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Posted December 1, 2008
In this fascinating book, introduced by Adam Hochschild, author of King Leopold¿s Ghost and Bury the Chains, Jules Marchal shows in detail the atrocities that colonialism brought to the Congo. The Congo was and is cursed with great natural riches - palm oil, rubber, copper, tin, gold, uranium, coltan, timber and diamonds.<BR/><BR/>Marchal was a Belgian diplomat who served in the Congo. He spent 20 years researching forced labour there, producing four volumes on the 19th century, when King Leopold of Belgium owned the Congo, and three volumes covering 1910 to 1945. This volume examines the role of William Lever, the soap magnate from Port Sunlight in Liverpool who later became Lord Leverhulme. His company, Lever Brothers (now part of Unilever), exploited the Congo¿s palm oil to make soap.<BR/><BR/>In the late 19th century, Belgium forced men to get the oil by taking the women hostage. This gross exploitation caused a 50% death rate - ten million Congolese people were killed. King Leopold destroyed much of the evidence, ordering the Congo State archives to be burned. <BR/><BR/>In the 20th century, the Belgian state still forcibly recruited Congolese workers including women and children as young as five, and used prison to reinforce compulsory labour contracts, renewed automatically. Lever helped to enforce this vile system. Marchal describes `the triangle of State, Catholic missions and companies¿. The practice of forced labour continued until independence in 1960. There was similar serfdom in Portugal¿s Angola, Germany¿s Cameroons and France¿s Equatorial Africa. <BR/><BR/>The exploiters made a show of philanthropy but in reality, as a director of the Compagnie du Kasai said, ¿You must remember that we are a commercial company not a philanthropic enterprise, and that our shareholders will not ask us if we have taken good care of the natives but what dividends we have earned them.¿ <BR/><BR/>Naturally, the Congolese people constantly rebelled against their oppressors. In the 1931 revolt, 550 were killed, and Belgian forces tortured to death many prisoners. Only one Belgian soldier was killed, since ¿we have got the Maxim gun and they have not.¿<BR/><BR/>Still today, the Congo¿s riches attract predators. Since 1997, four million Congolese have been killed in wars for resources, in which a US-British ally, the Rwandan state, has repeatedly attacked the Congo.
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