Author: James M. Hubbard

Title: "Stanley's Africa Then and Now"

Journal: Atlantic Monthly

Date: March 1910

Places: Congo River; Sudan; Uganda


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Stanley's Africa Then and Now

By James M. Hubbard

The tenth of November, 1871, is the most notable day in the history of Equatorial Africa. For on that day took place the meeting between two men, Livingstone and Stanley, on which depended the future of that vast region: whether it should remain, as it ever had been, "Darkest Africa," or whether the light of civilization should dawn upon its night. To have seen the two, one would never have dreamed that the fate of millions hung upon their meeting. Livingstone was a prematurely old man, so nearly worn out by the hardships of a most strenuous life that in a few months his faithful followers would find" the great master," as they called him, kneeling at the side of his bed, dead. Stanley was a young man of thirty, whose sole aim in the meeting was to get material for the newspapers of which he was the correspondent. But his previous career was such as to render him capable of any task which required simply resourcefulness, energy, and faithfulness to duty.

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After leaving Uganda, Stanley went to the headwaters of the Congo and followed the river in its downward course, until, three years after leaving the Indian Ocean, he gazed upon the Atlantic. His work of exploration was done; now for the harder task, civilization. "That was henceforth the main purpose and passion of his life," writes Lady Stanley. "For him, the quest of wider knowledge meant a stage toward the betterment of mankind. He had laid open a tract comparable in extent and resources to the basin of the Amazon, or the Mississippi. What his vision saw, what his supreme effort was given to, was the transformation of its millions of people from barbarism, oppressed by all the ills of ignorance, superstition, and cruelty, into happy and virtuous men and women. His aim was as pure and high as Livingstone's. But as a means, he looked not alone to the efforts of isolated missionaries, but to the influx of great tides of beneficent activities."

At first he had hoped that the English people would seize the grand opportunity which had come within their grasp. He spoke in all the great commercial centres of the kingdom, setting forth the immense advantages to trade in the opening of this magnificent country with its well-watered soil, now neglected, but richer than any in the Mississippi Valley. But the government and the people turned a deaf ear to his appeals, and he was obliged to accept the offers of King Leopold of Belgium, who had become deeply interested in African possibilities. Stanley's work as founder of the Congo State, the greatest single enterprise of his life, occupied five and a half years, January, 1879, to June, 1884. Twelve months alone were spent in building a road over mountains and along precipices around the succession of cataracts and rapids which separate the navigable part of the river from the sea. Hammer and drill in his hand, he showed his men how to use their tools, and they called him Bula Matari, "breaker of rocks"; a name which has been graven on his tomb as most fitly characterizing "his central quality - concentrated energy victoriously battling with the hardest that earth could offer, all to make earth goodly and accessible to man." During a year and a half he negotiated treaties with over four hundred chiefs, established stations for a thousand miles along the Upper Congo, and did his best to abolish the slave-trade and put an end to the intertribal wars, two evils which cost Africa annually a million lives. In this work he was promised the aid of "Gordon Pasha," who had arranged to take the governorship of the Lower Congo, under Stanley, who was to govern the Upper Congo; and, together, they were to destroy the slave trade at its roots. General Gordon wrote a letter to him in which he said that he should be happy to serve under him and work according to his ideas. But the call of the Sudan came just at this time, and the new state was deprived of the services of one who might possibly have changed for the better the whole course of its history.

What is the present condition of that part of Africa which Stanley, more than anyone man, has opened to the outside world? The most graphic idea of the marvelous change is to be obtained by comparing a map of this region published thirty years ago with one of the present day. In the old one, except on the coasts, there is little except a great blank. In the new one the natural features, mountains, rivers, lakes, are delineated with greater minuteness and accuracy than on maps of some parts of South America, and the blank space is dotted over with towns and stations. The political relations of the country are shown by the coloration, for the whole of the two million square miles has been appropriated by the great powers of Europe, - England, Germany, France, and Belgium.

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