After Morel succeeded in popularizing the “Congo Question,” the British Foreign Office ordered representatives to travel to the Congo to make their own reports. One representative was an Irishman named Roger Casement, who had first traveled to the Congo in 1883, and had then worked there for a number of years running a supply base. According to his superiors, Casement had a reputation for being “too kind” to the Congolese. In 1892, he went to work for the British in Nigeria; there, he witnessed human rights abuses, and sent a letter to Britain’s Aborigines Protection Society. Then, in 1900, he was asked to establish a British consulate in the Congo. Before traveling to the Congo again, Casement dined with King Leopold, who asked Casement to tell him if he heard of any human rights abuses. Casement reported not being charmed by Leopold.
Roger Casement was, along with Edmund Dene Morel, one of the key voices in the Congo reform movement. Like many of the key opponents of the Belgian occupation of the Congo, Roger had experienced discrimination throughout his life—like many Irishman working in England at the time, he was seen as a second-class citizen, and not a “real” Englishman. Casement, unlike many of the reformers of the era, reports disliking Leopold from the very beginning. Furthermore, Casement fought for human rights causes in many different places, not just the Congo (later on, Hochschild will talk about how Casement supported Irish independence on the eve of the First World War).
Casement was frustrated during his time at the British consulate in the Congo. He had ambitions to be a poet, but published almost no verse. He was also gay at a time when homosexuality was considered “gross indecency.” Casement seems to have been aware that he would be open to blackmail for his sexual behavior; despite this, he kept a detailed diary of his homosexual experiences. He continued to send frequent reports from the Congo, describing the atrocities he’d witnessed, and in 1903, he was glad to receive an assignment to explore the rubber-producing areas of the territory.
Casement kept diligent records of many of his experiences—both his sexual encounters with other men, and his observations about the cruelty of the Belgian soldiers in the Congo.
In the rubber-producing areas of the Congo, Casement continued to send vivid reports of the horrors he’d witnessed. His reports reached the British government, as well as the Italian consulate in the Congo. At the end of 1903, he returned to England, where he gave many interviews describing the Congo. It was there that he first met Morel. Together, Casement and Morel formed the Congo Reform Association (CRA). By early 1904, the CRA had held meetings with more than a thousand attendees.
Casement saw the worst parts of the Congo: the rubber production areas. There, he witnessed thousands of slaves being tortured and beaten for minor infractions, and he saw how hard the Congolese slaves had to work every day. Like Morel, Casement had a talent for publicity; by 1903, he was traveling around England, alerting Englishmen to the atrocities he’d seen.
Morel and Casement were sincere people who genuinely believed in the human rights of the Congolese. It’s important to keep in mind, however, that they were “white men trying to stop other white men from brutalizing Africans.” There were hundreds of thousands of unremembered Africans who fought the Force Publique and died.
Though Morel and Casement were important figures, Hochschild doesn’t want to give the impression that they were alone in their struggle against Belgian tyranny. We shouldn’t forget the thousands of Congolese people who heroically fought for their own freedom from Belgium. In general, it’s important to remember that Africans weren’t passive during the Congo reform movement—they fought for their own liberation, rather than depending on Morel and Casement to liberate them.