Early in the imperial colonial period slavery was the chief reason for exploiting central Africa. King Leopold of Belgium ruthlessly but brilliantly exploited much of central Africa in the 19th century without regard for human suffering. When slavery became politically obsolete, ivory and later natural rubber was exploited using slave labor, blackmail, kidnapping, you name it. King Leopold personally benefited from this exploitation of the peoples and the environment. He managed to do so without raising concerns about the illegalities or moralities of his time. To this day much of what is in this book has been ignored by history.
Belgium's imperialist rape of Africa
King Leopold's GhostA story of greed, terror and heroism in colonial Africa by Adam Hochschild
Book review by Stuart Nolan
Adam Hochschild's study of King Leopold II of Belgium's creation of the Congo Free State goes to the essence of the economic and political systems established in colonial Africa.
Between 1885 and 1908, there were between five and eight million victims of Leopold's personal rule, under a barbarous system of forced labour and systematic terror. When reading a reference by Mark Twain to these deaths, and the world-wide campaign against slavery in the Congo of which he was a part, Hochschild was surprised at his own ignorance. "Why were these deaths not mentioned in the standard litany of our century's horrors? And why had I not heard of them?" Pursuing his inquiries he uncovered a "vast supply of raw material".
His book has ruffled quite a few feathers, particularly in Belgium. The British Independent newspaper's review calls Hochschild's comparisons to contemporary imperialism "unhelpful." But it is such contemporary resonances that place King Leopold's Ghost above a routine historical work.
One example from the introduction: "...unlike other great predators of history, from Genghis Khan to the Spanish conquistadors, King Leopold II never saw a drop of blood spilt in anger. He never set foot in the Congo. There is something very...