Daily Archives: January 30, 2014

Review of King Leopold’s Ghost

I have just finished reading King Leopold’s Ghost by Adam Hochschild. It tells about how Belgium’s King, Leopold II, managed to purchase the Congo as his personal estate. Many people are familiar with Stanley’s expedition of the Congo River, where he famously found Dr. Livingstone. What people do not know was that Stanley went to Congo in Leopold’s behalf, and that the duration of the journey was marked by monumental death and destruction. Torching villages, wiping out elephant herds, all of which laid a template for how Leopold would mismanage the Congo for the next several decades. What the book focuses on is how Leopold manipulated the global community into believing he was some great philanthropist (who took over the place simply to end bad things like slavery, female genital mutilation, and eating Pygmies), and how brave visitors eventually blew the whistle and led to his downfall. Congo’s resources have been proven to be more of a curse than a blessing, because the ample ivory, minerals, palm oil, timber, and rubber make it a very attractive place for exploitation. If Leopold didn’t take over someone else would have. Westerners have long viewed Africa as the Dark Continent, and this has proven to be a self fulfilling prophecy. Spreading lies that Africa was a savage place provided an excuse to exploit it, and as a result for the past three hundred years Africa’s history has been very Dark. The Democratic Republic of the Congo has been one of the worst places in the world, and reading King Leopold’s Ghost will help you understand how it got that way.

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