The Results of Greed and Power
In a time when industrialization was sweeping across the western world, Africa had yet experienced the same development. Reports of missionaries who had visited Africa sparked many Europeans’ understanding that this country needed to be civilized. While the idea of colonizing Africa seemed to be mutually beneficial for both Africans and Belgians, King Leopold II’s motives were not. Leopold decided to take it upon himself to civilize Congo, an unclaimed part of Africa. Although it was said to be done in the name of philanthropy, Leopold, with the help of others, managed to become a ruler, kidnapper, thief, and murderer through his lies and deceit. Congo was already experiencing disease and poverty, but Leopold managed to only make life worse for the poor Congolese, while also completely violating their human rights.
King Leopold II of Belgium was a German prince as a young man, but was not content with just being that. With his power-hungry nature, he sought out to obtain a colony in order to have even more prestige along with a steady income. The unclaimed country of Congo in Africa, rich in natural resources, seemed to be the perfect place to colonize in order to gain more power and wealth. The metaphor of the title of Hochschild’s second chapter, “The Fox Crosses the Stream,” becomes relevant as Leopold is compared to a fox, strategically and secretly planning his attack to illegally obtain property from Africa (Hochschild 33.) In other words, the colonization of Congo was not a sudden idea, but rather a life-long dream come true for Leopold. This could have only happened by Leopold’s philanthropic and humanitarian façade that he put on, which gave the impression that he was solely becoming the ruler of Congo in order to develop schools, homes, and improve the quality of life. The results, though, were quite the opposite, but Leopold did not do this all by himself. Much help came from journalist and African explorer, Sir Henry Morton Stanley.
Sir Henry Morton Stanley was once a low-class, illegitimate child, born with the name John Rowlands, who was raised in a workhouse. He fought in both sides of the American Civil War and also covered American Indian Wars as a journalist. In 1868, at just twenty-seven years old, he experienced his first taste of fame as he wrote about “the expedition British government was organizing against the Emperor of Abyssinia” (Hochschild 26). Stanley greatly increased his fame as he was sponsored by New York Herald publisher James Gordon Bennett to find David Livingstone, an explorer who had been lost in Africa since the 1860s. When Stanley found him in 1872, he gained more fame through his reports. With much admiration, Leopold met with the well-known journalist and explorer in 1878 and decided to fund a five year expedition for Stanley in which he explored Congo, found the source of the Congo River, constructed roads and trading stations, and more. With Sir Henry Morton Stanley’s help and exploration, Leopold proceeded with his plan to develop and colonize Congo.
Under Leopold’s ruling, the people of Congo did not see the development that they were promised. In fact, the quality of life for the Congolese only declined. Congo was already a country struck with famine and diseases, such as smallpox and sleeping sickness, but conditions only worsened. Not only were people of Congo robbed of their health and well-being, but they were also forced to sign documents releasing their property and natural resources, losing what little they had as a people. Millions of Congolese were treated like animals, or even worse. Genocide was not the intent of Leopold and his men, but their intention of labor nonetheless resulted in the death of millions. In fact, if the use of Congolese labor meant “millions of people died, that to them was incidental” (Hochschild 226.) The Congolese laborers were used as a part of Leopold’s…