How was King Leopold II able to gain the Congo Free State as his own personal property if Belgium's parliament and cabinet were the real power? And why would the other European powers (Britain, France, Germany) have no problem with this as well? If it was his own personal colony, why was the Belgian Parliament able to take it from him?

King Leopold II initially persuaded the Belgian Parliament and the other European powers that his interest in the Congo was philanthropic. However, after more than twenty years in which the King's private colony was governed with great cruelty, its existence became an international embarrassment to Belgium, resulting in growing international pressure for Leopold to give up his colony to parliamentary control.

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

In 1879, King Leopold II of Belgium founded the International Association of the Congo to further his interests in the region. By the time he assumed personal control of the Congo Free State in 1885, he had managed to convince both the Belgian Parliament and the other European powers that his interest in the Congo was humanitarian rather than political or financial. He did this partly by employing the well-known journalist and explorer Henry Morton Stanley, financing Stanley's African expeditions for a period of five years. Stanley's involvement persuaded Britain and the other European powers that Leopold's mission was to civilize the Congo, rather than to exploit it.

Over the next twenty years, the Congo Free State became notorious for the cruelty with which it was governed. The publication of Joseph Conrad's novel Heart of Darkness in 1899 added to the outcry, and missionaries in Africa complained of murders and mutilations in King Leopold's domain. The Congo Reform Association was founded in 1904, by which time the Congo Free State had become an international embarrassment to Belgium. The Belgian Parliament was initially reluctant to take over the running of the state, and ended up having elections to resolve the issue. These proved decisive and, after two years of political wrangling over the matter, the Belgian Congo was established as a national parliamentary colony on November 15, 1908.

Last Updated by eNotes Editorial on
Soaring plane image

We’ll help your grades soar

Start your 48-hour free trial and unlock all the summaries, Q&A, and analyses you need to get better grades now.

  • 30,000+ book summaries
  • 20% study tools discount
  • Ad-free content
  • PDF downloads
  • 300,000+ answers
  • 5-star customer support
Start your 48-Hour Free Trial