Today I’d like to introduce everyone to one of my new favorite people in history. His name is Edmund Morel.
Morel shouldn’t be a historical figure at all. He was a clerk in a shipping company named Elder Dempster in Britain that was involved in the trade with the Belgian Congo; hardly what traditional heroes are made of.
By 1901, he’d realized something. The ships coming back from the Congo Free State contained a lot of two things: ivory and rubber. The ships leaving Europe to go to the Congo also contained a lot of two things: soldiers and weapons.
In short, he realized that the Congo “trade” wasn’t trade at all: it was the military destruction and pillage of Central Africa’s people and natural resources. He dedicated his life to exposing the horrors of Belgium’s King Leopold’s rule there.
He could have told himself it wasn’t his job to worry about this, but instead he decided to raise hell. His company offered him a promotion to stop; he wouldn’t. Then it bribed him with a large salary in exchange for working one hour per day; even though Morel had several children and a sick mother to take care of, he refused the bribe.
Before his career was over, he published, wrote for, and edited his own weekly publication, the “West African Mail,” wrote five books, hundreds of newspaper articles in English and French for papers in Britain, France, and Belgium, wrote hundreds more letters to the editor to papers in those countries, and published several dozen pamphlets.
His works were not simply propaganda, either. Being a former clerk, he was also meticulously accurate with figures–to this day, many researchers still cite his work with confidence.
In the end, he won his crusade, to some extent. Leopold died in 1908 and control of the Congo passed to the Belgian state. It would be a lie to say that conditions in the Belgian Congo got noticeably better, but thanks to Morel’s work, the world could no longer claim ignorance of what happened there–only indifference to the fate of black Africans.
Morel eventually went to prison for opposing World War 1, but afterward gained election to the House of Commons in 1922, defeating Winston Churchill for the seat, and received a nomination for the Nobel Peace Prize. He died in 1924.Recommended1 recommendationPublished in