During his years securing Congolese lands, Leopold’s family life fell apart. He had a series of affairs, and then married his daughter, Louise, off to an older nobleman; within a few years, Louise had become caught up in an adulterous romance of her own. Much later, Louise, who probably suffered from depression, would be sent to an insane asylum, where she spent most of her time buying lavish dresses. Around the same time, Leopold married off his middle daughter, Stephanie, to an Austro-Hungarian prince who already had a mistress of his own. Leopold’s greatest source of pleasure was his African colony, never his family.
Leopold concentrated on running the Congo, rather than taking care of his wife, sister, or children. Indeed, the chaotic, scandalous nature of his life in Belgium suggests that Leopold was callously indifferent to his family.
Leopold took advantage of European technology to secure his newly-official landholdings. He purchased steamships to travel down the Congo River and guns to punish anyone who challenged his authority. He was quickly running out of money, though, so he borrowed funds from banks throughout Europe, and even asked the Pope to encourage all loyal Catholics to buy Congo bonds to ensure “the spread of Christ’s word.”
In 1889, Leopold was asked to become the honorary president of the Aborigines Protection Society (APS), a British human rights organization. Delighted, Leopold arranged for the society’s headquarters to be based in Belgium. There, he continued to denounce the Arab slave-trade, and claimed that he would spread Christianity and civilization to the Congo. Leopold convinced other members of the APS to donate funds to build steamships, railways, and other forms of infrastructure needed to defend the Congo from slavery. He also amended free trade agreements in order to allow him to levy duties on trade out of the Congo—supposedly so that he could support a campaign against slavery. This angered many of Leopold’s former allies, including Sanford, who had wanted to keep the Congo open for duty-free trade.
Now that his power over the Congo had been recognized by the European nations, Leopold could afford to betray some of his old friends, such as Sanford. Leopold had no intentions of opening up the Congo for free trade; his plan was to steal the Congo’s resources for himself and charge all other countries heavy tariffs to conduct business there. Notice that Leopold continued to use the Afro-Arab slave trade as distraction from his own plans: European powers were so focused on denouncing Arab slaving that they failed to notice the rise of a European-backed slave state in the Congo.
In the early 1890s, Leopold made an important deal with the Belgian parliament. While continuing to claim to be a philanthropist in public, Leopold privately claimed that, if Parliament loaned him money now, he would leave control of the soon-to-be-lucrative IAC to Parliament in his will. Leopold did, indeed, leave the IAC to Parliament, though in his will he made it seem that he was doing so out of generosity, not because of a secret business deal.
Leopold didn’t have unlimited funds, and in the 1890s he was so desperate for more money that he had to bequeath the Congo to his Parliament. This suggests an important point: the Belgian Parliament knew very well that the Congo was a for-profit colony, not a charitable venture. Parliament, therefore, was somewhat complicit in Leopold’s crimes in the Congo.
After Stanley finished securing the Congo for Leopold, Leopold kept Stanley as a consultant, for fear that Stanley would go to work for the English. He promised to make Stanley the director general of the Congo, but secretly promised the French government (which resented Stanley for besting French explorers) that Stanley would never go to the Congo again. For years, Stanley lived in Belgium, believing that he’d one day be sent back to the Congo. In the meantime, he courted several women, but, as before, did not marry.
Leopold had little loyalty to his agents and allies—once he no longer needed them, he treated them poorly. Despite Leopold’s promises to Stanley of future power (while nevertheless privately betraying him), Stanley continued to seek power, status, and acceptance.
In 1886, there was a sudden uprising of Muslim fundamentalists in the Sudan, which was then controlled by Britain. Emin Pasha, the British-backed governor of the region, asked for European support to defend the Sudan from fundamentalist rebels. Stanley begged Leopold for permission to travel to the Sudan to fight alongside Pasha. Leopold, sensing a great opportunity, agreed, under the condition that, if Stanley reached Emin, he would ask Emin to continue as governor of the same territory—but now as a province of the Congo.
Leopold thought that he could use Stanley to further expand Belgium’s colonial holdings. By offering aid and support to Emin Pasha, Belgium could perhaps convince Emin to become a Belgian agent, thereby converting the Sudan into a Belgian colony.
Stanley assembled an armed expedition to take to the Sudan. However, he feuded constantly with his men, and over the course of the expedition, more than half died of disease. By the time Stanley and his remaining men reached Emin, the expedition was exhausted and nearly starving. Stanley offered Emin ammunition, but little else. Humiliatingly, Emin turned down Stanley’s offer that Emin become governor of the new Congolese province. Leopold’s attempt to double his African landholdings had failed.
Stanley failed to provide the necessary support to Emin Pasha, and therefore, Belgium failed to expand its colonial holdings in Africa. As a result, Leopold continued to devote most of his attention to the administration of the Congo.