What image did King Leopold present of himself and his mission in the Congo?

King Leopold II of Belgium presented himself as a philanthropist who wanted to improve living conditions for people in the Congo by uniting them under his leadership and bringing them the benefits of European civilization. He also professed an interest in the scientific study of the region.

Expert Answers

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

King Leopold II owned the Congo Free State as his personal colony between 1885 and 1908. In order to acquire this territory, he presented himself as a philanthropist who wanted to improve conditions for people in Africa and who was also pursuing scientific and anthropological interests in the Congo.

Leopold used two major conferences to present himself as a humanitarian with a thirst for knowledge. In 1876, he hosted the Brussels Geographic Conference, at which he established the International Association for the Exploration and Civilization of the Congo. Two years later, he recruited the famous journalist and explorer Henry Morton Stanley to conduct explorations on his behalf, generously funding Stanley's expeditions for several years in order to gain his expertise and support—and the prestige these conferred.

Finally, at the Berlin Conference, which took place over several months between 1884 and 1885, Leopold gained European acceptance for his plans. The delegates at the conference collectively established their humanitarian credentials by passing a motion to end slavery within Africa. However, the main practical effect of the Berlin Conference was to intensify the colonial competition known as the "Scramble for Africa" among the European powers. In the last years of the nineteenth century, Leopold's depredations in the Congo became public knowledge, and in 1908, he was finally forced to hand over his private colony to the Belgian government, which, after all the negative publicity, was not particularly eager to accept it.

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