King Leopolds Ghost


In the book by Adam Hochschild, “King Leopold’s Ghost” Hochschild coveys the story of a Belgium king who strives for expansion in the race to colonize the Africa state today know as Congo. King Leopold is a manipulator of his peers; a tyrant to those he forced his reign upon, a man centralized on power, wealth, and a murderer of the innocent. His actions in the Congo disregarded the wellbeing of his followers, compelled Africans into forced labor, and drained the wealth of his own Belgium state all in efforts of Leopold’s own benefit. The paper will answer the questions what is the ghost in King Leopold, what the terror behind the story is, why Leopold was an oppressor not a humanitarian, why greed was his main reason for expansion into Africa and finally who prevails as the hero?

The ghost in King Leopold can be seen in many instances. One example is his manipulation of Henry Stanley who discovered the region of Congo through exploration into Africa. Leopold before meeting Stanley was looking to expand Belgium’s territory through any means necessary. At first he tried to purchase land from others countries like Spain and Portugal however, he was unable to sway them. Then Leopold heard of a man exploring a part of Africa that had yet been previously explored by the name of Stanley. Soon as Leopold heard word that Stanley was returning from his expedition Leopold immediately sent a trusted aid by the name of Sanford to intercept Stanley in France. Stanley agreed to meet with Leopold as the British were not interested in the inland territory of Congo. At the time all wealth in Africa was seen to come from costal territory. Leopold mainly wanted a stake in Africa and to expand territory. He knew the lands were rich with resources such as ivory which was highly valued in Europe at the time. Furthermore Leopold’s ghost is lived through the eyes of his rulers. The man stepped inside Africa yet was able to establish and rule a territory that at its largest over 700 times the size of Belgium.
The two men meet and an agreement is made that Stanley will return to Africa and establish a Belgium colony in Congo. This was partially a secret agreement as Leopold did not want other countries to hear the buzz about unclaimed land in Africa and he knew the people of his state would not approve of this expansion initiative. To cover Leopold’s plan he established the Internal Association of the Congo which he described as the countries desire to promote better living conditions for Africans in the region and to show support in the cause of abolishing slavery. Leopold also used this tactic to gain support from other countries claiming his humanitarian endeavors but actually hiding his real objective in colonizing a new territory in Africa which was another example of his use of manipulation.

Stanley eventually set off and when he reached the Congo began to colonize establishing Leopoldville, Leopold Hill and Leopold River. (Pg. 67) Soon after, Stanley was given instructions from Leopold to peruse inland to further expand the territory using any means necessary. Another tactic by Leopold was drawing up unfair treaty’s that offered the natives clothing for the rights to their land in one example. (Pg.72) By the time Stanley returned to Europe over 450 villages and territories were gained through this practice.
Another example of Leopold ghost is through Sanford who he sent to the America to gain the colonist support for the Congo expedition. Sanford was given instructions to tell the president that Leopold mission was much like the colonies of the Americas where individual states were maintain by one rules. Leopold ghost can also been seen through his all his officers in Africa who did his dirty work for him. These men manipulated the ghost is lived through the eyes of his rulers. The Ghost is lived through the eyes of his rulers. Africans, forced them into labor till exhaustion, raped women, murdered men and children and stole there land from under the Africans feet. The man stepped inside Africa yet was able to establish and rule a territory that at its largest over 700 times the size of Belgium.

The terror behind the story is seen in two places in my mind. One is in the Congo where mass murder was taken place. Men, women, and children were all abused and used until they were extinguished of energy finally leading to their death through exhaustion or murder. Under his rule the population was greatly decreasing with little gain for Leopold who’s main objective was money above all else. The other side of the terror is how easily the other countries turned a blind eye on what Leopold was doing which was basically genocide. In the beginning they did not know but shortly after they had their suspicions especially when Williams, a free black American, wrote of his travel to Congo and photographed the atrocities of Leopold’s will. However with all this evidence the countries did not unite to stop King Leopold until and Morel made there accounts public.

The King claimed to be a humanitarian but who could make sure claims when he stole all the Africans lands from under them, encouraged murder if money could be made and over all did nothing for these people but oppress them. He oppressed these people by taking their land, resources and forced them into slavery. Greed however, was the Kings main reason for expansion. He was money hungry for the wealth of the African resources’. Leopold would not let anyone stand in his way for this. He would lie, cheat, steal and manipulate anyone if money was involved. Certain that the Congo would make him rich Leopold used all his inherited money for the expansion project and when the money ran dry he manipulated his own Parliament to loaning the King a serious amount of money.

The hero’s of this story are the people who spoke up against what was really going on in the Congo. First Williams spoke after traveling to the Congo where he saw dead Africans everywhere he walked, severed hands littered ground, women and men in shackles, baby’s left to starve, and forced labor. His accounts and images set the stage for both Morel and Casement to further investigate the Congo. These would be the men who would inform the world of what Leopold was doing in Africa. Both would make public through newspapers and pamphlets the real atrocities of the Congo. This would put Leopold in the position of the prey just as he had to the African for so many years. However with all their efforts the only thing that stopped Leopold was his death but their importance was not to stop Leopold but bring to light everything that was going on in the Congo.

The story of King Leopold’s ghost shows the desperation of one mans greed with no regard to the people he affected. He lied, tortured, manipulated, and murdered innocent people. Leopold used his friends for his own benefit, drove his beloved Belgium into debt, separated families and oppressed a country that flourished with wealth and life. This man was no humanitarian; he was a murderer on genocidal proportions and his legacy will forever affect this part of Africa and our history books.

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