Morel’s newly-created CRA proved highly influential. He worked long hours writing articles for his newspaper and meeting with influential politicians and missionaries. Morel was a passionate advocate for the Congolese, but he wasn’t perfect. Like so many Europeans of the era, he believed that African men were dangerous to white women; in general, he seems to have thought of Africans as “noble savages.” And while Morel was outraged with King Leopold’s human rights abuses, he was silent, throughout his life, on his own country’s moral crimes: most strikingly, the use of forced labor in British colonies. Like many of Britain’s greatest 19th century humanitarians, Morel believed in protecting human rights, but he also believed in the greatness and morality of the British Empire. He criticized Leopold’s policies in the Congo, but seems not to have seen any moral problem with the principle of imperialism itself.
Hochschild doesn’t hide the truth about Edmund Morel; in spite of his sincere commitment to Congolese rights, he had some pretty offensive beliefs about African people, and about Western imperialism in general. It’s important to recognize the truth, “warts and all,” about Morel. At the same time, Hochschild also shows that Morel evolved on many human rights issues—later in his life, for example, he seems to have abandoned some of his former, racist beliefs. Furthermore, Morel transcended many of his prejudices about European imperialism, and went on to be one of the first Europeans to advocate for Africans’ rights to land ownership.
In spite of the limitations of his political and racial views, Morel campaigned vigorously against King Leopold’s policies in the Congo. He enlisted businessmen in his cause, convincing them that Leopold’s monopolistic, tariff-heavy system was harmful to British industry. He also spoke with many Christian luminaries of the era, convincing them that the Africans should be treated well and taught the principles of Christianity. Lastly, Morel mobilized key journalists at major British newspapers, causing news of the atrocities in the Congo to spread at an exponential rate. Missionaries held public rallies in which they denounced Leopold and his territory; some audience members were so moved that they immediately offered their jewels to support the humanitarian cause.
Morel was more than just a great human rights activist; he was a great politician. Much like Leopold, he knew how to get people to do what he wanted by convincing them that their interests coincided with his own. For example, Morel seems not to have been particularly Christian, but he was able to convince Christian activists to support his cause by citing Christian rhetoric. Furthermore, Morel was a talented fund-raiser; he was able to speak emotionally and movingly, persuading audience members to part with their possessions and donate to the Congo reform movement.
While Morel spread information about Leopold throughout Britain, Leopold began to monitor the situation in the Congo more carefully. He instructed his soldiers and governors to keep tabs on potential informants. One of these informants was a man named Hezekiah Andrew Shanu, a Nigerian man who had lived in Belgium and worked as a schoolteacher before coming to the Congo to work as an organizer. While Shanu began as a loyal ally to the Force Publique, he eventually had a change of heart and began to supply Morel with information about human rights abuses, endangering his own life in the process. Tragically, another man in the Congo (whom Morel believed to be an ally) betrayed Morel and exposed Shanu as Morel’s collaborator. Furious, the Force Publique prevented Shanu from leaving the country and began harassing him constantly. In 1905, Shanu committed suicide.
Hochschild recognizes that Morel was only able to speak out against Leopold II because he had excellent sources, many of whom risked their lives and safety to give Morel information. One of these sources was Shanu, who eventually killed himself, in part because he’d been exposed as Morel’s ally. In all, Shanu’s story is an important reminder that human rights activism doesn’t emanate from the achievements of a couple “great men”; it requires many thousands of unsung heroes working together, and it often demands huge risks.
Around the same time that Morel was attacking Leopold in the press, a scandal came to light: Leopold, aged 65, had been having an affair with a 16-year-old girl. The combination of the news of the scandal and the news of Belgium’s human rights abuses destroyed Leopold’s reputation as a great man. Nevertheless, Leopold continued pursuing his affair with the young woman; after his wife died, he began inviting her to stay with him in his palaces. Leopold’s popularity plummeted still further when Belgium entered a period of economic depression. Though Leopold had always claimed to live modestly, his propensity for building huge palaces and monuments now infuriated his people. Leopold was incensed by his new unpopularity in Europe.
One of the most decisive setbacks for Leopold had nothing to do with the Congo; news got out that Leopold had a much younger mistress. In this way, Leopold’s greatest enemy arguably wasn’t Morel; it was Leopold himself. It’s also important to recognize that Leopold, despite being a monarch, was living in a democratic nation, in which the people had some government representation. As a result, the people used Parliament as a weapon for attacking Leopold when the economy took a turn for the worse.