Selling the Congo: A History of European Pro-Empire Propaganda and the Making of Belgian Imperialism

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Selling the Congo: A History of European Pro-Empire Propaganda and the Making of Belgian Imperialism. By Matthew G. Stanard. (Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press, 2012. Pp. xiv, 387. $65.00.)

The author of this book provides a useful addition to the growing body of "end of empire" retrospectives that explore the impact of imperial expansion on the social imaginary of the European population. Matthew G. Stanard's study of the Belgian state's efforts to embed in the public mind a positive image of the colonial project will convince most readers that the venture was more diverse and far-reaching than generally appreciated. He takes us well beyond the common belief in the disinterest of the Belgian public towards its oeuvre coloniale.

The well-documented volume examines the multiple dimensions of the state-orchestrated propaganda effort to claim humanitarian purposes and civilizing effects for Belgian rule in the Congo. Periodic festive expositions, culminating in the 1958 Brussels World Exposition, included important colonial pavilions. Leopoldian profits extorted from the mistitled Congo Free State funded the construction of the vast Musee du Congo Beige (now Africa Museum) in Tervuren, just outside of Brussels; a number of smaller local museums featured colonial exhibits. Centers of colonial study, especially at Louvain University and the overseas institute at Antwerp, developed the pedagogical resources to train future imperial administrators. Statuary commemorating Leopold II and other early heroes of colonial conquest and occupation are numerous in Brussels and scattered throughout the country; their iconography represents the heroic exploits of the pioneers of imperialism. Colonial films projected a portrait of a grateful imperial subject, naturalizing both European and African into undifferentiated racial collectivities. …