Hands Free : The Story of the Free State of Congo (1885 – 1908)

Welcome readers,

Thirty-Two Towns Were Destroyed While Mapping The Congo:

King Leopold II hired a British explorer Henry Morton Stanley, so he could get help with the establishment of the Congo Free State. Stanley was already acquainted with the region having explored it and mapped out most of the Congo River. In addition, he made contact with and had experiences with the Congolese. Stanley wasn’t evil and there was no malice in his intentions to explore the Congo. However, there was tension between his men and the Congolese. Their different cultures clashed and misunderstandings occurred since both groups couldn’t understand each other. Moreover, those misunderstandings led to fears of brutal violence. For instance, seven aggravated Congolese tribes convened and confronted Stanley about writing in his journal which they considered to be witchcraft, and when they demanded he stop or he and his men would be killed, Stanley responded with disregard and began shooting the Congolese. At the end of the expedition, he burned down 32 of their towns. His men retaliated more viciously. They would kidnap and rape African women and beat the men to death using whips for the smallest infractions. As a result, this marked the beginning of the Congo Free State. Leopold II hired and demanded that the area be turned into a workhouse, and they did that by enslaving the Congolese. Their cruelty set the tone for the future of Congo and the darkness would soon envelop the Congo with no way for resistance. 

The Entire Population Was Enslaved: Once King Leopold took control of the Congo, he started bleeding the country dry for profits. Stanley came upon and reported that there were temples of ivory, and rubber was available to be retrieved. Therefore, Leopold’s determination led to him turning two-thirds of the country into his private land. That private land needed workers and the Congolese were forced to work for him. At first, the slaves were given a penny per pound of rubber, but Leopold soon ceased any compensation, and instead, he called harvesting rubber, a tax that every Congolese who lived on the land was required to pay. Equally important, the Congolese were oblivious that their land was sold, and now were forced into labor so they could remain living on it. Slaves had a huge daily quota to fulfill. For one, the average Congolese slave had to work 20 days per month just to meet the rubber quota and all that was done was with no compensation. In their spare time, they were allowed to work to feed their families. 

Workers Who Didn’t Meet Their Quotas Were Dismembered And Killed: 

The most infamous act of savagery that was done under King Leopold II’s reign of power over the Congo was the dismemberment of the Congolese. For better context, what led to this needs to be explained. So, rubber profits began booming in the 1890s in the Congo and Leopold was heavily profiting from it. Leopold was selling more rubber than he could harvest. Leopold demanded that the rubber be harvested expeditiously and if quotas failed to be met, then punishment in ways of beatings and death was awaiting. In addition, African soldiers were enlisted to enforce rules, but this put the Belgians in a precarious situation and at risk. These soldiers would sometimes spare insubordinate slaves and waste ammunition on non-human targets. Consequently, the Belgians set up a law: Every time a worker was killed, the African soldiers were to chop off one of their hands and deliver it. The soldiers followed these orders because they were afraid of what would happen if they didn’t. Quotas were met by filling a basket with the severed hands, sometimes even collected from their mothers. An old man was once killed in front of a missionary by an African soldier and he explained why he did it, saying, “Don’t take this to heart so much,” “They kill us if we don’t bring the rubber. The commissioner has promised us if we have plenty of hands he will shorten our service. I have brought in plenty of hands already, and I expect my time of service will soon be finished.”

Gathering Rubber Was Deadly – Fear of death only made the Congolese work that much harder, but that fear wasn’t the only motivating factor. For one, they were motivated to meet quotas by any means but gathering the rubber was a challenge because it was hanging high up in the trees. The drudgery was made easier with ones at a lower level but everything had to be collected for harvest so climbing higher and higher to get everything was mandatory. This was dangerous and many would slip and fall to their deaths. Additionally, the slaves who survived the daunting task would chop up the vines to squeeze out a little extra sap. It worked, but it removed its benefits and eliminated those vines as a resource. If the slaves were caught beatings and death were inevitable. One commissioner wrote a note after catching a worker chopping a vine saying “We must fight them until their absolute submission has been obtained,” he wrote, “or their complete extermination”. 

Workers Were Brutally Beaten – Different commissioners handled disciplinary actions differently. Some were satisfied with removing the workers’ hands, but other commissioners wanted to amplify their sadistic intentions. For example, the slaves were given number discs around their necks so their quotas could be tracked. If the slaves fell short of the target amount, they would receive 25 lashes with a whip. It sometimes went to 100 lashes if efficiency was poor. The whip used was made of hippopotamus hide that would break the skin quickly and excessive beatings led to death. Furthermore, when other Europeans started traveling to the Congo they were astounded and unimpressed with the environment. One European officer reported that he complained to Mr. Goffin, the secretary of the Railway Company in the Congo, who said that he had witnessed men being kicked, whipped, and chained by their necks. Mr. Goffin was business as usual and was cavalier in his response, shrugging his shoulders to be exact. 

Millions Died Of Disease – Disease was rampant in the Congo Free State. The Belgians didn’t care for the livelihood of their slaves and fed them poorly, only giving them enough to survive. Frequently, slaves were given rotten meat which made the men sick. As a result, work conditions became more horrid as the men were forced to work in areas infested with tsetse flies that spread diseases. Illness swept across the Congo and from there other parts of Africa. To make matters worse, the worst disease contracted was the “sleeping sickness”, a disease that was often fatal. It had a widespread impact throughout affecting the harvesters to the villagers. In some places, a third of the population was infected and perished. It’s estimated that the disease killed 500,000 people in the Congo.

Villages Were Burned To The Ground – Nothing was safe. When an entire village failed to meet its quota or refused to pay a rubber tax, they were reprimanded by soldiers. Specifically, an army of men marched into the town, commenced slaughtering people, and burned villages to the ground. Not to mention, some villages were destroyed for almost no reason at all. For instance, one village was decimated by soldiers. 50 men were killed and 28 were made prisoners. The women were chained neck to neck and dragged out of town. Even if they met the required quota, their recorded infractions one of them being that “the rubber brought by the villagers to the State was not of the best quality.

Women And Children Were Tortured The petrifying events that happened in the Congo Free State had a purpose, they were meant to scare the people into work. Fear was their weapon and used it to the fullest. The Belgians intended to enforce slavery, physically and psychologically were ways to motivate the Congolese, and since they were seen as subhuman, the Belgians were “free” to do whatever they wanted with their “property”. Women were often kidnapped from their villages that didn’t deliver enough rubber. They would be held ransom until the chief met the required quota. There was no limit to how nefarious the Belgians were to the Congolese. For example, after being sent to raid a town for not meeting its quota, one African soldier noted that his European commander had ordered him to make an example of the town. “He ordered us to cut off the heads of the men and hang them on the village palisades, also their sexual members,” the soldier said, “and to hang the women and children on the palisade in the form of a cross.

Overseers Cannibalized Their Workers 

If this historical time wasn’t morbid enough, cannibalism was used in some places to instill fear and keep the slaves in line. It’s difficult to determine how often this happened, but one man reported that when someone was declared as “shot” in his area, it also meant that the victim had been eaten. Regarding this, the word for this was the Zappos Zaps, they were a particularly vicious tribe whom the Belgians recruited as soldiers. Documents have reported, “Some of the victims were eaten by cannibals. [ . . . ] The bodies of all who were slain were mutilated, their heads having been cut off. From three bodies, the flesh has been carved and eaten.”

All This Was Done By A Humanitarian Organization 

 Initially, Leopold II didn’t enter the Congo as an invading army, he went there with philanthropic intentions. He founded a group that was originally called the International African Association. They were a humanitarian organization that promised to improve life in Africa and donations came from around the world. Begging for donation, Leopold gave a compelling speech, “To open to civilization the only part of our globe which it has not yet penetrated, to pierce the darkness which hangs over entire peoples, is, I dare say, a crusade worthy of this century of progress. All in all, it was a facade to cover up his diabolical intentions, the organization that people thought was funding to better the lives of African people was exploiting them and getting rich. In private, Leopold told an ambassador, “I do not want to miss a good chance of getting us a slice of this magnificent African cake”. And with that, Leopold cut his slices which were backed by the donations of concerned citizens. 

Blood Diamond : The Sierra Leone Civil War (1991-2002)

Welcome readers,

In this entry for Black History 365, I will present the story of Sierra Leone’s Civil War which was the inspiration for the film “Blood Diamond”. Leave a like if you’ve enjoyed what you read and learned something new, and hit the follow button so you can stay up to date with my future posts. 

The Sierra Leone Civil War was an armed conflict in the West African nation of Sierra Leone from 1991 to 2002. Let that sink in, the war lasted eleven years. The war began on March 23rd, 1991, when the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) was under the orders of Foday Sankoh, with the support of Liberian rebel leader Charles Taylor and his group, the National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NFPL). Their mission was to overthrow the government of Sierra Leonean President Joseph Momah. Moreover, The Sierra Leone Civil War was one of the bloodiest in Africa resulting in the death of more than fifty thousand people and half a million displaced in a nation of four million. The violent conflict was long because both the RUF and the Sierra government were funded by coveted “blood diamonds” which were minded with slave labor. 

During the first year of the war, the RUF seized control of the diamond-rich territory in eastern and southern Sierra Leone. On April 29, 1992, President Joseph Momah was ousted in a military coup led by Captain Valentine Strasser who created the National Provisional Ruling Council (NPRC). As a result, Strasser said the corrupt Momah could revive the economy, provide for the people of Sierra Leone, and stave off rebel invaders.

A year later in March 1993, the Economic Community of West African States Monitoring Group (ECOMOG) sent a group of Nigerian troops to Freetown, the capital city, and assisted the Sierra Leone Army in recapturing the diamond districts and forcing the RUF to the diamond districts and the Sierra Leone-Liberia border. By the end of 1993, many thought the war was nearing its end because the RUF ceased most of its military operations. However, what had begun as a civil war now had international implications as the Sierra Leone government was supported by ECOMOG, Great Britain, Guinea, and the United States, while the RUG was supported by Liberia ( under the control of Charles Taylor), Libya, Burkina Faso. 

Fast forward two years later in March 1995, the Sierra Leone government hired Executive Outcomes (EO) a South African-based mercenary group sent to finally defeat the RUF. A year later, Sierra Leone implemented an elected civilian government in March 1996, and the retreating RUF signed the Abidjan Peace Accord which brought an end to the fighting. Furthermore, in May 1997, conflict was still present when a group of Sierra Leone Army officers staged a coup and established the Armed Forces Revolutionary Council (AFRC) as the new government of the country. Feeling that the RUF were lacking strength, they invited them to join and create an alliance where the two factions would rule Freetown with little resistance.

With the new government in effect, Johnny Paul Koroma declared the war to be over. However, looting, rape, and murder mostly by RUF forces quickly followed and it demonstrated the government’s weakness. ECOMOG forces returned and retook Freetown on behalf of the Koroma government, but they could not mollify outlying regions. Subsequently, the RUF continued the civil war.

In January 1999, the country was in disarray and world leaders intervened to promote negotiations between the RUF and the government. The Lome Peace Accord was signed on July 7, 1999. Under those circumstances, the agreement gave Foday Sankoh, the commander of the RUF, the vice presidency and control of Sierra Leone’s diamond mines in return he would have to thwart all fighting and the deployment of a UN peacekeeping force to monitor the disarmament process. RUF compliance with the disarmament process was inconsistent and stagnant, and by May 2000, the rebels were advancing once again towards Freetown. Despite their manpower, help from United Nation forces, British troops, and Guinean air support, the Sierra Leone Army vanquished the RUF before they could take control of Freetown. On January 18, 2002, newly elected President Ahmad Tejan Kabbah declared the Sierra Leone Civil war had finally ended.

BCM: The Story of Steve Biko (Black History 365)


  • Leave a like if you’ve enjoyed what you read, and hit the follow button so you can stay up to date with my future posts. 

Nelson Mandela was a significant figure in South African history, especially during the apartheid era in the country which cost him his freedom for 27 years. However, as much of a prominent figure Mandela was, Steve Biko brought forth a philosophy of black consciousness to South Africa that was much needed. In this entry of Black History 365, I’ll be presenting the story of South African civil rights activist Steve Biko. 

Born December 18, 1946, Steve Biko was a South African activist who pioneered the philosophy of Black Consciousness in the late 1960s. The founder of the South African Students Organization (SASO) in 1968, Biko put a lot of his efforts into representing the interests of Black students at the then University of Natal (later KwaZulu-Natal). Moreover, SASO was a direct response to the stagnation and inaction of the National Union of South Africans in representing the needs of Black students. 

Biko was an instrumental figure when it came to instilling a pro-black mindset that caused the South African government to see him and his followers as defiant and hostile. His experiences were filled with adversity at the height of Apartheid and the frustrations he felt living in those conditions drove his philosophy and political activism. For example, he had witnessed police raids during his childhood and had to endure living through the brutality and intimidation the Apartheid government was notorious for. In regard to this, the objective of Biko’s philosophy focused primarily on liberating the minds of Black people who had been relegated by an oppressive government that viewed them as inferior to white power structures. Furthermore, Biko saw the power struggle in South Africa as “a microcosm of the confrontation between the third world and the first world”. 

The philosophy of Black Consciousness 

The Black Consciousness Movement grounded itself on race as a determining factor in the oppression of Black people in South Africa, which was in response to racial oppression and dehumanization of Black people under Apartheid. Biko defined “Black” as not being limited to Africans but also including Asians and “coloured” (South Africans of the mixed race including African, European, and/or Asian origin). The movement’s goal was to incorporate Black Theology, indigenous values, and political organizations against the ruling system. 

Liberation of the mind was the primary weapon to bring forth a fight for freedom in South Africa, defining Black consciousness as an internal-looking process, where Black people coalesce and strive to regain the pride stripped away from them by the Apartheid system. Additionally, his philosophy presented an emphasis on the positive retelling of African history, which had been extremely distorted and denigrated by European imperialists in an attempt to form their colonies. Biko’s writings would state the mindset needed for the movement to be successful and how history is crucial in the development of black South Africans. He said the following… 

“At the heart of this thinking is the realization by blacks that the most potent weapon in the hands of the oppressor is the mind of the oppressed” – Steve Biko 

According to Biko, there were necessary steps that needed to be taken toward restoring dignity to Black people which involves elevating the heroes of African History and promoting African heritage to deconstruct the misconception of Africa being a dark continent. In addition, Black consciousness seeks to extract the positive values within indigenous African cultures and make it a standard with which Black people evaluate themselves. This would be the first form of resistance toward imperialism and Apartheid. Biko believed that by galvanizing around the concept of black consciousness, black people can seek to produce an outcome where unity is the only option, and with that, they’ll stop seeing themselves as appendages to white society. 

In Apartheid South Africa, the mission for Black consciousness aimed to unite citizens under the main cause of their oppression. Biko’s philosophy implemented messages from Christianity into the concept of Black consciousness, but it needed to be taught from the perspective of the oppressed so it could align with the journey of Black people’s self-realization. According to Biko, Black theology must preach that it’s a sin to allow oneself to be oppressed. The fight for freedom is salvation. Not to mention, adapting Christianity to African values and belief systems is at the core of doing away with “spiritual poverty”. 

In 1972, Biko founded the Black People’s Convention as a subsidiary organization for the Black Consciousness Movement, which had begun gaining ground through universities across the nation. One year later, he and eight other leaders of the movement were banned by the South African government, which limited Biko to his home in King William’s town. He would defy the banning order by continuing to support the convention which led to several arrests in the following years. 

On August 21, 1977, Biko was detained by South African police and held in the eastern city of Port Elizabeth, where he was brutally tortured and interrogated. By September 11, he was found naked and chained to a prison cell door. Due to the excessive beatings he had taken, he died in a hospital cell the following day as a result of brain injuries sustained by the police. The details surrounding his torture remain unknown, but Biko’s death has been understood by many South Africans as an assassination. 

In closing, Black consciousness transcended a movement, it was a philosophy deeply rooted in African Humanism, for which Biko should be heralded not only as an activist but as a philosopher in his own right. His legacy remains deeply relevant today that emphasizes resistance and self-determination in the face of widespread oppression. 

The value in everyone, especially who?!

“My website is the Bible” – Ye West Disclaimer: I am not justifying anything Ye west said in his interview with Alex Jones on InfoWars. What I will say in this post is my perspective on how he has conducted himself thus far. He has said some egregious things lately and as of now has had his Twitter account suspended. Anyway, leave a like, comment if you’d like to chime in, and hit the follow button so you can stay up to date with my future posts. Unless you’re not on social media then you’ve seen that “Ye” West formerly known as “Kanye ” broke the internet with a provocative interview with conspiracy theorist political pundit Alex Jones. Once the interview dropped, which is on an uncensored network called InfoWars, it caused an uproar on social media, specifically Twitter where he was condemned for saying outlandish (taboo) proclamations such as him professing his love for infamous German dictator Adolf Hitler. The interview is a little over three hours so what was shown to the public were snippets that were to elicit a reaction, but I saw the interview and don’t want to use selective perception. During the interview, he kept explaining his pious belief in Christianity which accepts everyone under the sun including The Nazis. The aforementioned is absurd and asinine but if you were to watch the entire interview there are a few cogent points Ye makes regarding the corruption social media outlets like Instagram do in terms of propagating pornographic images. Additionally, he doubles downs on Pornography in general and some vices he deems that is unholy. All his beliefs fall under Christianity, but to compare pornography with grown adults to pedophilia is an overreach. He contradicts his standpoint because he still stands with Balenciaga after they were exposed for being a borderline cult and depicting child pornography. Moreover, the interview was three hours long so unless people are open-minded to sit through the three hours, then you won’t listen to his entire perspective on faith, freedom of speech, “Antisemitism”, and more.    A lot of people see Ye on a self-destructive path, but he sees himself living through Jesus Christ and he has no energy to hate and claims “He loves everybody”. From my perspective, this man conveys his thoughts in a mediocre way. Another thing, he’s been aligning himself with people who are using him for their interest, and with that, his rhetoric slightly changes with every conversation. Furthermore, he has pompous energy about him whenever he speaks, but if you get past it and listen, even if you don’t agree you can see where he’s going with his thoughts (I.e. He loves everyone under Christianity even the ones who are evil ones). Black Twitter and black people with a pro-black mindset would deem him a “Coon” and I don’t blame them because he’s associating himself with individuals who are anti-black and who will continue to manipulate him. From there he’ll continue to say reprehensible things like his praise for Nazis and “slavery was a choice”. Lastly, it’ll be a challenge for Ye to repair his public image and recover from these controversies but he’s comfortable being used (He wouldn’t think that) to spread rhetoric that is inflammatory, outrageous, and asinine. I’ll take it a step further and say that I think this man believes he’s in a winning position (even though he can’t be with all his recent losses) because he has God on his side. His next moves will determine how much more of a decline his image will take with all this so-called Antisemitism.

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