Congo (Free State), Leopold II. Silver 50 Centimes (½ Franc) Coin. XF!
Engraver: Leopold Wiener
Denomination: 50 Centimes (½ Franc)
Condition: A light edge hit at 9 o’clock (reverse), otherwise a nice XF+
Obverse: Bearded bust of Leopold II left. Engraver´s signature (“L. WIENER”) below.
Legend: LEOP. II R.D. BELG. SOUV. DE L’ETAT INDEP. DU CONGO
Reverse: Crowned coat-of-arms of the Free State of Congo within wreath. Value above, date below.
Legend: 50 CENTIMES / 1896
The Congo Free State was a government privately controlled by Leopold II, King of the Belgians through a dummy non-governmental organization, the Association internationale africaine. Leopold was the sole shareholder and chairman, who increasingly used it for rubber, copper and other minerals in the upper Lualaba River basin (though it had been set up on the understanding that its purpose was to uplift the local people and develop the area). The state included the entire area of the present Democratic Republic of the Congo and existed from 1885 to 1908. The Congo Free State eventually earned infamy due to the increasingly brutal mistreatment of the local peoples and plunder of natural resources, leading to its abolition and annexation by the government of Belgium in 1908.
Under Leopold II’s administration, the Congo Free State became the site of one of the worst international scandals of the early twentieth century. The report of the British Consul Roger Casement led to the arrest and punishment of white officials who had been responsible for killings during a rubber-collecting expedition in 1903 (including one Belgian national for causing the shooting of at least 122 Congolese people).
The massive loss of life and atrocities inspired literature such as Joseph Conrad’s Heart Of Darkness, and outcries from upholders of the colonial mission like Winston Churchill. The general consensus is that the forced labor system directly and indirectly eliminated 20% of the population of the Congo.
European and U.S. reformers exposed the conditions in the Congo Free State to the public in 1900 through the Congo Reform Association. Also active in exposing the activities of the Congo Free State was the author Arthur Conan Doyle, whose book The Crime of the Congo was widely read in the early 1900s. By 1908, public pressure and diplomatic maneuvers led to the end of Leopold II’s rule and to the annexation of the Congo as a colony of Belgium, known as the Belgian Congo.