The Center for Grassroots Oversight

This page can be viewed at

Democratic of the Congo


Events: (Note that this is not the preferable method of finding events because not all events have been assigned topics yet)

The young Duke of Brabant, who will be crowned King Leopold II of Belgium in 1865 (see 1865), dreams of making Belgium wealthy through the acquisition of a colony. At the age of 27, he travels to Seville to study Spain’s history as a colonizer. In a letter to a friend, he writes: “I am very busy here going through the Indies archives and calculating the profit which Spain made then and makes now out of her colonies.” Two years later, he tours the British possessions of Ceylon, India, and Burma and explores investment potential in South America and even the American Pacific. There is little support among Belgians at this time for establishing colonies. But the duke is undeterred. “Belgium doesn’t exploit the world,” he complains to one of his advisors. “It’s a taste we have got to make her learn.” The duke’s father, King Leopold I, had at one time considered acquiring a colony, but was discouraged after his investment at St. Thomas de Guatemala ended with the imprisonment, bankruptcy, and death of the settlers and main promoter. A few years later, the family suffers from another ill-fated venture, this time in Mexico. In 1964, Leopold’s youngest sister, Charlotte, and her husband Archduke Maximilian are installed by Napoleon III of France as the country’s figurehead Emperor and Empress. But Mexican rebels quickly put an end to Maximilian’s rule. In June 1967, two years after the duke is crowned King Leopold II, the emperor is killed by a firing squad. (Pakenham 1992, pp. 12-13; Hochschild 1999, pp. 37-38, 40-42)

Henry Morton Stanley has his first meeting with King Leopold II of Belgium. The king has been paying close attention to Stanley’s exploits in the African Congo and is hoping that Stanley will help him establish a colony there. (Hochschild 1999, pp. 61, 63)

King Leopold II of Belgium agrees to pay British adventurer Henry Morton Stanley to lead an expeditionary force to the Congo. Under the terms of their five-year contract, Stanley will return to the Congo as an employee of the king. He will receive a stipend of 25,000 francs a year for time spent in Europe and 50,000 a year for time spent in Africa. Once he has reached the navigable portion of the river, Stanley will assemble a steamboat and work his way into the interior, setting up trading posts along the way. (Hochschild 1999, pp. 61, 63)

King Leopold II of Belgium instructs Colonel Maximilien Strauch to send a telegram to Henry Morton Stanley that he has instructed Messrs. Rothschild & Sons to set aside 2000 pounds for Stanley, to be used at his disposal. (Hochschild 1999, pp. 64)

King Leopold II of Belgium sends General Henry Sanford, a former US Ambassador to Belgium under Lincoln, to lobby Congress and US officials to recognize the International Association of the Congo. (Pakenham 1992, pp. 242-243; Hochschild 1999, pp. 79-80)

President Arthur sends a message to Congress: “The objectives of the society are philanthropic. It does not aim at permanent political control, but seeks the neutrality of the valley. The United States cannot be indifferent to this work, nor to the interests of their citizens involved in it…It may become advisable for us to cooperate with other commercial powers: protecting the rights of trade and residence in the Kongo [sic] valley free from interference or political control of any one nation.” (Pakenham 1992, pp. 244)

The US Senate votes in favor of recognizing the International Association of the Congo. (Pakenham 1992, pp. 246) The Senate resolution, introduced by Senator John Tyler Morgan of Alabama, is followed by the publishing of a thousand copies of a report on the Congo. Attributed to Morgan, the document was written primarily by General Henry Sanford, who lobbied for the bill on behalf of Belgium’s King Leopold II (see Fall 1883-Spring 1884). Sanford asserts in the report “that no barbarous people have ever so readily adopted the fostering care of benevolent enterprise as have the tribes of the Congo, and never was there a more honest and practical effort to… secure their welfare.” (Hochschild 1999, pp. 80)

The US Secretary of State issues a letter recognizing “the flag of the International African Association [he meant the International Association of the Congo] as the flag of a friendly government.” (Pakenham 1992, pp. 246)

The Daily Telegraph says that the International Association of the Congo’s work is being led by “knit adventurers, traders, and missionaries of many races… under the most illustrious modern travelers.” (Pakenham 1992, pp. 246; Hochschild 1999, pp. 75-77)

Campaigning to win recognition of the “Congo Free State,” King Leopold II of Belgium assures the United States there will be “complete freedom from duties on all American goods exported to the Congo.” (Pakenham 1992, pp. 224)

The USS Lancaster, at the mouth of the Congo river, fires a twenty-one-gun salute in honor of King Leopold’s “Congo Free State.” (Hochschild 1999, pp. 86-87)

George Washington Williams writes an open letter to King Leopold II of Belgium charging his government with a lengthy list of human rights violations. Williams, a black American, came to the Congo early that year interested in establishing a program through which African-Americans could come to Africa to work. He had hoped that working in Africa would offer them a better chance for advancement than in the US. His hopes were quickly diminished shortly after arriving in the Congo. His letter to Leopold makes the following charges:
bullet Henry Morton Stanley and his men have been tricking African chiefs into signing over their land to the king. He explains: “A number of electric batteries had been purchased in London, and when attached to the arm under the coat, communicated with a band of ribbon which passed over the palm of the white brother’s hand, and when he gave the black brother a cordial grasp of the hand, the black brother was greatly surprised to find his white brother so strong, that he nearly knocked him off his feet.… When the native inquired about the disparity of strength between himself and his white brother, he was told that the white man could pull trees and perform the most prodigious feats of strength.” Another ploy commonly utilized by Stanley’s men, according to Washington, was to claim that white men have “an intimate relationship to the sun,” so intimate in fact that if a white man were to request that the sun “burn up his black brother’s village, it would be done.” According to Williams, through the use of these tactics “and a few boxes of gin, whole villages have been signed away to your Majesty.” (Hochschild 1999, pp. 109-110) Stanley is widely feared in the Congo as a tyrant. His name “produces a shudder among simple folk. When mentioned; they remember his broken promises, his copious profanity, his hot temper, his heavy blows, his severe and rigorous measures, by which they were mulcted of their lands.” (Hochschild 1999, pp. 110)
bullet Leopold’s officers force the natives to provide Belgium’s military bases in the Congo with provisions. When the natives resist, “white officers come with an expeditionary force and burn away the homes of the natives.” (Hochschild 1999, pp. 110) The king’s men treat their prisoner’s inhumanely and subject them to harsh punishments for the slightest infractions. (Hochschild 1999, pp. 110)
bullet Despite Leopold’s claims to the contrary, his subjects in the Congo Free State are not being provided with government services. The only schools and hospitals that have been built, Williams argues, are “not fit to be occupied by a horse.” (Hochschild 1999, pp. 110-111)
bullet Leopold’s men have been kidnapping local women and using them as concubines. (Hochschild 1999, pp. 111)
bullet Belgium officers have shot villagers for sport, in order to steal their wives, or in order to intimidate others into forced labor. (Hochschild 1999, pp. 111)
bullet Despite Leopold’s alleged abhorrence of slavery, his government in the Congo “is engaged in the slave-trade, wholesale and retail,” according to Williams. (Hochschild 1999, pp. 111)
Williams’s open letter causes a stir in both the US and Europe. Leopold denies the charges. (Hochschild 1999, pp. 112) Ironically, Williams was the first American to propose official recognition of the Congo Free State by the United States. (Hochschild 1999, pp. 106)

Three months after George Washington Williams writes his open letter to King Leopold II of Belgium complaining of the atrocities he witnessed being committed by Belgium forces against natives in the Congo, Williams writes a report to US President Harrison. Williams argues that the Unites States has a special responsibility since it “introduced this African government into the sisterhood of states.” In another letter, addressed to the US secretary of state, Williams accuses the Belgium government of having committed “crimes against humanity.” (Hochschild 1999, pp. 112)

The Times of London uses the recently released intelligence “dossier” from British intelligence (see September 24, 2002) to report that Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein has sent agents into Africa to find uranium for Iraqi nuclear weapons. The Times does not inform its readers that many British journalists were shown evidence contradicting the British intelligence claims (see September 24, 2002). It focuses on the dossier’s claim that Iraqi “agents” have secretly visited several African countries in search of uranium. Thirteen African nations produce uranium to one extent or another. A Whitehall source tells The Times that while Hussein may have attempted to find African uranium, those alleged efforts were unsuccessful. “If Iraq had succeeded in buying uranium from Africa, the dossier would have said so,” the source says. The Times reports that Iraq attempted to purchase uranium from, among other sources, the Democratic Republic of Congo, though at least part of that nation’s uranium mines are currently under the control of troops from Zimbabwe. The dossier does not specify any other countries that may have been contacted by Iraq. The Times also repeats the dossier’s claim that Iraq has biological and chemical weapons that can be launched against targets in as little as 45 minutes (see Late May 2003, August 16, 2003, December 7, 2003, January 27, 2004, and October 13, 2004), that Iraq is developing missiles with ranges of 600 miles (see January 9, 2003, January 16, 2003, February 27, 2003, March 7, 2003, and June 2004), and that Hussein may have given his son Qusay the power to order the use of those weapons. It also reports that the dossier specifically downplays suspected links between Iraq and radical Islamist groups such as al-Qaeda. Hussein has little sympathy for Islamist fundamentalists, The Times reports. (Evans and Beeston 9/25/2002)

Creative Commons License Except where otherwise noted, the textual content of each timeline is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike