From British daily The Morning Star:
The man who murdered Congo
(Sunday 13 July 2008)
Lord Leverhulme’s Ghosts, by Jules Marchal
WORKING as volunteers in Leverhulme‘s beautiful terraced gardens at Rivington, one of the things that was constantly drummed into me and the other staff was what a great guy that this multimillionaire of Unilever fame had been.
Indeed, this was the image that Leverhulme cultivated during his lifetime. Widely seen as a liberal philanthropist, he espoused a variety of progressive causes and created model worker settlements such as Port Sunlight near Liverpool.
When the search for palm oil in the Congo began, he stressed his compassionate credentials and even went as far as to court the sympathies of socialists in Belgium, combining the usual colonialist rubbish about bringing the benefits of civilisation, Christianity and the dignity of labour with more down-to-earth promises to pay good wages and combat tropical disease.
The reality of his involvement in the Congo, however, turned out to be completely different and, in the drive to make a quick buck, nothing was allowed to stand in his way.
Collaborating with that well-known democrat King Leopold [II] of Belgium, he unleashed a wave of theft, resettlement, forced labour and sheer violence on an almost unimaginable scale.
The result was that Western business concerns, of which Leverhulme’s was one of the largest, managed to halve the population of Congo within just a couple of decades, killing millions in a way that has inevitably invoked comparison with the nazi Holocaust.
Having been a diplomat in the Belgian Congo and having spent some 20 years researching the history of forced labour in the region, the late Jules Marchal knew what he was talking about and Lord Leverhulme’s Ghosts is an exhaustively detailed account that should make Unilever hang its head in shame.
Not that this experience was unique, though. As Adam Hochschild notes in his superb introduction to the book, similar acts of butchery took place in, among others, German controlled Cameroon and Portuguese Angola.
The fact that over four million Congolese have met their deaths since 1997 as a result of local corrupt elites working hand in hand with resource-greedy multinationals also shows that the ghosts of Leverhulme have yet to be laid to rest.
The title of the book, Lord Leverhulme’s Ghosts, is a paraphrase of King Leopold’s Ghost, by Adam Hochschild, about the role of King Leopold II in the mass killings of Congolese people.
- To Save Congo, Let It Fall Apart (nytimes.com)
- Critical Intel: Conflict Minerals and the Game Industry: The Problem (escapistmagazine.com)
- Canada as Global Bully: The Congo Example (in Opinion) (thetyee.ca)
- Hamba Wanzola’s New Book Identifies Core of Congolese Atrocities (prweb.com)