The True Nature of King Leopold's Congo

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As the Scramble for Africa intensified, it became clear that certain fundamental rules had to be established; with this purpose in mind, Bismarck formed the Berlin Conference in November, 1884 (Hochschild, 84). Despite not being present at the conference, Leopold made out quite well. He gained the seaport Matadi and all the land required to build his railway from that port all the way around the rapids to Stanley Pool (Hochschild, 86). Leopold was able to gain so much because he successfully maintained the notion that this colony would be a free trade zone for Europeans; they still did not realize that he alone had a trade monopoly of the region (Hochschild, 86). The conference ended in February, 1885 and in May of that year, “the king named his new, privately controlled country the État indépendant du Congo, the Congo Free State” (Hochschild, 87).

In 1890, an African-American named George Washington Williams discovered for himself the true nature of Leopold's Congo. Williams' path to the Congo took a curved route; he was a former soldier who earned a theology graduate's degree from Howard University, was a newspaper writer and founder, as well as a former politician and historian (Hochschild, 102-105). After being introduced to Henry Shelton Sanford during his lobbying campaign in Washington, Williams himself became enthused with the Congo and saw there an opportunity for African-Americans (Hochschild, 105). He met with Leopold for an interview, where he was as enchanted by the king and his noble mission in Africa as all who had come before (Hochschild, 106). While attempting to recruit young, black Americans for work in the Congo, he was faced with questions regarding life there; realizing his own ignorance, he perso...

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...son author Adam Hochschild claims for writing King Leopold’s Ghost was “to show how profoundly European colonialism has shaped the world we live in” (Hochschild, 318). He issues a note of caution regarding the causes of the widespread despair in the Congo; that colonialism alone is insufficient to explain these terrible results, and in attempting to label it as such, ignores the myriad of other causes that create havoc and repression around the world (Hochschild, 318). Some of these other factors that have prevented African nations to become prosperous and peaceful democracies are the oppression of women, the apotheosis of militia leaders such as Mobutu, and the continuation of slave-culture (Hochschild, 318).

Works Cited

Hochschild, Adam. King Leopold's ghost: a story of greed, terror, and heroism in Colonial Africa. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1998. Print.
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