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Between 1885 and 1908, several million African slaves died extracting rubber from the Congo Free State, an area 76 times the size of Belgium. This private project belonged exclusively to one man – the Belgian king, Leopold II. When increased demand for tyres, tubing and cable insulation caused a worldwide rubber boom during the 1890s, King Leopold grew even wealthier. The scramble for Africa had begun. By 1914, the European powers, most notably the UK, France, Germany and Portugal had carved up every African country on the map, except for Liberia and Ethiopia.

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