The Congo has one of the most tragic histories in Africa. The colonial era was launched by one of Europe's smallest countries--Belgium. King Leopold II, who proved to be the most brutal colonizers launched the colonial race in Africa. Belgium was a new country and had not participated in the colonial competition of the 16th and 17th century. Now Leopold declared, "Belgium must have a colony". The colony Leopold founded, the Belgian Congo, was a far cry from the humanitarian inpulse with which the Victorians justified colonialism. Leopold administered the Congo as his personal property and not a national colony. The people in the the Congo Free State were essentilly turned into slaves worked to enrich Leopold persnally. They were subjected to horendous abuses. As reports filtered out describing the terrible abuses, King L�opold eventually relinguished personal control of the Congo. Belgium annexed the Congo with a Treaty (November 28, 1907). The Belgian Colony was administered by a governor-general at Boma. A Colonial Council and colonial minister in Brussels set policy. The Congo was divided into 15 administrative districts. The new colonial adminstration made many improvements. The Belgians to redeam their national reputation attempted to turn the Congo into a "model colony". The Belgiand opened primary and high schools. Unlike some colonial powers, many of the ethnic laguages were used in the new schools. Belgian doctors and medics worked on tropical diseases, an eradicated the sleeping disease. The Belgians set up perhaps the most comprehensive medical infrastructure in Africa. The Belgians developed the Congo economicallt, building railways, ports, roads and opening mines and plantations. At the time of independence, the Comgo had Africa's highest gross national product was the highest in Africa. The wealth was not, however, well distriubuted nd the Belgian Government did very liitle to prepare the colony for self government.
The colonial era was launched by one of Europe's smallest countries--Belgium. King Leopold II, who proved to be the most brutal colonizers launched the colonial race in Africa. Belgium was a new country and had not participated in the colonial competition of the 16th and 17th century. Now Leopold declared, "Belgium must have a colony".
The European Scramble for Africa began in the 1870s. At the time, what is now the Congo was did not exist as a unified state. Much of the Congo was loosely organized tribal confederations and the remaments of the earlier Bantu kingdoms. The most powerful force was probably the Aran traders in the eastern Congo. King Leopold II of Belgium
(1865-1909) decided that any self respecting European country needed colonies. Leopold concluded that the Belgian Government would not support a colonial venture in Africa. So he decided gto make it a personal, private undertaking. Henry M. Stanley made a widely publicized trek across central Africa and chartered the course of the Congo River (1874-77). Leopold was impressed by Stanley's account and noted assessments of central Africa's economic potential. Leopold thus essentially selected the heart of Africa for his new colony. Leopold contracted Stanley to assist in establishing royal authority in the Congo Basin. Stanley began by setting up trading stations along the middle Congo River (1879-84).
Stanley negotiated treaties with local African rulers, obstensibly recognizing King Leopold's sovereignty. The European powers at the Conference of Berlin recognized Leopold's claim (1884�85). King Leopold used an official ceremony at Banana to announced the creation of the Congo Free (1885). The Congo Free State encompased a huge area of central Africa. It was headed by King Leopold as an absolute ruler. It took some time for Leopold to establish full comtrol over all of the Congo. It took several years to conquer mineral-rich Katanga (1891-92). The last area that Leopold established his authority was the remote eastern Congo (1892-84). Here Arab and Arabized Swahili traders resisted Belgian contril. Leopold at first used Tippu Tib as an administrator, but when he proved to independent supressed him. Leopold did not have the capital to develop the resources of his new fiefdom. He managed to secure loans from the Belgian Parliament (1889 and 1895). The loans included a provision giving the Belgian Government the right to annex the Congo in 1901. King Leopold declared all unoccupied land (including cropland temporarily lying fallow) as property of the Congo Free State. essentially his personal property. Leopold gained control of the profitable rubber and ivory trade. Leopold transferred land to concessionaire companies. In return these companies built railroads and other infrastructure. They helped expand Belgian control throughout the country side. Many also paid the state a portion of their profits. Leopold in addition to the concessionaire companies granted himself a large estate around Lake Leopold II. northeast of Kinshasa). Other private companies were established to develop the Congo's mineral resources. These companies worked in Katanga and Kasai. The largest was the Union Mini�re du Haut-Katanga (1905). The Congo Free State, was a far cry from the humanitarian inpulse with which the Victorians justified colonialism. Leopold administered the Congo as his personal property and not a national colony. The people in the the Congo Free State were essentilly turned into slaves worked to enrich Leopold personally. They were subjected to horendous abuses. Belgian's parliament did not proceed to annex the Congo as it was entitled to do in 1901.
The loans the Belgian Government gave to King Leopold gave the Belgian government the right to take control of the Congo. Thr Goverment did not, however, exercise its option (1901). The Congo Free State looked like it might continue as an example of a successful private enterprise. Soon after the Belgian Parliament decided not to make the Belgian Free State an actual colony, however, reports filtered out describing the abuses. It is at this time that ugly rumors began to appear in the European press about gastly atrocities being perpetrated by Congo authotities. Actual evidence was hard to come by because the King Leopold's Congo authorities controlled access. They denied the accusations. The Belgian press did not press the issue dilgently. The more aggressive British press did. Not only did the British press have a more open journalistic tradition, but Belgian trade restruictions created considerable indignation as well. As a result, an international campaign to unearth the truth about what was occurring in the Congo began to grow. The turning point came from the British. Roger Casement was the British Consul to the Congo Free State at Boma. The Foreign Office sent him an encrypted cable (1903). The Foreign Office ordered Casement to proceed into the Congo interior to investigate the rumors of abuses being perpetrated against the Congo people. Boma was located at the mouth of the Congo. Casement embarked on an extrordinary journey up the Congo River in the Henry Reed, a small steam launch, hired from American Baptist missionaries. He steamed into the interior of the Congo and only a cursory assessment revealed the awful truth. Casement found villages that have been depopulated. The people he does find are terrified and tell him horific stories of death and torture carried out by the Belgian authorities. And there was more than testimonials to verify stories. There was proof in the large number of traumitized victims whose hands have been amputated. The Foreign Office released the Casement report to the press. Eventually this and other reports were published in Belgian newspapers (1904). E. D. Morel published a similar account. And thanks to advances in photography and lithography, there was photograps which could be easily taken and published in magazines and newspapers. English missionary Alice Seeley Harris provide apauling evience of Belgian atricities. A disdraught Congo father arrived at Harris' mission clutching a parcel that contained what was left of his beloved 5-year-old daughter (1904). Belgian authorities were responsible for killed and dismembering her as a punishment when their village failed to meet the rubber quotas they imposed. The most terrible abuses were carried out in the highly profitable rubber concessions. The Congolese people were essentially enslaved to collect rubber. Inividuals were given quotas to collect. Those who failed to meet the quotas were punished. The punishments varied, but were often terrible--including amputations. As more information was published in Belgium, public pressure mounted for the Government to assume responsibility for administering the Congo Free Sate from the King. Parliament after extended debate decided to do so. Belgium annexed the Congo with a Treaty (November 28, 1907).
The Belgian Parliament responding to reports of abuses and converted the Congo Free State into a Belgian colony. The worst excesses of Leopold's rule, especially forced labor, were ended.
Enforcement of the new regime ws at irst uneven as the concessionaire companies controlled large areas and the number of Belgian officials were small. The Belgian Government continued the basic approach of using the Congo to exploit its resources. Little effort was made to educate the Congolese people. The Belgians did make investments in railroads and other basic infrastructure, especially the infrastricture needed to exploit mineral and other resources. Beligian andother Europen companies developed large plantations and mines. The companies profited from both thge natural resources and cheap labor. The mineral resources of the south, both copper and diamonds, proved to be imensely profitable. Mining companies built whole twons. Workers moved from the countryside to these new mining towns. The Belgian Colony was administered by a governor-general at Boma. A Colonial Council and colonial minister in Brussels set policy. The Congo was divided into 15 administrative districts. The new colonial adminstration made many improvements. The Belgian Government gave little attention to education. The Belgians to redeam their national reputation attempted to turn the Congo into a "model colony". The Belgians opened primary and and a few secondary schools. Christian missionaries (mostly Roman Catholic) were active in the Belgian Congo. They played a major role in building an educational as well as a public health system. The education system for the Congolese was almost entirely at the primary level. Officials finally founded two universities (mid-1950s). Unlike some colonial powers, many of the ethnic laguages were used in the new schools. Belgian doctors and medics worked on tropical diseases, an eradicated the sleeping disease. The Belgians set up perhaps the most comprehensive medical infrastructure in Africa. The Belgians developed the Congo economically, building railways, ports, roads and opening mines and plantations.
Belgium set independence for the Democratic Republic of the Congo (June 1960). Belgian authorities, however, had done little to prepare the Conglese people for independence. Authorities proceeded to hold elections in preparation for independence (May 1960). Lumumba's MNC did well in the election, becoming the largest single party, but not a majority party. Kasavubu's Abako gained second place. Neither is able to form a majority coalition. They work out an untenable compromise. Kasavubu becomes president and head of state while Patrice Lumumba becomes prime minister. He forms an unwiedly coalition including a dozen small parties with no shared interests. Tshombe's party also becomes an important force, winning control of the provincial assembly in Katanga. There were virtually no chance that this arrangement would work. It would have required coopertion and deocratic compromise. The Congolese had, however, no experiece with democravy or compromise. The Congo bcame independent (June 30, 1960) as the Democratic Republic of the Congo. immediately problems developed with the Army. We notice the account of a Western boy in Zaire. The soldiers in the new Congolese Army proved difficult to control after independence. A factor here ws that the officers in the were without exception white Belgians . In the Belgian colonial army, Africans could not rise higher than the rank of sergeant-major. The Belgian Government only began to address this in the rush to independence. The first Congolese officer cadets had not yet completed their officer training courses. Prime minister Lumumba attempted to apease the soldiers (early-July 1960). He moved to dismiss the Belgian officers and replace thm with Congolese. The job of issuing new commissions was put in the hands of Minister of Defense Joseph Mobutu. The patronage involved made him a major figure in the developing Congolese Army. The Congolese military, directed by the Belgians and presumably the CIA, fearin g pro-Soviet connections, removed Lumumba from office just a few weeks after independence and shot him.
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