Congo Free State

area in Central Africa controlled by Leopold II of Belgium (1885–1908)

The Congo Free State (French: État indépendant du Congo) was a large area in Central Africa. It was privately owned by Leopold II, King of the Belgians. Leopold convinced the international community that he was involved in humanitarian work. He attracted scientific and humanitarian backing for the International African Association (French: Association internationale africaine), which he formed during a Brussels Geographic Conference of geographic societies, explorers, and leaders he hosted in 1876. Leopold used the Association and the defunct "Committee for Studies of the Upper Congo" (French: Comité d'études du Haut-Congo) as a way to claim most of the Congo Basin.

Congo Free State
État indépendant du Congo
Coat of arms of Congo
Coat of arms
Motto: French: Travail et progrès
(Work and Progress)
Anthem: "Towards the Future"
Location of Congo
StatusPersonal union with the Kingdom of Belgium
Common languagesFrench (de facto official),
more than 200 indigenous languages
GovernmentAbsolute monarchy
Ruler and owner 
• 1885-1908
Leopold II of Belgium
• 1885–1886
Francis Walter de Winton (first)
• 1900-1908
Théophile Wahis (last)
Historical eraNew Imperialism
July 1[1] 1885
November 15 1908
CurrencyCongolese franc
ISO 3166 codeCG
Preceded by
Succeeded by
International Association of the Congo
Belgian Congo

Leopold created the International Association of the Congo (French: Association internationale du Congo) as a new organization. The entity was officially recognized by the Berlin Conference of 1884-85 and various governments. On May 29, 1885, the king named his new colony the Congo Free State (French: État indépendant du Congo) and ruled it as a despot (even though he never visited his colony and Africa).

The Congo Free State under Leopold II used forced labor and mutilation of their hands, in order to get full control and force the natives to work at extracting natural resources, mainly rubber and ivory, for Leopold II's personal profit.

His harsh rule was responsible for the deaths of between five to 10 million Congolese people. The Congo became one of the most infamous international scandals of the early 20th century. As a result, Leopold II was forced to give control of it to the government of Belgium. The Belgian government took control in 1908 and created the Belgian Congo.


  1. Encyclopædia Britannica