homeAdam Hochschild

King Leopold’s Ghost:

A Story of Greed, Terror and Heroism in Colonial Africa

(Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co., 1998)

  Statements                                                                notes                                                           pages


Edmund Dene Morel


“Brought face to face with evil, Morel does not turn away. Instead, what he sees determines the course of his life and the course of an extraordinary movement, the first great international human rights movement of the twentieth century. Seldom has one human being—impassioned eloquent, blessed with brilliant organizing skills and nearly superhuman energy—managed almost single handedly to put one subject on the world’s front pages for more than a decade.”



“This is a story of that movement, of the savage crime that was itstarget, of the long period of exploration and conquest that preceded it and the way the world has forgotten one of the great mass killings of recent history.



AH’s book began from his having read a footnote in a book about Mark Twain, said that Clemmons had been part of a decade long struggle to end the slave trade in the Congo which had taken from 7 to 10 million lives.



In 1960s the US CIA had covertly pulled off the murder of Patrice Lamumba the first elected Prime Minister of the Republic of the Congo apparently the spilling of Congolese blood then was merely the more recent in a long series of imperial intrigues that had cost the Congo dearly in lives, treasures, and self-respect. [Commentary]


Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, had been written about the Congo


“The Congo of a century ago had indeed seen a death toll of Holocaust dimensions.”


Actors in the drama:

George Washington Williams, black American veteran, journalist, historian and evangelist

Joseph Conrad, author

William Sheppard, journalist on site

King Leopold II of Belgium

Stanley, Henry Morgan (John Rowlands)

General” Henry Shelton Sanford (Sanford Fl. is his named for him)

                 Roger Casement, Irish Republican & inspector in the British Foreign Office, Boma

                 Congo Reform Association (created by Morel, his wife and Roger Casement)


King Leopold’s Ghost:                          Statements                                                                notes                        pages


“The worst of the bloodshed in the Congo took place between 1890 and 1910, but its origins lie much earlier, when Europeans and Africans first encountered each other there.”


Mare Tenebroso” the Sea of Darkness lay all south of the Canaries “a region of uttermost dread.”


“In the 1440s, Lisbon’s shipbuilders developed the Caravel, a compact vessel particularly good at sailing into the wind. Although rarely more than a hundred feet long, this sturdy ship carried explorers far down the west coast of Africa, where no one knew what gold, spice, and precious stones might lie.


Diego Cčo –in 1482– discovered the estuary of the Congo River, the largest all-tropical river in Africa

“The impression its vastness made on him and his men….”


“For the space of 20 leagues [the river] preserves its fresh water unbroken by the briny billows which encompass it on every side; as if this noble river had determined to try its strength in pitched battle with the ocean itself, and alone deny it the tribute which all other rivers in the world pay without resistance.”


“The Kingdom of the Kongo was roughly three-hundred miles square, comprising territory that today lies in several countries.”


“In 1491,…an expedition of awed Portuguese priests and emissaries….marked the first sustained encounter between Europeans and a black African nation.”


“The Kingdom of the Kongo had been place for at least a hundred years before the Portuguese arrived. Its monarch, the ManiKongo, was chosen by an assembly of clan leaders.


As in much of Africa, the kingdom (of the Kongo) had slavery. The nature of African slavery varied from one area to another and changed over time, but most slaves were people captured in warfare. Others had been criminals.


When the Atlantic slave trade began decimating the Kongo, that nation was under the reign of a ManiKongo named Nzinga Mbemba Alfonso, who had gained thethrone in 1506 and ruled…for nearly forty years.”


pivotal time in Kongolese history as slave fever begun by the Portuguese who having arrived in 1491, by 1500 were buying slaves from Kongolese chiefs to supply the needs of Brazils, plantations and mines. Despite appeals to Portugal and the Pope to end slavery Alfonso’s sons were taken away to school in Licnon and sold instead as slaves in Brazil.


The jig is up: how the world discovered Leopold’s operations as a fraud


George Washington Williams (Afro-American Lawyer, reporter, entrepreneur) in 1890-1891 is the first person to report of the tragedy of slavery, mutilation and devastation of the Congo by Europe’s purported civilizing agents working for Leopold of Belgium.


“An Open Letter”          published in Europe probably by the Dutch and widely circulated accused the Congo State of “crimes against humanity” by detailing abuses, wanton killing, enslavement, destruction of villages, and the bad reputation of Henry M. Stanley among the indigenous Congolese.


300 African (Congolese) porters on a forced march all died.

Hauled Ivory, decimating Elephant populations and later rubber to Boma and disassembled machine parts from Boma ( Euro-port of entry) up river on to the plateau.


Hochschild Quotes Primo Levy to the effect that:

“Monsters exist, but they are too few in number to be truly dangerous. More dangerous are…the functionaries ready to believe and to act without asking questions.”


 It is the functionaries who carry out their instructions who may be worse than monsters.


Four factors that make terror possible & functionaries more dangerous than monsters:


“To Europeans, Africans were inferior beings: lazy, uncivilized, little better than animals.”



Sanction by the state, monarchy and the church


Distance – “distancing oneself”

“In such a regime, one thing that often helps functionaries ‘become used to it’ is a slight, symbolic distance –irrelevant to the victim – between and official in charge and the physical act of terror itself.”



“Finally, when terror is the unquestioned order of the day, wielding it efficiently is regarded as a manly virtue, the way soldiers value calmness in battle.”


Hence the tolerance for terror exceeds the threshold of human decency by an interaction of factors:

1.       Race • dehumanizing those you are set against

2.       Authority • people smarter, better and more powerful than me say it is so

3.       Distance • having others do the terrorizing, murders, or beatings

4.       Efficiency • getting used to horror by routine steps to improve performance



“But brave De Le Court sprang into the breach….

He immobilized the black demons…. Sinister black heads seemed to emerge from every corner, grinding their white teeth….He fell…the supreme moment of death had come….Smiling disdainful, sublime…he looked for the last time upon the screaming horde of black demons….

Thus Charles De Le Court died in the fullness of youth in the faces of the enemy.” (1897 mutiny in the Congo as told to young Belgian boys)”


“What mattered was keeping the ivory flowing back to Belgium.”


“the Congo offered a chance for a great rise in status.”




“before 1895 fully one third of white Congo state agents died there.”


Leopold had a monopoly on trade into and from the Congo, maintained an Army to suppress rebellions and insubordination called “Public Force” whose patrol units (seven year enlistments) were referred to as “reconnaissances pacifiques” and he claimed all unoccupied land in addition to the crops of occupied lands to feed the Army.


From (1893) 180 to 345 military bases in 1908.

By 1896, visitors, missionaries, and functionaries are beginning to report to the world about the abuses of Europeans in the Congo.


August 1890, Joseph Conrad, went upstream on the Congo as a pilot on a riverboat and his experiences end up in “The Heart of Darkness.”


He fell ill, spent six months in the Congo and returned to Europe


                 “An empty stream a great silence, and impenetrable forest. The air was warm,

                 thick, heavy, sluggish. There was no joy in the brilliance of sunshine….You

                 lost your way on that river…till you thought yourself bewitched and cut off

                 forever from everything you had known.”

 Heart of Darkness


“What is notable is how precise and detailed a description it [H of D] is of ‘the actual facts of the case’; King Leopold’s Congo in 1890, just as the exploitation of the territory was getting under way in earnest.”


railway workers described as starving


“the mysterious body of a middle-aged Negro, with a bullet hole in his forehead.”

This is simply the record of what Conrad saw on his walk around the rapids to Stanley Pool.”


Conrad began writing about his earlier experiences in the end of 1898-1899 after a mutiny at the Stanley falls outpost (1895) and after a publishing of an account of skulls decorating Léon Rom’s garden (Rom had once been station chief at Kinshasa on Aug. 2, 1890 when Conrad accompanied an ivory fetching expedition!)


“Heart of Darkness is one of the most scathing indictments of imperialism in all literature, but its author curiously, thought himself an ardent imperialist where England was concerned.”


“The horror! The horror!” (Kurtz dying phrase)


Mark Twain said

“the white man’s notion that he is less savage than the other savages.”



“However laden with Victorian racism [my aside: and English nationalism], Heart of Darkness remains the greatest portrait in fiction of Europeans in the scramble for Africa.”


Kurtz “an emissary of science…and progress.”

“Exterminate all the brutes!”


LŹon Rom, in 1899 wrote Le NŹgre du Congo, The Negroes of the Congo of Africans he said they are:

“The product of a mindless state, its feelings are coarse, its passions rough, its instincts brutish.”


“The black man has no idea of time, and questioned on that subject…,he generally responds with something stupid.”


There are several other tantalizing parallels between LŹon Rom and Mr. Kurtz. (both painters, head collectors, would-be scientists, and writers). Kurtz succeeds in ‘getting himself adored’ by the Africans of the Inner Station….”


From an 1895 diary of a Force Publique lieutenant there is a description of his fellow officer:

“He makes his agents starve while he gives lots of food to the black women of his harem….Theis man wants to play the role of a second Rom.”


“Whatever the case, the moral landscape of Heart of Darkness and the shadowy figure at its center are the creations not just of a novelist but an open-eye observer who caught the spirit of a time and a place with piercing accuracy.”


Henry M Stanley was married in Westminster Abbey, to painter Dorothy Tennant,12 July 1890, with a case of gastritis bad enough to lay on a couch in a darkened room during the wedding’s reception.


William Sheppard       Presbyterian minister (Afro American) from Virginia spent a decade in the Kuba region of the Congo up the Kasai River noting the customs and artistic productions of the peoples before and after the rubber exploitation of the region that led to systematized mutilation, death and slaughter of nearly three to five million inhabitants of the entire Congo.


Rubber extraction and the native resistance to Belgian demands led to a gruesome discovery – the smoking for curing of “81 in all” right hands!


“In 1899 a reluctant Sheppard was ordered by his superiors to travel into the bush…to investigate the source of the fighting.”


“Sheppard was not the first foreign witness to see severed hands in the Congo, nor would he be the last. But the articles he wrote for missionary magazines about his grisly find were reprinted and quoted widely, both in Europe and the United States, and it is partly due to him that people overseas began to associate the Congo with severed hands.”


Edmund Morel, a shipping clerk in Antwerp discovers:

  1. A huge discrepancy in what is said and what is shipped as far as arms to the Congo
  2. Unaccounted for amounts of ivory and rubber far in excess of what the lading charges and invoices claim to be when compared to what sits on the docks (Someone is skimming off the top!)
  3. a nearly five to one (5:1) ratio with respect to the wealth that is exported from the Congo as opposed to the value of the imports of goods going to the Congo that could clearly not account for how the labor was being remunerated in the Colony. It must be forced labor – institutionalized slavery!


“At the time E. D. Morel made his discoveries, most people in Europe and the US knew surprisingly little about Leopold’s apparatus of exploitation. Few Europeans came home from the Congo…”


26 journalists covered the opening of the railway in 1898 first hand and none mentioned any of the “troubles.”


Morel was an official for Elder Dempster, (a Liverpool based) the corporate trade monopoly, of the dependency.


Having confronted his boss and the president of the steamship line, EDM was relegated to being ignored, then offered raises, and eventually bribed to say nothing.

“In 1901 he quit his job and took up his pen full-time, filled with determination ‘to do my best to expose and destroy what I knew to be legalized infamy…unimaginable barbarities…responsible for a vast destruction of human life’.”


“He was twenty-eight years old.”


“John Holt, a Liverpool businessman” was his patron and mentor or sorts


“The origin of the fiery passion for justice that fueled Morel is less apparent.”


“His prodigious capacity for indignation seems to be something he was born with, as some people are born with great musical talent.”


“the greatest British investigative journalist of his time.”


His hobby was collecting species of moths


“Morel’s writing combined controlled fury with meticulous accuracy.”


“The missionaries provided some of the most horrifying accounts Morel published.”

Torture, starvation and hands being severed


“Morel also exposed the web of deceptions, large and small continually spun by Leopold and his allies.”


“the Budja tribe, he writes, ‘became mere slavbes to the company, for rubber making occupied all their time, the victim having to search far and wide for the giant vines from which the sap is extracted’.”

Edgar Canisius, American trader, 34 years old, 1900


“A party of men had been detailed with torches to fire every hut [in rebellious villages]….As we progressed, a line of smoke hung over the jungle for many miles, announcing to the natives far and wide that civilization was dawning.”


“we had undergone six weeks of painful marching and had killed over nine hundred natives, men, women and children.”


all for 20 tons of rubber (Ibid.)

by 1903 Parliament began to take up the “Congo question” Morel lobbied, Leopold was reviled in Parliament for reneging on promises, especially on ffree trade


“Leopold’s rule had been thoroughly exposed for what it was, but it remained in place.”


May 1903, Parliament passed the “Congo Resolution.” HM Consul Roger Casement was ordered in the Congo to “go upriver”


“Figure and face…he seemed to me one of the finest looking creatures I had ever seen; and his countenance had charm and distinction and a high chivalry. Knight errant he was.”

Stephen Gwynn wrote of the Irishman, Sir Roger Casement, ships purser turned British Counsel in the Congo 1883-1903.


Roger Casement worked for Sanford, surveyor for the railway, accompanied Stanley’s second expedition.


“Casement saw much more brutality on the part of other white men in Africa.”


Conrad noted meeting Casement in 1890, when they shared a room for some ten days


Casement never shared “was a homosexual. In a poem that could never be published …he wrote:

“I sought by love alone to go

Where God had writ an awful no


 I only know I cannot die

And love this love God made, not I.”


General Sir Hector MacDonald, decorated British serviceman, accused of homosexuality, facing court martial committed suicide in his Paris hotel room.

[sentenced for sedition (Irish Repub.), sent to Pentonville Prison and executed in 1916,

Casement kept diary of all his male encounters!


“like his friend Casement, E.D. Morel had also been transformed by the long struggle over the Congo. In the final decade of his life he fought his bravest, loneliest battle of all.”

XV “A Reckoning

“As E.D. Morel, Roger Casement, and their allies caught Europe’s attention with reports of the holocaust in central Africa, newspapers and magazines ran pictures of burned villages and mutilated bodies, and missionary witnesses spoke of the depopulation of entire districts.”


“The rubber boom, cause of the worst bloodletting in the Congo, began under Leopold’s rule in the mid-1890s, but it continued several years after the end of his one-man regime. (1906?)


“In the closing years of the Congo reform movement, Morel saw how much his cause was being hindered by the Entente Cordiale between Paris and London, studded with secret clauses, in which the two countries subordinated everything to preparations for a coming European war.”


“Morel was among the handful of people on either side in Europe who said openly that the war was madness.” (he was sent to Pentonville Prison in 1917 for pacifism, p.282-5.)


“although the killing in the Congo was of genocidal proportions, it was not strictly speaking….Leopold’s men were looking for labor.”

“millions of people died.”


“In population losses on this scale, the toll is usually a composite of figures from one or more closely connected sources:

(1)   murder;

(2)   starvation…;

(3)   disease; and

(4)   a plummeting birth rate.”


Covered in details between

pp. 226-232

“Part of the population loss in the Congo resulted, then, when families, terrorized and torn apart by the rubber companies, simply stopped having children.”


“Daniel Vangroenweghe, a Belgian anthropologist who worked in a former rubber area in the 1970s, found persuasive evidence that large numbers of men had been worked to death as rubber slaves or killed in punitive raids – and he discovered the evidence in the regime’s own statistics.”


“Interestingly, some estimates of population loss in the Congo made by those who saw it firsthand agreed  with some of those made by more scientific methods today.”


“An official Belgian government Commission in 1919 estimated that from the time Stanley began laying the foundation of Leopold’s state, the population of the territory ‘had been reduced by half’.”


1920 census first ever conducted in the region.

“In 1924 the population was reckoned at ten million, a figure confirmed by later counts.”

“…that during the Leopold period and its immediate aftermath the population of the territory dropped by approximately ten million people.”


“Burned villages, starved hostages, terrified refugees dying in swamps, orders for “extermination” – even in crass, purely monetary terms, aren’t these inefficient means of doing business?

“…but doesn’t it destroy the labor force? Indeed it does.”


“in the Congo, as in Russia, mass murder had a momentum of its own.”


“Stanley lacked something else useful in Parliament: a sense of humor. He soon resigned.”


“IT IS IN THE RAW, unedited testimony given to the Commission of Inquiry that King Leopold II’s rule is at last caught naked. There could be no excuse….”



1913 was the final meeting of the Congo Reform Association

p. 277.

It is estimated Leopold made $1.2 Billion from his looting of the Congo.

Story-line: justice deferred

The qualities of the book’s tale:

Real actions told around heros & villains; a focal event building to a climax of events {Parliament} - leading to a resolution [investigations] & dénouement [transfer to Belgium].


Heros & Villians with Impact on the familiar

                                   Joseph Conrad‘s         Heart of Darkness

                                   Mark Twain     

                                   Sir Arthur Conan Doyle            

                                   Lord Salisbury                                 

                                   William Wilberforce’s Grandson

                                   Baptist & Presbyterian Missionaries

                                   Two African-American writers

                                   Cadbury (candy) Co. (Quakers)

                                   William Randolph Hearst

Contest between selfless good (moral outrage) & self-serving greed that led to abuse.



Tragic  Williams




                 Kawolsky (American Lawyer hired by Leopold who turned sides!)


King Leopold II of Belgium (earned $1.1 billion in today’s terms) tragic family

                 His sister married Maximillian of Austria and went mad after 1863.

                 Eldest daughter married Crown Prince Rudolf (Mayerling fame).

Henry Morton Stanley, (AKA John Rowlands), the Anglo-American chameleon

General” Henry Shelton Sanford


Congo Conquest & Controversy 1880-1913


Focal event: Parliamentary legislation, 1903, Foreign office report, Belgian Commission


A tragedy of holocaust proportions with 10 million black people dead from 1880-1914.


Thiis was the first international human rights campaign of the 20th century.


Largest civil rights movement between Abolition Movement & Suffrage, or Apartheid.


The debacle and loss of human life in the Belgian Congo was largely eclipsed by carnage & horror of WWI and thereafter forgotten.


A story of imperialism, personal ambition, fear, conquest, immorality and brutalizing forces that collided in the African tropics where cultures clashed in a search to amass personal fortunes from natives to extract equatorial sources of ivory and then rubber.


African wealth was stolen by ambitious and allegedly superior, civilized Europeans.

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