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KingLeopold`s Ghost Paper
Duringthe late 19th and into the early 20th century, European powers werein a scramble for new colonies and territories in Africa. Explorersfrom France, Italy, Britain and later Germany embarked on expeditionsin Africa in search of land for their home countries. In his book"King Leopold`s Ghost: A Story of Greed, Terror, and Heroism inColonial Africa", Adam Hochschild looks into the affairs of KingLeopold II in Africa. The book tells the story of the Belgium`s Kingintervention in the kingdom of Kongo in Central Africa and the terrorand tortures his forces meted on local African communities. In hisnarratives, Hochschild unveils the extent of excesses communities bythe European countries in their pursuits of mineral resources in theAfrican continent.
Thereign of Leopold II in African Congo can be traced to mid 1880sduring an era when Europeans perceived Africa as a rich source ofnatural resources. This is also an era in which Europeans weredetermined to intrude civilization into an otherwise dark continent.As they conquered African lands by suppressing the natives, Europeansa also introduced Christianity t the local populations. Leopold II,like his European peers looking to expand his influence in the world,sought to conquer new lands in Africa. Unlike France and Britain,Belgium lacked consi9dereble influence beyond Europe. With the helpof British explorer Henry Morton Stanley, Leopold II mapped out thecentral African region with an intention to establish a colony. Tosanitize his greed, Leopold successfully got consent from otherEuropean countries during the Berlin Conference to administer rule inwhat was then known as the Kingdom of Congo. Once he got theconsent, he duly renamed the territory as Congo Free State. AsHochschild observes, this was the beginning of Leopold`s mission inwhich the people of Congo were subjected to untold terror and abusefrom the king`s loyalists.
Locatedon the western coast of Africa, the African Congo was an unexploredterritory before European settlement and colonization. Despite theregion having proved mineral resources, it was a hard nut to crackfor European explorers due to its unique terrain that made itdifficult for Europeans to venture into the interior. The long rivermeandering through mainland Congo and emptying its waters into theAtlantic Ocean, in particular, proved difficult for sailors to travelthrough. What made Congo attractive to Europeans was its centrallocation that made it convenient for African traders particularly theivory dealers and miners to transport their wares to the AtlanticOcean. From the coast of Africa, elephant’s trunks, rubber andother commodities sourced from African lands could be transported toEurope and America.
Leopold`sestablishment of a colony in Congo was a daunting task given thematerial costs and the resistance his army received. Since he was notsupported by his country in what was then seen as a personal pursuit,he had to raise his resources to actualize his dream establishing acolony. He formed an armed unit called Force Publique, whichcomprised of African Mercenaries commanded by White officers. He usedForce Publique to suppress any rebellion from the locals and alsofight intruders in the Eastern Congo. It is this army that LeopoldII was able to exert control in Congo. Some of the notable rebellionwhich Leopold`s men violently suppressed includes the resistancemounted by Sanga Chief, Mulume, and his men. This particularrebellion saw Mulume`s army of natives flee into caves where theywere blocked by Leopold`s men and later died in the caves (Hochschild96). Apparently, The Force Publique army triggered landslides tocover any traces of the death of Mulume`s men. Another uprising ledby Chief Nzasu of Kasi against Leopold`s rule led to massive deathsof the natives in the hand of Force Publique soldiers. According toHochschild (97), Chief Nzasu had launched an armed rebellion whichled to the closure of the most prominent caravan routes in Congo.Alarmed that the locals were interfering with the flow of trade,Leopold II deployed his men into Kasi in a war that lasted eightmonths. The aftermath of this war was massive death and displacementof the African natives who could not match Leopold`s men superiorweaponry.
KingLeopold was determined to disguise his activities in Congo as apeaceful mission with an aim of protecting Africans from Arab-slavetraders. However, the reality of the situation as uncovered byHochschild in his book seems to suggest otherwise. Leopold`scolonization of Africa came at a huge cost to human lives. Manynatives were enslaved, tortured and executed by his soldiers.According to Hochschild, Leopold`s brutality is well captured in thehistory of Congo with estimated ten million deaths having occurredduring his reign. Many natives, as well as colonizers, died ofmalnutrition, disease, and murder. King Leopold poor record of humanrights and disregard of human life in Congo Africa is a scandal thatwent unnoticed for a long time. It took personal efforts byindividuals such as Roger Casement, a British consul to report aboutKing Leopold`s brutal activities in Congo. Roger Casement reportedthe horrors, the mutilations, and some deaths resulting fromLeopold`s activities in Congo.
WhileKing Leopold`s activities in Congo are well documented, one istempted to ask what could have motivated the colonizers and theirlocal agents to perpetrate gruesome acts against the vulnerable localpeople. Notably, Leopold`s army also included mercenaries sourcedfrom the natives. As aforementioned, King Leopold had deployedmassive financial resources in Congo to a point of exhausting hisfamily`s resources while funding his army. Also, the king is reportedto have solicited funds from foreign governments to fund hisactivities in Congo. It is evident that the local people who formedpart of his army were motivated by financial gain. King Leopold wasalso able to take advantage of the local rivalries to suppress thenatives. In this regard, he was able to pit communities against theirfellow communities to suppress internal dissent. Initially, some ofthe native administrators viewed King Leopold`s forces as allies inthe war against slavery. In particular, were in need of support toscare away the Arab-slave traders who originated from East AfricaCoast. Thus, collaboration with King Leopold was seen as one of theways of defeating the Arab-slave traders.
Tounderstand the motivation behind the brutal tactics employed by KingLeopold and his men, it is imperative to mention about theinternational trade that Leopold was determined to cash in. Hochschild observes that Leopold`s army became more vicious whenivory and rubber supplies began to decline. To gather more resources,they forced men to go deeper into the African jungle to source forore rubber. Some of the men who ventured deep into the forests nevercame back alive due to diseases, malnutrition, and attack from wildanimals. Some of those who made it out of the forests were executedby Leopold`s army.
Inconclusion, Adam Hochschild`s book lays bare the manipulation, greed,and brutality associated with King Leopold`s reign in African Congo.It gives readers a glimpse of the excesses committed by thecolonizers with the aid of local mercenaries. Since much colonizationwas led by the whites, it I s important to note that some nativesmotivated by financial gain participated in the torture and killingof their fellow Africans.
Hochschild,Adam. KingLeopold`s Ghost: A Story of Greed, Terror, and Heroism in Colonial
Africa.Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1998. Print.