December 10, 2007


Caption: King Leopold II of Belgium, who claimed the Congo as his personal property, courtesy of Wikipedia.

A recent Business Week cover story asks the question, "Can Greed Save Africa?"

Far be it from me to deny that investments and enterprise have a role in development, but the snarky response that occurred to me was, didn't they try that before?

I'm thinking about the horrible atrocities perpetuated upon Africans by more economically developed countries over several centuries, and particularly about the Belgian plundering of the Congo in the 19th and 20th centuries. This vast area was the personal property of King Leopold II (1835-1909).

As the BBC put it awhile back,

While the Great Powers competed for territory elsewhere, the king of one of Europe's smallest countries carved his own private colony out of 100km2 of Central African rainforest.

He claimed he was doing it to protect the "natives" from Arab slavers, and to open the heart of Africa to Christian missionaries, and Western capitalists.

The result was a massive forced labor system for the extraction of things like ivory and rubber. The BBC estimates the death toll at 10 million, although some estimates are higher. Torture and mutilation were common. It was a human, epidemiological, and ecological disaster.

The atrocities committed there were so over the top that they were condemned by other imperialist powers, much as was the case with Spanish cruelties in the heyday of its empire centuries before.

One missionary was so horrified that he wrote the following to Leopold's agent:

I have just returned from a journey inland to the village of Insongo Mboyo. The abject misery and utter abandon is positively indescribable. I was so moved, Your Excellency, by the people's stories that I took the liberty of promising them that in future you will only kill them for crimes they commit.

The murder and mutilation in there revved up the ire of Mark Twain, who wrote the scathing King Leopold's Soliloquy in 1905.

This was also the setting for Joseph Conrad's short novel, Heart of Darkness, about which more tomorrow.

HEALTH CARE. Here's a good item from a medical journal about universal health care.

MEGAN WILLIAMS UPDATE. It looks like out of state groups plan another event related to this case. The Logan County prosecutor has expressed concerns about the impact of such events in the case against those police say kidnapped and abused the young African-American Woman.

WORKER FREEDOM BILL. If we're ever going to try to expand the ranks of the middle class in this country, restoring the right to organize is an obvious step. Here's an op-ed by one of El Cabrero's buddies, WV AFLCIO secretary-treasurer Larry Matheney about a bill that will be introduced in the 2008 legislative session. Dubbed the Worker Freedom Bill, it would prohibit employers from requiring workers to attend mandatory meetings in which their bosses rant on politics, religion, or the evils of a free labor movement.

CHAMBER OF YOU-FILL-IN-THE-BLANK-CAUSE-MINE'S-UNPRINTABLE. Here's a link from Wired Science about the US Chamber of Commerce's commercial about the evils of doing something about global warming. Tell us another story!


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