The need for realising their economic and monetary needs can make people go to the extremes. The tales of the ancient invaders plundering countless lands in search of treasures or those of the destruction of civilisations is not new to the pages of history. In fact, these pages are often bloodied by horrific extortions of treasures to fulfil the demands of the “elite” few. The Belgian Congo is often cited as one of the most brutal and exploitative colonial regimes of modern times. It stands as an extreme example of the cruelty of European rule in Africa for the sake of economic gain.
The Belgian Congo was a Belgian colony in Central Africa between 1908 and 1960 in what is now the Democratic Republic of the Congo. It was created in the 1880s as the private holding of a group of European investors headed by Leopold II, king of the Belgians. Initially called the Congo Free State, the colony remained a personal possession of King Leopold II from 1885 until 1908 when it was taken over by the Belgian government and renamed the Belgian Congo.
The lack of general law and order and the brutal exploitation of the native Congolese population and the mass death that resulted during Leopold II’s rule created a great outrage in the world. This led to an intense diplomatic pressure on Belgium to take official control of the country, which it did by creating the Belgian Congo in 1908.
The Belgium government created a perfect “model colony” image and started issuing banknotes for the Belgian Congo. Shown in the image is one such Belgian Congo 100 Francs banknote of 1947. The obverse depicts two working elephants and palm trees in the background and the reverse portrays a farmer with three Zebu bulls. The note was printed by Waterlow & Sons Limited, London.
African resistance challenged the colonial regime from the beginning. Many rebellions broke out in several districts but each was violently put down. It was finally after the World War II that after a few more retaliations and national movements that Congo was declared independent republic on June 30, 1960. But continued interventions of the political giants of the world led to yet another era of a five-year-long period of war and political instability, known as the Congo Crisis, from 1960 to 1965.
The Europeans finally left the once abundant and fertile land all barren and the natives abused, wounded and poorer!
Image Courtesy: Real banknotes.com