| Portuguese traders and explorers brought the slave trade to the Congo, wreaking havoc on the native peoples of the region. The Belgians hired Henry Stanley to set up trading stations along the Congo River in 1878; soon after, King Leopold created the Congo Free State as a personal possession that he ruled both as king and as chief shareholder! The harsh conditions of the Free State drew the ire of both the US and Britain and, with promises of reform, Belgium transformed the Free State into a true colony called the Belgian Congo. The region was rich in natural resources and by the 1920s, it was a major provider of diamonds, gold, copper, rubber, and other products. The entire infrastructure of the country was in the hands of the Belgians -- native peoples participated in only the most local levels of government. Independence was declared in 1960 -- and many Europeans fled immediately, fearing the consequences: a bloody conflict and many atrocities. The troubles, both political and economic, have continued almost unabated for the last four decades with no immediate end in sight.