Force Publique - Under The Congo Free State

Under The Congo Free State

Serving under these European officers was an ethnically-mixed African soldiery, who eventually became comparable to British or Imperial German Askaris. Many were recruited or conscripted from warrior tribes in the Upper Congo. Others were drawn from Zanzibar and West Africa. The role required of the Force Publique was that of both defending Free State territory and of internal pacification. Under Leopold however a major purpose of the force was to enforce the rubber quotas, and other forms of forced labor. Armed with modern weapons and the chicotte — a bull whip made of hippopotamus hide — soldiers of the FP often took and mistreated hostages (sometimes women, who were held captive in order to force their husbands to meet rubber quotas). Reports from foreign missionaries and consular officials detail a number of instances where Congolese men and women were flogged or raped by soldiers of the Force Publique, permitted to run amok by their officers and NCOs. They also burned recalcitrant villages, and there is photographic evidence that the FP soldiers took human hands as trophies, on the orders of Leopold to show that bullets had not been wasted. During the Free State period, the Force Publique suffered from institutional problems. During the early years of the force, mutinies of black soldiers occurred several times. By the early 1890s, much of the eastern portion of the Free State was under the control of Arab ivory and slave traders (though the Government was able to re-establish control over the east by the mid-1890s). Organizational problems were also quite prevalent during the Free State era. With many Force Publique detachments being stationed in remote areas of the territory, some officers took to using soldiers under their control to further private economic agendas rather than focusing on military concerns.

The Force Publique fought in the 1892–1894 war in the Eastern Congo against Tippu Tip.

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