The history of the Belgian Congo

1114 Words5 Pages
The history of the Belgian Congo is one of terrible sadness and seldom-noted human devastation. From 1885 to 1908 the Congo was ruled by one man as his sole, personal colony; a ruler ironically noted at the time for his philanthropy, King Leopold II of Belgium. Seeking his own colony, he founded the Congo Free State, a massive territory in the African interior that was larger than seventy-six times the size of his own country (Hochschild, 87). A “sober, respectable businessman” by the name of Edmund Dene Morel made a note of something about this colony that blew the cover of one of the largest collection of atrocities in human memory (Hochschild, 1). Working in Antwerp on business at the docks, he noticed that only soldiers were going towards the Congo while goods were being imported, a clear sign that no true legitimate trading was going on; he rightly deduced this to mean slavery (Hochschild, 2). This story is a culmination of unlikely heroes and villains from all walks of life, melding together in an unforeseen way that forever changed the world. One such a person was an illegitimate Welsh-born poorhouse child named John Rowlins (Hochschild, 22). Once old enough, Rowlins moved to America and became Henry Morton Stanley, a soldier who managed to fight on both sides of the American Civil War and ultimately wound up as a journalist for the New York Herald (Hochschild, 23-26). It was at this time and place that Stanley first began to pick up on hints of European interest on the African continent that would later be identified as the Scramble for Africa (Hochschild, 26). The European interest in this land was various, from wanting to map out the as yet unknown interior of the continent, to the hopes of bring “civilization”... ... middle of paper ... ... colony in the Congo in 1884 (Hochschild, 79-81). To gain French recognition, Leopold agreed to enter into a “right of first refusal” deal with them that meant in the eventuality of financial hardship he would have to offer the claim to them before anyone else (namely, Britain) (Hochschild, 82). Germany initially proved harder to convince. Knowing the realities of the region, Chancellor Otto von Bismarck rightly saw through the details of the claim as a greedy land-grab (Hochschild, 83). Undeterred, Leopold once more worked through a go-between, Gerson Bleichröder, Bismarck's friend and banker, to convince the Iron Chancellor to accept his claim in exchange for guaranteeing free trade there (Hochschild, 83-84). Works Cited Hochschild, Adam. King Leopold's ghost: a story of greed, terror, and heroism in Colonial Africa. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1998. Print.
Open Document