The history of Congo's exploitation begins with the explorer Stanley. He, on behalf of Leopold, exchanged bales of cloth with the natives for signatures on land rights documents they did not understand. Yet Stanley and Leopold managed to hide their exploitation and the disturbingly sadistic methods they used to enforce slave labour behind a stage-managed smokescreen of apparent innocence. As Adam Hochschild, author of the novel 'King Leopold's Ghost' points out, "Leopold was a master of spin control".
What his spin was hiding was unspeakable. "The right hands, I counted 81 in all", William Henry Sheppard reported, after seeing the hands of Africans that had been severed for not meeting rubber quotas. This government-sanctioned violence was all carried out with one aim, to make profit. Joseph Conrad described what he saw in the Congo as, "the vilest scramble for loot that ever disfigured the history of human conscience".
In 1960 the Congo was given its independence and the rise of a young and principled politician, Patrice Lumumba, brought some hope for a better future. But hope was not to last long. The combined machinations of the Americans, the Belgians and the United Nations resulted in Lumumba's capture and death. Joseph Mobutu, the man who would remain in power for the next 38 years, carried out the coup. During his rule he maintained close links with the Western superpowers. They continued to benefit from the Congo's natural resources as their stooge Mobutu was rewarded with vast wealth.
Mobutu was finally deposed but King Leopold's ghost continued to ravage the rich Congo lands as various foreign-sponsored, "ragtag armies marauded the countryside". The conflict officially ended in 2003, but the years of turmoil, war and dreadful atrocities had taken its toll. This vivid documentary offers an engrossing insight into the grim colonial legacy which still haunts the Congo today.