Tuesday, 30 March 2010

Statue of Henry Morton Stanley

Henry Morton Stanley, the British-born American explorer and journalist is famous for rescuing the Scottish missionary David Livingstone, and his part in the European colonisation of Africa. However, despite his considerable achievements as an explorer, Stanley's reputation has been severely tarnished by his association with the creation of the Congo Free State. This was a private colony set up by King Leopold II of Belgium in the Congo basin in the 1880s. For nearly 25 years the country was looted for its natural resources and became notorious for the way the locals were killed or mutilated in a brutal system of slave labour. Meanwhile, Leopold amassed a huge personal fortune.

For years a statue of Stanley looked out over Kinshasa, capital of the Democratic Republic of Congo, until it was pulled down in 1971. Now, according to the Independent, the British have launched a tender to restore the memorial. Tim Jeal, author of Stanley: The Impossible Life of Africa's Greatest Explorer, has responded to the article in which he claims the explorer is "portrayed as a monster."

In his book, Jeal attempted to rehabilitate Stanley's reputation. This he did, in part, using previously undisclosed archival material. For example, he writes that as a journalist, Stanley often exaggerated his fights with Africans to make his copy more exciting. In a note from July 1877 he claimed to have "fought 32 battles" and "destroyed 28 large towns" on the Congo, something that has often been used to prove his brutality. Jeal though, found nothing in the man's original diary to support this.

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