The drama of the African scramble has led to a distorted image of a rampant imperialism that nothing could stop.
While it is generally accepted (especially in Belgium itself) that after '1908' the Belgian authorities could hardly condone slavery, they had not yet found any other means to recruit sufficient labour. After 1908 then, colonial authorities and pro-imperialists in the metropole openly recognized and embraced the mobilization of enthusiasm for the empire among Belgian citizens through propaganda.
The Belgian colonial administration thus sold the empire at home much as other states did, including Great Britain, France, Portugal, even the United States. Belgium ’s colonial discourse as reflected in its propaganda was often similar in content to French and British discourses. The expositions de quinzaine that urged Belgians to “buy Belgian” and “buy Congo ” corresponded to British and French colonial campaigns during the 1930s, for example. Also similar was the fact that Belgium controlled the colony figuratively in its discourse. Raymond Betts has pointed out that the French Empire was a unified “empire” in rhetoric only as it was made up of geographically dispersed entities containing different peoples and cultures that were administered variously; “a great number of properties scattered around the world . . . never joined in purpose or in organisation or in sentiment.” Neither was the Congo one in a cultural, demographic, or economic sense, even if its administration was generally uniform and it was geographically united. Yet the Musée du Congo belge, colonial films, monuments incorporating the map of the Belgian Congo , maps themselves in textbooks and at expositions, and other propaganda images reduced the Congo to a unified territory and emphasized the oneness of the Congo when it was in fact composed of different regions, peoples, and languages. (Raymond F. Betts, France and Decolonisation 1900-1960, 1991,7).
That being said, at times Belgian propaganda was exceptional and reflected a unique colonial and national experience. For instance, there was in the case of Belgium a large, and perhaps to some even ridiculous asymmetry between the geographic size of the metropole and the overseas territory. This put Belgium in a peculiar situation after 1908 of having to justify its rule over the Congo, both to the world and to its own citizens. A counterbalancing theme throughout the 1908-1960 period was that Belgium was a little, but proud country. Another unique aspect of the Belgian colonial popularization effort was that it was driven to a large extent by the fear that the Congo might be taken over by bigger powers. This was clear early on, even before the reprise, with fears of a British, French, or German takeover. Belgium was overrun during World War I and rightlyfeared losing the Congo to a victorious, expansionist Germany. (Fritz Fischer, Germany’s Aims in the First World War (New York: W.W. Norton, 1967), 95-119, 102).
Even after suffering occupation for four years, helping defeat Germany in east Africa, and being in occupation of substantial portions of German East Africa, the Belgian delegation at the Treaty of Versailles negotiations found itself fighting hard for acquisitions in Africa. As a result, delegation members and the public that followed their progress came to realize the tenuousness of Belgium ’s African position at the hands of the Great Powers. During the 1930s, one sees concern for Berlin ’s claims for the restitution of its colonies, and of perhaps even the takeover of the Congo. After World War II, the colonial administration showed it feared that powers (“pouvoirs anti-colonialists” they were called) might take the Congo away from Belgium , citing those powers’ supposed jealousy of Belgian successes in Africa and the mineral riches of the Congo.Further, pro-empire propaganda in Belgium produced a nationalist message by presenting the Congo as a national project around which disparate elements in the metropole could associate, as it did also in Britain and France.
In this sense, the colony and propaganda about it served a state-building purpose. Memorials unified people around one shared national project and tied the provinces closer together within the “imagined community” of Belgium while they simultaneously legitimated and celebrated the imperial project. Placing busts of monarchs in various Palais du Congo and teaching the significance of monarchs’ actions in the overseas empire in classrooms emphasized the importance of the Saxe-Cobourg dynasty to the Belgian nation. This furthers evidence of the unitary nature of Belgian imperialism as provided in the case of colonial
cinema by Francis Ramirez and Christian Rolot. They have pointed out that the men who made colonial films were “belgicains,” that is to say there was only Belgian—not Flemish or Walloon—colonial cinema. The destruction of World War II and the growth of the European Economic Community and other postwar factors diminished nationalism and perhaps cultivated regionalism in Belgium , as also occurred in other western European nations. Yet the loss of the Congo reduced the possibilities for Walloons and Flemings to imagine a Belgian nation and should be considered among the factors that led to decentralization and regionalism in Belgium after 1960.All this being said, in the last decade of Belgian rule in Congo the Minister of Colonies thought it still necessary to create “a colonial tradition” in Belgium. (Universitair Instituut voor de Overzeese Gebieden/Institut Universitaire des Territoires d’Outre-Mer.Séance académique/Academische zitting, 22 Oct. 1955, 15-16).
In fact Quinzaines coloniales that focused on colonial exports and imports had at best a questionable impact on the interpenetration of the colonial and metropolitan economies.
One administration official wrote that because of the overall lack of public interest in the African empire the administration in Brussels and Leopoldville “was for years in a state of isolation; it was obliged to act alone.” (Georges Brausch, Belgian Administration in the Congo . Institute of Race Relations, Oxford Univ. Press, 1961, 66).
According to Jean Stengers, in the face of growing African nationalism in Congo the Belgian government pursued—and the colonial interest groups acquiesced to—a policy of rapid decolonization in 1959 and 1960 because of the public’s opposition to any sort of armed conflict in central Africa. (Stengers, “Precipitous Decolonization: The Case of the Belgian Congo,” in The Transfer of Power in Africa: Decolonization 1940-1960, edited by Prosser Gifford and Wm. Roger Louis, 1982, 335).
But while popularization efforts likely did not increase Belgians’ attachment to their colony, they did have other, often unintended consequences. First, propaganda probably reinforced Belgian feelings of supremacy and conceptions of other-ness and foreignness toward Africans. Second, it seems to have successfully conveyed the Ministry of Colonies’ version of colonial history. In a 1956 poll of around 3,000 Belgians, over 80 percent expressed the view that the Belgian presence in the Congo was legitimate.
Typical statements regarding or asserting the legitimacy of the Belgian presence included: “We inherited it from Leopold II, and inheritances are legitimate”; “Because the Congo was given to Belgium by Leopold II”; “For the reason of the rights acquired and services rendered”. In the same 1956 poll, over 83 percent of respondents judged Belgium’s presence in central Africa as beneficial for the indigenous population. Again, some of the beliefs reiterated by several respondents regarding the positive impact of Belgian rule: “No doubt when one sees what the Congo was 75 years ago”; “Without the Belgians the Congo would be a region ravaged by sickness, given over to superstitions and fights between tribes”; “The benefits are numerous: hygiene, the removal of superstitions, etc!” (G. Jacquemyns, “Le Congo belge devant l’opinion publique,” Institut Universitaire d’Information Sociale et Économique «INSOC» Nos. 2 et 3. 1956 (Brussels: Parc Léopold, 1956): 63-72).
The history these above statements reflect resulted in part from two imperial myths or narratives that pro-empire enthusiasts formulated in their efforts to shape an imperial identity for Belgians. One myth was achieved through the creation of a socalled “heroic period” from 1885-1908 that became the bold and glorious pioneer period, celebrated as the foundation era of a noble Belgian imperial rule. Through the sacrifices of the heroic period, Belgium could claim legitimacy for its rule in the Congo.
According to this line of thinking, Belgium had earned its right to rule by destroying the slave trade, by bringing civilization to theretofore unexplored territories, and by offering up its own victims. Just as the administration sought to nationalize the colonial effort as a whole after 1908, so too was the heroic period itself nationalized: Leopold II’s legion of foreign collaborators was severely downplayed and the emphasis was placed on Belgian involvement in the first hours of Belgian colonialism. A second myth centered on Leopold II. At his death in 1908, he was little understood and largely unloved. Yet Leopold II took on a particularly powerful purpose for colonial veterans and enthusiasts who were in the forefront in promoting his legend, and his image underwent a dramatic metamorphoses as a result. Adam Hochschild has argued that Belgians have experienced a “Great Forgetting” through which Belgians both neglected the colonial Leopold II’s administration in the Congo and made themselves out to have been exemplary rulers in central Africa . This dissertation has provided evidence that this was not by chance, but due at least in part to a deliberate effort by colonial enthusiasts as well as the Ministry of Colonies.But we need to explore further to see why the Ministry of Colonies and others promoted Leopold II as the central figure of their colonial myth considering that it was the abuses of his regime that had led to the turnover of the colony to Belgium in the first place. We can understand this cultivation of a “Leopold myth” further if we consider that every colonialism of the 19th and 20th centuries relied on imperial histories or myths to legitimize conquest and control of foreign peoples in faraway lands. Belgium was without an imperial heritage, unlike almost every colonial power of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Even the smaller African powers of Spain and Portugal could count long imperial histories in their favor. As Nicola Cooper explores in her recent work France in Indochina even France—a country with a history that included an empire in the Americas, the continental emperor Napoleon Bonaparte, and the Second Empire of his nephew —needed myths to legitimize its empire in Indochina. One way the state did so was through school manuals: “Discussions [in manuals] concerning the extent and nature of contemporary French colonialism tended to be situated within a historical background.
The majority of school manuals were at pains to emphasize the historical precedent of more recent colonial acts and conquests, and to place these events within a French tradition of colonisation.” There was in textbooks the notion of the “reconstitution of empire” for France , that is of its first empire, which it largely had lost after the Seven Years’ War and the fall of Napoleon. In the Belgian case, the use of the figure of Leopold II as a motif after 1908 served the purpose of rooting current imperialism in the Congo within a more long-standing tradition of overseas expansion. Rewriting history acted to legitimize the young Belgian empire in central Africa. Moreover, the whitewashing of Leopold II’s misrule in Africa à outrance supported the dynasty and nation by obviating the need to deal with any ambiguity; as a result there was no need to question the colonial past and the issue of atrocities could be avoided altogether. The prestige of the royal lineage was important, as the Saxe-Coburg dynasty long served to unify a nation that suffered a great north-south language divide. Colonial history might even be used in service of the royal family’s legitimacy: after World War II, the dynasty entered a period of crisis due to Leopold III’s questionable actions during the war. The building of monuments to Leopold II after the war might be viewed as an attempt to bolster support for the Saxe-Coburg dynasty. (Nicola Cooper, France in Indochina: Colonial Encounters, Oxford , 2001), 20).
When Belgians sought to invent a colonial tradition—to draw on Hobsbawm and Ranger—the effort manifested itself above all in a robust effort to educate children. As demonstrated in the chapter on monuments, colonial veterans and others commemorated Leopold II and his associates with religious passion, and they lamented that this type of conviction was lacking among the population more generally. As we have seen in the chapter on expositions, the Ministry of Colonies was very concerned to instruct school children both at expositions universelles and at its O.C.’s quinzaines coloniales in the1920s and 1930s. Permanent museums in Belgium , particularly those at schools, showed a similar attention to children. The effort that went into teaching children about thecolony after 1908 suggests that many viewed Belgian colonial rule as insecure and threatened from within, which only a deep-seated national faith in the colony could solve.
This rule was never fixed, instead it was something in the process of becoming, and even into the last days of empire the state and others grasped at ways to direct how it would turn out. The creation of two myths during the Belgian state rule period, those of “Leopold II” and “the heroic period,” presents ironies. Leopold II had created an empire in central Africa despite Belgian indifference to overseas conquest. And yet his image and works were later used as a central saga to try and mobilize that same population behind the empire he had created. Also, the period 1885-1908 was hailed as the praiseworthy era of Belgian heroism and pioneering, and the narrative of this era was used to sell Belgium its Congo . Yet it was precisely because this period was so illaudable that Belgium received its empire in the first place in 1908. It is ironic and amazing that in monuments, for example, Leopold II becomes a great, if not the preeminent symbol for Belgian colonialism. It is ironic because it was Leopold’s exploitation and outrageous misadministration that forced him to hand the Congo over to Belgium . It is amazing because his rule was the opposite of what Belgium proclaimed its colonialism to be after 1908: efficient, beneficial to Africans, benevolent, and civilizing. Perhaps Leopold as icon is even more appropriate than commemorators imagined, as in fact Belgian administration continued abuses begun by Europeans during the EIC period, and Belgian rule did not end in the foundation of a modern, stable Congolese nation-state. While improvements were made after 1908, conditions were slow to change; Belgium received a censure from the League of Nations in 1926 for its inhumane labor practices. John Higginson, A Working Class in the Making: Belgian Colonial Labor Policy, Private Enterprise, and the African Mineworker, 1907-1951 (Madison: Univ. of Wisconsin Press, 1989), 68. On administrative problems from African and European perspectives, see Colin M. Turnbull, The Lonely African (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1962), and Jef Geeraerts, Gangrene, trans. Jon Swan (London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1975), respectively. On Congo after independence in 1960, see Crawford Young, “ Zaire: the anatomy of a failed state,” in History of Central Africa: The Contemporary Years since 1960, eds. David Birmingham and Phyllis M. Martin (London: Longman, 1998): 97-129.
It is also strange that so many Belgian imperialists should tie the legitimacy of Belgian rule in the Congo to Leopold’s efforts because his administration was justified in the first place (albeit only ostensibly) on his “opening up” central Africa to international influence, whereas Belgium struck a clear nationalist tone in its jealous ownership of its huge tracts in Central Africa. Colonial propaganda and the ensuing myths surrounding Leopold II have had a lasting impact on how Belgium ’s colonial past is interpreted. In the popular press, for example, Belgian colonialism has become an extraordinary, almost exotic episode by placing under one specter—that of Leopold II—both the history of Leopold II’s calamitous rule of the Congo (1885-1908) and the history of Belgian state rule after 1908.To some, Belgian state rule, which lasted well over twice as long as Leopold II’s reign inthe Congo, has come to equal Leopoldian rule. Critics in the popular press have sensationalized Belgian colonialism after 1908 by depicting it as having been the worst of modern European imperialisms. In a now-familiar refrain, Michela Wrong wrote in early 2005 in The Independent that “no colonial master has more to apologise for, or has proved more reluctant to acknowledge and accept its guilt, than Belgium . On the roll-call of Africa ’s colonial and post-independence abusers, it undoubtedly holds unenviable pride of place.” (The Independent “ Belgium Confronts its Heart of Darkness,” The Independent 23 Feb. 2005).
Equally troubling is that the sensationalizing of Belgian colonial history has found its way into academic or quasi-academic discussions, where legitimate criticism of the Leopoldian regime has slipped into hyperbole regarding the entire decades-long history of Belgian involvement in central Africa . In his 2002 history of the Congo, The Troubled Heart of Africa (2002), UCLA professor of anthropology Robert B.Edgerton wrote that, “Once European powers took possession of the Congo, its people were almost perennially hungry, and its mineral wealth enriched only politicians and foreign corporations.” While non-Congolese corporations certainly did enrich themselves on Congo ’s mineral wealth, millions of Congolese simply were not perennially hungry from 1885 to 1960. (Edgerton, The Troubled Heart of Africa: A History of the Congo, 2002, xii-xiii). It should be noted however that one, mistake in Edgerton’s book is that he has Congolese Force Publique soldiers fighting in Ethiopia against Italians during World War I (p. 168), although Italy and Belgium were allied during World War I and Italydid not conquer Ethiopia until the 1930s.
In a 2001 article in The New Republic, David A. Bell conflated Leopoldian and Belgian rule to discredit a Belgian law that might have targeted Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, among others, as a war criminal (the law has since been changed). Bell characterized Belgium’s rule in the Congo as “a crime of genocidal dimensions” and wrote that after Leopold II’s acquisition of the Congo, “Over the next several decades, Belgium exploited its colony’s riches, particularly rubber, with unparalleled ruthlessness, causing the deaths of millions of Africans forced into virtual slave labor.” (The New Republic, “Leopold’s Ghost: Belgium ’s delusions of grandeur,” 10 Sept. 2001:16).
Yet the atrocities committed during Leopoldian rule, and abuses later under the Belgians, were certainly not without parallel. French administration in neighboring Moyen-Congo depended upon concession companies as well, causing numerous abuses there. (Robert Aldrich, Greater France: A History of French Overseas Expansion, 1996, 192-95.
Another impression that deserves reconsideration is the contention that Belgians know nothing of their colonial past, a result of what Adam Hochschild has called the “Great Forgetting.” In the popular press, “the Congo is Belgium ’s forgotten skeleton” in the closet. (Andrew Osborn, “Belgium exhumes its colonial demons,” The Guardian (13 July 2002).
Critics repeatedly have attacked the Musée Royal de l’Afrique Centrale as an illustration of this forgetting, calling it an old-fashioned relic of the colonial era. It is true that between 1908 and 1960 there was a great deal of “forgetting” of atrocities that had occurred during Leopoldian rule and that even most scholarship on central Africa in Belgium emphasized a positive colonial history. As Jean Stengers put it, “Underlying this historiography was a tranquil if merely implicit sense of triumph. . . . [a] climate of serene confidence in the future persisted . . . right up to the eve of independence, reassuring historians who worked within its perspective, of the certainty of a long-term harmonious colonial development.” (Stengers, “Belgian Historiography Since 1945,” trans. by Frank Perlin, in Reappraisals in Overseas History, eds. P.C. Emmer and H.L. Wesseling, Leiden Univ. Press, 1979, 162-163).
To come back to Michela Wrong: “The fact that the most Tpopular recent book written on King Leopold's depredations, AdamHochschild's ‘King Leopold's Ghost’, was the work of an American outsider rather than a Belgian speaks volumes about the deliberate amnesia Belgium developed on the actions of its beloved king.” (Wrong, “ Belgium Confronts its Heart of Darkness.”) In fact, this is not entirely true, for example Ludo De Witte presented his own research in The Assassination of Lumumba, 2001, (published while I was still in Belgium) drew on Belgian colonial archival resources. In this case a justified criticism would not be that Belgians were 'ignorant' of their past.
In fact two-three years after I left Belgium (I only staid there for three years that time), Hochschild’s book had a significant impact after it was translated into French and Flemish. A February 2004 BBC movie White King, Red Rubber, Black Death caused quite a stir when it was shown in Belgium in April of the same year; Foreign Minister Louis Michel pressured state television not to broadcast it. The real accusation thus is that Belgians do not know their colonial history, in the words of another Leopold, “wie es eigentlich gewesen war.” As the BBC’s Angus Roxburgh wrote about the 2005 exhibition at the Musée de Tervuren, “Belgians are finally learning the unvarnished truth about the brutalities of their colonial past”. (Roxburgh, “Belgians confront colonial past,” BBC News, 9 Mar. 2005, and 6 May 2005).
Rather than having forgotten the colony in their past, perhaps Belgians instead lament its loss. Here we return to a final, yet perhaps the most important conclusion of the study. Imperialist propaganda in Belgium after 1908 reveals an unexpected level of enthusiasm among much of the Belgian population for the oeuvre civilisatrice in central Africa. This counters the longstanding interpretation that Belgians were but hesitant imperialists, that Leopold II was the driving force of empire, and that Belgians—not eager to take on a foreign empire—administered the Congo only reluctantly. Local participation in the promotion of the colonial idea in Belgium after 1908 shows a significant level of grassroots support for imperialism, a support not usually associated with Belgians who are considered to have been “reluctant imperialists” at best. If in fact Belgians were averse to assuming imperial power then popularization efforts—the building of colonial monuments, for example—present an irony: it was claims by the Belgians, British, and others about the nature of Leopold’s horrible administration in
Africa that led to the turnover of the Congo to his state, but then the Belgians turned around and built dozens of monuments to commemorate the EIC era as glorious. The acclaim heaped on Leopold II in the Belgian state rule period—that is, after he was dead—would seem to suggest that this reluctance has been overstated and that there was an important level of support for the imperial enterprise and that the colonial culture of Belgium deserves to be explored further, as it begins to be explored in greater depth in other cases. (Edward Berenson, “Making a Colonial Culture? Empire and the French Public, 1880-1940,” French Politics, Culture & Society 22, no. 2, summer 2004: 127-149).
But while in 1901 Rubber had constituted a staggering 90 per cent of the Congo’s exports, in 1898, Robert Williams of Tanganyika Concessions received authorisation to explore some 60,000 square miles in the border region between Northern Rhodesia (today Zambia) and the Congo. Williams chose this area precisely because Africans had long worked it for copper. During his travels, he found a hundred old mines, several of which could be reopened. It was on his return to Belgium that Williams founded Union Miniere de Haut-Katanga. King Leopold II had granted control over the Katanga region to a joint-stock company, the Comite Special du Katanga, part owned by Union Miniere. Other regions were given to courtiers; only in Katanga did business play this dominant role.
Copper production began in 1909 and grew rapidly, especially with the high demand for metals during the First World War. Early extraction techniques were little more sophisticated than those practised before the advent of colonialism. Only the highest grade of ore was removed, and all operations were carried out manually. It was a process that relied on abundant cheap labour. Copper became the most important sector of the Congo 's economy, and would remain so for many years. But for example when in I906, the Belgian anti-slavery activist Alphonse Jacques warned of the 'complete extinction' of the Congolese people--such talk disappeared almost overnight when in 1913, for reasons of commerce, and with the likelihood of war against Germany in mind, Britain recognized the Belgium Congo.
So far in the above thus, we have been able to counter the longstanding interpretation that Belgians were but hesitant imperialists, that Leopold II was the driving force of empire, and that Belgians—not eager to take on a foreign empire—administered the Congo only reluctantly. In fact local participation in the promotion of the colonial idea in Belgium after 1908 shows a significant level of grassroots support for imperialism, a support not usually associated with Belgians who are considered to have been “reluctant imperialists” at best. If in fact Belgians were averse to assuming imperial power then popularization efforts—the building of colonial monuments, for example—present an irony: it was claims by the Belgians, British, and others about the nature of Leopold’s horrible administration in Africa that led to the turnover of the Congo to his state, but then the Belgians turned around and built dozens of monuments to commemorate the EIC era as glorious. The acclaim heaped on Leopold II in the Belgian state rule period—that is, after he was dead—would seem to suggest that this reluctance has been overstated and that there was an important level of support for the imperial enterprise a subject I felt deserved exploration.
Leopold's title, with its emphasis on the peoples he ruled rather than the land of his dominion, pointed to a basic insecurity in his state. Belgium had only acquired independence as recently as 1830, and its society contained two distinct linguistic groups, speakers of French and of Flemish. In the period of Leopold's reign, the mood of the majority was also notably secular and republican. There was no natural bond of loyalty between the people and their king. In a position of weakness, Leopold's strategy was to build up his own private power. He was clever enough to see that progress could be achieved most quickly outside Belgium , even outside Europe . Long before he claimed the Belgian throne, Leopold had been an adventurer. As Duke of Brabant, Leopold had studied the Dutch Empire in Java, a system of government that produced a strong surplus to the exchequer. Another of his schemes was for the purchase of islands off the coast of Argentina .
On Stanley 's next return to Europe , Leopold succeeded in recruiting the American explorer. Stanley 's ambition was vast, and while other backers had greater military or financial power, none demonstrated Leopold's manic urge to acquire new territories. Stanley met Leopold for the first time in June 1878. By the end of the year he was employed on a contract worth up to 50,000 francs a year (around £125,000 in today's money). Stanley returned to Africa , this time to found an empire.The main part of Stanley 's 1879 expedition was spent hacking through hostile jungle, while the people of the Congo kept their distance, as best they could. Jules Marchal records that thirty-three white men serving under Stanley died in the course of this journey. We should set this death toll against Stanley 's argument that colonialism would improve the European racial stock, 'Hundreds of raw European youths have been launched into the heart of the "murderous continent", and the further we sent them the more they improved in physique.
It was not just Africans, then, whose manifold destiny was to die if they were yet going to be saved. Meanwhile, Leopold set out to win the backing of the powers for his Association. America was the first to accept, persuaded that Belgium would leave the territory open for free trade. The British felt that they possessed enough territories already. The French were persuaded that if Leopold's adventures succeeded in bankrupting the entire Belgian state, then they could purchase the lands at knockdown prices. The veteran Prince Bismarck saw through Leopold in an instant. Yet his banker Gerson Bleichroder was sufficiently enthusiastic to force a deal. Unknown to the European powers, Stanley was already on the ground, persuading the various Congolese kings to sign treaties giving Leopold sovereign power over their territory. Adam Hochschild places these agreements in context:
Many chiefs had no idea what they were signing. Few had seen the written word before, and they were being asked to mark their X's to documents in a foreign language and in legalese. The idea of a treaty of friendship between two clans or villages was familiar; the idea of signing over one's land to someone on the other side of the world was inconceivable. Did the chiefs of Ngombi and Mafela, for example, have any idea of what they agreed to on April 1, 1884?
In return for 'one piece of cloth per month to each of the undersigned chiefs, besides present of cloth in hand,' they promised to 'freely of their own accord, for themselves, and their heirs and successors for ever give up to the said Association the sovereignty and all sovereign and governing rights to all their territories ... and to assist by labour or otherwise, any works, improvements or expeditions which the said Association shall cause at any time to have carried out in any part of these territories.
On Stanley 's return to Europe in 1884, he produced nearly five hundred treaties signed with local chieftains. Stanley could also boast of having founded Vivi, the first capital of Congo (opposite Matadi) and the town of Leopoldville (today Kinshasa ). The 1884-85 Congress of Berlin, called to settle disputes between the European powers, recognised Leopold as the lawful head of the International Association of the Congo , soon to be known as the Congo Free State . In return for achieving such recognition, this ' Congo ' committed itself to the abolition of slavery, free trade and neutrality in war. France took the north bank of the river. It is striking that Leopold's private empire should declare itself a 'state'. Few African nations were then recognized as sovereign for the purposes of international law. The Congo Free State was even recognized as independent by the majority of the powers present at Berlin. The naming of the country was a nuanced decision. The Congo could not be a colony, for that would call into question the relationship of the new 'state' not just to King Leopold but, behind him, to Belgium . But in giving this society the form of a judicially sovereign independent state, we could say that Leopold, was quite despite himself, placing a marker before history. At some future point, he seemed to be, saying, the Congo would be both independent and free.
For all of King Leopold's evident success, certain obstacles remained. One problem the Belgian administration faced was the challenge of occupying the hinterlands. The declared boundaries of the state were roughly the same as those of the present-day country, but it was not until the mid-1890s that Leopold's control was finally established over the entire region. Successful occupation depended on military campaigns. The most vital instrument was the armed steamboat, from whose protection European troops could blast African villages into submission. In 1891-92, the southern lands of modern Shaba were conquered, and between 1892 and 1894 other territories were wrested from African, Arab and Swahili traders.The costs of the project soared. Leopold spent around IO million Belgian francs on the Congo between 1880 and 1890. (For comparison: in 1900, there were 25 Belgian francs to the British pound. The pound sterling, meanwhile, was very roughly worth £60 in today's prices. In 1890 and 1895, the Belgian parliament was bullied into approving loans to the king totalling some 32 million Belgian francs. This public money, however, was awarded as a loan and for ten years only. Indeed, one of the clauses of the contract gave the Belgian government the power to annexe the Congo , if Leopold could not repay the debt on time. King Leopold had to fight to have this clause withdrawn. He was able to receive slightly more generous terms from the French government, a loan of 80 million Belgian francs, but with the same clause. If Leopold defaulted, Paris would have a claim on 'his' new state.
Soon however copper production began in 1909 and grew rapidly, especially with the high demand for metals during the First World War. Early extraction techniques were little more sophisticated than those practiced before the advent of colonialism. Only the highest grade of ore was removed, and all operations were carried out manually. It was a process that relied on abundant cheap labor. Copper became the most important sector of the Congo 's economy, and would remain so for many years. But for example when in I906, the Belgian anti-slavery activist Alphonse Jacques warned of the 'complete extinction' of the Congolese people--such talk disappeared almost overnight when in 1913, for reasons of commerce, and with the likelihood of war against Germany in mind, Britain recognized the Belgium Congo. But how slavery changed to a more humane treatment will be the subject of part two including the political difficulties that where created along the way.
Case Study P. 1: The Creation of Belgium.
Case Study P. 2: The Start of Belgian Empirialism: When Texas was to be a Belgian Colony.
The Congo River is Africa 's most powerful river and the second most voluminous river in the world. History of Central Africa P.2: King Leopold's Media.