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Views of the Belgian Congo album, 1908-1909

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Views of the Belgian Congo album

Biographical/Historical Note

Central Africa was largely unexplored by Westerners before Henry Morton Stanley's expedition (1874-1878) to trace the course of the Congo river. Excited by Stanley's discoveries, King Leopold II of Belgium, who was anxious to acquire a colony to increase the prestige and wealth of his young country, subsequently hired Stanley to help him establish Belgium's interests in the Congo. In 1884 escalating European rivalries for the region were resolved when Otto von Bismark convened the Berlin Conference to partition the Congo basin. The country of Belgium declined to participate in the colonialization of the area, leaving Leopold to receive Belgium's portion of 905,000 miles - the lion's share of the area - for himself. Leopold ran the Congo Free State as a privately controlled corporation with himself as sole shareholder and chairman. His brutal exploitation of the people and the land for its rubber, copper, and other mineral resources was exposed by British consular reports and by the European and American press to great outcry in the early 1900s, and in 1908 Leopold's private rule ended when the Congo was annexed to the Belgian state. Subsequently renamed the Belgian Congo, it remained a Belgian colony until receiving sovereignty in 1960, when it became the Republic of the Congo.

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