This article explores the role of the doctrine of free trade in the creation of the Congo State in 1885 and the relationship between free trade and native rights with respect to the subsequent campaign to reform the colonial administration of the Congo State. On one hand, King Leopold II of Belgium successfully used the rhetoric of free trade and native rights to camouflage his personal ambitions in Africa. He set up international associations with the stated aim of "exploring and civilizing Africa" through "legitimate trade" and "suppression of the slave trade", Leopold convinced the major European powers and the United States to support his control of the Congo Free State. On the other hand, E.D. Morel, a native rights activist, led a successful campaign against Leopold by arguing that he has not upheld the principle of free trade and non-discriminiation. The story of Leopold & Morel demonstrates how the rhetoric and ideal of free trade and native rights were used by individuals, world leaders and international associations and governments to pursue contradictory and inconsistent goals, such as to promote or oppose free trade; protect or enslave a native population; and advance the cause of peace or set the stage for future conflicts. It is also a story about Morel's presumption that free trade is consistent with the goals of native rights. Today, as advocates of the doctrine of free trade and the multilateral trading system face mounting criticism, it is useful to look at a historical episode where the doctrine of free trade has left a paradoxical legacy. This paradox may, in some measure, help us understand both the continued skepticism towards the doctrine of free trade and the ongoing attraction of free trade.
Ala'i, Padideh , Leopold & Morel: A Story of ‘Free Trade’ and ‘Native Rights’ in the Congo Free State (December 1, 2005)