As someone from the DR Congo, I am really surprised by this question.
Colonialism did harm to the Congo and to Congolese people.
There were no benefits at all only for the Belgians.
The Belgians left no archives when they granted us independence in 1960. You will not find archives of the colonial period (Congo Free State or the Belgian Congo) anywhere in the DR Congo.
The Enslavement of The Entire Congo Population
When Stanley sent his report to King Leopold, he reported of temples filled with Ivory (elephant tusks), and also the presence of rubber all over the Congo. The resources were bountiful, and Leopold was determined to create wealth out of it.
King Leopold II took ownership of two-thirds of the Congo land by force and mandated the real owners of the land to work for him as slaves. A few accounts mentioned that the people were paid pennies for their labor, but it was soon stopped, and then they were forced to work for 20 days in a month without pay.
The government and officials of King Leopold II stated that the harvesting of rubber was then a required tax that everyone who lived on the land would pay to the crown. This simply meant that Leopold stole a people’s lands and resources, and forced them to work as slaves on their own lands.
Because of the high expectation of wealth and profit from the rubber and ivory, the officials of King Leopold II made the quotas very huge and difficult to reach. It meant that the people would labor and toil for 20 days to meet their rubber quota, and then the remaining 10 days in a month was left to them to farm, and work to provide food for themselves and their families.
The Maiming and Killing of Congolese Who Didn’t Meet Their Quota
By the 1890s, Leopold II, through his officials, increased the rubber quota of the then battered and suppressed Congolese. The rubber business was booming in Europe, and he had to meet with the market demands. That meant more work hours for the indigenous people. The situation turned from bad to worse, as the penalty for not meeting your quota was the cutting off of a limb or death.
Leopold II had an army which was made up of about 19,000 troops. They were European mercenaries hired to protect his government and business interest and also act as a police force. They were called the Force Publique. The army also forcefully recruited Africans into their lower ranks. These Africans were press-ganged into service and were killed if they refused.
It was the Force Publique that enforced the quota of rubber tax to be collected by the people. Some of the officers who were made to enforce these rules were the Africans, but a large amount of them were the whites
The Death of Millions Was Caused By Disease
Asides from the shooting and maiming of the indigenous people of Congo, one other factor that caused the death of millions was the disease outbreaks. The health of the workers was not put into consideration by the Belgians, who fed them rotten meat, food, and most times starved them.
The environment was made unhealthy with all the human parts, and decimation of the natural environment. The rotten food made the men sick, and a plague broke out.
The men had to go into the deep jungle to harvest the rubber. They were bitten by Tsetse flies, and that spread untold sicknesses and deaths all over the Congo and even into other African nations.
The sleeping sickness which often led to death wiped out over 500,000 people in Congo alone.
But this did not make the Belgians stop. They continued the exploitation and enslavement of the Congo people, for the economic gains of their resources.
The Burning of Congolese Villages
The research and accounts of the many atrocities carried out against the Black man in Congo is one that would literally put any conscious Black person in tears. During the course of this research, we were forced many times to pause in anger and disbelief.
One of the painful accounts of the genocide on the Congolese was the burning of their villages. The commissioners and their officers often gave an entire village a certain quota to meet. When a village fails to meet its quota, the soldiers would surround the village, slaughter the people and then burn the village to the ground.
Various accounts by victims and eyewitnesses said that these happened all the time, in quick succession. In the area where a Swedish missionary lived, he reported that 45 towns were burnt down within a short period of time.
What was more heartbreaking to hear was that many of these villages were burnt down for no good reason at all. Of course, what reason will a killer and a thief need not to kill people whom their scientists and religion had taught them to be lesser animals or sub-humans? None whatsoever.
In a particular instance, the soldiers burnt a village down, killed 50 of the men and took 28 of the women as prisoners, with chains around their necks. This particular village had met their quota but was still killed and burnt, because the officers said that the rubber that was tapped by the villagers was not of good quality. I mean, how do the villagers get to control the outcome of the rubber that comes out from the trees?
The Torture of Women and Children for Quota Fulfillment
The Belgian officials and their European mercenary troops made torture and amputations a necessary tool in forcing the people to be scared and work for free.
They were feeding off the fears of the Congolese people, through psychological terror. It was reported that the European soldiers would kidnap the women from the villages that didn’t meet their rubber quota, so as to force the men to meet their quota. Most of the women were kept as prisoners and slaves by the Europeans.
To make it worse, the men had to buy back their wives with their live stocks after they had met their quota.
On a particular occasion, a soldier was asked to raid a town who had not met their quota. His commander gave him strict orders to decimate the town and make an example of them.
He gave an account saying that: “He ordered us to cut off the heads of the men and hang them on the village palisades, also their sexual members,” the soldier said, “and to hang the women and children on the palisade in the form of a cross.”
This was how wicked the Europeans were during their time in Congo.
After the atrocities, he and his murderous army walked away without blemish, leaving the people of the Congo to suffer the effects of that Genocide for the next 100 years and more. Congo till today is still a property of the Europeans and has been put in constant conflict by European powers who seek to steal its resources while keeping the people divided.
The Atrocities of the Congo Free State Rubber Regime
When the Belgian King Leopold II acquired the Congo Free State during the Scramble for Africa in 1885, he claimed he was establishing the colony for humanitarian and scientific purposes, but in reality, its sole aim was profit, as much as possible, as fast as possible. The results of this rule were very uneven. Regions that were hard to access or lacked profitable resources escaped much of the violence that was to follow, but for those areas directly under the rule of the Free State or the companies it leased land to, the results were devastating.
The Rubber Regime
Initially, government and commercial agents focused on acquiring ivory, but inventions, like the car, dramatically increased the demand for rubber. Unfortunately, for the Congo, it was one of the only places in the world to have a large supply of wild rubber, and the government and its affiliated trading companies quickly shifted their focus to extracting the suddenly lucrative commodity. Company agents were paid large concessions on top of their salaries for the profits they generated, creating personal incentives to force people to work more and harder for little to no pay. The only way to do that was through the use of terror.
In order to enforce the near impossible rubber quotas imposed on villages, agents and officials called on the Free State’s army, the Force Publique. This army was composed of white officers and African soldiers. Some of these soldiers were recruits, while others were slaves or orphans brought up to serve the colonial army.
The army become known for its brutality, with the officers and soldiers being accused of destroying villages, taking hostages, raping, torturing, and extorting the people. Men who did not fulfill their quota were killed or mutilated. They also sometimes eradicated whole villages that failed to meet the quotas as a warning to others. Women and children were often taken hostage until men fulfilled a quota; during which time the women were raped repeatedly. The iconic images to emerge from this terror, though, were the baskets full of smoked hands and the Congolese children who survived having a hand cut off.
A Hand for Every Bullet
Belgian officers were afraid that the rank and file of the Force Publique would waste bullets, so they demanded a human hand for each bullet their soldiers used as proof that the killings had been done. Soldiers were also reportedly promised their freedom or given other incentives for killing the most people as proven by supplying the most hands.
Many people wonder why these soldiers were willing to do this to their ‘own’ people, but there was no sense of being ‘Congolese’. These men were generally from other parts of the Congo or other colonies entirely, and the orphans and slaves had often been brutalized themselves. The Force Publique, no doubt, also attracted men who, for whatever reason, felt little compunction about wielding such violence, but this was true of the white officers as well. The vicious fighting and terror of the Congo Free State is better understood as another example of the incredible capacity of people for incomprehensible cruelty.
Humanity and Reform
The horrors, though, are only one part of the story. Amidst all of this, some of the best of people was also seen, in the bravery and resilience of ordinary Congolese men and women who resisted in small and large ways, and the passionate efforts of several American and European missionaries and activists to bring about reform.
The Free State of the Congo, a hidden history of genocide – Col·leccio Marull
Leopold II ruled the Congo as his personal dominion from 1885 to 1908. During this period, the country was forced to endure the systematic exploitation of its natural resources, especially ivory and rubber.
Though the territory was governed from Brussels, the administrative capital was the port city of Boma, from where the massive exports of raw materials were shipped. Boma was the residence of the Governor General of the Congo, who was the direct representative of the king (in fact, Leopold II never once set foot in Africa). The state was divided into 14 districts which were administrated by commissioners who reported to the Governor General, and were appointed directly by the king. These functionaries sometimes acted as colonial administrators and trading agents, though their main function was to secure the largest possible amounts of ivory and rubber in the shortest possible time.
The colonial administration wielded control over the native population by imposing a regime of terror, and there were frequent mass killings and mutilations. Violence and terrorism were the means adopted to impose the will of the Belgian king and the trading agents over the African people.
Leopold II was forced to hire European mercenaries to defend his interests. These were organised into a private army, the Force Publique, which numbered up to 19,000 troops. All the officers were white, while all the rank-and-file soldiers were black men who had been press-ganged into service and forced to serve in the Force Publique for a minimum of seven years. Recruits were sometimes bought from tribal leaders, though often they were simply kidnapped.
Force Publique acted simultaneously as an army of occupation and as a police force which served the interests of the trading companies. The Force had to deal with several rebellions, which were put down with horrifying savagery. In practice, the Free State of the Congo was an enormous concentration camp.
During the 1890s, and thanks to the widespread use of slaves, a more reliable transport network was built up, thus making it possible to export even more of the Congo’s natural resources. The construction of these infrastructures, all created exclusively for personal interests, resulted in the deaths of many workers of all ages. Their working days were long and hard, and required an enormous amount of physical effort. According to historical documentation, between five and 10 million people died as a result of the colonial exploitation under the rule and administration of King Leopold II and his functionaries.
The first-person testimonies that have survived to the present day (and particularly those of Protestant missionaries, writers and diplomats sent to serve in the Congo) describe and denounce the horror of everyday life in the country. Important sources of information include the stories and data provided by the American missionary G.W. Williams and by the writers Mark Twain – “King Leopold’s Soliloquy” – and Joseph Conrad, as well as others such as the missionary Williams Sephard, the British diplomat Casement and the journalist Edmund Dene Morel.
All of these men produced testimonies that were crucially important for unmasking the truth about one of the darkest episodes of the late 19th century. These critical voices who revealed the atrocities being inflicted on the Congolese people were published in the international press, leading to widespread public outcry and calls for the respect for human rights.
In 1905, after several months of investigation, a commission published a report that corroborated the abuses that had been denounced. Leopold II could do nothing to prevent international public opinion – even in his home country of Belgium – from expressing its clear opposition to the continuation of his rule in the African country. Following a series of diplomatic manoeuvres, and driven by the pressure of public opinion, the Belgian king finally renounced his rule over the Free State of the Congo, which subsequently became a colony of Belgium, and was duly renamed the Belgian Congo.