Belgian King Leopold II’s crimes in Congo, statue in Ostend

Statue of King Leopold II in Ostend, Belgium

Translated from Dutch NOS TV:

More explanation at controversial statue of King Leopold II

Today, 07:58

Ostend [city in Belgium] has provided a controversial statue of King Leopold II with a plaque with more information about the monarch. The new text now also focuses on his bloody colonization of Congo.

Leopold at the end of the 19th century on his own initiative ordered to colonize an area in Africa, 75 times larger than Belgium. He ran the Congo Free State as a private colony with brute force: the local population was exploited, tortured and maimed.

In Ostend Leopold, however, was honoured with an equestrian statue in 1931, flanked by statues of Belgian fishermen who thanked him for his support of the city and Congolese who honoured him “for the liberation from slavery by the Arabs.”

Raids by Arab slave traders were only in the extreme east of Congo. Similar to today’s ‘humanitarian’ pretexts for inhuman imperialist wars, King Leopold II abused these slave raids in the extreme east of Congo, for a bloody war to conquer the whole country; making the people in all of Congo technically not ‘slaves’, but forced labourers.

A group of residents of Ostend has been conducting action against the statue. Thus, in 2004 they sawed off the hand of a Congolese in the group of statues, a reference to the brutal punishment that was often applied to the indigenous population [under King Leopold II]. Also they repeatedly removed an explanatory plaque.

African's hand cut off, as a protest against King Leopold II's atrocities in Congo


“The colonial policy until today still causes big controversy” the new information board says, which two Congo experts have co-written. The severed hand of the statue is explicitly mentioned, though there is no further explanation of its meaning. However, it is noted that many of the investments at that time in Brussels and Ostend were paid by the profits from the colony.

The Councillor of Culture hopes that the activists will now leave the statue alone. “I especially hope that the plaque this time will stay. That always costs us time and money. We do have bigger problems in our city,” he told VRT TV.

Whether this will actually happen is the question: “I heard that they think the text is not sharp enough, they are only moderately enthusiastic”.

J.P. Coen

The affair is similar to the vicissitudes of the statue of J.P. Coen in Hoorn [town in the Netherlands]. While he was Governor General of the Dutch East Indies he increased his grip on the country with bloody campaigns against the local population.

After protests, the text on the pedestal of the statue was adapted in 2012. Now Coen’s crimes in the East are also mentioned.

This video says about itself:

[Belgium, documentary short film ] Sikitiko, The King’s Hand

26 July 2010

In 2004 a mysterious group abducts the hand of a statue, part of a monument for King Leopold II. This as an act of political activism. They would catalyse a surreal chain of events, in the best Belgian tradition. A little girl reconstructs the story…

Selected for Interfilm KUKI International filmfestival 2011, BCCN Barcelona 2011, FestivalAdiovisual Barranquilla 2011, FestivalAdiovisual Medellin 2011

‘Sikitiko’ is a short by Pieter De Vos, licensed under creative commons.

Dwarf crocodile saved in Congo

This BBC video from Britain says about itself:

Baby Dwarf Crocodile Hatches in Maddie’s hands! – Earth Unplugged

31 December 2013

Maddie witnesses the birth of two beautiful West African Dwarf Crocodiles and helps them out of their egg shells.

From the Wildlife Conservation Society:

Jaws of Life

February 9, 2016

This dwarf crocodile was rescued from the back of a motorbike by a team of eco-guards at a checkpoint outside Nouabale-Ndoki National Park in the Republic of Congo. It had been bound and stuffed in an empty flour sack.

Dwarf crocodiles are partially protected under Congolese law, meaning special permits are required to hunt them, and hunting is restricted to certain areas and times.

The fisherman who caught this crocodile didn’t have a permit, so the crocodile was rescued.

The guards looked after it for several days until the next patrol was headed north. Then they carried the little crocodile upstream, deeper into the dense forest, and released it well beyond the fishing zone.

In general, crocodile meat is highly sought-after in this part of the world. As road networks expand in the north of the country, logging towns are springing up further into the forest. Their residents are increasingly reliant on bushmeat as a source of food.

Currently, two of the three local species of crocodile, the Nile crocodile and the slender snouted crocodile, are completely protected in the Congo. Little is known about the impact hunting is having on the other—the dwarf crocodile. Given its prevalence on the bushmeat market, its numbers may be falling.

To help, several checkpoints have been set up on logging roads surrounding the national park to deal with the expanding threats to wildlife.

Okapi evolution, new research

This is an okapi video.

From Wildlife Extra:

New study sheds fresh light on okapi genetics

Very little is known about the mysterious and elusive okapi

A pioneering genetic study of the endangered Congolese okapi, using genetic techniques similar to those employed by crime scene forensics, has helped to unravel the mysteries of the species’ evolutionary origins and genetic structure.

The study, conducted by scientists from Cardiff University and the Zoological Society of London (ZSL), analysed okapi faeces collected from the rainforest, skin samples from museums, clippings of dried skin and artefacts found in villages across its range in DRC.

“Our research showed that okapi are both genetically distinct and diverse – not what you might expect from an endangered animal at low numbers,” said chief investigator of the study, Dr David Stanton from ZSL’s Institute of Zoology and Cardiff University’s School of Biosciences.

He added: “Higher genetic diversity means that the okapi are equipped with the necessary genes capable of withstanding changes to their environment. Beyond that they are also more likely to survive to produce offspring bearing their own resilient genetic traits. Consequently, the population will continue for more generations because of the success of these individuals.

“This rich and distinct genetic variation is likely to be a result of periods of forest fragmentation and expansion in the Congo Basin in the ancient past. The data show that okapi have survived through historic changes in climate, and therefore indicate that the species may be more resilient to future changes.

“There is a concern however, that much of this genetic diversity will be lost in the near future, due to rapidly declining populations in the wild making efforts to conserve the species, facilitated by the IUCN Species Survival Commission’s Giraffe and Okapi Specialist Group, critical.”

It is hoped that the new information collected during the study will prove indispensable for future conservation management of the species and, ultimately, its survival.

In the past 20 years the wild okapi’s numbers have halved. Prior to the study, little was known about the enigmatic animal, endemic to the rainforests of central and north-eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) in Central Africa. Ongoing threat from armed conflict, habitat fragmentation, human encroachment and poaching has rendered the species endangered, according to a 2013 assessment led by ZSL and IUCN for the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.

Only known to the Western world since 1901, when the species was discovered by a ZSL Fellow and described at a meeting of the Society, the elusive okapi is nearly impossible to observe in the wild because of its shy nature and the remoteness of the rainforests it inhabits; a trait that has helped it avoid getting caught in the cross-fire of Congo’s long-running civil conflict.

Dr Noëlle Kümpel, co-chair of the IUCN SSC Giraffe and Okapi Specialist Group and ZSL collaborator on the research, said “The IUCN Red List assessment we carried out last year highlighted that the okapi is faring worse than previously thought, with okapi populations shrinking and becoming more fragmented. It’s therefore critical that we support ICCN to step up conservation efforts across the okapi’s range, and in particular ensure the integrity and security of the protected areas where okapi are found – which includes flagship World Heritage Sites like Virunga National Park and the Okapi Wildlife Reserve.”

Download the full study here.

Big peat bog discovery in Congo

Wildlife Extra says about this video:

Vast peatland found in Congo Republic

An enormous peatland, the size of England, has been discovered in a remote part of Congo-Brazzaville and is thought to contain billions of tonnes of peat that date back 10,000 years. It is hoped the carbon-rich material could shed light on centuries of environmental change in this little-studied region.

Dr Simon Lewis, from the University of Leeds, said: “It’s remarkable that there are parts of the planet that are still uncharted territory. Few people venture into these swamps as they are quite difficult places to move around in and work in.”

He told The Guardian: “The Congo peatland is a major store of carbon, slowly removing carbon from the atmosphere. This should, if the region is not drained for agricultural use, store billions of tonnes of carbon for the long term, keeping it out of the atmosphere.

“Additionally, as peat develops it [retains concurrent] environmental conditions so can provide a window on the past. Pollen captured as the peat forms can be linked to the vegetation [of the] time.

“This is important for the central Congo basin region as so little is known about the region, either today or in the past. Understanding past vegetation and climatic changes can help scientists make robust assessments of how the climate will likely change in the future and how that will [affect] the swamp forest and peat.”

The bog was first found by satellite images and an expedition, starting from Itanga village in April, confirmed it was there.

From The Guardian about this:

Along the way their guide encountered a gorilla, while on a couple of nights a herd of elephants thundered past the camp. Crocodiles were also a potential danger.

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