The book narrates the happenings of Congo in the 1890s during the reign of King Leopold II. He II was the ruler of the Congo Free State and during his time, more than half of the total population died because of the injustices caused by his government. The book provides a vivid account of what took place in the 23 years of Leopold’s reign. It informs the reader of the various crimes perpetuated by Leopold by referring to the African and European histories of the same period (Hochschild).
King Leopold II managed to put Congo under the colonial empire of Belgium through a process that was full of mischief and sleaze. Throughout the book, we see Leopold’s action depicting his thoughts of entitlement to the fate of the people, such that he treats them like his personal possessions, sometimes valueless.
Although Congo was a colony of Belgium, King Leopold II acted with impunity concerning the resources of the state. He forced many Africans, in Congo, to work as slaves as he amassed resources from the colony, for personal gains. These included minerals and rubber.
Other than vilifying the protagonist, the book also depicts Leopold as very smart. To cover his ill doings, he pretended to be the ally of one European power and used that as a defense against his accusers, who were other European countries. After sometime, he would change allies and play them against each other again. Back in the colony, Leopold used fear to put his subjects in line. For example, he allowed the cutting of hands, from people who disobeyed his rules, to serve as an example to the rest of his subjects.
Within the book, the reader learns of a few individuals, who held various interests against King Leopold II. There is Edmund Dere Morel who told the world about the wrong things, done by Leopold. A black journalist named George Washington Williams decided to write an open letter to the king to express his disagreement with the type of leadership and the crimes against humanity perpetuated by the king’s government.
Others like Casement did not confront Leopold directly but decided to inform his home country of the crimes, by sending numerous letters. While on one hand the resistance was informing the rest of the world of Leopold’s crimes, the king worked towards concealing his atrocities from everyone by exactly making the state records turn to ash. In his final remark of release, Leopold said that he was not intimidated with the act of handing over the colony; however, he clarified that none of his actions would get into history books.
To provide a vivid account of the atrocities of Leopold, the writer relies on other witnesses who published various materials, which give, details of most of the events portrayed in the book.
The author only gives a single version of the whole story, emphasizing on the depiction of the need for righteous actions by focusing on Leopold. The book starts with a commerce scene that, except for the manner of trade, would pass as an otherwise ethical business. Here, the reader learns of slave labor, which sets pace for the other atrocities exposed by Hochshchild (Hochschild 1-11).
Within the introduction, the author’s imagination creates the preliminary understanding of the colony and its dealings in the reader’s mind. It resonates with the actions and intentions of the few individuals like Morel who receive the illustration of being resistant to the rule of Leopold (Hochschild).
In part one, the author gives a contextual history of the relation between European countries and Africa. There are missionaries and explorers moving from northern parts of Africa into the hinterland and setting up colonies.
Here, the various traditions and organizations of Africans appear as observed by the various settlers from Europe mentioned in the book. Likewise, Africans also show their opposite observations of Europeans. At this stage, it appears that Africa is learning the ways of the new settlers, while the settlers figure out their newly found land and its people (Hochschild 1-56).
In subsequent chapters of the book, the author gives the first person’s narration of events using protagonists and combines their account with reviews from additional sources such as published works of other authors. Hochschild concentrates more on showing how eventually, the efforts of those opposing Leopold succeed (Hochschild 211-240).
The reader receives a thorough account of Morel, his business and his way of persuading various people and institutions concerned with the affairs of Congo. Thus although the book is about Leopold, readers learn his story through the works of protestors to his rule who worked tirelessly in ensuring that information left the Congo to find ears across the world, especially Europe. The information traveled in various literary forms such as letters, poems, stories, witness account, sermons and conversations.
Finally, Hochschild uses external references, such as the Royal Museum of Central Africa, to show evidence of the various forms of European influences that took place in Congo during the period of study. He shows the irony of Europeans fighting off the slavery of other nations while encouraging slaves in Central Africa (Hochschild 292–293). The book succeeds is giving the reader a correct picture of Congo during the rule of Kind Leopold II.
Hochschild, Adam. King Leopold’s Ghost: A Story of Greed, Terror, and Heroism in Colonial Africa. Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin, 1998.