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Scramble for Africa – King Leopold II of Belgium in Congo

Between the years 1877 to 1908, King Leopold the Second of Belgium owned the Congo Free State as a private colony. This came about due to the research and exploration of Africa by Henry Morton Stanley, who went in search of Dr. Livingston and after finding him continued on to come in very close proximity of the Congo.

When Stanley returned to Europe, he began telling the leaders of the great potential in Africa, but a majority of the European countries had not yet begun to look at Africa as a place of great economic benefit but were still focusing on lands such as India, China, East Indies and Australasia, none of them were interested in colonialism.

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King Leopold II heard of Stanley and took great interest. He had wanted to set up a Colony for over twenty years, almost to the point where people began to call in an obsession. Probably what was Leopold’s biggest concern was that the Belgian Government was not interested in having a Colony for the country and so he began to look for other ways of attaining a Colony.

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Thus Leopold decided he was going to have a private colony and in order to achieve this, he used the aid of the Association Internationale Africaine. This was an organization whose initial vision was to bring humanitarian aid to the uncivilized and underprivileged peoples of Africa. Or at least that’s what the European countries believed the organization was for, in fact, Leopold as the chairman used this organization to help him attain his Colony.

Stanley and Leopold began working together, Stanley negotiating with the Chiefs of different tribes through the use of trade of goods or through the use of violence, whilst Leopold provided the funding. This was balanced out by Leopold working on the European Powers agreeing to him having the Colony.

This was done by playing countries off one another. He discredited the Portuguese in front of the British by emphasizing their slave trade record. He also offered a favoured nation position to the British in terms of trade. He then said to the Germans that no one was to be offered favoured nation position meaning no extra benefit to the British or the French, as well as offering free trade to Germany.

Along with officially agreeing to French ownership of the French Congo, and also a deal to say if he was unable to sustain the Congo financially, France would get his land, this made the French happy as it meant the British were not receiving any benefits. And finally, he assured the United States that he was going to focus on the humanitarian concerns of The Congo.

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To conclude King Leopold managed to attain The Congo as a personal colony, through the use of European rivalry and the merry vision of humanitarian aid. A lot of historians tend to think that Leopold managed to bring about the scramble of Africa, but others and I agree with them, state that he brought about a spark that light the slowly beginning scramble to boom into a mad intensive scramble for Africa.

The Berlin Conference

The Berlin conference, 1884, consisting of fourteen countries, as the name suggests was held in Berlin, Germany, hosted by Bismarck. The conference came to be due to the ongoing European activities in the Congo. An important point to be made is that though this conference decided the dispute over the Congo area as well as other colonizing issues in Africa, not a single African was present to represent his continent.

Many people state that the portioning of Africa took place during this conference while actually in fact it could be said that the conference simply agreed and brought authorized confirmation to the owning of colonies by the different European countries. A set of rules as to how to go about the future occupation of territory in Africa was also laid down. In terms of what the outcome of the Congo situation was, Leopold came out successful in his planning and thus triumphant.

He received 905,000square miles, The Congo Free State. It is also during this conference that Leopold got the European countries to agree that he as an individual would be the sole owner of this colony as opposed to him as the King of Belgium or the chairman of the Association Internationale Africaine.

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The conference is also considered as another spark of the scramble of Africa because when the European countries heard the conference was going to be held, they strived even harder to attain the colonies they could before the conference was held, as they must have hypothesized that it would set rules down for future colonizing.

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Scramble for Africa - King Leopold II of Belgium in Congo. (2021, Sep 27). Retrieved June 29, 2022, from