The literature in the book pictures the rule of king Leopold inch-perfect, it describes his rise, strategies and ultimately his downfall. The colonialists in Africa may have brought change in the areas they ruled, but in the long run they left scars which may render the African continent dependent on their colonialists. In the book, King Leopold’s Ghost the partition of Africa was in the beginning, the late 1800s and the Congo was referred to as Leopold’s country. He owned the Congo as if, it was a piece of land, and he did not even combine it with the territories of his kingdom, that is, Belgium. As the supreme ruler of the Congo, his practices were of questionable character, and he was described as having naive selfishness by his critics. He practiced slavery for his own purposes, despite his practices, his vision and entrepreneurial spirit was gifted when the land proved to an economical goldmine. Leopold sucked the land dry of its vast resources which included rubber, ivory among others. He cleverly introduced the concept of taxes which forced the people to evacuate; those who remained had to work in his industries. The industries were labor-intensive, and the workers were from the slave trade with the locals, and they had no choice but to work. If they declined they were convinced through various methods of torture, imprisonment, terror among others. These atrocities were heavily criticized; Germany’s Bismarck was one of the few critics among other human rights activists worldwide at the time. Although the intervention went on well, Congo was stripped off its ivory and rubber.
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King Leopold II was the son to Leopold I and was born in April of 1835, and he succeeded his father in 1865. He is famous because he was the founder and the sole owner of the Congo, and it was a project he had embarked on with the help of Henry Morton Stanley. The countries interested in Africa agreed during the Berlin Conference of 1885 that they had to improve the livelihood of the inhabitants. King Leopold did not heed to the promise agreed to and run the Congo Free State the way he saw fit. One might ask what motivated King Leopold. He realized that the secret or ingredient to Belgium’s greatness was in acquiring of colonial territory. No one in the country supported his venture, and he decided to go it alone as an ordinary citizen. He was loaned the funds he required by the Belgium government. His initial interests were not in Africa but were in the Philippines where his attempts were nullified. After this, he diverted his attention to Africa.
David Livingstone is remembered not only for his evangelism work in Africa but also because of his adventures. In 1866, he started an expedition, which he did not return from. (30) This is where Morton Stanley, a journalist, comes into the picture. He was given the task of searching for Livingstone by his publisher. This conversation is not recorded in Stanley’s journal, and he did not begin his search until a year later. He gathered the largest African expedition for the search which took more than eight months. Stanley found Livingstone to be a mentor, and they explored together for several months before the parted ways. Livingstone died shortly afterwards.
Unlike his mentor, Stanley was harsher and treated the porters in his expedition poorly. Leopold was an avid follower of Stanley’s expedition, and he saw that the latter was the one to help him establish a colony in Africa.
Because Leopold was not supported by his country in his pursuit, he had to organize his resources in order to complete his task. His first task was to arrange a security detail thus he formed the Force Publique, which was comprised of African mercenaries, an army for his new state. The Force was divided into small garrisons each led by a white officer, and was tasked with suppressing any rebellion that arose from the locals. Some rebellions were minor while others were composed of more than five thousand rebels. The notable one was organized by the Sanga chief known as Mulume, his army of natives was squashed because they lacked modern artillery (96). They fled into caves in Tshamakele where they were blocked inside and refused to surrender; they stayed inside for three months and were discovered dead. The officers triggered landslides to cover up their deaths in the cave. “Fearful of leaving any sign of a martyrs' grave, the Force Publique soldiers triggered landslides to obliterate all traces of the existence of the Tshamakele cave and of the bodies of Mulume Niama and his men”.
Another chief Nzansu, led an uprising, which killed several white officers including a notorious agent Rommel, who had built a station in around the lower Congo rapids. Nzansu burned the station and the neighboring establishments. He spared a Swedish mission on a caravan route, as described by Karl Theodor to his church members in Sweden.
“If our friends of the Mission at home are worried for our safety here as a result of letters and newspaper reports about the unrest in these parts, I wish to reassure them.... The leader of the rebels, Chief Nzansu of Kasi, has let us know that he does not wish harm to any one of us as we have always shown that we are friends of the black people. But to the men of the State he has sworn death, and anyone who knows of the conditions out here cannot feel surprised” (97). This rebellion alarmed the authorities because it stopped the most prominent caravan routes in the colony. A force of around two hundred officers was sent to crush this rebellion, they succeeded, and the rebels withdrew in the leader’s village. This war lasted around eight months, and the fate of Nzansu was still unknown. This army was a force to be reckoned with; it suppressed any rebellion in its wake. This resulted into mass murder because the Africans never stood a chance due to their inferior weapons, and this is sometimes referred to as genocide.
King Leopold’s activities in Congo did not go unnoticed; people all over the world organized themselves to protest the Leopold’s rule over the colony. The conspiracy of trade of rubber and ivory going on between Africa and Europe was uncovered by a young man known as Edmund Dene Morel. He observed that ships from Africa were bringing rubber and ivory while those going back to Africa were being loaded with soldiers and arms. He deduced that only slave labor would make such transactions possible. His reaction to this brought about the first human rights movement, in the dawn of the twentieth century. He mobilized support from all the civilized states against King Leopold; who was using brute force against Congolese for his own benefit.
Roger Casement was a veteran who had stayed in Africa for twenty years. He was a British consul based in the Congo and was tasked with reporting activities, which violated the human rights. Although he later went on to rebel the imperial system in England, his reports were the only way people in Europe got wind of Leopold’s activities. He occasionally wrote to Morel explaining the growing numbers of his humanitarian activities."We shall grow in numbers day by day until there go up from the length and breadth of England one overwhelming Nay!" (152)
William Sheppard was a Presbyterian missionary from Virginia, United States. When he arrived in the Congo, he was surprised by the reaction the natives towards the state officers they ran into the forests and almost half a million Africans slept without shelter. On learning the exploits of William, Leopold attacks him verbally calling his activities "meddlesome missionary spying”.
The 1906 Commission of Inquiry was formed by King Leopold and was supposed to investigate his actions. The reports from the commission did not spare the King; it reported the horrors, the number of deaths, mutilations and also found letters from the administration which backed the findings. This inquiry report is often seen as the beginning of Leopold’s downfall. The judges appointed by the king were tasked with listening to depositions from witnesses; one of the judges upon hearing about the atrocities broke down and wept. The investigation according to Leopold was supposed to be a sham, but after this it turned out to be real. Leopold tried to mitigate the effects of the report on his reputation by sending several decoy reports, but they were uncovered shortly afterwards. The real report dented his public figure and later in his day avoided public areas such as Brussels to avoid the embarrassment.
The book gives us a clue on how King Leopold converted the Congo into his own enterprise, how he turned the natives into his own army of laborers although he treated them poorly. Also, it reveals his greed when he stripped the land rubber, minerals and ivory for his own benefit. He might not be credited for discovering those resources, but how he harvested them is questionable. His activities went on, but people like Morel tried and succeeded in preventing the continuation of such reign and freeing the natives of such tyranny. The Congolese people deserved a chance at mining their own minerals and other resources in their own land.
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