King Leopold Ghost : Top Ten Quotes


1. “For Europeans, Africa remained the supplier of valuable raw materials—human bodies and elephant tusks. But otherwise they saw the continent as faceless, blank, empty, a place on the map waiting to be explored” (Prologue, p. 18).
Hochschild explains the colonial attitude towards Africa as a supplier of their needs. They did not see Africa as belonging to the Africans.
2. “In their [British] opinion, slavery had come to an end throughout most of the world for one reason only: British virtue” (Chpt. 1, p. 27).
One excuse for Europeans to colonize Africa was to bring civilization to the continent and to combat the Arab slavers who still sold slaves, long after slavery was outlawed in most of the world. The British led the anti-slavery fight in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. Leopold’s main opponents would be British, especially Edmund Morel.
3. “His drive for colonies, however, was shaped by a desire not only for money but for power” (Chpt. 2, p. 39).
Hochschild suggests that Leopold II resented being king in a constitutional monarchy where his powers were restricted, and that he enjoyed his absolute power over the Congo.
4. “All around him he saw the stirrings of a new age of colonialism; this was the era in which the future South African politician and diamond magnate Cecil Rhodes would say, ‘I would annex the planets if I could’” (Chpt. 2, p. 41).
Hochschild shows that Leopold was not alone in his belief that he had a right to invade Africa and carve a kingdom for himself. Rhodes was the Englishman who founded Rhodesia in South Africa and became wealthy through diamond mines. His arrogance and racism typified European belief in white supremacy.
5. “The thin-skinned Stanley was remarkably frank about his tendency to take any show of hostility as a deadly insult. It is almost as if vengeance were the force driving him across the continent” (Chpt. 3, p. 49).
The explorer, Henry Morton Stanley, was responsible for opening up the Congo with his expeditions, but he was violent and unchecked in his methods of killing any individual or African tribe that got in his way. He left a trail of death and destruction every time he traveled through the Congo, making him feared among the natives, but a hero at home in England.
6. “‘This river is and will be the grand highway of commerce to West Central Africa,’” (Chpt. 3, p. 55).
These words were written by Henry Morton Stanley about the Congo River, the largest African river next to the Nile, which Stanley’s pioneering efforts made into a highway for steamships to carry cargo going back to Europe.
7. “Like many indigenous peoples, inhabitants of the Congo basin had learned to live in balance with their environment” (Chpt. 4, p. 73).
Today with environmental awareness, we see a virtue of the African people that the Europeans could not appreciate in Leopold’s day. The harmony of the Africans with nature contrasts to the blatant destruction and exploitation of nature by the industrial nations.
8. “‘The Government of the United States announces its sympathy with and approval of the humane and benevolent purposes of the International Association of the Congo’” (Chpt. 5, p. 81).
This statement by the American Secretary of State in 1884 made America the first country to approve of Leopold’s Congo Free State, disguised as a benevolent association for the benefit of the natives and for free trade.
9.  “Perhaps nowhere does Leopold’s breathtaking arrogance show so clearly as in the curious document where he blithely bequeaths one of his countries to the other” (Chpt. 6, p. 94).
In order to get a loan from the Belgian government for his African colony, Leopold, King of Belgium and ruler of the Congo, gave the Congo to Belgium in his will. This assumes he had some inherent right to the Congo when in actuality he stole it.
10. “‘Your Majesty’s Government is engaged in the slave-trade, wholesale and retail. It buys and sells and steals slaves’” (Chpt. 7, p. 111).
This accusation from African-American historian, George Washington Williams, who had witnessed the abuses, was sent to King Leopold in 1890 in an Open Letter, published around the world and kicking off the human rights campaign against Leopold.