The central African region in which the Congo (now Democratic Republic of the Congo) lies has been pervaded by conflict and instability. This can be traced back to the early 19th century, when European powers competed for territory and resources in Africa. The Kongo Kingdom was first explored by the Portuguese, who traded in goods and slaves with local chiefs, but it was only in 1867 that the heart of the Congo was penetrated by European explorers. One in particular, Henry Stanley Morton, travelled extensively through the region, and returned to Europe to report on the vast commercial opportunity of Africa. At this stage, the Dutch, Spanish and Portuguese had been relatively successful in their colonial expeditions. Belgium, on the other hand, had been unsuccessful in most of its attempts, and its ruler, and King Leopold II, was determined to possess a colony. He undertook this in his personal capacity by recruiting Stanley to exploit the resources in the Congo, known as Congo Free State at the time. Leopold also set up the Association Internationale Africaine. He claimed that it was a philanthropic organization, but in reality it only served as a front for his economic exploitation of the region. Under Leopold's administration, the people of the Congo experienced immense cruelty, particularly with regard to the collection of natural rubber. Men and even children were recruited to search for natural rubber in dense forests. Upon their return with less rubber than expected, or with no rubber at all, their hands would be amputated. This is but one example of the cruelty that existed under Leopold's rule. Numerous scandals were associated with Leopold's administration - so much so, that by 1908, the Belgian government removed Leopold from rule. On 17 October 1908, Congo Free State was annexed by Belgium and became known as Belgian Congo. Although the cruelty with which locals were treated was not as severe as during Leopold's administration (which has now been referred to as a genocide), the practice of scientific racism became the norm, leading to a number of ethnic conflicts, some of which have persisted to the present-day Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).  

Encyclopedia Britannica, Congo Free State, [online], Available at [Accessed 16 October 2013]|Electoral Institute for Sustainable Democracy in Africa (EISA),DRC: Congo Free State: 1878-1908, [online], Available at [Accessed: 16 October 2013]