Between 1870 and 1900, the Congo River basin became “one of the most brutally exploited places on earth.” Traders in slaves and natural resources; explorers; and builders of would-be empires entered it from the west, east, and north. They were Arab, English, Belgian, French, and even occasionally American. What they entered into was an ecosystem and culture dominated by the Congo River and its navigation, a complex world that was soon irreparably destroyed. Robert Harms in his new book Land of Tears: The Exploration and Exploitation of Equatorial Africa does not focus simply on the interlopers into the Congo, or what happened after they entered, but what existed before their arrival. Nor does he allow villains to be easily chosen; it is soon clear that even those with the best of intentions in the Congo ended up assisting in villainy.
Robert Harms is the Henry J. Heinz Professor of History and African Studes at Yale University. Professor Harms has written on both African history, and on the slave trade from and within Africa.