Extreme Case of Colonialism
Africa started to be exploited by a rapid
European imperialist colonialism stimulated by nationalism and imperial
ambitions in order to get massive amounts of new resources. Leading nations of
Europe each sought to claim a piece of the African ‘cake’ for themselves. The
Berlin Conference of the 1884 through 1885 formalized many of the major powers’
claims in Africa and granted the coveted Congo River basin to King Leopold II
of Belgium. As all the other African colonies, Congo created primarily for the
economic exploitation of natural resources and labor. “Major exports from the
Congo region included ivory, rubber, and precious minerals all of which were
profitable and in great demand in Europe.”1
To maximize the profitability, the interior regions of the Congo that could not
be reached by river and steamship were steadily opened up through the
construction of railroads. Congo Free State has happened to be known to history
for its brutal exploitation of the native Congolese population and as a
consequence; massive amounts of death. Under Leopold II, there were virtually
no laws or restrictions protecting the native Congolese in their lands. Peoples
of the Congo River basin were forced to work as porters, miners,
rubber-tappers, woodcutters, and railway builders for European interests.
Organized government did not exist to control or restrict the exploitation.
The Congo under Leopold II, from the
beginnings of the Belgian invasion became
and stayed as an “extractive state” unlike the settlement colonies like
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. As for Congo, “the main purpose of the extractive state was to transfer as
much of the resources of the colony to the colonizer.”2(Acemoglu
et al., 2009). “The colonies should be exploited, not by the operation of a
market economy, but by state intervention and compulsory cultivation of cash
crops to be sold to and distributed by the state at controlled prices”3(Gann
and Duingan, 1979) was the main strategy and ideology which Leopold followed.
punishments were applied if the workers could not accumulate enough ivory or
rubber, unimaginable violence occurred such as amputation of the hands and feet
of the people including women and children. The people who refused to work were
slaughtered. Between 1885 and 1908, 10 million people were killed. 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 political instability.”4
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.
2 Acemoglu et al., 2009
3 Gann and Duingan, 1979