Sunday, April 24, 2011

King Leopold's Ghost

Just finished reading King Leopold's Ghost. It took me around 3 months to read it. I don't get enough time to read any more. Not sure if I am too busy or just lazy. Watched a documentary based on the book around a year ago so when I was at Nakumatt looking for something to read and ran into it I was happy to get it.

The book describes the brazen exploitation of a country by an individual. There is nothing new in the story around the exploitation and cruel treatment of the African by the European. What I found interesting and new is how the level of detail the book goes into describing the process through which British, German and American people went into decrying the atrocities committed by Leopold in DRC. Severally, the writer laments the lack of African voices telling their own story. How the decades of tyrany and exploitation affected them, their thoughts and views on the evils done to them. Its also interesting how Europeans justified their exploitation of Africa by cloaking it as a mission to end slave trade (which of course they started and only ended when the dependence on human labour reduced during the industrial revolution), a noble effort to spread christianity lest islam take over the continent and civilise natives.

Most men are most comfortable doing what they believe is right. So even the most evil and unjust actions can be justified. No one believes they are doing the wrong thing. The human mind can convince itself of anything including how doing wrong is actually right. A conman will justify his actions by blaming the greed and stupidity of his victim. A rapist will blame his victims provocative dressing. The Europeans justified use of force labour by claiming African are inherently lazy and like little children with limited intellect will only work when they are forced. Leopold used forced labour to build his colony. Apparently, soldiers would raid villages and hold women and children hostage until the men delivered their quota of rubber. A white man could kill a black for sport. Soldiers were required to severe the right hand of their victims to provide evidence of their kills.

The British were appalled by the extremes and barbarism of Leopolds approach to running a colony. They adopted a more subtle approach. Instead of forced labour they forcefully seized land and levied taxes which forced people to take employment for low wages. The British government took great exception to the brutality of Leopold's regime and yet a few decades later they carried out similar atrocities in Kenya when the country was in a state of emergency. I read the British Gulag a few years back. Its appaling that the British government has never apologised for its actions during the time. Some of the people who committed these crimes are still alive possibly living around here. The media has been reporting the story of former Mau Mau fighters who are suing the British govt. According to the press the British govt does not deny the crimes occurred they argue that liability for such crimes passed to the Kenya Government after independence. That argument may have a bearing in law but it is totally unreasonable.

Compared to North America, South America and Australia, Africa got off easy. Africa is still inhabited by its indigenous peoples. The European completely obliterated the indeginous populations of these other continents. Injustices committed 50 to 100 years ago remain unresolved. We still have individuals and corporations e.g. Kakuzi that own huge tracks of land across the country that they were given by the Crown of England. They continue to exploit these resources to date under the protection of the law. After independence the the likes of Kenyatta went ahead and allocated themselves huge tracks of land. As a result its not in government's interest to demand justice or reparations from the British since if you demand that white folk return land they seized forcefully you open a can of worms that would put Kenyatta, Kibaki, Moi and other land owners at risk.

I now need to go to Nakumatt and find something else to read.


Blogger 0.5 said...


Tuesday, April 26, 2011 1:56:00 PM  
Blogger Dede said...

Didnt know you read that much. Aah, you stopped frequenting the club so you have lots of time to kill. Crazy stuff those early crusaders did to this part of the world. But at times i think we give the same if not worse to our own 'kindred'. What kind of animal locks in a famo and sets the house on fire and yet justify it as revenge for that other grisly act where a church with women and kids was torched. Guys thug cash for medicine, seed, relief food, IDPs, dams and the direct consequence of that is that people will definitely DIE. While i'd not belittle what our ancestors suffered i'd wish we could deal with our own 'explorers and colonialists'. That piece you have written is too serious, wouldn't it have been better if you had gone to the club and stayed home with a hangover?

Thursday, April 28, 2011 1:34:00 PM  

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