Reign of ter­ror

The Observer - - World -

The Congo Free State, founded in 1885 as the per­sonal fief­dom of Leopold II (pic­tured right) in­spired Joseph Con­rad’s im­pe­rial hor­ror story, Heart of Dark­ness. Un­der Leopold’s ra­pa­cious rule, as many as 10 mil­lion peo­ple were killed, ac­cord­ing to an es­ti­mate by his­to­rian Adam Hochschild. The vast sums paid for mon­u­ments, mu­se­ums and palaces in Bel­gium were con­sid­ered ex­treme, and grow­ing pub­lic protest con­trib­uted to the Bel­gian state tak­ing over the Con­golese re­mem­bers cry­ing, aged four or five, af­ter racist taunts by other chil­dren who flinched at hold­ing her hand.

Bel­gian so­ci­ety has changed a lot since then, she thinks, from black girls proud to wear African print dresses to the in­creas­ing vis­i­bil­ity of black peo­ple on TV. How­ever, she said the colo­nial past still casts a shadow over how black Bel­gians are treated to­day, point­ing to the ab­sence of them in de­ci­sion-mak­ing roles. “A lot of peo­ple feel weird when a black per­son is in charge, and that is be­cause of colo­nial­ism.”

The best-known chap­ters of Bel­gium’s ter­ri­tory in 1908.

Dur­ing the first world war, Bel­gium gained the lands of Rwanda and Bu­rundi. While the mur­der­ous cru­elty was over, eco­nomic ex­ploita­tion of Con­golese min­eral wealth car­ried on as be­fore. When in­de­pen­dence ar­rived in 1960, hopes soared with the elec­tion of charis­matic Pa­trice Lu­mumba as Congo’s first demo­crat­i­cally elected leader. He was as­sas­si­nated in 1961 on the or­ders of the CIA, with the tacit sup­port of Bel­gium.

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