How and why did Leopold II acquire an African empire?.
The question of how and why Leopold II, king of Belgium, acquired his African empire is not straight forward. In 1876 he organized an international conference at Brussels which, on the face of it, seemed to have the interests of the African people at heart. Twenty eight years later however, 15 million Congolese had perished at the hands of a regime as cruel as the 19th century had seen. The feelings of many were portrayed in the literature of the time. The early 20th century American poet Vachel Lindsay wrote;.
Listen to the yell of Leopolds ghost,.
burning in hell for his hand maimed host,.
hear how the demons chuckle and yell,.
cutting his hands off down in hell.
As we can see emotions ran high over the suffering which befell the people of Leopolds Congo region ,and this in turn led to a school of thought which dismissed the Belgian king as nothing but a sadistical tyrant. There is no doubt that the outcome of the Congo colony was a tragic one, however it can be argued that Leopold did not set out with this intention but rather let his greed get the better of him. Also, in asking why and how Leopold II acquired his empire, we must take into account the school of thought of the time. In the late 19th century the European man saw himself as superior to the Africans. They felt it was their duty to change the way that these "barbarians" lived both morally and socially. Leopolds Europe was one of inequality and ignorance in relation to the colour of one's skin. Charles Darwin's theories on the origins of man convinced many that the black man was a less evolved being than the white man. It was also a widely held belief that having mixed race children diluted the superior race. These commonly held misconceptions elevated the white man to a status which left the black man as a primitive being that was barely human.