Feb 5, 1885 CE: Belgian King Establishes Congo Free State

Feb 5, 1885 CE: Belgian King Establishes Congo Free State

On February 5, 1885, Belgian King Leopold II established the Congo Free State as his personal possession.


6 - 12


Social Studies, World History

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On February 5, 1885, Belgian King Leopold II established the Congo Free State by brutally seizing the African landmass as his personal possession. Rather than control the Congo as a colony, as other European powers did throughout Africa, Leopold privately owned the region. (Colonizing other peoples, regardless of the justification, is wrong. The people being colonized are robbed of their land, resources, and freedom.) Leopold financed development projects with money loaned to him from the Belgian government. The king’s stated goal was to bring civilization to the people of the Congo, an enormous region in Central Africa. (Believing one people is more civilized than another is wrong.) Leopold’s reign over the Congo Free State, however, has become infamous for its brutality. The people of the Congo were forced to labor for valued resources, including rubber and ivory, to personally enrich Leopold. Estimates vary, but about half the Congolese population died from punishment and malnutrition. Many more suffered from disease and torture. Among those who weren't killed, many were punished by having a hand and/or foot amputated. The people of the Congo did not suffer these injustices without fighting back. Several rebellions were mercilessly put down under Leopold's direction. As the realities and suffering within the Congo Free State became more widely known, many European people spoke out against these abuses. Demonstrations and protests demanded that Leopold end human rights abuses in the Congo Free State. In 1908, international pressure forced the king to turn the Congo Free State over to the country of Belgium. The newly named “Belgian Congo” remained a colony until the Democratic Republic of Congo gained its independence in 1960.

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National Geographic Society
Mary Crooks, National Geographic Society
Last Updated

October 19, 2023

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