Thursday, September 8, 2016

Mythologies About Leopold’s Congo Free State

A popular claim floating around the internet is that King Leopold II, between the years 1885 and 1908 when he ruled the area of the modern Democratic Republic of Congo, killed 10 million people. This area was known as the “Congo Free State”, and in 1908 the Belgian government formally took over the area.
This is based on claims in a book by Adam Hochschild, who is a co-founder of the publication Mother Jones. He was also an activist “for civil rights” and was for “ending apartheid” in South Africa.
(Note that when I say “the Congo” I am referring to the area of the modern state known as the Democratic Republic of the Congo, also known as Zaire, whose capital is Kinshasa. I am not including the Republic of the Congo, the smaller country on the northwest border, whose capital is Brazzaville. The Congo Free State, the Belgian Congo, Democratic Republic of the Congo and Zaire are all the names of governments that ruled over the same area – when I say “the Congo” I am referring to this land area. Here is an image of this land area, colored in blue:

Hochschild makes two key claims in his book:
1. Roughly 10 million people were killed by agents of the state in Leopold’s Congo
2. Roughly half of the population of Leopold’s Congo were killed
Now the first thing to consider is – is this possible? Well I see three things that need to be established for these claims to be possible:
1. The population of the Congo
2. The extent of Leopold’s rule within the Congo
3. The number of Leopold’s Agents who engaged in killing
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