Continuing on from our previous post, "And the worst genocidial killer in history was…"
The image is of a stock certificate for a Belgian Rubber company operating in the Congo in 1901, almost certainly one of King Leopold’s companies. Many millions, yes millions, of Congolese died and were tortured so he could enrich himself. (The stock certificate is for sale here.)
This was predatory capitalism, and racist to the core.
Under Leopold II’s administration, the Congo Free State was subject to a terror regime, including atrocities such as mass killings and maimings which were used to subjugate the indigenous tribes of the Congo region and to procure slave labor.
He set in train a brutal colonial regime to maximize profitability. The first change was the introduction of the concept of terres vacantes "vacant" land, which was anything that no European was living on. This was deemed to belong to the state, and servants of the state (i.e., any white men in Leopold’s employ) were encouraged to exploit it.
To enforce the rubber quotas, the Force Publique (FP) was called in. The FP was an army whose purpose was to terrorize the local population. The officers were white agents of the State. Armed with modern weapons and the chicotte, a bull whip made of hippopotamus hide, the Force Publique routinely took and tortured hostages (mostly women), flogged, and raped the natives. They also burned recalcitrant villages, and above all, took human hands as trophies on the orders of white officers to show that bullets hadn’t been wasted.
Finally, activism – and results.
Edmund Dene Morel, a clerk in a major Liverpool shipping office and a part-time journalist began to wonder why the ships that brought vast loads of rubber from the Congo returned full of guns and ammunition for the Force Publique. He left his job and became a full-time investigative journalist, and then (aided by merchants who wanted to break into Leopold’s monopoly or, as chocolate millionaire William Cadbury who joined his campaign later, used their money to support humanitarian causes), a publisher. In 1902 Joseph Conrad’s novel Heart of Darkness was released: based on his brief experience as a steamer captain on the Congo ten years before, it encapsulated the public’s growing concerns about what was happening in the Congo.
Heart of Darkness wasn’t the dark allegory into the human condition that it is portrayed as today, it was stone-cold political. (This is a favored deception of the Right, by the way, rationalizing savagery and greed as being an unchangeable part of the human condition.) It was Joseph Conrad and Edmund Morel who mobilized public opinion and finally, after too many years, the governments of Europe acted against Leopold.
Finally, on 1908-NOV-15, four years after the Casement Report and six years after Heart of Darkness was first printed, the Parliament of Belgium annexed the Congo Free State and took over its administration.
Too little, too late. But at least Congolese were no longer being murdered so this moral cripple could amass more wealth.