Here is a review of Adam Hochschild's book King Leopold's Ghost.. I am out of practice when it comes to writing reviews so forgive me if I ramble or repeat adjectives too frequently:
A Forgotten Genocide
King Leopold's Ghost was written to remind the world of a forgotten atrocity- as such it is both highly accessible and informative.
The atrocities in the Congo included mass murder, enslaving the local population and working them to death and stealing and burning their. Much of the cruelty was officially sanctioned- with secret instructions to the authorities on how to enslave the natives. Some of it was done by individual sadists who were free to execute Africans for trivial offences or massacre villages at will if they refused to collect rubber.
One of the frustrations that Hochschild repeatedly refers to is that the tale largely has to be told from the point of view of foreigners, as the Congo's native population was not literate at the time and left few direct testimonies. However the records of the colonial authorities, missionaries, traders and diplomats are used to great effect.
The portraits of individuals involved in the story are well done, the story of ED Morel who initiated the international campaign against King Leopold's rule is particularly inspiring- a lowly shipping clerk who used his powers of deduction to realise that the Congo must be a slave state and then devoted his life to exposing it.
Whilst I was vaguely aware of the atrocities in the Congo I had not realised how much of it was the doing of King Leopold II personally. He was a deceitful, manipulative and immensely greedy man and his personal culpability in the genocide is established beyond doubt. He deserves to be considered along with Mao, Hitler and Stalin as one of the great monsters of the 20th Century.