King Leopold’s Ghost, by Adam Hochschild, is the story of Belgian involvement in the Congo under the auspices of King Leopold II. More than 600,000 copies of the book have been printed.
Belgian involvement in the Congo started out with Henry Morton Stanley’s backing and with good intentions – or at least there were claims that the intentions were good. At the Berlin Conference 1884-85 Chancellor Bismark expressed his best wishes “…for the realization of the noble aspirations of its illustrious creator.”
It turned into one of the worst examples of colonial exploitation, with production of rubber based upon hostage taking and forced labour, and the result was a decrease in population of possibly ten million. What happened became the inspiration for Joseph Conrad‘s Heart of Darkness.
I had not realised before reading this book that Wilfred Thesiger had been British vice consul to the Congo, and had reported back to London about the starvation and brutality that he found.