-work, and ivory. Its decline resulted from the devastating impact of the slave trade.
In 1483, a Portuguese sailor explored the Kongo River. In 1491, Portuguese missionaries and priests arrived. Alfonso I adopted Christianity for the nation and sent his son to Portugal to be ordained as the first Kongo bishop.
When the Portuguese requested slaves in the 16th century, the Kongo supplied criminals and war captives. However, the Portuguese demand for slaves was insatiable. So, they turned to illegal slave traders who captured Kongolese citizens! In 1526, Alfonso banned Portuguese merchants from Kongo ports. However, the Portuguese continued slave raids. Later, the Portuguese succeeded in putting in place Alfaro I who westernized the Kongo and accepted the slave trade.
When Alfaro I turned to the Portuguese for help in a dynastic struggle, they agreed only if they could create the Portuguese colony of Angola. In 1839, Portugal ended its slave trade. It supported Pedro V on the condition that he agree for the Kongo to become a vassal of Portugal — ending it as an independent kingdom.
In the Berlin Conference, King Leopold II of Belgium was able to grab the Kongo (76 times the size of Belgium) as his personal property! Leopold began an unimaginable reign of terror from which the Democratic Republic Congo has not yet recovered.
The video History of Africa from the 16th to the 20th Century says that in the 1600s (1604-1608), Alvaro II, king of the Kongo, sent Antonio Emanuele Ne Vunda as ambassador to the Vatican.
King Leopold II’s Unimaginable Crimes
Belgium was created in 1815 by the merger of the Southern Netherlands (Belgium) and the Northern Netherlands (Holland). Leopold wanted Belgium to be a big colonial power like England and France. When Moors Rescued Europe From The Dark Ages explains that Europeans were illiterate until the Moors ruled Spain from 711-1492 AD. Without the Moors, Europe would not have had ships or guns. Instead of using that knowledge to help others as they had been helped, Europeans genocided the Americas and Africa and stole the two continents.
The video below shows that Leopold is now revered in Belgium.
“This true, astonishing story describes how King Leopold II of Belgium turned Congo into its private colony between 1885 and 1908. Under his control, Congo became a gulag labor camp of shocking brutality. Leopold posed as the protector of Africans fleeing Arab slave-traders but, in reality, he carved out an empire based on terror to harvest rubber.”
“Between 1885 and 1908, the Belgian King Leopold II personally ruled the Congo Free State. Because he ruled the state personally, he had total control of its resources and had to answer to no one.”
“King Leopold II’s genocide killed millions of Africans. The atrocities done in that period included cutting off people’s hands and feet or killing entire families.”
“In the heart of Africa lies a country called the Democratic Republic of the Congo. It is a vast place with lush forests, vigorous rivers, and incredible riches such as gold, timber, uranium, cobalt, diamond, etc. These natural resources have inspired a most unnatural history of greed and violence. For over a century, the Congo has been haunted by the memories of its past. While other African nations have come to terms with a history of exploitation and colonisation, the Congo continues to relive the unshakable legacy of one man — King Leopold II of Belgium, whose ventures cost the lives of some 10 million.”
“The Congolese genocide is one of the biggest mass murders in modern history, counting eight to ten million murder victims and millions of others severely injured.”
By Marietta Korfiati, BA History & Archaeology, MA in-progress
“Many documentaries, movies, books, TV series, and articles present with great frequency certain human atrocities such as the Holocaust, making them globally well-known. The European Holocaust was without hesitation one of the most harrowing crimes in modern history, and the reason why people are so aware of it is more than clear.
However, there is still very little popular interest in genocides against non-European and non-American people. Countries that suffered such crimes have no power or money like the Western ones to be heard through the audiovisual media. The Congolese Genocide is one of the most overlooked crimes against African people by a European country. Although researchers and history enthusiasts have begun to address this subject, many facts remain hidden….
In 2020, after the murder of George Floyd in the US and the subsequent international outcry about the continuous discrimination against Black people, Belgium remembered the history of the Congolese genocide. Many websites, newspapers, and TV stations made tributes about it in parallel with the Black Lives Matter movement. In Belgium, citizens vandalized and took down statues of King Leopold II and his officers in response to the fact that such bloodthirsty men are glorified even today. King Leopold was indeed a big part of Belgian history. However, when the state makes statues that seem to glorify him, instead of making statues in the memory of his victims, that means that there is still a selective memory about a nation’s historical narrative.”
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Book: King Leopold’s Ghost
Debate about Belgium’s horrific colonial record only began in earnest with the publication in 1998 of Adam Hochschild’s book King Leopold’s Ghost, detailing the unimaginable cruelty of Leopold’s regime.
“In the 1880s, as the European powers were carving up Africa, King Leopold II of Belgium seized for himself the vast and mostly unexplored territory surrounding the Congo River. Carrying out a genocidal plundering of the Congo, he looted its rubber, brutalized its people, and ultimately slashed its population by ten million—all the while shrewdly cultivating his reputation as a great humanitarian. Heroic efforts to expose these crimes eventually led to the first great human rights movement of the twentieth century, in which everyone from Mark Twain to the Archbishop of Canterbury participated.
King Leopold’s Ghost is the haunting account of a megalomaniac of monstrous proportions, a man as cunning, charming, and cruel as any of the great Shakespearean villains. It is also the deeply moving portrait of those who fought Leopold: a brave handful of missionaries, travelers, and young idealists who went to Africa for work or adventure and unexpectedly found themselves witnesses to a holocaust.
Adam Hochschild brings this largely untold story alive with the wit and skill of a Barbara Tuchman. Like her, he knows that history often provides a far richer cast of characters than any novelist could invent. Chief among them is Edmund Morel, a young British shipping agent who went on to lead the international crusade against Leopold. Another hero of this tale, the Irish patriot Roger Casement, ended his life on a London gallows.
Two courageous black Americans, George Washington Williams and William Sheppard, risked much to bring evidence of the Congo atrocities to the outside world. Sailing into the middle of the story was a young Congo River steamboat officer named Joseph Conrad. And looming above them all, the duplicitous billionaire King Leopold II. With great power and compassion, King Leopold’s Ghost will brand the tragedy of the Congo—too long forgotten—onto the conscience of the West.”
Film: King Leopold’s Ghost
“Ben Affleck will direct King Leopold’s Ghost, a fact-based drama about the plunder of the Congo by Belgium’s King Leopold II in the late 1800s. One Community, which co-financed Just Mercy, is financing development with an option to co-finance the film. Farhad Safinia (Apocalypto) is writing the script. Affleck is producing through his Pearl Street Films banner alongside Martin Scorsese and Emma Koskoff-Tillinger through his Sikelia Productions banner. Harry and Gina Belafonte are also producing, with Pearl Street’s Madison Ainley exec producing.
Safinia is basing his script on the Adam Hochschild book King Leopold’s Ghost: A Story of Greed, Terror and Heroism in Colonial Africa. The film covers an atrocious piece of history that is every bit as bad as the subtitle infers. Set at a moment when European countries were racing to find ways to carve up the natural resources of Africa, Leopold became the world’s richest man with billions stashed in secret bank accounts by gaining private ownership of the Congo Free State, and inserted a mercenary army to cruelly plunder rubber and ivory. He forced the locals to harvest it. Those who refused were dismembered or worse, and the book estimates that as many as 8 million were killed in this ruthless pursuit. The book was previously the basis for a 2006 documentary.
This film is an account of the Congolese who defied Leopold II and fought back. Their heroic plight sparked a daring and unlikely alliance between a black American missionary, an English investigative journalist and an Irish spy that shone a light on the horrors and gave birth to the first human rights movement. Once photographs were made public, Leopold’s charade of spreading Christianity in the heart of darkness was exposed as a greedy ruse, and the king was assailed by the likes of Mark Twain, Booker T. Washington, Arthur Conan Doyle and Joseph Conrad, whose disgust with Leopold’s ‘civilizing mission’ led to writing Heart of Darkness.
The film is borne out of his personal passion for the region. Affleck founded Eastern Congo Initiative, an advocacy and grant-making initiative focused on working with and for the people of eastern Congo to spur economic and social development and increase the quantity of public and private funding to support those goals. He has worked on King Leopold’s Ghost for several years. At one point, the project was contemplated as a limited series but now the filmmakers feel it has found its form as a movie.”
Belgium Confronts Leopold’s Horrific Legacy
The video points out that cobalt is key to making batteries — and DR Congo is exploited for that now.
“Black Lives Matter protests in the U.S. have sparked a reckoning about racism and colonialism across the world, including in Belgium, where a growing movement is demanding the country address systemic racism and make amends for its violent colonial legacy.
King Philippe issued an unprecedented statement ‘expressing regret’ for Belgium’s brutal colonial rule in Congo under Leopold II….We also speak with Princess Esméralda, a member of the Belgian royal family and great-grandniece of Leopold II, who says the country has taken an important first step, but adds that ‘we have to go much farther.'”
First Prime Minister DRCongo: Patrice Lumumba
“Patrice Lumumba was the first prime minister of the Democratic Republic of Congo. Malcolm X called him “the greatest Black man who ever walked the African continent,” while the US and Belgium plotted at the highest level to kill him.”
Murder of Prime Minister Patrice Lumumba
The video below refers to the book The Assassination of Lumumba.
“The last remains of the slain Congolese leader in the form of a tooth have been returned to the family by Belgium. By doing this, Belgium has turned over a dark page in its history.”
“This thoughtful account of Patrice Lumumba finds that the elimination of the legend plunged Congo into a turmoil it is yet to recover from.”
Top image: StudyIQ IAS/YouTube
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