My first book for the World Citizens Challenge. I have been meaning to read this book since I first heard about it. It is a book for anyone wishing to expand their understanding of the history and present day struggles in Africa. The book is horrific, well-written and fast paced and in most places reads like a novel. Hochschild has gathered much information concerning Belgian King Leopold II’s desire for and control of a colony. He read many original sources as most of this history has been covered up and forgotten.
King Leopold II sought a place that he could control while making it appear his intentions were purely humanitarian. His stated desire to bring “civilization” to ” poor savages” and protect the native population from “Arab slavers” as well as the belief in western civilization’s uplifting affect held by European and American politicians, businessmen and clergy allowed atrocities to continue for almost two decades. During the time of his colonization it is believed that between 4 – 8 million people died, mostly indigenous Congolese forced into slave labor to harvest rubber. The story is terrifying, a tale of one man’s greed and desire for power. It also tells of the complicity of others, and of how many people struggled to finally bring the knowledge of this atrocity to the public eye.
Leopold’s greed ravaged the Congo and it’s people. When the atrocities where finally brought to light he scrambled to cover them up and was forced to turn over his controlling interest to Belgium. In the countries surrounding the Congo and in the rest Africa these atrocities were repeated, leaving death and destruction in their wake. Similar behaviors continue today, perpetrated by warlords, governments and multinational corporations. The Congo’s history, and the rest of the world’s forgetting of it, can only add to the problems facing the peoples of Africa.
Hochschild writes “..the world we live in – it’s divisions and conflicts, it’s widening gap between rich and poor, it’s seemingly inexplicable outbursts of violence – is shaped far less by what we celebrate and mythologize than by the painful events we try to forget. Leopold’s Congo is but one of those silences of history.”