There was once a cunning man. He got a brilliant business idea. One, that he felt would make him tons of money and also bring glory to his country and their people. No-one else had dared to do something like that before. He decided to take the risk. He approached the necessary governing bodies with his plan. They were skeptical about it. Instead they let him have absolute control over the business and supported the business with funds. He played his rivals against each other and with some calculated manipulations he struck a deal with potential stakeholders which gave him virtual control to run his business. Though it was widely known that this was a business venture for money, he disguised it under the garb of a noble cause. People saw through it but no-one said a word.
He brought in people close to him into the business. People whom he trusted would follow him. With a mix of hard work and luck he made his business very profitable and made tons of money. But his greed knew no bounds. He wanted more. He started milking his business for maximum returns and in the process committed many mistakes. Soon he made many adversaries. They wanted to pull him down. They started a whisper campaign of his misdeeds, his misuse of his absolute power and the atrocities he was perpetrating. He started a counter campaign against what he called were baseless allegations. The secrets were out in the open, but few believed the words of his detractors. They remained just whispers. However, a few honest men went deeper into this muck to investigate and found the allegations to be true. They launched a full-on media campaign to oust this man from this business and bring him to justice. Eventually, public and international pressure forced the government to launch a clean-up drive and removed the man from his post and took over his business empire.
Who was this man? No, it wasn’t Lalit Modi. It was King Leopold II of Belgium. His “business venture” was the ‘Congo Free State’.
In the 1870’s, Congo still remained an unexplored part of Africa. Few explorers ventured so deep into the African jungles, partly out of fear and partly out of the belief that there were no resources to be exploited. However, Leopold II sponsored an exploration mission headed by the famous Henry Morton Stanley, who returned with treaties signed by local African chiefs, who handed over the land to Leopold II in exchange for peace and a few gifts. The Belgian government was not interested in this venture and Leopold II took full control of the regions which had come under his rule and called it the ‘Congo Free State’. Other European rivals grudgingly ceded the Congo regions to Leopold and recognized him as the sole leader of Congo. Leopold II now governed an area larger than Belgium itself and with a population of 30 million people without even a constitution or a code of laws. He could do what he wanted. Leopold promised the Europeans that he would govern Congo for the good of all and would bring it to the level of “modern civilization”.
He extracted ivory and rubber from the jungles of Congo. In the 1890’s rubber came into great demand for its use in bicycle tires, insulation etc. The rubber trade boomed and Leopold amassed a fortune. However he wanted to stay ahead of his competition and he exploited the villages which collected rubber for him, to maximize his profit. Every village had to fulfill an obligatory “rubber quota”. The villagers would be whipped, often to death, and their women were held hostage until the men collected the requisite amount of rubber. If the village could not meet this “rubber quota”, then the villagers were killed and their hands cut off by Leopold’s army(The Force Publique) to fulfill the remaining amount. The number of villagers killed, increased proportionally to the rise in the demand of rubber. A soldier could shorten his army service if he brought in more severed hands than others. Soon, the cutting off of villager’s hands became an end in itself for Leopold’s army. This led to widespread mutilation and dismemberment. All this, forced many villagers to flee their villages and try to survive in the jungles. This, coupled with widespread disease and malnutrition resulted in the deaths of an estimated 8 – 15 million innocent Congo villagers!!!
His business rivals eventually got wind of these atrocities and while some used these same tactics in their African fiefs, a few others used this to pull him down. After his misdeeds were brought out into the public eye by journalists and authors, the Belgian govt finally stripped him of his powers and brought his brutal regime to an end. Congo passed on to the hands of the Belgian govt. However, the man who had perpetrated the deaths of close to 10 million Africans received no punishment. This is the colonial history of Africa.