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King Leopold II of Belgium | The Butcher of Congo

Aug 16, 2022
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23
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To his people, he was a visionary builder who put Belgium on the world map.

To the people of the Congo, he was a brutal ruler who killed millions.

In this episode, we'll explore the life and legacy of the man who would become known as the "Butcher of Congo".

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[00:00:00] Hello, hello hello, and welcome to English Learning for Curious Minds, by Leonardo English. 

[00:00:11] The show where you can listen to fascinating stories, and learn weird and wonderful things about the world at the same time as improving your English.

[00:00:21] I’m Alastair Budge, and today we are going to be talking about King Leopold II of Belgium, The Butcher of Congo.

[00:00:30] To his people, King Leopold II was much loved. 

[00:00:34] To the world, he was a humanitarian and a philanthropist.

[00:00:38] It was all a huge lie. 

[00:00:41] The Builder King of a new, small European country set his sights on the continent of Africa. 

[00:00:48] What would follow would be years of exploitation, torture, and death.

[00:00:54] So, let’s get started on this dark but important story.

[00:00:59] Before we begin, let’s have a little bit of historical context. 

[00:01:03] Leopold II was born in 1835. 

[00:01:07] He was the second son of King Leopold I, but his older brother, Louis Philippe, died in infancy, before Leopold was born, making Leopold the heir to the Belgian throne.

[00:01:21] His father, Leopold I, was the first King of Belgium, after the country broke off from The Kingdom of the Netherlands in 1815. 

[00:01:30] So Belgium as an independent country was only 20 years old when Leopold II was born, and 50 years old when Leopold became king, aged only 30 himself.

[00:01:44] Belgium as both a kingdom and a country was established as a constitutional monarchy, meaning that the newly formed monarch was a “sovereign who reigns but does not rule.” 

[00:01:57] This meant that the new king and his children acted as non-political heads of state, much like Queen Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom. 

[00:02:07] On a practical basis, this meant that the monarch held some power but wasn’t absolute. 

[00:02:13] So, we have a new, young king, of a new, young country. 

[00:02:18] King Leopold II ‘s early political career had focused on the development of Belgium and its expansion as a kingdom. 

[00:02:26] In practical terms, what did expansion mean?

[00:02:30] Well, it meant the acquisition of colonies around the world. 

[00:02:34] As a young man, Leopold had travelled widely, visiting India and China as well as travelling around Africa. 

[00:02:43] After he became king, at the age of 30, his country saw major social and economic developments that supported the Belgian people; secular schooling for children, voting rights for all men, and various laws against child labour were successfully passed. 

[00:03:01] So far so good.

[00:03:03] These progressive improvements endeared King Leopold to his people. He was much loved and respected.

[00:03:11] All the while, King Leopold’s hopes to expand and grow the Belgian Empire continued. 

[00:03:18] He earned the moniker, the nickname, “the Builder King”, as he commissioned a large number of public works, buildings, and urban projects throughout the country. 

[00:03:30] But it is how he funded these projects and beyond, that the legacy of King Leopold II of Belgium becomes more insidious, more sinister and the effects of his reign still echo even today. 

[00:03:46] Remember that as a new kingdom, Belgium lacked physical territory outside of the country’s borders, having lost much of its global connection after it broke away from the Kingdom of the Netherlands. 

[00:03:59] Meanwhile countries throughout Europe, like the UK, France, Portugal, Spain, Germany, Italy and The Netherlands, had hundreds of years to expand their colonial reach across the world on nearly every continent. 

[00:04:15] King Leopold wanted for himself what these countries had. 

[00:04:19] He wanted more personal power. 

[00:04:22] King Leopold II felt that a country without a colony could not achieve historical significance, or importance, and his country, Belgium, was late to the party. 

[00:04:35] As the second king of a new country, he felt it was both his right and his duty to establish his own colonies. 

[00:04:43] In a letter to his brother, he wrote “the country must be strong, prosperous, therefore have colonies of her own, beautiful and calm.” 

[00:04:54] On at least two occasions, he hoped that Queen Isabella II of Spain would cede, would give The Philippines to Belgium, but he lacked both the funds and the support of his own government. 

[00:05:07] He would have to look elsewhere.

[00:05:10] Like many other European powers, King Leopold set his sights on the continent of Africa, with its rich repository of raw materials like palm oil, ivory, diamonds, tin, tea and cocoa. 

[00:05:24] After the failed attempts to acquire territory for Belgium, King Leopold II, ever ambitious, formed a plan to gain control over the Congo. 

[00:05:35] But this time, he tried a different tactic, removing the need for his government’s financial support and executive power altogether. 

[00:05:44] In 1876, he formed a private holding company called the International African Society.

[00:05:52] Publicly, this company was an international scientific and philanthropic association, and indeed, the name does sound friendly and innocent. 

[00:06:02] Its mission pledged to suppress the East African Slave trade, gurantee free trade with other colonies and encourage humanitarian efforts. 

[00:06:13] He sold this lie well. 

[00:06:16] He used the cover of this private holding company to establish a colony in the Congo region for his own financial gain and personal power. 

[00:06:26] He wanted his own personal kingdom in Africa, not for Belgium, but for himself.

[00:06:32] To get his Congolese Kingdom, in 1879, he contracted the Welsh-American explorer Sir Henry Morton Stanley, who used his knowledge of the region and the indigenous Congolese culture to convince the Congolese leaders to sign treaties

[00:06:50] Through deception, the local leaders signed away their rights and the use of their own land. 

[00:06:56] The chiefs did not know exactly what they had signed, but by signing, they accepted the flag of something called the Congo Association, an association that was part of Leopold’s holding company.

[00:07:10] The names and details aren’t so important, but what Leopold had essentially tricked the Congolese leaders into doing was handing over the control of their land to him.

[00:07:23] With that tricky part out of the way, King Leopold’s next step was to legally acquire the Congo. 

[00:07:30] He achieved this at something called the Berlin Conference, in Germany which was held between 1884-1885. 

[00:07:39] It’s here that the Western world powers came together to divide up the continent of Africa - without the consideration of actual African indigenous peoples, I might add, and to agree that King Leopold was recognised as, the sovereign, or supreme ruler, of what was called the “Congo Free State.” 

[00:08:00] Of course, this is horrendous in itself, but perhaps it’s even worse when you consider quite how much land had been given to Belgium.

[00:08:09] Belgium is a tiny European country, just over 30,000 km2. 

[00:08:16] During the Berlin Conference, King Leopold was awarded a piece of land totalling 2,600,000 square kilometres, more than 80 times the size of Belgium and home to 20 million people.

[00:08:30] In May of 1885, it became King Leopold’s own private colony. 

[00:08:37] King Leopold in all his colonial manoeuvring had convinced multiple imperial powers that he, not the country of Belgium, should be in personal control of this territory in the Congo.

[00:08:50] These powers believed that under his direction, the region would see a suppression of the slave trade, and efforts to push humanitarian policies. 

[00:09:01] As an added bonus, Leopold would continue to spread Western ideals and Christianity to the continent, all starting in what he would call the “Congo Free State”. 

[00:09:13] The reality was that the “Congo Free State” was anything but free. 

[00:09:19] In the pursuit of financial supremacy, King Leopold quickly went to work and raised a private, brutal, army. 

[00:09:28] Remember the treaties Sir Henry Stanley got signed on his behalf? 

[00:09:33] King Leopold controlled the use of the land and forced many Congolese men to work without pay. 

[00:09:40] Life got significantly worse when in 1887, a Scotsman by the name of John Boyd Dunlop, improved the pneumatic rubber tire, with so doing creating an international market for rubber

[00:09:54] King Leopold’s “Congo Free State” had one of the world’s largest supplies of rubber trees.

[00:10:01] If you thought this might have been good news for the Congolese people, because their country was rich in this material that was now in high demand, you couldn’t be further from the truth. 

[00:10:12] To meet the international market needs and satisfy his own greed, King Leopold forced the villages to harvest rubber for him, and imposed harsh quotas, high targets on what the villages had to produce. 

[00:10:28] To harvest the rubber, the Congolese people had to cut the vines of the trees, and then often cover their bodies with the rubber just to then painfully scrape it off to collect it.

[00:10:42] If villages didn’t meet their quotas, their targets, Leopold’s private army would impose horrific punishments. 

[00:10:51] They would hold women and children hostage

[00:10:54] The army would withhold food from children, sexually harrass the woman, and beat, whip and mutilate the village men if they did not harvest enough of the wild plant to meet the quotas

[00:11:07] In response to the inhuman treatment, there were frequent uprisings by the villagers. They fought the soldiers, hid in the forest and would even destroy the rubber trees, rendering them useless

[00:11:20] But it was to no avail, King Leopold used his private army to suppress any and all rebellions. 

[00:11:30] Those who refused to work for King Leopold were beaten, mutilated, or even murdered. 

[00:11:37] Indeed there is a horrible picture from this time of a poor Congolese man sitting down looking at a severed foot and hand, a cut off foot and hand. 

[00:11:47] These belonged to his five year old daughter, and were cut off as a punishment for her father not harvesting enough rubber.

[00:11:56] The more exploitation, the more economic gain for King Leopold, the richer he became. 

[00:12:03] For the people he exploited, the opposite was clearly true. 

[00:12:07] Life in Congo was upended, it was turned on its head.

[00:12:12] The regime affected agriculture, and caused widespread disease and starvation. 

[00:12:19] It's reported that as many as 10 million Congolese people died in the Congo Free State under King Leopold’s rule.

[00:12:27] Back in Belgium, with his royal coffers full, with plenty of money in his bank account, the Builder King went to work erecting monuments and constructing private estates. 

[00:12:39] The Belgian people, blind to the destruction of the Congo, were delighted when in 1897 their king shipped 267 Congolese people to Brussels, the Belgian capital, to be put on display, in a vile case of a human zoo. 

[00:12:58] King Leopold put Congolese people on display for public viewing on his country estate where he built a mock African village. 

[00:13:07] During their time, several died of pneumonia and influenza and were buried in unmarked graves. 

[00:13:14] This horrendous excuse for entertainment became so popular that a permanent exhibition was established. 

[00:13:22] Even as late as 1958, when Belgium hosted the World’s Fair, and Congo was still part of Belgium, Congolese people were again put on display, with what is thankfully believed to be the world’s last “human zoo”.

[00:13:38] Although the worst of this brutality was all taking place thousands of kilometres away from Europe, and out of sight of European eyes, eventually King Leopold’s exploitation of the Congolese people became international news.

[00:13:53] In 1890, a former African-American soldier in the Union Army, turned Baptist minister named George Washington Williams made a visit to the Congo Free State. 

[00:14:04] He saw the devastation that King Leopold’s private colony had done to the region. 

[00:14:10] With his own eyes, he saw evidence of slavery that King Leopold had promised to suppress.

[00:14:15] From the Congo, Williams wrote a letter titled “An Open Letter to His Serene Majesty Leopold II, King of the Belgians and Sovereign of the Independent State of Congo.”

[00:14:29] In it he addressed the vast number of humanitarian crimes he had witnessed along with the inhumane treatment of the Congolese people by King Leopold. 

[00:14:39] In the letter he accused King Leopold of a multitude of crimes, including fraud, arson and murder, among many others. 

[00:14:49] He called out the manipulation by Sir Henry Stanley of the Congolese leaders and asked the international community to intervene

[00:14:58] George Washington Williams was just one of many voices in the growing crowd of critics to the horrific abuses of power in the Congo Free State. 

[00:15:07] In 1903, a diplomat by the name of Roger Casement wrote and shared a report that described and confirmed the scale of the crimes against the Congolese people. 

[00:15:20] He travelled to the Congo and got first hand accounts of the murder and destruction commited by King Leopold’s private army. 

[00:15:29] At last, the world was starting to wake up to the horrors of the Congo Free State.

[00:15:34] In 1905, the American Author Mark Twain published a politically satirical pamphlet called “King Leopold's Soliloquy.” 

[00:15:43] In 1909, British author, Arthur Conan Doyle published a book called the Crime of the Congo. 

[00:15:51] Joseph Conrad’s seminal work, or his most famous work, Heart of Darkness, which was published in 1899, tells the story of a sailor who works for a Belgian trading company as a ferry boat captain somewhere in Africa. 

[00:16:05] In it he remarks on the imperialism and racism of the colonisation of the Congo.

[00:16:11] And another notable critic of King Leopold’s regime was a man called Edmund Dene Morel, a shipping clerk working in Liverpool, in England. 

[00:16:22] Liverpool was a major port of call for many shipping companies, including those sailing for Belgium and Belgian ships would deliver rubber to Liverpool from the Congo. 

[00:16:33] Morel noticed the high volume of rubber being produced and delivered by Belgium. 

[00:16:39] He knew that that volume of rubber could not be produced by anything other than slave labour. 

[00:16:45] After his own investigation, his suspicions proved correct. 

[00:16:49] He wrote several anonymous articles, detailing and exposing the atrocities in the Congo Free State. 

[00:16:57] He wrote that this was, “the greatest crime that has ever been committed in the history of the world.”

[00:17:05] Although he was offered a bribe, a payment, from the shipping company in exchange for his silence, he declined, and in 1906 he published a book called “Red Rubber”, which was an exposé of the horrors in the country.

[00:17:21] King Leopold pretended to be surprised about this, and responded to the international outcry with an inquiry of his own. 

[00:17:30] He sent his own International Commision to the Congo Free State. 

[00:17:34] His idea was to bribe the commission in his favour, but he was foiled, it didn’t work.

[00:17:42] Fortunately, a Christian missionary couple shared hard evidence with King Leopold’s commission. 

[00:17:48] The missionaries gathered together victims to share their testimonies of abuse, enslavement, mutilation, and murder, all committed on behalf of King Leopold and his private colony. 

[00:18:01] The Commission was then presented with photographic evidence of the crimes, photos which showed the horrors the Congolese suffered under King Leopold’s rule. 

[00:18:12] When the commission published and presented King Leopold with its 50 page report, he knew he had to cover up his crimes as best as he could. 

[00:18:21] He ordered that all papers and records detailing anything with the Congo Free State be burned. 

[00:18:28] But the damage was done.

[00:18:30] In 1908, the Congo Free State became an official Belgian colony - remember, before this it was King Leopold II's personal kingdom. 

[00:18:41] Despite the clear evidence against King Leopold, the Belgian government bought it from him for 50 million francs. 

[00:18:49] One year later, in 1909 and at the age of 74, King Leopold died, a hero in his own country.

[00:18:59] But life as a Belgian colony wasn’t much better than under King Leopold, and Belgium found more natural resources to exploit than just rubber.

[00:19:09] The Belgian government benefited from the Congo’s abundance of diamonds, gold, and ivory as all of these resources could be sold internationally for major profits. 

[00:19:21] Now, given his crimes, one might assume that King Leopold II would be Belgium’s least favourite monarch

[00:19:29] During his lifetime, this was certainly not the case.

[00:19:33] King Leopold was a much loved royal during his reign and his big lie about his role in the Congo solidified his adoration to the Belgian people. 

[00:19:43] He helped suppress the slave trade! 

[00:19:46] King Leopold helped to spread Western ideals and Christianity! 

[00:19:50] King Leopold was a humanitarian!

[00:19:53] Or so the Belgian people were told.

[00:19:56] After his death, the government decided to keep King Leopold’s legacy clear of his crimes against humanity. 

[00:20:03] As a new country, the government did not want the outside world or its own people to know how far King Leopold’s horrors extended, and the Congo remained a Belgian Colony until 1960.

[00:20:16] In the last few years, however, Belgium faced a reckoning with King Leopold’s legacy. 

[00:20:23] For decades, history taught the Belgian people that King Leopold saved the Congo and that without Belgium, the Congo didn’t exist. 

[00:20:33] Now though, Belgium’s and King Leopold’s barbarous past is catching up with the times

[00:20:39] In an acknowledgment of the country's history, many of his statues have been vandalised, defaced, or removed altogether. 

[00:20:48] Like many countries with histories of brutal colonisation practices, including the UK, of course, there are efforts to come to terms with it, and this is very much an ongoing process.

[00:21:01] As far as King Leopold II is concerned, there is no way to whitewash what he did, no amount of saying “oh it was in the past”, which can explain his actions.

[00:21:13] And, quite rightly, there is nobody more deserving of the nickname that he is best known by: The Butcher of Congo.

[00:21:23] OK then, that is it for today's episode on King Leopold II.

[00:21:28] I know it’s a dark subject, but it is an important one, so I hope you found it interesting.

[00:21:34] As always, I would love to know what you thought about this episode. 

[00:21:37] If you are from Belgium, how did you learn about King Leopold in school?

[00:21:42] How has this changed over time?

[00:21:44] For those of you who come from countries with somewhat unpleasant colonial pasts, which–as an Englishman–I most certainly do, what do you think is the right way to deal with this? 

[00:21:55] And if you come from a country that is a former colony, perhaps even if you come from Congo, what do you think is the right way to remember, or to not remember the colonial era? 

[00:22:06] What do you think is the right way to deal with it? 

[00:22:09] I would love to know, so let’s get this discussion started.

[00:22:13] You can head right into our community forum, which is at community.leonardoenglish.com and get chatting away to other curious minds.

[00:22:21] You've been listening to English Learning for Curious Minds, by Leonardo English.

[00:22:26] I'm Alastair Budge, you stay safe, and I'll catch you in the next episode.

[END OF EPISODE]

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[00:00:00] Hello, hello hello, and welcome to English Learning for Curious Minds, by Leonardo English. 

[00:00:11] The show where you can listen to fascinating stories, and learn weird and wonderful things about the world at the same time as improving your English.

[00:00:21] I’m Alastair Budge, and today we are going to be talking about King Leopold II of Belgium, The Butcher of Congo.

[00:00:30] To his people, King Leopold II was much loved. 

[00:00:34] To the world, he was a humanitarian and a philanthropist.

[00:00:38] It was all a huge lie. 

[00:00:41] The Builder King of a new, small European country set his sights on the continent of Africa. 

[00:00:48] What would follow would be years of exploitation, torture, and death.

[00:00:54] So, let’s get started on this dark but important story.

[00:00:59] Before we begin, let’s have a little bit of historical context. 

[00:01:03] Leopold II was born in 1835. 

[00:01:07] He was the second son of King Leopold I, but his older brother, Louis Philippe, died in infancy, before Leopold was born, making Leopold the heir to the Belgian throne.

[00:01:21] His father, Leopold I, was the first King of Belgium, after the country broke off from The Kingdom of the Netherlands in 1815. 

[00:01:30] So Belgium as an independent country was only 20 years old when Leopold II was born, and 50 years old when Leopold became king, aged only 30 himself.

[00:01:44] Belgium as both a kingdom and a country was established as a constitutional monarchy, meaning that the newly formed monarch was a “sovereign who reigns but does not rule.” 

[00:01:57] This meant that the new king and his children acted as non-political heads of state, much like Queen Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom. 

[00:02:07] On a practical basis, this meant that the monarch held some power but wasn’t absolute. 

[00:02:13] So, we have a new, young king, of a new, young country. 

[00:02:18] King Leopold II ‘s early political career had focused on the development of Belgium and its expansion as a kingdom. 

[00:02:26] In practical terms, what did expansion mean?

[00:02:30] Well, it meant the acquisition of colonies around the world. 

[00:02:34] As a young man, Leopold had travelled widely, visiting India and China as well as travelling around Africa. 

[00:02:43] After he became king, at the age of 30, his country saw major social and economic developments that supported the Belgian people; secular schooling for children, voting rights for all men, and various laws against child labour were successfully passed. 

[00:03:01] So far so good.

[00:03:03] These progressive improvements endeared King Leopold to his people. He was much loved and respected.

[00:03:11] All the while, King Leopold’s hopes to expand and grow the Belgian Empire continued. 

[00:03:18] He earned the moniker, the nickname, “the Builder King”, as he commissioned a large number of public works, buildings, and urban projects throughout the country. 

[00:03:30] But it is how he funded these projects and beyond, that the legacy of King Leopold II of Belgium becomes more insidious, more sinister and the effects of his reign still echo even today. 

[00:03:46] Remember that as a new kingdom, Belgium lacked physical territory outside of the country’s borders, having lost much of its global connection after it broke away from the Kingdom of the Netherlands. 

[00:03:59] Meanwhile countries throughout Europe, like the UK, France, Portugal, Spain, Germany, Italy and The Netherlands, had hundreds of years to expand their colonial reach across the world on nearly every continent. 

[00:04:15] King Leopold wanted for himself what these countries had. 

[00:04:19] He wanted more personal power. 

[00:04:22] King Leopold II felt that a country without a colony could not achieve historical significance, or importance, and his country, Belgium, was late to the party. 

[00:04:35] As the second king of a new country, he felt it was both his right and his duty to establish his own colonies. 

[00:04:43] In a letter to his brother, he wrote “the country must be strong, prosperous, therefore have colonies of her own, beautiful and calm.” 

[00:04:54] On at least two occasions, he hoped that Queen Isabella II of Spain would cede, would give The Philippines to Belgium, but he lacked both the funds and the support of his own government. 

[00:05:07] He would have to look elsewhere.

[00:05:10] Like many other European powers, King Leopold set his sights on the continent of Africa, with its rich repository of raw materials like palm oil, ivory, diamonds, tin, tea and cocoa. 

[00:05:24] After the failed attempts to acquire territory for Belgium, King Leopold II, ever ambitious, formed a plan to gain control over the Congo. 

[00:05:35] But this time, he tried a different tactic, removing the need for his government’s financial support and executive power altogether. 

[00:05:44] In 1876, he formed a private holding company called the International African Society.

[00:05:52] Publicly, this company was an international scientific and philanthropic association, and indeed, the name does sound friendly and innocent. 

[00:06:02] Its mission pledged to suppress the East African Slave trade, gurantee free trade with other colonies and encourage humanitarian efforts. 

[00:06:13] He sold this lie well. 

[00:06:16] He used the cover of this private holding company to establish a colony in the Congo region for his own financial gain and personal power. 

[00:06:26] He wanted his own personal kingdom in Africa, not for Belgium, but for himself.

[00:06:32] To get his Congolese Kingdom, in 1879, he contracted the Welsh-American explorer Sir Henry Morton Stanley, who used his knowledge of the region and the indigenous Congolese culture to convince the Congolese leaders to sign treaties

[00:06:50] Through deception, the local leaders signed away their rights and the use of their own land. 

[00:06:56] The chiefs did not know exactly what they had signed, but by signing, they accepted the flag of something called the Congo Association, an association that was part of Leopold’s holding company.

[00:07:10] The names and details aren’t so important, but what Leopold had essentially tricked the Congolese leaders into doing was handing over the control of their land to him.

[00:07:23] With that tricky part out of the way, King Leopold’s next step was to legally acquire the Congo. 

[00:07:30] He achieved this at something called the Berlin Conference, in Germany which was held between 1884-1885. 

[00:07:39] It’s here that the Western world powers came together to divide up the continent of Africa - without the consideration of actual African indigenous peoples, I might add, and to agree that King Leopold was recognised as, the sovereign, or supreme ruler, of what was called the “Congo Free State.” 

[00:08:00] Of course, this is horrendous in itself, but perhaps it’s even worse when you consider quite how much land had been given to Belgium.

[00:08:09] Belgium is a tiny European country, just over 30,000 km2. 

[00:08:16] During the Berlin Conference, King Leopold was awarded a piece of land totalling 2,600,000 square kilometres, more than 80 times the size of Belgium and home to 20 million people.

[00:08:30] In May of 1885, it became King Leopold’s own private colony. 

[00:08:37] King Leopold in all his colonial manoeuvring had convinced multiple imperial powers that he, not the country of Belgium, should be in personal control of this territory in the Congo.

[00:08:50] These powers believed that under his direction, the region would see a suppression of the slave trade, and efforts to push humanitarian policies. 

[00:09:01] As an added bonus, Leopold would continue to spread Western ideals and Christianity to the continent, all starting in what he would call the “Congo Free State”. 

[00:09:13] The reality was that the “Congo Free State” was anything but free. 

[00:09:19] In the pursuit of financial supremacy, King Leopold quickly went to work and raised a private, brutal, army. 

[00:09:28] Remember the treaties Sir Henry Stanley got signed on his behalf? 

[00:09:33] King Leopold controlled the use of the land and forced many Congolese men to work without pay. 

[00:09:40] Life got significantly worse when in 1887, a Scotsman by the name of John Boyd Dunlop, improved the pneumatic rubber tire, with so doing creating an international market for rubber

[00:09:54] King Leopold’s “Congo Free State” had one of the world’s largest supplies of rubber trees.

[00:10:01] If you thought this might have been good news for the Congolese people, because their country was rich in this material that was now in high demand, you couldn’t be further from the truth. 

[00:10:12] To meet the international market needs and satisfy his own greed, King Leopold forced the villages to harvest rubber for him, and imposed harsh quotas, high targets on what the villages had to produce. 

[00:10:28] To harvest the rubber, the Congolese people had to cut the vines of the trees, and then often cover their bodies with the rubber just to then painfully scrape it off to collect it.

[00:10:42] If villages didn’t meet their quotas, their targets, Leopold’s private army would impose horrific punishments. 

[00:10:51] They would hold women and children hostage

[00:10:54] The army would withhold food from children, sexually harrass the woman, and beat, whip and mutilate the village men if they did not harvest enough of the wild plant to meet the quotas

[00:11:07] In response to the inhuman treatment, there were frequent uprisings by the villagers. They fought the soldiers, hid in the forest and would even destroy the rubber trees, rendering them useless

[00:11:20] But it was to no avail, King Leopold used his private army to suppress any and all rebellions. 

[00:11:30] Those who refused to work for King Leopold were beaten, mutilated, or even murdered. 

[00:11:37] Indeed there is a horrible picture from this time of a poor Congolese man sitting down looking at a severed foot and hand, a cut off foot and hand. 

[00:11:47] These belonged to his five year old daughter, and were cut off as a punishment for her father not harvesting enough rubber.

[00:11:56] The more exploitation, the more economic gain for King Leopold, the richer he became. 

[00:12:03] For the people he exploited, the opposite was clearly true. 

[00:12:07] Life in Congo was upended, it was turned on its head.

[00:12:12] The regime affected agriculture, and caused widespread disease and starvation. 

[00:12:19] It's reported that as many as 10 million Congolese people died in the Congo Free State under King Leopold’s rule.

[00:12:27] Back in Belgium, with his royal coffers full, with plenty of money in his bank account, the Builder King went to work erecting monuments and constructing private estates. 

[00:12:39] The Belgian people, blind to the destruction of the Congo, were delighted when in 1897 their king shipped 267 Congolese people to Brussels, the Belgian capital, to be put on display, in a vile case of a human zoo. 

[00:12:58] King Leopold put Congolese people on display for public viewing on his country estate where he built a mock African village. 

[00:13:07] During their time, several died of pneumonia and influenza and were buried in unmarked graves. 

[00:13:14] This horrendous excuse for entertainment became so popular that a permanent exhibition was established. 

[00:13:22] Even as late as 1958, when Belgium hosted the World’s Fair, and Congo was still part of Belgium, Congolese people were again put on display, with what is thankfully believed to be the world’s last “human zoo”.

[00:13:38] Although the worst of this brutality was all taking place thousands of kilometres away from Europe, and out of sight of European eyes, eventually King Leopold’s exploitation of the Congolese people became international news.

[00:13:53] In 1890, a former African-American soldier in the Union Army, turned Baptist minister named George Washington Williams made a visit to the Congo Free State. 

[00:14:04] He saw the devastation that King Leopold’s private colony had done to the region. 

[00:14:10] With his own eyes, he saw evidence of slavery that King Leopold had promised to suppress.

[00:14:15] From the Congo, Williams wrote a letter titled “An Open Letter to His Serene Majesty Leopold II, King of the Belgians and Sovereign of the Independent State of Congo.”

[00:14:29] In it he addressed the vast number of humanitarian crimes he had witnessed along with the inhumane treatment of the Congolese people by King Leopold. 

[00:14:39] In the letter he accused King Leopold of a multitude of crimes, including fraud, arson and murder, among many others. 

[00:14:49] He called out the manipulation by Sir Henry Stanley of the Congolese leaders and asked the international community to intervene

[00:14:58] George Washington Williams was just one of many voices in the growing crowd of critics to the horrific abuses of power in the Congo Free State. 

[00:15:07] In 1903, a diplomat by the name of Roger Casement wrote and shared a report that described and confirmed the scale of the crimes against the Congolese people. 

[00:15:20] He travelled to the Congo and got first hand accounts of the murder and destruction commited by King Leopold’s private army. 

[00:15:29] At last, the world was starting to wake up to the horrors of the Congo Free State.

[00:15:34] In 1905, the American Author Mark Twain published a politically satirical pamphlet called “King Leopold's Soliloquy.” 

[00:15:43] In 1909, British author, Arthur Conan Doyle published a book called the Crime of the Congo. 

[00:15:51] Joseph Conrad’s seminal work, or his most famous work, Heart of Darkness, which was published in 1899, tells the story of a sailor who works for a Belgian trading company as a ferry boat captain somewhere in Africa. 

[00:16:05] In it he remarks on the imperialism and racism of the colonisation of the Congo.

[00:16:11] And another notable critic of King Leopold’s regime was a man called Edmund Dene Morel, a shipping clerk working in Liverpool, in England. 

[00:16:22] Liverpool was a major port of call for many shipping companies, including those sailing for Belgium and Belgian ships would deliver rubber to Liverpool from the Congo. 

[00:16:33] Morel noticed the high volume of rubber being produced and delivered by Belgium. 

[00:16:39] He knew that that volume of rubber could not be produced by anything other than slave labour. 

[00:16:45] After his own investigation, his suspicions proved correct. 

[00:16:49] He wrote several anonymous articles, detailing and exposing the atrocities in the Congo Free State. 

[00:16:57] He wrote that this was, “the greatest crime that has ever been committed in the history of the world.”

[00:17:05] Although he was offered a bribe, a payment, from the shipping company in exchange for his silence, he declined, and in 1906 he published a book called “Red Rubber”, which was an exposé of the horrors in the country.

[00:17:21] King Leopold pretended to be surprised about this, and responded to the international outcry with an inquiry of his own. 

[00:17:30] He sent his own International Commision to the Congo Free State. 

[00:17:34] His idea was to bribe the commission in his favour, but he was foiled, it didn’t work.

[00:17:42] Fortunately, a Christian missionary couple shared hard evidence with King Leopold’s commission. 

[00:17:48] The missionaries gathered together victims to share their testimonies of abuse, enslavement, mutilation, and murder, all committed on behalf of King Leopold and his private colony. 

[00:18:01] The Commission was then presented with photographic evidence of the crimes, photos which showed the horrors the Congolese suffered under King Leopold’s rule. 

[00:18:12] When the commission published and presented King Leopold with its 50 page report, he knew he had to cover up his crimes as best as he could. 

[00:18:21] He ordered that all papers and records detailing anything with the Congo Free State be burned. 

[00:18:28] But the damage was done.

[00:18:30] In 1908, the Congo Free State became an official Belgian colony - remember, before this it was King Leopold II's personal kingdom. 

[00:18:41] Despite the clear evidence against King Leopold, the Belgian government bought it from him for 50 million francs. 

[00:18:49] One year later, in 1909 and at the age of 74, King Leopold died, a hero in his own country.

[00:18:59] But life as a Belgian colony wasn’t much better than under King Leopold, and Belgium found more natural resources to exploit than just rubber.

[00:19:09] The Belgian government benefited from the Congo’s abundance of diamonds, gold, and ivory as all of these resources could be sold internationally for major profits. 

[00:19:21] Now, given his crimes, one might assume that King Leopold II would be Belgium’s least favourite monarch

[00:19:29] During his lifetime, this was certainly not the case.

[00:19:33] King Leopold was a much loved royal during his reign and his big lie about his role in the Congo solidified his adoration to the Belgian people. 

[00:19:43] He helped suppress the slave trade! 

[00:19:46] King Leopold helped to spread Western ideals and Christianity! 

[00:19:50] King Leopold was a humanitarian!

[00:19:53] Or so the Belgian people were told.

[00:19:56] After his death, the government decided to keep King Leopold’s legacy clear of his crimes against humanity. 

[00:20:03] As a new country, the government did not want the outside world or its own people to know how far King Leopold’s horrors extended, and the Congo remained a Belgian Colony until 1960.

[00:20:16] In the last few years, however, Belgium faced a reckoning with King Leopold’s legacy. 

[00:20:23] For decades, history taught the Belgian people that King Leopold saved the Congo and that without Belgium, the Congo didn’t exist. 

[00:20:33] Now though, Belgium’s and King Leopold’s barbarous past is catching up with the times

[00:20:39] In an acknowledgment of the country's history, many of his statues have been vandalised, defaced, or removed altogether. 

[00:20:48] Like many countries with histories of brutal colonisation practices, including the UK, of course, there are efforts to come to terms with it, and this is very much an ongoing process.

[00:21:01] As far as King Leopold II is concerned, there is no way to whitewash what he did, no amount of saying “oh it was in the past”, which can explain his actions.

[00:21:13] And, quite rightly, there is nobody more deserving of the nickname that he is best known by: The Butcher of Congo.

[00:21:23] OK then, that is it for today's episode on King Leopold II.

[00:21:28] I know it’s a dark subject, but it is an important one, so I hope you found it interesting.

[00:21:34] As always, I would love to know what you thought about this episode. 

[00:21:37] If you are from Belgium, how did you learn about King Leopold in school?

[00:21:42] How has this changed over time?

[00:21:44] For those of you who come from countries with somewhat unpleasant colonial pasts, which–as an Englishman–I most certainly do, what do you think is the right way to deal with this? 

[00:21:55] And if you come from a country that is a former colony, perhaps even if you come from Congo, what do you think is the right way to remember, or to not remember the colonial era? 

[00:22:06] What do you think is the right way to deal with it? 

[00:22:09] I would love to know, so let’s get this discussion started.

[00:22:13] You can head right into our community forum, which is at community.leonardoenglish.com and get chatting away to other curious minds.

[00:22:21] You've been listening to English Learning for Curious Minds, by Leonardo English.

[00:22:26] I'm Alastair Budge, you stay safe, and I'll catch you in the next episode.

[END OF EPISODE]

[00:00:00] Hello, hello hello, and welcome to English Learning for Curious Minds, by Leonardo English. 

[00:00:11] The show where you can listen to fascinating stories, and learn weird and wonderful things about the world at the same time as improving your English.

[00:00:21] I’m Alastair Budge, and today we are going to be talking about King Leopold II of Belgium, The Butcher of Congo.

[00:00:30] To his people, King Leopold II was much loved. 

[00:00:34] To the world, he was a humanitarian and a philanthropist.

[00:00:38] It was all a huge lie. 

[00:00:41] The Builder King of a new, small European country set his sights on the continent of Africa. 

[00:00:48] What would follow would be years of exploitation, torture, and death.

[00:00:54] So, let’s get started on this dark but important story.

[00:00:59] Before we begin, let’s have a little bit of historical context. 

[00:01:03] Leopold II was born in 1835. 

[00:01:07] He was the second son of King Leopold I, but his older brother, Louis Philippe, died in infancy, before Leopold was born, making Leopold the heir to the Belgian throne.

[00:01:21] His father, Leopold I, was the first King of Belgium, after the country broke off from The Kingdom of the Netherlands in 1815. 

[00:01:30] So Belgium as an independent country was only 20 years old when Leopold II was born, and 50 years old when Leopold became king, aged only 30 himself.

[00:01:44] Belgium as both a kingdom and a country was established as a constitutional monarchy, meaning that the newly formed monarch was a “sovereign who reigns but does not rule.” 

[00:01:57] This meant that the new king and his children acted as non-political heads of state, much like Queen Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom. 

[00:02:07] On a practical basis, this meant that the monarch held some power but wasn’t absolute. 

[00:02:13] So, we have a new, young king, of a new, young country. 

[00:02:18] King Leopold II ‘s early political career had focused on the development of Belgium and its expansion as a kingdom. 

[00:02:26] In practical terms, what did expansion mean?

[00:02:30] Well, it meant the acquisition of colonies around the world. 

[00:02:34] As a young man, Leopold had travelled widely, visiting India and China as well as travelling around Africa. 

[00:02:43] After he became king, at the age of 30, his country saw major social and economic developments that supported the Belgian people; secular schooling for children, voting rights for all men, and various laws against child labour were successfully passed. 

[00:03:01] So far so good.

[00:03:03] These progressive improvements endeared King Leopold to his people. He was much loved and respected.

[00:03:11] All the while, King Leopold’s hopes to expand and grow the Belgian Empire continued. 

[00:03:18] He earned the moniker, the nickname, “the Builder King”, as he commissioned a large number of public works, buildings, and urban projects throughout the country. 

[00:03:30] But it is how he funded these projects and beyond, that the legacy of King Leopold II of Belgium becomes more insidious, more sinister and the effects of his reign still echo even today. 

[00:03:46] Remember that as a new kingdom, Belgium lacked physical territory outside of the country’s borders, having lost much of its global connection after it broke away from the Kingdom of the Netherlands. 

[00:03:59] Meanwhile countries throughout Europe, like the UK, France, Portugal, Spain, Germany, Italy and The Netherlands, had hundreds of years to expand their colonial reach across the world on nearly every continent. 

[00:04:15] King Leopold wanted for himself what these countries had. 

[00:04:19] He wanted more personal power. 

[00:04:22] King Leopold II felt that a country without a colony could not achieve historical significance, or importance, and his country, Belgium, was late to the party. 

[00:04:35] As the second king of a new country, he felt it was both his right and his duty to establish his own colonies. 

[00:04:43] In a letter to his brother, he wrote “the country must be strong, prosperous, therefore have colonies of her own, beautiful and calm.” 

[00:04:54] On at least two occasions, he hoped that Queen Isabella II of Spain would cede, would give The Philippines to Belgium, but he lacked both the funds and the support of his own government. 

[00:05:07] He would have to look elsewhere.

[00:05:10] Like many other European powers, King Leopold set his sights on the continent of Africa, with its rich repository of raw materials like palm oil, ivory, diamonds, tin, tea and cocoa. 

[00:05:24] After the failed attempts to acquire territory for Belgium, King Leopold II, ever ambitious, formed a plan to gain control over the Congo. 

[00:05:35] But this time, he tried a different tactic, removing the need for his government’s financial support and executive power altogether. 

[00:05:44] In 1876, he formed a private holding company called the International African Society.

[00:05:52] Publicly, this company was an international scientific and philanthropic association, and indeed, the name does sound friendly and innocent. 

[00:06:02] Its mission pledged to suppress the East African Slave trade, gurantee free trade with other colonies and encourage humanitarian efforts. 

[00:06:13] He sold this lie well. 

[00:06:16] He used the cover of this private holding company to establish a colony in the Congo region for his own financial gain and personal power. 

[00:06:26] He wanted his own personal kingdom in Africa, not for Belgium, but for himself.

[00:06:32] To get his Congolese Kingdom, in 1879, he contracted the Welsh-American explorer Sir Henry Morton Stanley, who used his knowledge of the region and the indigenous Congolese culture to convince the Congolese leaders to sign treaties

[00:06:50] Through deception, the local leaders signed away their rights and the use of their own land. 

[00:06:56] The chiefs did not know exactly what they had signed, but by signing, they accepted the flag of something called the Congo Association, an association that was part of Leopold’s holding company.

[00:07:10] The names and details aren’t so important, but what Leopold had essentially tricked the Congolese leaders into doing was handing over the control of their land to him.

[00:07:23] With that tricky part out of the way, King Leopold’s next step was to legally acquire the Congo. 

[00:07:30] He achieved this at something called the Berlin Conference, in Germany which was held between 1884-1885. 

[00:07:39] It’s here that the Western world powers came together to divide up the continent of Africa - without the consideration of actual African indigenous peoples, I might add, and to agree that King Leopold was recognised as, the sovereign, or supreme ruler, of what was called the “Congo Free State.” 

[00:08:00] Of course, this is horrendous in itself, but perhaps it’s even worse when you consider quite how much land had been given to Belgium.

[00:08:09] Belgium is a tiny European country, just over 30,000 km2. 

[00:08:16] During the Berlin Conference, King Leopold was awarded a piece of land totalling 2,600,000 square kilometres, more than 80 times the size of Belgium and home to 20 million people.

[00:08:30] In May of 1885, it became King Leopold’s own private colony. 

[00:08:37] King Leopold in all his colonial manoeuvring had convinced multiple imperial powers that he, not the country of Belgium, should be in personal control of this territory in the Congo.

[00:08:50] These powers believed that under his direction, the region would see a suppression of the slave trade, and efforts to push humanitarian policies. 

[00:09:01] As an added bonus, Leopold would continue to spread Western ideals and Christianity to the continent, all starting in what he would call the “Congo Free State”. 

[00:09:13] The reality was that the “Congo Free State” was anything but free. 

[00:09:19] In the pursuit of financial supremacy, King Leopold quickly went to work and raised a private, brutal, army. 

[00:09:28] Remember the treaties Sir Henry Stanley got signed on his behalf? 

[00:09:33] King Leopold controlled the use of the land and forced many Congolese men to work without pay. 

[00:09:40] Life got significantly worse when in 1887, a Scotsman by the name of John Boyd Dunlop, improved the pneumatic rubber tire, with so doing creating an international market for rubber

[00:09:54] King Leopold’s “Congo Free State” had one of the world’s largest supplies of rubber trees.

[00:10:01] If you thought this might have been good news for the Congolese people, because their country was rich in this material that was now in high demand, you couldn’t be further from the truth. 

[00:10:12] To meet the international market needs and satisfy his own greed, King Leopold forced the villages to harvest rubber for him, and imposed harsh quotas, high targets on what the villages had to produce. 

[00:10:28] To harvest the rubber, the Congolese people had to cut the vines of the trees, and then often cover their bodies with the rubber just to then painfully scrape it off to collect it.

[00:10:42] If villages didn’t meet their quotas, their targets, Leopold’s private army would impose horrific punishments. 

[00:10:51] They would hold women and children hostage

[00:10:54] The army would withhold food from children, sexually harrass the woman, and beat, whip and mutilate the village men if they did not harvest enough of the wild plant to meet the quotas

[00:11:07] In response to the inhuman treatment, there were frequent uprisings by the villagers. They fought the soldiers, hid in the forest and would even destroy the rubber trees, rendering them useless

[00:11:20] But it was to no avail, King Leopold used his private army to suppress any and all rebellions. 

[00:11:30] Those who refused to work for King Leopold were beaten, mutilated, or even murdered. 

[00:11:37] Indeed there is a horrible picture from this time of a poor Congolese man sitting down looking at a severed foot and hand, a cut off foot and hand. 

[00:11:47] These belonged to his five year old daughter, and were cut off as a punishment for her father not harvesting enough rubber.

[00:11:56] The more exploitation, the more economic gain for King Leopold, the richer he became. 

[00:12:03] For the people he exploited, the opposite was clearly true. 

[00:12:07] Life in Congo was upended, it was turned on its head.

[00:12:12] The regime affected agriculture, and caused widespread disease and starvation. 

[00:12:19] It's reported that as many as 10 million Congolese people died in the Congo Free State under King Leopold’s rule.

[00:12:27] Back in Belgium, with his royal coffers full, with plenty of money in his bank account, the Builder King went to work erecting monuments and constructing private estates. 

[00:12:39] The Belgian people, blind to the destruction of the Congo, were delighted when in 1897 their king shipped 267 Congolese people to Brussels, the Belgian capital, to be put on display, in a vile case of a human zoo. 

[00:12:58] King Leopold put Congolese people on display for public viewing on his country estate where he built a mock African village. 

[00:13:07] During their time, several died of pneumonia and influenza and were buried in unmarked graves. 

[00:13:14] This horrendous excuse for entertainment became so popular that a permanent exhibition was established. 

[00:13:22] Even as late as 1958, when Belgium hosted the World’s Fair, and Congo was still part of Belgium, Congolese people were again put on display, with what is thankfully believed to be the world’s last “human zoo”.

[00:13:38] Although the worst of this brutality was all taking place thousands of kilometres away from Europe, and out of sight of European eyes, eventually King Leopold’s exploitation of the Congolese people became international news.

[00:13:53] In 1890, a former African-American soldier in the Union Army, turned Baptist minister named George Washington Williams made a visit to the Congo Free State. 

[00:14:04] He saw the devastation that King Leopold’s private colony had done to the region. 

[00:14:10] With his own eyes, he saw evidence of slavery that King Leopold had promised to suppress.

[00:14:15] From the Congo, Williams wrote a letter titled “An Open Letter to His Serene Majesty Leopold II, King of the Belgians and Sovereign of the Independent State of Congo.”

[00:14:29] In it he addressed the vast number of humanitarian crimes he had witnessed along with the inhumane treatment of the Congolese people by King Leopold. 

[00:14:39] In the letter he accused King Leopold of a multitude of crimes, including fraud, arson and murder, among many others. 

[00:14:49] He called out the manipulation by Sir Henry Stanley of the Congolese leaders and asked the international community to intervene

[00:14:58] George Washington Williams was just one of many voices in the growing crowd of critics to the horrific abuses of power in the Congo Free State. 

[00:15:07] In 1903, a diplomat by the name of Roger Casement wrote and shared a report that described and confirmed the scale of the crimes against the Congolese people. 

[00:15:20] He travelled to the Congo and got first hand accounts of the murder and destruction commited by King Leopold’s private army. 

[00:15:29] At last, the world was starting to wake up to the horrors of the Congo Free State.

[00:15:34] In 1905, the American Author Mark Twain published a politically satirical pamphlet called “King Leopold's Soliloquy.” 

[00:15:43] In 1909, British author, Arthur Conan Doyle published a book called the Crime of the Congo. 

[00:15:51] Joseph Conrad’s seminal work, or his most famous work, Heart of Darkness, which was published in 1899, tells the story of a sailor who works for a Belgian trading company as a ferry boat captain somewhere in Africa. 

[00:16:05] In it he remarks on the imperialism and racism of the colonisation of the Congo.

[00:16:11] And another notable critic of King Leopold’s regime was a man called Edmund Dene Morel, a shipping clerk working in Liverpool, in England. 

[00:16:22] Liverpool was a major port of call for many shipping companies, including those sailing for Belgium and Belgian ships would deliver rubber to Liverpool from the Congo. 

[00:16:33] Morel noticed the high volume of rubber being produced and delivered by Belgium. 

[00:16:39] He knew that that volume of rubber could not be produced by anything other than slave labour. 

[00:16:45] After his own investigation, his suspicions proved correct. 

[00:16:49] He wrote several anonymous articles, detailing and exposing the atrocities in the Congo Free State. 

[00:16:57] He wrote that this was, “the greatest crime that has ever been committed in the history of the world.”

[00:17:05] Although he was offered a bribe, a payment, from the shipping company in exchange for his silence, he declined, and in 1906 he published a book called “Red Rubber”, which was an exposé of the horrors in the country.

[00:17:21] King Leopold pretended to be surprised about this, and responded to the international outcry with an inquiry of his own. 

[00:17:30] He sent his own International Commision to the Congo Free State. 

[00:17:34] His idea was to bribe the commission in his favour, but he was foiled, it didn’t work.

[00:17:42] Fortunately, a Christian missionary couple shared hard evidence with King Leopold’s commission. 

[00:17:48] The missionaries gathered together victims to share their testimonies of abuse, enslavement, mutilation, and murder, all committed on behalf of King Leopold and his private colony. 

[00:18:01] The Commission was then presented with photographic evidence of the crimes, photos which showed the horrors the Congolese suffered under King Leopold’s rule. 

[00:18:12] When the commission published and presented King Leopold with its 50 page report, he knew he had to cover up his crimes as best as he could. 

[00:18:21] He ordered that all papers and records detailing anything with the Congo Free State be burned. 

[00:18:28] But the damage was done.

[00:18:30] In 1908, the Congo Free State became an official Belgian colony - remember, before this it was King Leopold II's personal kingdom. 

[00:18:41] Despite the clear evidence against King Leopold, the Belgian government bought it from him for 50 million francs. 

[00:18:49] One year later, in 1909 and at the age of 74, King Leopold died, a hero in his own country.

[00:18:59] But life as a Belgian colony wasn’t much better than under King Leopold, and Belgium found more natural resources to exploit than just rubber.

[00:19:09] The Belgian government benefited from the Congo’s abundance of diamonds, gold, and ivory as all of these resources could be sold internationally for major profits. 

[00:19:21] Now, given his crimes, one might assume that King Leopold II would be Belgium’s least favourite monarch

[00:19:29] During his lifetime, this was certainly not the case.

[00:19:33] King Leopold was a much loved royal during his reign and his big lie about his role in the Congo solidified his adoration to the Belgian people. 

[00:19:43] He helped suppress the slave trade! 

[00:19:46] King Leopold helped to spread Western ideals and Christianity! 

[00:19:50] King Leopold was a humanitarian!

[00:19:53] Or so the Belgian people were told.

[00:19:56] After his death, the government decided to keep King Leopold’s legacy clear of his crimes against humanity. 

[00:20:03] As a new country, the government did not want the outside world or its own people to know how far King Leopold’s horrors extended, and the Congo remained a Belgian Colony until 1960.

[00:20:16] In the last few years, however, Belgium faced a reckoning with King Leopold’s legacy. 

[00:20:23] For decades, history taught the Belgian people that King Leopold saved the Congo and that without Belgium, the Congo didn’t exist. 

[00:20:33] Now though, Belgium’s and King Leopold’s barbarous past is catching up with the times

[00:20:39] In an acknowledgment of the country's history, many of his statues have been vandalised, defaced, or removed altogether. 

[00:20:48] Like many countries with histories of brutal colonisation practices, including the UK, of course, there are efforts to come to terms with it, and this is very much an ongoing process.

[00:21:01] As far as King Leopold II is concerned, there is no way to whitewash what he did, no amount of saying “oh it was in the past”, which can explain his actions.

[00:21:13] And, quite rightly, there is nobody more deserving of the nickname that he is best known by: The Butcher of Congo.

[00:21:23] OK then, that is it for today's episode on King Leopold II.

[00:21:28] I know it’s a dark subject, but it is an important one, so I hope you found it interesting.

[00:21:34] As always, I would love to know what you thought about this episode. 

[00:21:37] If you are from Belgium, how did you learn about King Leopold in school?

[00:21:42] How has this changed over time?

[00:21:44] For those of you who come from countries with somewhat unpleasant colonial pasts, which–as an Englishman–I most certainly do, what do you think is the right way to deal with this? 

[00:21:55] And if you come from a country that is a former colony, perhaps even if you come from Congo, what do you think is the right way to remember, or to not remember the colonial era? 

[00:22:06] What do you think is the right way to deal with it? 

[00:22:09] I would love to know, so let’s get this discussion started.

[00:22:13] You can head right into our community forum, which is at community.leonardoenglish.com and get chatting away to other curious minds.

[00:22:21] You've been listening to English Learning for Curious Minds, by Leonardo English.

[00:22:26] I'm Alastair Budge, you stay safe, and I'll catch you in the next episode.

[END OF EPISODE]