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Imperialism in the Congo. Scramble for Africa Prior to 1885, European formal colonization in Africa had been limited. (

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Presentation on theme: "Imperialism in the Congo. Scramble for Africa Prior to 1885, European formal colonization in Africa had been limited. ("— Presentation transcript:

1 Imperialism in the Congo

2 Scramble for Africa Prior to 1885, European formal colonization in Africa had been limited. (

3 Scramble for Africa In mid-1880’s rival European nations began formally colonizing the continent until by end of the century, most of the continent was under European control (

4 Scramble for Africa Europeans colonized for a variety of reasons.  Economic  Ideological  Socio- Cultural  Political  All of the these applied to the Belgium King Leopold’s reasons for colonizing The Congo.

5 Social/Cultural/Ideological Causes Many Europeans, felt they were fully entitled to rule others because they believed their civilization to be superior.  “The white man must rule, because he is elevated by many, many steps above the black man; steps which it will take the latter centuries to climb, and which it is quite possible that the vast bulk of the black population may never be able to climb at all.” Alfred Milner, 1903 (

6 Social/Cultural/Ideological Causes Some Europeans were looking for adventure, wealth and a privileged lifestyle. For a young man looking for battle, especially battle against a poorly armed enemy, the Congo was the place to go. For a white man, the Congo was a place to get rich and to wield power. As a district commissioner, you might be running a district as big as all of Holland or Belgium. As a station chief, you might be a hundred miles away from the next white official; you could levy whatever taxes you chose in labor, ivory, or anything else, collect them however you wanted, and impose whatever punishments you liked. Adam Hochschild, King Leopold’s Ghost: A Story of Greed, Terror, and Heroism in Colonial Africa, 1998

7 Economic Causes However in the case of the Congo the primary motivation was Economics. Initially King Leopold(Belgium) wanted to collect ivory which was highly prized by Europeans for piano keys, jewelry, and carvings. ( ( msas/areas.htm)

8 Economic Causes EventuallyKing Leopold enriched himself by forcing people to harvest the wild rubber found in the Congo Basin. With the invention of vulcanized rubber there was a enormous demand for rubber – especially for bicycle & automobile tires (

9 Change King Leopold encouraged officials to press people into service to collect first ivory and then rubber. These officials had almost unlimited power over the people of The Congo and no one back in Belgium cared how they collected the rubber as long as wealth continued to flow back to Europe.

10 Change “Mistreatment was a fact of life for African workers in the colonies… Probably the worst treatment of African workers existed in the region known as the Congo Free State. The king granted private mining companies and rubber planters total control over certain areas. Local rulers paid a “labor tax” by sending their people to work as forced laborers in mines and on rubber plantations. The amount of work expected of each laborer was impossibly high, and the Africans were beaten, mutilated, or killed if they failed to produce enough.” Except from the history book, Africa, by Wiley & Crofts,

11 Change As rubber became harder to find, it became more and more difficult for the people of the Congo to meet the demands of the Europeans. People had to almost totally abandon their previous way of life and spend most of their time collecting rubber for Europeans.

12 Leopold’s Colonization of The Congo It used to take ten days to get the twenty baskets of rubber (required by the company). We were always in the forest looking for the rubber vine. Our women had to give up working the fields and gardens. Then we starved. The leopards killed some of us when we were working in the forest. Others got lost or died from exposure and starvation. We begged the white men to leave us alone, saying we could get no more rubber. But the white men and their soldiers said “Go. You are only beasts yourselves.” Account of a Congo worker from British Report on events in the Congo, 1904.

13 Cruelty Those who did not bring back sufficient rubber would be punished.  Some would be whipped with a “chicotte”  For others, their family would be held hostage.  Some would be killed as an “example” to the remainder of the village  Some had hands or feet cut off.

14 More examples “A man bringing rather under the proper amount, the white man flies into a rage, and seizing a rifle from one of the guards, shoots him dead on the spot. Very rarely did rubber come in, but one or more were shot in that way at the door of the store :to make the survivors bring more next time." A.E. Scrivener, Diary of an American Baptist Missionary in the Belgian Congo, 1904

15 Amputee’s would serve as a constant reminder to the rest of the village of what could happen to them if they refused to comply with the Belgians demand for rubber.

16 A severed hand would also be used by Belgians in the field to show those back in the district office that they were not “wasting” ammunition ( prayer/news/) prayer/news/

17 “Positive” changes of Colonialism While Belgians did produce change in the areas of transportation, health, education and political systems, the majority of these were designed to serve the colonial rulers not the people of the Congo. Many of these “changes” help explain the current political & social unrest in The Congo today.

18 Change Railroads were built throughout Africa, but most were created to move the raw materials to the coast and then on to Europe. These RR would not promote trade and travel between different parts of Africa.

19 Change Schools were opened but only for a limited number of Congolese – only those needed by Belgians to run the colony “…(when) independence came in 1960, in the entire territory there were fewer than thirty African university graduates. There were no Congolese army officers, engineers, agronomists, or physicians.” A. Hochschild, King Leopold’s Ghost.

20 Political Change Thus in 1960 an independent Congo (Zaire) was launched but it was a nation with none of the unifying components of a modern nation – save anti-colonialism. Over 200 different language / ethnic groups were combined into a new nation spread out over a huge land area – roughly the size of Western Europe. (

21 Independence

22 Congo (Zaire) did know political ‘stability’ under 32 years of the heavy hand of Mobutu Sese Seko whose rule was modeled on the colonial government he saw growing up.  Strict rule with harsh punishment for dissenters  No individual freedom  Little effort to improve health & education  Wealth of the country used to enrich government elite.

23 Legacy of Colonial Rule Since his overthrow & death, the many ethnic groups, often aided by neighboring nations, have been fighting over the wealth of the Congo. By the end of 2004, the deaths from fighting and disease were approaching 4 million. (

24 Current Status Finally a peace deal was signed between the warring factions in 2003. Elections took place in July of 2006 – there is now some political stability. Yet the task of improving the quality of life for the people of The Congo is a daunting one.

25 Current Status “Congo needs nation-building of the most basic kind. Its roads, telecommunications, health facilities, and other infrastructure are deplorable. Corruption is pervasive. These conditions inspired the candidacy for president of a Congolese physician, Dr. Oscar Kashala... Congo is a sick society, he says, that needs to be addressed in the way a doctor would. Improving public health will be key, he says, in a country where life expectancy is in the 40s.” The Boston Globe, Sept. 6, 2005 (

26 Current Status 1 million of the 60 million are HIV positive Life expectancy of 49 years. Literacy rate of 65 % GDP per capita of $774 HDI -.441 (VERY Low) Only 1.1 million telephones in use throughout the country, the vast majority of them cell phones. CIA Factbook

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