Tuesday, 18 June 2013

How the Belgians killed and mutilated 10 million Africans

Leopold II(1835–1909) was the King of the Belgians and is chiefly remembered for the founding and exploitation of the Congo Free State, a private project undertaken on his own behalf. He used Henry Morton Stanley to help him lay claim to the Congo, an area now known as the Democratic Republic of the Congo. At the Berlin Conference of 1884–1885, the colonial nations of Europe committed the Congo Free State to improving the lives of the native inhabitants. From the beginning, however, Leopold essentially ignored these conditions and ran the Congo using a mercenary force for his personal gain. This became one of the most infamous international scandals of the early 20th century, and Leopold was ultimately forced to relinquish control of it to the Belgian government.

Abuses, especially in the rubber industry, included the effective enslavement of the native population, beatings, widespread killing, and frequent mutilation when the production quotas were not met. Missionary John Harris of Baringa, for example, was so shocked by what he had come across that he wrote to Leopold's chief agent in the Congo saying: "I have just returned from a journey inland to the village of Insongo Mboyo. The abject misery and utter abandon is positively indescribable. I was so moved, Your Excellency, by the people's stories that I took the liberty of promising them that in future you will only kill them for crimes they commit."

The Force Publique (FP) was responsible for enforcement of the rubber quotas. The officers were white agents of the State. Of the black soldiers, many were from far-off peoples of the upper Congo while others had been kidnapped during the raids on villages in their childhood and brought to Roman Catholic missions, where they received a military training in conditions close to slavery.

Failure to meet the rubber collection quotas was punishable by death. Meanwhile, the Force Publique were required to provide a hand of their victims as proof when they had shot and killed someone, as it was believed that they would otherwise use the munitions (imported from Europe at considerable cost) for hunting food. As a consequence, the rubber quotas were in part paid off in chopped-off hands. Sometimes the hands were collected by the soldiers of the Force Publique, sometimes by the villages themselves. There were even small wars where villages attacked neighbouring villages to gather hands, since their rubber quotas were too unrealistic to fill.

One junior white officer described a raid to punish a village that had protested. The white officer in command 'ordered us to cut off the heads of the men and hang them on the village palisades ... and to hang the women and the children on the palisade in the form of a cross.'. In Forbath's words:
"The baskets of severed hands, set down at the feet of the European post commanders, became the symbol of the Congo Free State. ... The collection of hands became an end in itself. Force Publique soldiers brought them to the stations in place of rubber; they even went out to harvest them instead of rubber... They became a sort of currency. They came to be used to make up for shortfalls in rubber quotas, to replace... the people who were demanded for the forced labour gangs; and the Force Publique soldiers were paid their bonuses on the basis of how many hands they collected.

In theory, each right hand proved a killing. In practice, soldiers sometimes "cheated" by simply cutting off the hand and leaving the victim to live or die. More than a few survivors later said that they had lived through a massacre by acting dead, not moving even when their hands were severed, and waiting till the soldiers left before seeking help. In some instances a soldier could shorten his service term by bringing more hands than the other soldiers, which led to widespread mutilations and dismemberment."

Adam Hochschild devotes a chapter of his book, King Leopold's Ghost, to the problem of estimating the death toll and finds that many sources agree with the assessment of the 1919 Belgian government commission: roughly half the population perished during the Free State period. Since the first official census by the Belgian authorities in 1924 put the population at about 10 million, that implies a rough estimate of 10 million dead.

An interesting article on why you have never heard this information before can be found here.

See also this Wiki page on the Propaganda War fought over the Congo Free State.

"Free"? - about as free as the democracy in the GDR.

Mutilated children. From King Leopold's Soliloquy: A Defense of His Congo Rule,
By Mark Twain, Boston: The P. R. Warren Co., 1905, Second Edition.

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