Opinion: Why statues of King Leopold II must fall

Last week, a statue of King Leopold II in Antwerp was defaced in anti-racism demonstrations, after which the Belgian government decided to remove all statues of the white supremacist statesman. That was exactly what he was, a white supremacist who in the name of civilisation (and his own bank account) led a regime that pillaged, plundered, raped, murdered and maimed its way through what was referred to as the Belgian Congo, now the Democratic Republic of Congo – and Zaire when we in next-door Rwanda in the 1980s. 
 
In the 23 years (1885-1908) of his rule, Leopold II gave the okay for the massacre of 10 million Africans, by cutting off their hands and genitals, flogging them to death, starving them into forced labour, raping women and girls, holding children ransom, and burning villages. It is known as the Hidden Holocaust, and for all the right reasons.
 
One picture that illustrates the atrocities committed under Belgian rule as good as any picture could, is the one of Nsala, a man from the district of Wala who is staring at the severed hand and foot of his five-year-old daughter, Boali. 
 
The image was taken by early documentary photographer, missionary and Congo activist Alice Seeley Harris (1870-1970). She took these and other images back to Europe, where she started a human rights campaign against what was happening in the Congo. 
 
In her book “Don’t Call Me Lady: The Journey of Lady Alice Seeley Harris”, Alice writes how Nsala “hadn’t made his rubber quota for the day so the Belgian-appointed overseers (of the Anglo-Belgian India Rubber Company) had cut off his daughter’s hand and foot. Her name was Boali. She was five years old. Then they killed her. But they weren’t finished. Then they killed his wife too. And because that didn’t seem quite cruel enough, quite strong enough to make their case, they cannibalized both Boali and her mother. And they presented Nsala with the tokens, the leftovers from the once-living body of his darling child whom he so loved.”
 
“His life was destroyed. They had partially destroyed it anyway by forcing his servitude but this act finished it for him. All of this filth had occurred because one man, one man who lived thousands of miles across the sea, one man who couldn’t get rich enough, had decreed that this land was his and that these people should serve his own greed. Leopold had not given any thought to the idea that these African children, these men and women, were our fully human brothers, created equally by the same Hand that had created his own lineage of European Royalty.”
 
 Anyone who is interested to know more: read King Leopold’s Ghost. It will not only give you a nauseating insight into some of the worst, vilest white supremacy driven atrocities committed on this continent but also into why the Congo (and the entire Great Lakes area, for that matter) is the country it is.
 
Sure, Leopold can have his spot if he must: in a museum for which people have to pay (and which people can choose to visit), for the purpose of educating. A mass murderer, a psychopath, a white supremacist like Leopold deserves none of that adoration. ABSOLUTELY NONE.
 
Public statues of vile people in public spaces are, after all, there to glorify these people (and their deeds), not teach anyone anything – unless these statues come with plaques that explain exactly what they have done, to whom, when and where. But that will never happen, will it? Why? Because these are statues, and statues are there to celebrate, not to remind people – in this case Europeans like myself – about their close ancestors’ lead role in the darkest, vilest, bloodiest chapters in human history that continue to affect the present. 
 
If you are upset by the removal of a statue that doesn’t add any practical value to your life but causes other people a lot of pain, then you are either a racist or a pigeon – or at least tone-deaf to what is happening and in dire need of checking your privilege. 
 
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