Congo Free State, now called Independent State of the Congo, developed out of the Association Internationale formed by Leopold II., king of the Belgians, was recognised as a state by the European Powers in conference at Berlin in 1885. At first under the sovereignty of Leopold as an individual, it was by him made over, with all his sovereign rights, to Belgium in 1890, and Belgium reserved the right of annexing it at the end of ten years. The state comprises a small strip of territory north of the Congo River, from its mouth to Manyanga, thence it is bounded N. by the Congo River (with French Congo to the northwards) to the Mobangi, thence to the NE. watershed of the Congo basin, eastwards to 30° E. long., and southwards to near Lake Bangweolo, westwards to the Kassai River sources, and thence by a zigzag to the Kwango, and then to the Congo at Nokki (the south bank of the river from that point being Portuguese). The state borders accordingly on French Congo, several minor native states, the Equatorial province, the British East Africa Company's sphere and Uganda, German East Africa, the British sphere on the S. (Zambesia), and Portuguese territory on the W. and SW. The west shore of Lake Tanganyika belongs to the Congo State.

The Congo Free State is governed by an administrative bureau at Brussels, consisting of three secretariats - Control, Finance, and Foreign Affairs, under the direct supervision of His Majesty the King of the Belgians; also by an administrator on the Congo who has his headquarters at Boma, 60 miles from the sea, on the right bank of the river. Its present income is derived from an endowment of 40,000 a year bestowed upon it by the King of the Belgians, a loan from Belgium, from taxes, dues, and the sale and letting of public lands. The state, formerly allowing free imports, was allowed in 1890 to impose duties. The annual revenue is about 2S,000,000 francs. The inhabitants of the Congo basin belong to what has been termed the Bantu race. They are a happy, inoffensive people, not so dark as the Fan or Ethiopian. Split up into numberless tribal communities, they can offer but slight resistance to the advance of civilisation; and as they are born traders, they take very readily to commerce. The dialects throughout the country are very numerous, but many of them would appear to have a common origin. Pop. from twenty to thirty millions. The climate is purely tropical, the average temperature ranging between 78° and 82°. Malarial fevers, especially on the coast, are not infrequent. The interior is healthier than the coast. The principal products are ivory, palm-oil, palm-kernels, india-rubber, various gums, ground-nuts, camwood, beeswax, orchilla, etc. Wild coffee, tobacco, and hill rice are cultivated on the upper river, also various kinds of maize and sorghum. The annual value of the special exports (principally ivory, palm-oil and kernels, coffee and caoutchouc) from the Congo is about 50,000,000 francs (general exports, 57,000,000 francs), and of the general imports 21,000,000 francs. As Belgium had not exercised the right of annexing it, the Free State was in 1905 still nominally an independent state managed like a colony; and the administration was charged with allowing systematic cruelty in enforcing labour and extorting produce and taxes.

See works on the Congo State and River by Stanley (1885), Bentley, Ward, and Johnston (1895), and, impeaching the administration for cruelty, Fox Bourne (1903) and Guy Burrows (1903); French books by Alexis, Coquilhat, Dupont, Jeannent, Wauters, Allart, and Bour-guignon (1898); the German work by Pechuel-Loesche; Silva White's Development of Africa (1890), Scott Keltie's Partition of Africa (1895), and Sir H. Johnston's Colonization of Africa (1899). For French Congo, see Gaboon.