African holocaust – King Leopold’s Belgian Congo

After the Berlin Conference of 1884 the 905,000 square miles of the Belgian Congo [now the Democratic Republic of the Congo ] became the personal   property of King Leopold II of Belgium. His genocidal exploitation of the territory, particularly the rubber trade, caused many deaths and much suffering. Murder and mutilation were common.

Failure to meet the rubber collection quotas was punishable by death. 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 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.’ After seeing a Congolese person killed for the first time, a Danish missionary wrote: ‘The soldier said “Don’t take this to heart so much. They kill us if we don’t bring the rubber. The Commissioner has promised us if we have plenty of hands he will shorten our service.”‘

picture-2The photo above shows a man named Nsala Wala with his daughter’s hand and foot. Alice Harris, working as a missionary in the Congo, took the photo in May 1904, after he had come into her mission at Baringa with a small package containing the severed body parts. Both his wife and child had been killed and mutilated.


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.

The Congo was a playground for sadists. Rene de Permentier was an officer in the Force Publique in the 1890s. He had all the trees and bushes around his house cut down so he could shoot at passersby. He had women prisoners sweep a courtyard. If he then found a leaf in the courtyard he would have a dozen of them beheaded. If forest paths were not well maintained he would order a child killed in the nearest village.

In ‘King Leopold’s Ghost’ Adam Hochschild estimates that over ten million Congolese died during the years that Leopold and the Belgian Government controlled the country.  It is likely that more people died in this Belgian holocaust than died in Hitler’s, but no one was ever brought to book and the crime is largely unknown now.  Thousands of Belgians served in the Congo and the crimes that took place there were hardly less known to the Belgian population than Hitler’s were to ordinary Germans.

None of the European colonial powers have an enviable record but Belgium’s was easily the worst. So much for the ‘Plucky Little Belgium’ that the British were urged to defend in World War One. There is currently a fuss about France’s recognition of the Turkey’s Armenian genocide.  Belgium still refuses to acknowledge its own crimes.

In 1908, after an international outcry, Leopold was forced to hand over his territory to the Belgian Government. They controlled the Congo until independence in 1959.  The number of murders diminished but mutilations and exploitation continued.

The Belgians left the country in such a state that after independence many millions more died in a series of wars and because of government incompetence. The murder of Lumumba and approximately 100,000 deaths was followed by the disastrous government of Mobutu.  The First Congo War of 1996-98 was followed by the Second Congo War [1998-2003]. This is considered the deadliest war in modern African history.   The war  killed 5.4 million people, mostly from disease and starvation, making it the deadliest conflict worldwide since World War II. Again, largely unknown in the West.

Hochschild, A., 2012. King Leopold’s Ghost: A story of greed, terror and heroism, Pan.


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7 responses to “African holocaust – King Leopold’s Belgian Congo

  1. Anonymous

    Estimates of the pre-Columbian population vary widely, though uncontroversial studies place the figure for North, Central and South America at a combined 50 million to 100 million,[2] with scholarly estimates of 2 million[3] to 18 million[4] for North America alone. An estimated 80% to 90% of this population perished after the arrival of Europeans,[5] overwhelmingly from factors which deniers of genocide argue were beyond most human control — e.g., smallpox epidemics…mines…— Europeans, especially the Spanish conquistadors, also killed thousands deliberately….Let us be true…who is talking about the cleansing of America…imagine a China withou Chinese..this is the continent that is called America…

  2. What an horrible atrocity!! Evil at its finest!! What awaits these inhuman beings I hope is as or worst then the ungodly heinous acts they caused on innocent people!! If there is a hell I hope they’re in it!! 😡

  3. Not judging? Understandable. My concern is these atrocities are seldom if ever covered in history classes. We see the state of many African nations, but don’t realize how this all started. That, at the very least, should be recognized. Especially if we’re so quick to condemn other nations for their atrocities. As Americans, we’ve become too comfortable with our own dark past. The state of African nations have been affected so much by outside interests. We preach why we left the old country in the first place, but then consider what we’re guilty of.

  4. Mr. E. Gooch

    There have been too many crimes against the human race by humans. People wanting what someone else has. One writer writes that the west doesn’t know about these atrocities. I beg to differ. The west has always known about what the Belgium monarchy was doing – as they were doing the same thing which was stealing land and eliminating the native American people. The Europeans have wreaked havoc all over the world and truly feel that they are justified in doing so. Stealing resources, enslaving people, rape and taking land are just a few of the crimes manufactured for the purpose of greed and the instillation of fear. Who will ever answer for these crimes against humanity?
    Hitler was a known war criminal who took what was not his by any means available. He slaughtered Jews by the millions. The holocaust of the Jewish people during the reign of Hitler is well known throughout the world. A staggering total of at least six million were killed by his regime. However, other “leaders” like King Leopold have slaughtered and maimed millions more. Do the Jews demand more attention because they are mostly white?
    The rest of the “righteous” whites who have judged Hitler have quite a past to atone for also: 1) the enslavement of African people for hundreds of years throughout England, France, Spain and the Americas 2) the annihilation of the indigenous people of the Americas and Africa 3) the use of indentured workers from India in Trinidad/Tobago( indentured meaning slavery also with the hope of freedom some day ).
    For the most part America is a land without its original inhabitants. They were annihilated and the land was confiscated. The same sad story is true in Canada and South America.
    When will human beings start to treat other people like they would like to be treated? Whether you like what is being brought to your attention or not is irrelevant. This has been the history of the bible toting human beings for the past several hundred years. Remember, in God We Trust. Ask yourself if your maker would be proud of this history that continues day by day.

  5. Anonymous

    it happened in AFRICA

  6. Ava Montout

    How do I know if the death rate is right? Every site says 100,000 and 15million and 6 million wheres the proof? How do we know?

    • rasil4u

      Why would the death rate matter to you if you honestly cared about EVERY human’s life? Obviously, YOU do not. Judgment is imminent.

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