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Home arrow Political science arrow British Humanitarianism and the Congo Reform Movement, 1896-1913
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Questioning Motives, Methods, and Effectiveness

Many of the questions about the Congo reform movement become those that pertain to any humanitarian campaign. The present study addresses these topics thematically in a roughly chronological fashion, starting with those that primarily concern the movement’s beginning.

Chapter 2 addresses the movement’s motivations and origins, culminating in the creation of the CRA. Chapter 3 examines the CRA’s structures and practices, which could determine success or failure, as well as the impact of the evolving relationship of Morel and John Harris. Because so much of the documentary record comes from his correspondence, it is important not to blindly follow Morel’s lead, particularly in his understanding of his own actions, his choice of heroes and villains, and his conclusions about the motives or actions of others.

The CRA was also the sum of its adherents. Chapter 4 analyzes the demographics of the CRA’s leadership and donor base to draw conclusions about how this makeup enabled and constrained the movement. This chapter also examines the ways this highly masculine movement depended on women and how their roles fell into the shadows in historical accounts.

Chapter 5 reviews how the group’s essential alliances linked it to other humanitarian societies, missionary organizations, religious bodies, and chambers of commerce. The CRA’s web ofalliances was also transnational, with independent forces for reform in several countries working in cooperation the CRA, as covered in Chapter 6.

Because Leopold had portrayed his enterprise as a paragon, the primary battleground was the representation of the Congo Free State itself. Chapter 7 shows how the reformers contested Leopold’s rosy picture in the press, other printed matter, public meetings, and courtrooms.

The point of the battle of representation was to convince government leaders to acknowledge the Congo’s problems and to take responsibility for resolving them. The government’s evolving relationship to the reform question appears in Chapter 8, culminating in government control of the reform effort.

The crux of the matter is the question posed at the onset: was the victory of the Congo reform movement real or a delusion? Chapter 9 undertakes an examination of the determinants of success or failure and the role of causality in the outcome, synthesizing the work of Africanists with the mechanics of the reform movement. To the extent that the Congo reform campaign succeeded, what was effective in creating the possibility and reality of change?

To address these questions, this work combines archival research and analysis with the insights of a historiography from multiple disciplines from scholars on three continents. The particulars of the political, cultural, and material context were responsible for the Congo situation and the possibilities for confronting it, and the movement’s responses to those specific situations have resonance for the study of other humanitarian movements.

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