The European Colonization of Africa

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  • Topic: Congo Free State, Leopold II of Belgium, Colonialism
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  • Published : April 24, 2012
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The European Colonization of Africa

In the late 20th century Africa was forcefully conquered and colonized by Europe. The accounts of this horrific colonization are revealed in Adam Hochschild's "King Leopold's Ghost: A Story of Greed, Terror, and Heroism in Colonial Africa," which unveils the brutal nature of Belgium's conquest and colonization of the central African country Congo. This conquest began with Belgian King Leopold II, who grew up with minimal expressions of love and affection from his family. His emotional void was filled with an obsession for colonies and money. His thirst for expanding his own Belgian empire grew strong. He learned as much as one could about colonization and profit, and when he realized that no colonies were available for purchase, he knew he must use force. His eyes were set on Africa. "Only in Africa could Leopold hope to achieve his dream of seizing a colony, especially one immensely larger than Belgium" (Hochschild 61). As one of the greatest conquests in world history, along with the Jewish holocaust which killed 11 million people, the European conquest of Africa killed over 10 million people cutting the population of the Congo by at least half (Hochschild 233). In thoroughly understanding this tragic event in history, it is important to explore why Europe conquered and colonized Africa, how this conquer was accomplished, and Africa's response to it.

Greed was at the center of King Leopold's European conquest and colonization of Africa. In his mid-twenties Leopold read the book "Java" about how to manage a colony, and began corresponding with the author J.W.B. Money (Hochschild 37). Leopold thought colonies existed to make him rich, and dreamed of the money, power, and respect they would bring him. Leopold thought the Congo was perfect for colonization because it was still ran by its indigenous people, was rich in resources, and was much larger than the land he already owned. "The Congo River drains more than 1.3 million square miles, an area larger than India. It has an estimated one sixth of the world's hydroelectric potential. Most important of all, for a nineteenth-century empire-builder, the river and its fan-shaped web of tributaries constitute more than seven thousand miles of interconnecting waterways, a built-in transportation grid rivaled by few places on earth" (Hochschild 61). Despite the diseases that were there, such as Malaria and sleeping sickness, Congo was an ideal territory for King Leopold to colonize. King Leopold learned that ivory was very plentiful in the Congo and was their biggest export. An average pair of elephant tusks can produce a hundred pounds of ivory, and King Leopold planned to capitalize from it (Hochschild 64). There was a mass market for goods made from ivory. "Ivory from elephant tusks was shaped into knife handles, billiard balls, combs, fans, napkin rings, piano and organ keys, chess pieces, crucifixes, snuffboxes, brooches, and statuettes” (Hochschild 64). In addition to ivory, King Leopold made a fortune from rubber, which had become a very lucrative resource. He forced the Congolese into unpaid labor to collect sap from rubber plants. He tricked Europe and the rest of the world into believing that he only wanted to bring Western civilization to the Congo and suppress the slave trade; however, his true aim was for personal profit using forced Congolese labor and torturing or killing anyone who did not cooperate. Leopold profited from the work of unpaid slaves greatly. He treated the slaves harshly without proper food and shelter. He cut off the workers' hands as punishment for not meeting the work quota, and he held their wives and children as hostage. The women were often raped and/or starved to death. King Leopold secretly amassed a fortune at the expense of the Congolese people, while several countries believed his facade and honored him for his humanitarian efforts in the Congo.

King Leopold used manipulation, deceit and force...
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