“‘I will give them my Congo,’ Leopold told Stinglhamber, ‘but they have no right to know what I did there.’”1
King Leopold’s Ghost is a historical analysis by Adam Hochschild, professor at Berkley, of Belgium’s King Leopold II’s orchestration of a private empire in the Congo at the end of the 1800s. During this particular time in history, the great political powers in the world set their eyes upon Africa as a prospect for exploration, annexation and exploitation. In King Leopold’s Ghost, Hochschild recounts the great human cost of Belgium’s imperial effort, and the willingness of the world to turn a blind eye to the blatant terrorization of a people. This book is an account of the atrocities which took place in the Congo at the bidding of King Leopold II, why they happened, why they did not stop, and most importantly why no one remembers what happened to those unfortunate peoples of the Congo as a result of imperialism and globalization.
Hochschild begins this tale with the extraordinary geographical efforts of those men which the world credits the discovery and mapping of the African continent: Diogo Cao, Captain Tuckey, David Livingstone, Lieutenant Cameron, and Henry Morton Stanley. It is thanks to the wooing of Stanley by Leopold that the Congo was trapped within the clutches of the Belgian king. On behalf of Leopold, Stanley surveyed the Congo area, made treaties with the natives consigning their lands to Leopold, and worked towards establishing an effective mode of transportation throughout its dense jungles. Hochschild reveals Leopold to be a deft man of business and cunning, tricking the world into accepting the many fronts for his operations in the Congo, and accepting his position as its sole ruler. Using his unwitting spies and delegates he presented just the right portrait of heath and well intention to each who questioned his motives.
Yet, the best made plans do often fall apart, and so it was also with King Leopold II. Facing opposition from men such as Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Joseph Conrad, E.D. Morel and Roger Casement, Leopold nevertheless continued to con the world until he was at last sure of failure and discovery, upon which he sold the Congo to his own country in March of 1908.2 Unfortunately, the peoples of the Congo, long forced to slave labor and inhumane treatment suffered little better under the new regime, as the country of Belgium was forced to pay for the Congo’s annexation not with tax-payer money, but from profits of the Congo itself. The eyes of the world, seeing that the Congo was no longer within grasp of Leopold’s hands, too soon turned away from devastating plight of the...