How Imperialism Ravaged Congo



During the slave trade, more than 10 million people were ripped from their homes in Africa and families. Forty percent of the people kidnapped from Africa came from Congo and nearby Angola, robbing the region of its most valuable resource and destroying African societies.

At the 1884-1885 Berlin Conference—where European powers divided up Africa—King Leopold II of Belgium was given personal control of much of central Africa. A system of slavery was created to increase rubber production. Expeditions were sent out to destroy villages which refused to participate. The economic and cultural life of the people was devastated further.

Failure to meet the quotas set by Leopold was punishable by death. Rather than use ammunition, that had to be imported, hands were chopped off of the people of Congo to prove that they had been killed.

Adam Hochschild, the author of King Leopold's Ghost: A Story of Greed, Terror, and Heroism in Colonial Africa, estimates that about half of the population of Congo, about 10 million people (out of an estimated 20 million) died during the period from 1885 to 1908.

In 1908 as his atrocities became widely exposed, King Leopold sold his direct control to Belgium but the looting of Congo and virtual slavery for the people continued in somewhat less brutal form.

In 1960, when Patrice Lumumba, a popular anti-colonialist, was elected prime minister, the U.S. and Belgium backed Joseph Mobutu, a former colonel in the Belgian army to organize a coup, to assassinate Lumumba, and seize power. (See “American Crime: Case #73: The CIA-Directed Murder of Patrice Lumumba.”)

Mobutu was a brutal dictator who stole billions from Congo, which he renamed Zaire, over more than 30 years in power. For most of his rule he was backed and armed by the U.S. who used the country as a base area against national liberation struggles in southern Africa and serving as a springboard for U.S.-backed military intervention against Soviet-backed Angola. Mobutu was a close ally of Ronald Reagan, visiting the White House three times during his administration. Reagan praised Mobutu as “a voice of good sense and goodwill.”

In 1994, an army led by Laurent Kabila overthrew Mobutu aided by Rwanda. With the collapse of the Soviet Union, the U.S. no longer had any reason to prefer Mobutu to Kabila. Once in power, Kabila made deals with mining companies, enriching himself and the elites tied to him. When Kabila was assassinated, his son Joseph Kabila took over and continued on the same path. Félix Tshisekedi was elected president in Decembe 2018 and took office in January, with NO fundamental change.




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