Having made use of African mercenaries ever since sending Stanley to stake out his claim between 1879 and 1884, Leopold formally organised them into his state army, the Force Publique, in 1888. Over the next dozen years it grew to more than 19,000 officers and men, the largest army in Africa. In 1901, out of the 12,786 soldiers, commanded by some 350 European officers, nearly 12,500 were foreigners, mainly mercenaries from Zanzibar and the British West African colonies. After this date most recruits were drawn from the Upper Congo district; they included children taken from missionary camps, former slaves and conscripts exacted as tax from local communities. Many others were forcibly conscripted during armed raids on villages, which often targeted children who were then sent to special ‘camps of military instruction'. Even those who volunteered usually did so because, as one soldier explained to a European visitor, he preferred ‘to be with the hunters rather than with the hunted'.
www.rudi-geudens.be, La Force Publique or De Openbare Weermacht in the Belgian Congo