Monday, March 5, 2012

Our Great Kings, Part II, Leopold II

King Leopold II is probably the most criticized of all the Belgian kings. If he is not it is only because people think no longer it is necessary to criticize him more because he already has been portrayed as the worst person ever possible. Any search for information about him on the internet will show only a repetitive list of the same horrendous accusations, never with any real evidence to support them, and all involving Africa and the Congo Free State. That this is the result of a deliberate smear-campaign is obvious because what can be said about the King that is negative, in his own life and interactions with others, is never mentioned only about his alleged crimes of villainy in Africa even though he never harmed a single African and never even visited Africa. Because this has obviously been a campaign so widespread and successful I will not try to refute everything here but just highlight the important facts about King Leopold II and why he was not a villain but a really great and far seeing king like the others. His faults he had as a man but not as king.

Like his father, King Leopold II was ambition for Belgium but also never over-stepped his authority as a constitutional monarch. What he did do was to take matters into his own hands in a private capacity when the government refused to act. This is why so many of the magnificent buildings that mark his reign were mostly paid for by the King out of his own pocket. In Belgium itself he showed great concern for the safety and wellbeing of his people and worked with determination to make Belgium a more prosperous, more beautiful and more secure country. All of these things he successfully accomplished too. In Africa his humanitarian aims were less successful but the expeditions he sent did wipe out the network of slave-trading and human trafficking going on in central Africa. He also brought a previously unexplored region to the attention of the world with all of the new cultures, wildlife and plants that came with that which no one had ever seen before. Also, his acquisition of the Congo was done peacefully by negotiation with local leaders. No Belgian army was ever sent to Africa to conquer and dominate native peoples.

King Leopold II established the first lights of modernity in the last dark corner of Africa. Missionaries, teachers, civil engineers and architects and business people all started to bring civilization to the Congo. The first roads, schools, hospitals and modern cities were built because of Leopold II. When word reached him that some local officials were abusing their authority and being cruel to the natives it was Leopold II who sent an official commission to investigate this and they were very honest in reporting the good things that had been done as well as the very terrible things. Because of this, these problems were corrected and the abuses ended. King Leopold II was not a cruel man and he hated to see anyone being mistreated or even having criminals put to death. In his private life he was often insensitive but Leopold II, as king, made Belgium a much more important country, much greater and more advanced and prosperous. He was also a great king for Belgium.

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