A rapid European imperialist colonialism
stimulated by nationalism and imperial ambitions started to exploid Africa in
order to get massive amounts of new resources. Each leading nation of Europe sought
to claim a piece of the African ‘cake’ for themselves. The Berlin Conference of
the 1884 – 1885 was a platform for many
major power to get that piece in Africa and in the Conference Congo river basin
had been granted to King Leopold II of Belgium. Congo as a colony was created
primarily for the economic exploitation of natural resources and labor just
like all the other African colonies. Major exports from the Congo region
included ivory, rubber, and precious minerals all of which were profitable and
in great demand in Europe1.
The colonial powers constructed railroads to the interior areas where it was
not possible to reach through the water. So the interior parts steadily opened
up in order to maximize its profitability. Under Leopold II, there were
virtually no laws or restrictions protecting the native Congolese in their
lands and there didn’t exist an entity like an organized government to control
or restrict the exploitation. So as a consequence, massive amounts of death had
happened in Congo Free State and the native people in there had experienced a brutal
exploitation. Native Congolese were forced to work as porters, miners,
rubber-tappers, woodcutters, and railway builders for European interests.
The Congo under Leopold II, became
and stayed as an “extractive state” from the beginnings of the Belgian invasion
unlike the colonies of settlement such
as Australia, Canada or United States. The extractive state of Belgian
colonization did not try to protect the private property as in settlement
colonies where private property and European institutions were highly focused
on. In the case of Congo, the main purpose of the extractive state was to
transfer as much of the resources of the colony to the colonizer (Acemoglu et
al., 2009). The main strategy and ideology that Leopol II followed can be summarized
by stating that all dimensions of encroachment were possible in the colonies. The
exploitation could occur not only by the market economy operations but also by
state intervention and compulsory cultivation of cash crops to be sold to and
distributed by the state at controlled prices (Gann and Duingan, 1979).
punishments were applied if the workers could not accumulate enough ivory or
rubber. Unimaginable violence, such as amputation of the hands and feet, has
been exercised on the people including women and children. The people who
refused to work were slaughtered. Between 1885 and 1908, 10 million people were
This is the history of a humanitarian
disaster. Congo now is seen as one of the most crucially colonized countries of
the World. The hypocrisy of expecting them to overcome what has done to them in
colonial period socially and economically still remains. From the World Bank
perspective, “Congo has the potential to become one of the richest countries on
the African continent and a driver of African growth if it can overcome its
After decades of constant ‘drain of
surplus’ and ‘de-industrialization’, it is not surprising for any ex-colony
including Congo to be left behind of North.
Acemoglu, D., Johnson, S., and Robinson, J.A. ,The Colonial Origins of Comparative Development: An Empirical Investigation.
American Economic Assosiation. 2009.
Gann, L, H. and Duignan, P. White, Settlers in tropicalAfrica.
Baltimore,MD: Penguin, 1962.