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A statue of a Belgian colonial king, under whose reign millions of people were murdered in what is now the Democratic Republic of Congo, has been removed from the city of Antwerp following Black Lives Matter protests.

King Leopold II: Belgian City Removes Statue of King Who Murdered Millions of Congolese

Anti-racist demonstrators had defaced the monument of King Leopold II with paint on Monday.

Campaigners in Belgium have long called for monuments glorifying his memory to be removed.

A Belgium-based journalist has tweeted footage of the monument in Antwerp being dismantled:

Who Is King Leopold II

Here are things you should Know about King Leopold II of Belgium, his atrocities in Congo and why they call him the butcher of Congo.

King Leopold II: Belgian City Removes Statue of King Who Murdered Millions of Congolese

King Leopold II was a violent, genocidal maniac in his own right. Leopold II became the king of Belgium in 1865, just as other European nations were expanding their empires in Africa.

With his connections and diplomatic skills, Leopold managed to convince European rulers to let him secure a chunk of the Congo—an area of land that was 76 times larger than Belgium itself!

He used explorer Henry Morton Stanley to help him lay claim to the Congo, an area now known as the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Leopold’s primary goal was to exploit the land as much as possible to make as much money as he could.

Leopold extracted a fortune from the Congo, initially by the collection of ivory.
Things became much worse for the people of the Congo as the demand for rubber exploded in the global market in the 1890’s. The rise in the price of rubber brought about forced labour from the natives to harvest and process rubber.

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King Leopold II atrocities in Congo

Natives harvesting rubber

To terrorise the population into gathering rubber, Leopold’s men would take women as hostages until their menfolk brought in a sufficient quantity. Villages that resisted the system or failed to meet a quota were attacked and destroyed by the regions police. Individuals who failed to reach their quotas were killed, tortured, mutilated.

To ensure that the police weren’t wasting bullets on hunting wild game in the jungle, they were required to show proof that each bullet they expended resulted in the death of one of the Congolese natives. When the police couldn’t account for all the spent bullets, a terrible trade system began, in which they’d be provided with severed hands of villagers.

King Leopold II atrocities in Congo

Man staring at his severed hands

William Henry Sheppard, a Presbyterian missionary, who witnessed the devastating impact of the rubber terror on the Kuba people of Congo denounced it in his speeches and writings. For this he was Brought to trial for libel, but was later acquitted.

Finally Reports of deaths and abuse led to a major international scandal in the early twentieth century and the Belgian government ultimately forced Leopold to relinquish control of the colony to Belgian civil administration in 1908.

Leopold’s exploitation of the Congo was so inhuman and devastating that the country was depopulated. Measuring the scale of the catastrophe is difficult, but one demographic study estimated that the population was halved, from twenty million to ten million, between 1880 and 1920.

King Leopold II: Belgian City Removes Statue of King Who Murdered Millions of Congolese

Somehow, this murderous man managed to have a dignified presence in history or at least escape the spotlight altogether. No one talks about him with as much impassioned hatred as that directed at Hitler and Stalin yet he killed people by the millions.

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Leopold died in 1909.

He used the blood and sweat of the Congolese was used to build most of the massive urban projects, public works and monuments in Brussel during his tenure.