Leopold II: Belgium’s Builder King with a Dark Side in the Congo


Leopold II, the second King of the Belgians, is revered in Belgium as the “Builder King” for his vast urban projects and public works. However, his reign is tainted by the brutal colonization of the Congo Free State, a personal venture that inflicted immense suffering on the Congolese people.

Born in Brussels in 1835, Leopold assumed the throne in 1865 and ruled for 44 years until his death in 1909. He took control of the Congo, which is now the Democratic Republic of the Congo, with the assistance of explorer Henry Morton Stanley, claiming the territory at the Berlin Conference of 1884–1885.

While Leopold played a significant role in proposing and advocating for African colonization at the Berlin Conference, his actions in the Congo revealed a darker side. Despite committing to improving the lives of the Congolese people, under his rule, the Congo Free State descended into unimaginable horror. The native population endured forced labor, torture, murder, and mutilation. Those who failed to meet rubber collection quotas were executed, and their severed hands were used as proof. Estimates suggest that the Congo’s population declined by millions due to violence, disease, and famine during this period.

Leopold’s own words,

I do not want to miss a good chance of getting us a slice of this magnificent African cake,

reflect his ruthless pursuit of wealth and power at the expense of human lives.

In 1908, following international outrage and pressure from groups like the Congo Reform Association, the Belgian government took over the administration of the Congo from Leopold. The Congo Free State was reconstituted as the Belgian Congo, bringing an end to Leopold’s oppressive rule.

Despite his reputation as a builder, Leopold II’s legacy in the Congo serves as a stark reminder of the atrocities committed during the scramble for Africa. His story stands as a cautionary tale about the dangers of pursuing wealth and power at the expense of human dignity.


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