NICOLE KALI

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KING LEOPOLD'S GHOST: A STORY OF GREED, TERROR AND HEROISM IN COLONIAL AFRICA

Disclaimer: This is both a book review and abridged synopsis for easier reading. The more important chapters have been highlighted.


INTRODUCTION

The English helped in transport monopoly throughout late 19th-century Africa. A Liverpool shipping line subsidiary controlled ALL cargo in the Congo Free State, and it was the world's sole colony under one monarch then.

Europe admired King Leopold II like a hero. Even in 1897 however, employees like Edmund Dene Morel noticed sinister trade trends.

Company ships made off like bandits to Europe with stolen ivory, rubber and other valuables. This brutal labor operation cost countless lives. Military officers, weapons and rich plutocrats traveled back for the Congo at the same time (E.D. Morel's History of the Congo Reform Movement, ed. Stengers ch. 4-5).

PROTEST CAMPAIGN

Morel took his witness testimony to the United States government. Theodore Roosevelt didn't give an inch. America just finished its official slave labor system itself. He roused Booker T. Washington, archbishops and English delegates. Protest sprang in Europe through his awareness campaign. Dissent grew worldwide.

200 anti-Congo Free State mass demonstrations buzzed in the United States. 5,000 people arrived to an English protest. The London Times published a scathing condemnationone signed by 13 major news editors, 19 contemporary bishops and 76 Parliamentarians (Introduction and History of the Congo Reform Movement)

George Washington Williams was a prominent Afro-American historian who documented the truth (An Open Letter to His Serene Majesty Leopold II). William H. Sheppard, another Black voice, recorded depravity in Congo Free State (Prebysterian Pioneers in Congo).

Sir Edward Grey said "no external question for at least 30 years has moved the country so strongly and so vehemently" (Dec 23, 1908, History of the Reform Movement, p. 208).

Five to eight million Bakongo Africans reportedly were killed, according to a Mark Twain annotation in King Leopold's Soliquy. Environmental chaos, overproduction and routine killings could duplicate the life loss. A CIA agent admitted involvement in Prime Minister Patrice Lumumba's death in 1961. The assassination was "justified" (p. 4).

King Leopold II destroyed a land and the indigenous way of Kongo life without ever being there. So now humanitarian CEO's and ruthless resource companies team to loot Africaa never-ending crisis. Just like old times (p. 4)

What do we know in context? Kongo hosted numerous ethnicities, languages and writing systems but no formal written text. African voices should be centered as they've been silenced for too long. We will break through cultural barriers to tell this story from the decolonial perspective.


Kwele Congo mask

PROLOGUE

PRE-EXISTING CULTURE


Portuguese Emissaries Received by the King of Kongo, late 16th ce. Duarte Lopes.

Kongo kingdom existed 100 years before Portuguese arrival in 1482. A ManiKongo ruled over Mbanza Kongo, the royal seat (Jan Vansina, Kingdoms of the Savanna).

Europeans were wary of customs like polyamory or fatal superstitions that surrounded the king. Native Kongo life spurred Portuguese clerics to start missions and church-building.

Slavery occurred through war, as the Europeans noticed that a ManiKongo rival's slaves were acceptable trade (Georges Balandier, Daily Life in the Kingdom of the Kongo from the Sixteenth to Eighteenth Century, p. 30).

In 1500, Portuguese slave buyers exploited the trade and sent raiding parties into Mbanza Kongo. Priests kept African women from all ages and tribes as trafficking victims. Adults, children, converts and students alike were sold into bondage via Portuguese Catholicism (Daily Life, p. 8).

 15,000 enslaved Kongo residents sailed the Atlantic a year by the 17th century. 25% of Southern U.S. plantation workers originally claim ancestry in African equatorial regions like Kongo Kingdom (Joseph C. Miller, Way of Death: Merchant Capitalism and the Angolan Slave Trade 1730-1830).

Gullah Islanders still speak a descended Kikongo dialect which regionally surrounds the Congo River mouth.

AFFONSO I

Atlantic slave trade tore apart Nzinga Mbemba Affonso I's sovereign nation. A transformative time lasted till his kingship, so he prepared Kongo for Western invasion as much as possible. Affonso began his ManiKongo reign in 1506.

He was a Christian convert who partially adopted European arms and items to serve Mbanza Kongo's defense. Ominous that faith preludes the fall once again. Even appeal to Catholic post-Inquisition days did not succeed.

"Just as the Jews crucified the Son of God because of covetousness...so today He is again crucified," the ManiKongo wrote to Manuel I in 1515.

DESTRUCTION OF KONGO AUTONOMY

Hundreds of more traders appeared in Mbanza Kongo. Affonso I addressed mounting monstrosity with a letter to Portugal's King Joao III in 1526.

"Each day the traders are kidnapping our people—children, sons of our nobles, even people of our own family...this corruption and depravity are so widespread that our land is entirely depopulated." (Affonso I, ed. Decorato & Jadin, Correspondance de Dom Afonso, roi du Congo 1506-43, p. 156).

"These goods exert a great attraction. Many of our subjects eagerly lust after Portuguese merchandise that your subjects brought into our domains," Affonso criticized later that year. (Correspondance de Dom Afonso, p. 167).

Notice in colonial and post-colonial apathy toward suffering that the ruling elite are the primary suspects, often religious. King Joao III responded: "The Portuguese there tell me how vast the Congo is, and how it is so thickly populated that it seems as if no slave ever left." (Correspondance, p. 175).

Portugal had Affonso I in their sights from that point. He reached his most targeted, vocal state in 1540 after ten grandchildren, nephews and others were sold to Brazilian plantations en route for a religious, Portuguese education.

"We don't know whether they are dead or alive, nor how they might have died, nor what news we can give of them to their fathers and mothers," Affonso wrote to King Joao III in 1539 (Correspondance, p. 210)

An attempted kill on the ManiKongo's narrowly failed; he had been at Easter Sunday Mass, and two nobles caught the bullets instead. Power disseminated more and more for the Kongo Kingdom after Affonso until the ManiKongo's beheading in 1665.

A crushing Kongo defeat by Portuguese imperialists broke West-Central African imperial control. And so the Scramble for Africa had a 200-year head-start (p. 15).

GEOGRAPHY AND SLAVE TRADES

220 miles of the Congo River could generate sufficient power to match all the United States' water bodies. No explorers could boat upstream.

Congo River basin terrain is notoriously difficult on foot or otherwise. Interior Africa was much unknown until the 19th century to many outsiders. Though the mid-1800's gave rise to our first celebrities as high-profile explorers: men and women who wanted the unknown bounty for themselves.

East African shores were prey to the Trans-Saharan, Zanzibari slave trade that ran simultaneously along the Atlantic one.

 

The Afro-Arabian market flowed through northwestern Africa and eastward into Egypt, Ethiopia (Abyssinia), Somalia, the Sudan and Tanzania. Then unfortunate captives could be sent across the Arabian or Mediterranean Seas, Indian Ocean, or Persian Gulf.

British, Dutch, French and Portuguese explorers frequently infiltrated West African coasts with bad intent.


Tuckey's Narrative of an Expedition to Explore the River Zaire, 1816, a failed exploration.

English ships dominated the Atlantic trade. Trans-Saharan slave routes in this area utilized the Congo and Niger River deltas, plus ancient Sahelian paths for coastal slave marches. 

This explains the continent's static population over 500 years, why it never rose with time. Death toll from slavery created these grim realities.

Slavery still carried on despite British abolition in 1838 (p. 27). Ships were often navally intercepted. Their fates were dubious at the least. Wilberforce made it clear that any loopholes in authority should be abused with his Clapham Sect's hypocritical neo-slavery, "apprenticeship". The most renowned abolitionist also profied from slavery's continuation.

Now it is uncertain whether Europeans viewed the Zanzibari market as a genuine tragedy or an obstacle for their own plans. Records show either way that Western imperialism accelerated in Africa, specifically because colonial powers arrived last to key influential areas.

HENRY MORTON STANLEY

The famous self-obsessed and secretly Welsh traveler lied about his entire life story. Stanley actually had his earliest memories in an orphanage far from America. He became world-acclaimed 'Stanley' after an encounter with the rich American family as a younger man.

In 1869, a strange chain of events took him toward Africa. James Gordon Bennett of the New York Herald telegraphed his new writer: COME TO PARIS ON IMPORTANT BUSINESS. And it concerned David Livingstone.

This clearly never happened, Bennett was confused about their non-existent meeting and Stanley's journal pages disappeared for the related dates. Suspicion mounts considerable when his mission started more than 12 months later.

Stanley took the biggest-known African expedition on a blind hunt in 1871 when Livingstone already had not been seen for five years. And of course, he was the only contactee for the search so truth is shadowy.

Narratives leaked out to the world of heroic clashes with Arab slave traders and fantastic diseases, savages, untameable nature. Henry Morton Stanley shaped Western views on "the dark continent" instantly in a white-savior pattern still around today.

 

Livingstone and Stanley finally crossed paths in the Tanzanian brush. The older doctor was ravaged by years of sickness and guilt for his Christian commerce's role in African destruction.

And the two British explorers unlocked a bitter reality: Lake Tanganyika never connected to the Nile, and Livingstone spent his time on a wasted dream. Stanley never disclosed the full story about the doctor's last struggling days as an obscure failure.

Instead, the Americna publicity stuntist wrote to the Herald about greedy sultanates, exaggerated harems and cruel massacres. Did these killings occur? Doubtful even among historians. Stanley invented other details after Livingstone's death to cover up his own savage behavior in the "'Dark Continent". His hypocrisy caused casualties in the thousands.

"The blacks give an immense amount of trouble," he was quoted to say. Brutality shone through Stanley's oversight, rather than the evil "Arabs". Stanley deserted the Navy in 1865, but chained and whipped any escapees (How I Found Livingstone, pg. 318).

THE REAL STORY

We see a sensationalist who seized the opportunity to plunder "unknown" territory and capitalize on a bad story: Livingstone's. The good Christian legacy has faded away. Stanley thought he was trekking "unpeopled country" because he viewed the Black population as primitive. At the time, 50 sovereign empires and 2 million Africans were estimated to live there.

His native country Wales doesn't want to claim him (link). Statues have been protested, broken off their foundation (The Guardian). And who followed Stanley's misinformed goose chase? A Belgian king Leopold II. The European king wanted Congo cleared for colonization and hired the explorer under a humanitarian front: "African International Association for Development in Central Africa". He used Christianity (and Stanley to achieve this). His 1883 letter to missionaries clarifies the colonial role of religion.

"Reverends, Fathers and Dear Compatriots: The task that is given to fulfill is very delicate and requires much tact. You will go certainly to evangelize, but your evangelization must inspire above all Belgium interests.

Your essential role is to facilitate the task of administrators and industrials, which means you will go to interpret the gospel in the way it will be the best to protect your interests in that part of the world. For these things, you have to keep watch on disinteresting our savages from the richness that is plenty [in their underground].

...You have to detach from them and make them disrespect everything which gives courage to affront us. I make reference to their Mystic System and their war fetish – warfare protection – which they pretend not to want to abandon, and you must do everything in your power to make it disappear.

Evangelize the niggers so that they stay forever in submission to the white colonialists, so they never revolt against the restraints they are undergoing. "

This included everything from deforestation and bribing local chiefs to forced construction, even cutting off children's hands if they couldn't plant rubber enough (Crawfurd). King Leopold's Congo conquest was a haunting look into imperialism.


Bibliography

  “On Henry Morton Stanley’s Search for Dr. Livingstone, 1871-72.” (Matthew Rubery, Ed. Dino Franco Felluga)
Correspondance de Dom Afonso, roi du Congo 1506-1543 (Affonso I, ed. Louis Jadin & Mireille Decorato, 1974)
The King Incorporated: Leopold II in the Age of Trusts
(Neal Ascherson, 1963)
 Daily Life in the Kingdom of the Kongo from the Sixteenth to Eighteenth Century (Georges Balandier, 1968)
An African Awakening (Basil Davidson, 1953)
History of the Reform Movement (Edmund Dene Morel, ed. William Roger Louis & Jean Stengers, 1968)
How I Found Livingstone (Henry Morton Stanley, 1872)
Kingdoms of the Savanna (Jan Vansina, 1966)

King Leopold's Congo (Ruth Slade)