Egypt in Central Africa?

Not unlike the fact that Egyptian Pyramids are mainly tombs, several of them are claimed to be hidden under mountains in Schotland today. Captain J.K. Tuckey in fact (near Boma) lost seventeen men upstream from the mouth of the Gongo to proof its source is the Nile in Egypt. Further exploration was discouraged. Public interest was renewed, however, following the successful exploration of the Niger. A new goal was needed, and dreams of discovering the White Nile 's source encouraged a new fever of exploration. Some geographers argued that Lake Victoria was its source, while others spoke up for Lake Tanganyika. Richard Burton advanced as far as Matadi in 1863. The explorer Dr David Livingstone set out to resolve the dispute.

Livingstone had been born to a poor family in Lanarkshire, Scotland. A prospector, missionary and occasional British consul, Livingstone made his name by exploring southern Africa, from the early 1840’s onwards. As he progressed with missionary work he developed a desire to travel further and deeper into the continent. Livingstone's mission was driven by a complex series of motives: philanthropy, a belief in the civilising work of commerce, the idea also that Africa was some new space with its history waiting to begin. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs sponsored his expedition. The government's hope was that any discovery would make vast new tracts of land available to religion and trade. Although Livingstone never saw Africans as his egual, he loved them with the Christian charity of a true Victorian. 'We do not believe in any incapacity of the African in either mind or heart', he wrote. 'Reverence for royalty sometimes leads the mass of the people to submit to great cruelty, and even murder, at the hands of a depot or a madman; but on the whole, their rule is mild, and the same remark applies in a degree to the religion.

Livingstone portrayed his work as a great civilising mission: to rescue the peoples of central and eastern African from being held as slaves by Arab traders. This mission resonated with the children of those who had supported previous campaigns against the British slave trade. For different reasons, the message also had an appeal to the propertied classes, the former slave-traders and their descendants. As may happen, the leading industrial power in the world, on reaching its position of sovereignty, had come to the conclusion that all trade should now take place on a footing of complete freedom. There should be as few tariffs as possible; the exploitation of slave labour was immoral and commercially unfair. From 1811 onwards, British agents had opposed the international trade in slaves, and the last slave market was closed in Zanzibar in 1873.

The British project was to demonstrate that there were other ways of relating to the continent. Considerable attention therefore focused on the Arab slavers of East Africa, a visible target, in contrast to the allied Spanish and Portuguese traders, who were tolerated even as they still sent slaves to Brazil. Many Arab traders were of African descent. They were most active in the Swahili-speaking territories of modern Kenya and Tanzania. Having captured people there, the slavers sold them on in Persia or Madagascar, or in the Arabian Peninsula, or compelled them to work plantations in Africa itself In 1866, Livingstone set off on one further voyage of discovery. In the course of his travels, he discovered the Lualaba river, located in the south-east of modern-day Congo. Yet he had no means to report his find to the West. Three years passed, and there was no news. Rumours suggested that Livingstone had been killed. It was at this stage that James Gordon Bennett, the owner of the New York Herald saw the opportunity for a major scoop. He instructed a 28-year-old reporter, Henry Morton Stanley, to search for Livingstone. Stanley 's expedition would kindle a lifelong need for expedition in its author. Over the course of the next twenty years, this journalist did as much as anyone to found the later Belgian Empire in the Congo. Stanley 's origins, like those of Livingstone, were obscure. One of five illegitimate children of a housemaid, Stanley had the name John Rowlands when he entered the workhouse, aged 6. At 18, he left Britain for America, where he served both sides and without distinction in the American Civil War. Certain traits of Stanley 's character were now evident: a pathological fear of women, an inability to work with talented co-workers, and an obsequious love of the aristocratic rich. In 1867, he reported the Indian wars for the Northern press. The following year, he was sent by the Herald to report on a British war with Abyssinia. Stanley had the foresight to bribe the clerks in Suez, ensuring that only his reports were sent back. Within days, he had converted a temporary posting into a permanent career.

Stanley's claim was that his editor met him in Paris in 1869, where he was told, 'Do what you think best, but find Livingstone!' In fact, he spent the next twelve months dawdling, before taking 190 men with him into Africa. His book How I Found Livingstone records that Stanley picked up the track of Livingstone at Lake Tanganyika and followed them into unknown territory. His following narrative records the peril of swamps, crocodiles, disease and Arab slavers. Stanley was the only journalist to cover his own adventure. His two white companions both died on the journey. So did an uncounted number of black porters and guides, starved and whipped by their leader, or victims of the hostile environment. Stanley finally caught up with Livingstone at Ujiji on the eastern shore of Lake Tanganyika in I871. When found, Livingstone was suffering from acute pneumonia and coughing blood. Stanley 's first apocryphal words were 'Dr Livingstone, I presume?'

David Livingstone died in Zambia in 1873 without solving the mystery of the Nile. Yet his failure had produced a greater discovery. The Lualaba river led Europeans to the source of the Congo , the best road to central Africa .

Stanley’s  dream was to convert of the people of the Congo into wage labourers. In every cordial-faced aborigine whom I meet I see a promise of assistance to me in the redemption of himself from the state of unproductiveness in which he at present lives. I look upon him with much of the same regard that an agriculturalist views his strong-limbed child; he is a future recruit to the ranks of soldierlabourers. The Congo basin, could I have but enough of his class, would become a vast productive garden.

Some parts of the Congo were ill developed, of course. In the rainforests, paths had to be cut through thick and fast-growing foliage. Semi-nomadic peoples kept the white traveller at a distance. Yet in the savannah, by contrast, there were large towns and established kingdoms. To these areas, Stanley brought the eye of a commercial surveyor.
Among the many items available which commercial intercourse would teach the natives to employ profitably, are monkey, goat, antelope, buffalo, lion and leopard skins; the gorgeous feathers of the tropic birds, hippopotamus teeth, bees-wax, frankincense, myrrh, tortoise-shell, Cannabis sativa, and lastly ivory, which to-day is considered the most valuable product.

At times, Stanley's eye for profit was extraordinary: It may be presumed that there are about 200,000 elephants in about 15,000 herds in the Congo basin, each carrying, let us say, on an average 50 Ibs. weight of ivory in his head, which would represent, when collected and sold in Europe, £5,000,000. He even acknowledged the skills of the Congolese, in ordet to count them on his balance sheet: In minerals this section is by no means poor. Iron is abundant. The Yalulima, Iboko, Irebu and Ubangi are famous for their swordsmiths. The Yakusu and Basoko are preeminent for their spears. In the museum of the [International African] Association at Brussels are spear-blades six feet long and four inches broad, which I collected among those tribes.

Stanley attempted to interest the British government in the commercial exploitation of the region, without great success. Indeed he was not alone in this failure. Another rival explorer, Lieutenant Cameron, had followed Livingstone's route. He signed treaties with various chiefs, and had in 1875 declared that the lands of the Congo Basin now belonged to the British Crown. The obstacle facing both Cameron and Stanley was the hegemony of Gladstone 's Liberals in Parliament. These were the middle years of the nineteenth century, a period before empires or trusts. The ruling class of Britain remained converted to a policy of expansion by trade, without tariffs, annexations or slavery. It was a moment of peace. The idea that the European powers could achieve progress without conquest was still dominant. Searching for a patron, Stanley turned his attention to another rich and powerful man, King Leopold II of the Belgians.

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 were created along the way.


The Congo River is Africa 's most powerful river and the second most voluminous river in the world. History of Central Africa: King Leopold's Media.

While it is generally accepted (especially in Belgium itself) that  after '1908' that the Belgian authorities could hardly condone slavery, they had not yet found any other means to recruit sufficient labour (as I shall further detail in p.2) after 1908, 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 the colony 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 in the 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 Italy did 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 II had taken control of the Congo without popular or church support, relying on foreign and Belgian military and administrative agents, and the 1908 reprise was sparked by international criticism of the EIC administration, not popular imperial clamor in Belgium. (Ruth M. Slade, King Leopold's Congo: Aspects of the Development of Race Relations in the Congo Independent State Oxford Univ. Press, 1962, 46; L.H. Gann and Peter Duignan, The Rulers of Belgian Africa, 1884-1914 Princeton Univ. Press, 1979, 100).

Though he never visited his private colony, King Leopold held absolute political, judicial and legislative power in the Congo, which he then devolved to a governor-general and a vice-governor. All 'unoccupied' land was claimed as property of his Association, both unexplored lands and fields lying fallow. Even settled farm lands were subject to his orders. Leopold also claimed a large private estate in the region of Lake Leopold II (north-east of Kinshasa). Meanwhile, Leopold also set about confusing the question of legitimacy. In place of the old International African Association, which was now moribund, Leopold constructed a new International Association of the Congo. Holding power always in his own hands, but often in the name of this distinct corporation, with its own flag, Leopold was also able to mask his private empire with some of the veneer of his former 'humanitarian' promises. In order to fund the project of colonisation, the Association took control of the rubber and ivory trades. Much of the land was given to concessionary businesses, which in return were expected to build railroads or simply to occupy a specific, disputed region. Concessions were granted the power to tax Congolese villages at rates of between 6 and 24 francs annually per head, an almost meaningless figure in a country where there were no large stocks of cash in circulation. Africans then had to work to produce crops in kind. Companies were also set up to exploit the mineral resources, as well as human labour. The Union Miniere du Haut-Katanga, established in 1905, was soon joined by the Compagnie de Fer du Congo, the Compagnie du Katanga, the Compagnie des Magasins Generaux, the Compagnie des Produits du Congo, the Syndic at Commercial du Katanga, and so on. Many of these were owned directly by Leopold, or indirectly, through his appointed proxies.

European officers and administrators were recruited to manage the logistics of running a large country as an empire. By 1906 there were 1,500 civil servants, and established transport routes between the coast and the interior. Missionaries were sent, with the explicit blessing of a Vatican keen to counteract earlier Protestant missions. Local troops were organized into a nascent army, the Force Publique. Although this detachment claimed 19,000 troops in 1888, such high numbers could only be maintained through the conscription of unwilling local people. In 1892 one judge wrote to the governor-general asking why it was that three-quarters of his soldiers died between conscription and arrival in the cities?

Similar patterns of forced labour were employed to recruit porters, carriers and other workers. In 1896, the surviving members of the Force Publique were sent out to capture 10,000 unskilled laborers, who were then set to work on the building of the Congo 's first railway. We do not know how many survived. Yet we do know that by the time it was finished the track was little more than a short tramline. One critic pointed out that just a few miles of rail had cost 40 million francs; but no on~ counted the human cost. The waste of people and resources was typical of Leopold's rule. Bill Berkeley observes that for all the kleptocratic dictators of the Congo, there has been one model, Leopold. (B. Berkeley, The Graves Are Not Yet Fuff: Race, Tribe and Power in the Heart of Africa, 2001, p. Il5).

According to historian Neal Ascherson: Like one of those last dinosaurs at the end of the saurian age whose very size or length of fang or desperate elaboration of armour sought to postpone the general decline of their race, Leopold developed in his own person into a most formidable type of King, designed for the environments of the late nineteenth century, which used the new forms of economic growth to strengthen and extend royal authority. Other monarchs watched the growth of modern trust capitalism with mixed feelings of suspicion, incomprehension and contempt. Leopold understood that the private fortunes of a King remained as much a measure of his power to act freely as they had been in the Middle Ages. (N. Ascherson, The King Incorporated: Leopold the Second and the Congo, 1999, p11).

What changed everything was William Dunlop's 1890 discovery that cheap inflatable bicycle tires could be manufactured from rubber. Other uses of rubber were soon patented, in tubing, insulation and wiring. Eventually, the greatest use for rubber would be found in car tires. The sources of Leopold's wealth were more modest, a Dunlop-inspired cycling boom. Forests of cultivated rubber were eventually to be planted in Southeast Asia, but in the years before these came to maturity, the greatest source of rubber was equatorial Africa, where rubber grew wild. Leopold announced that his representatives in the Congo would now enjoy a monopoly of the trade in rubber and ivory. (J. Stenghers and J. Vansina, 'King Leopold's Congo', in J.D. Page and R. Oliver (eds), The Cambridge History of Africa, Volume 6: From 1870 to 1905, Cambridge University Press, 1985, pp. 313-58).

 While he quadrupled the export duty on ivory, he announced that his representatives would now enjoy a monopoly of the trade in rubber and ivory. (J. Stenghers and J. Vansina, 'King Leopold's Congo', in J.D. Page and R. Oliver (eds), The Cambridge History of Africa, Volume 6: From ISlo to 1905 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1985), pp. 313-58).

An 1891 decree compelled the Congolese to supply to Leopold's representatives. No trade was required. 'Labour' was accumulated along perceived family and triballines. (W.J. Samarin, The Black Man's Burden: African Colonial Labour on the Congo and Ubangi Rivers 188O-1900, 1989, p. 231).

Villages were presented with terrible demands, which could only be paid if the men of the village gave themselves over to forced labour. Where villages refused, Leopold's army, the Force Publique, was employed. Homes were burned and the hands of the victims were taken for payment, as evidence of successful kills. Thus in the context of the Congo, one could say that rubber production created a slave society, dependent on the mass levy of village labour, under the auspices of an authoritarian colonial administration; later, copper would be the source of independently run state growth, depending as it did on a network of mines, transport, machinery and a thriving state apparatus. Eventually, as we shall see, the production of diamonds for export would be able to continue profitably whether under regular government or in conditions of extreme deprivation, in malign anarchy, through the collapse of the state and civil war. Conan Doyle (the author of ‘Sherlock Holmes’) provided a vivid account of the conditions under which the rubber was taken. White agents were paid 150 to 300 francs per month, a lower salary than many European workers. But the greater the rubber harvest in their area, the more money they received by way of bonuses, and the greater was their own chance of securing enough money to buy their own passage home. The agents employed black foremen, 'Capitas', to live among villagers, imposing discipline on them. These newly appointed 'local officials' were often former member’s of the Force Publique. They had been trained to commit acts of the most extreme brutality. Not surprisingly, the Capitas were extremely unpopular: In one period, various rebellions killed some 142 of them in just seven months. But resistance was often fatal. Learning of the death of one of their representatives, white agents would only come with arms and destroy the village. Black people managed the tyranny, but they did so under white orders. 'Often too the white man pushed the black aside, and acted himself as torturer and executioner.'so Other critics dubbed this system 'red rubber', as if the trees grew on the blood of Leopold's dead. This economic system contained something of the feudal system. There was a military power. The structure of authority was like a pyramid, with King Leopold at the top, appointing subordinates downwards. The British historian Eric Hobsbawm has argued that Leopold was motivated rather by a search for consumers, to purchase excess Belgian goods. With bitter irony, Hobsbawm records that Leopold's 'favourite methods of exploitation by forced labour was not designed to encourage high per capita purchases, even when it did not actually diminish the number of customers by torture and massacre'. (E. Hobsbawm, The Age of Empire, 1375-1914, London, 1987),1', 66).

It is possible that such explanations are in fact too complex. Hobsbawm's model fits the system that Livingstone desired to create, not the one that Leopold actually made. According to Bertrand Russell, Each village was ordered by the authorities to collect and bring in a certain amount of rubber, as much as the men could collect and bring in by neglecting all work for their own maintenance. If they failed to bring the required amount, their women were taken away and kept as hostages in compounds or in the harems of government employees. If this method failed, native troops ... were sent into the village to spread terror, if necessary by killing some of the men; but in order to prevent a waste of cartridges, they were ordered to bring one right hand for every cartridge used. If they missed, or used cartridges on big game, they cut off the hands of living people to make up the necessary number. ('Murder for Money: Congo, First Genocide of the Twentieth Century', in B. Russell, Freedom and Organization 1b4-1914, London, 1934).

For the historian Peter Forbath, The baskets of severed hands, set down at the feet of the European post commanders, became the symbol of the Congo Free State. The collection of hands became an end in itself. Force Publique soldiers brought them to the stations in place of rubber; they even went out to harvest them instead of rubber .... They became a sort of currency. They came to be used to make up for shortfalls in rubber quotas, to replace ... the people who were demanded for the forcedlabout gangs; and the Force Publique soldiers were paid their bonuses on the basis of how many hands they collected. (Forbath, The River Congo, 1977 p. 105).

In 1906, the Belgian anti-slavery activist Alphonse Jacques warned of the 'complete extinction' of the Congolese people. Such language may seem extreme, yet there is no doubt that the advent of Leopold's colonialism was a disaster for the local population. Famine combined with disease and the introduction of forced labour. The demographic evidence shows an extraordinary rate of killing. Citing Belgian sources, Adam Hochschild writes that the population of the region fell from over 20 million people in I89I to 8.5 million in 1911, only to recover somewhat over the next decade to IO million in I924. (Adam Hochschild, King Leopold's Ghost,1999, p. 233).

Yet Leopold's capture of the Congo had been based on the most fair-sounding of promises. In I889-90, for example, Brussels hosted eight months of humanitarian meetings, culminating in an Anti Slavery Conference of the major powers. Under Belgian direction, Leopold indicated, the Congolese were proceeding quickly in the direction of prosperity, public education and eventual self-government. By loudly trumpeting the glorious future facing the black Africans, by holding out the distant possibility of tutelage leading to self-government, by declaring his new country a ' Free State ', Leopold successfully presented himself as the inheritor of the liberal ideal. In the absence of sustained Congolese voices, we have to make do with Western sources. The first significant protest to find its way into the newspapers came in 1890, when George Washington Williams, significantly a black American lawyer, historian and missionary, dedicated an Open Letter to His Serene Majesty Leopold II. The contents were less flattering than the title. Williams had actually travelled to the region, initially believing that the Congo was an area of human advance. On his expected return to America, he hoped to establish a movement of black people to travel back to Africa. What Williams actually found in the Congo dismayed him. He learned from the people he met thit Stanley had cheated his way into acquiring these territories, with gin, threats and fake magic tricks. Prisoners were jailed. White traders had kidnapped black women for concubines. Good government and public services were non-existent. Far from bringing an end to slavery, Leopold's agents had made the system endemic. (J. Hope Franklin, George Washington Williams: A Biography, University of Chicago Press, 1985).

Williams' Open Letter was printed widely discussed by the press in Europe and America. Only its author's death, in England in 1891 of tuberculosis, prevented the furore from engulfing the entire colony. Another early critic, the Swedish missionary Edward Wilhelm Sjoblom arrived in the Congo on 3I July 1892. Within days, he had witnessed a terrible beating, on the steamer in which he travelled. The instrument employed was the chicotte, a whip of trimmed hippo hide with edges like knife blades. The captain of the steamer was under orders to catch 300 boys, who might serve in the Force Publique. One boy was indeed found, and then bound to the steam engine, I he hottest part of the boat. Sjoblom took up the story of what happened to the child. The captain showed the boy the chicotte, but made him wait all day before letting him taste it. However, the moment of suffering came. I tried to count the lashes and think they were about sixty, apart from the kicks to the head and back. The captain smiled with satisfaction when he saw the boy's thin garb soaked with blood. I had to witness all this in silence. At dinner, they talked of their exploits concerning the treatment of the blacks. They mentioned one of their equals who had flogged three of his men so mercilessly that he had died as a result. This was reckoned to be valour. One of them said, 'The best of them is too good to die like a pig.' (Quoted in S. Lindquist, 'Exterminate All· the Brutes', London, 1997), p. 20).

Thus, although it is possible that some young Congolese welcomed the arrival of Stanley, hoping that the people of the region too would benefit, no process by which wealth or skills were allowed to 'trickle down'. The exploitation of the local population intensified; the misery increased. The population declined sharply, as a result of disease, massacre and the toll of forced labour. Some of the winners were more obvious: Leopold's family, the share owners and the banks. Exports from the Congo Free State rose from 11.5 million francs in 1895 to 47.5 million in 1900. Exports of rubber rose from 580 tons to 3,740 in the same years. Between 1896 and 1905, just one concession the Domaine de fa Couronne, earned Leopold 70 million Belgian francs in profit. (J. Polasky, The Democratic Socialism of Emile Vandervelde: Between Reform and Revolution, Oxford, 1995, p. 59).

Beyond the Belgian King, there stood a network of acolytes, allies and place-keepers, all of whom received shares in the great enterprise. Vast profits were made. Company Abir, one concession in the Belgian Congo, possessed capital of just one million Belgian francs, yet in l897 it returned an annual profit of l,247,455 francs: more than a l00 per cent turnover on the initial stake. (E.D. Morel, The British Case in French Congo: The Story of a Great Injustice, Its Causes and its Lessons, 1903, p. 56).

Leopold also used the vast profits he made to build palaces at Laeken, the Arch of the Cinquantenaire, and a colonial museum at Tervuren. He even succeeded in cooking the books, to make the rich empire look like a money-loser. Eventually, in l908, the Belgian government agreed to pay Leopold the sum of IrO million francs to release him from his 'debt'. Even this vast sum does not convey the extraordinary profits that Leopold was able to make, as a result of his conquest. In November 1909, a month before his death, Leopold bought fifty-eight large Pioperties worth at least l2 million francs. Another front company, the Fondation de Niederfiillbach possessed assets worth 45 million francs, including jewels. Yet Leopold's estate was worth just l5 million francs. (Martin Ewans, European Atrocity, African Catastrophe, Leopold II, the Congo Free State and Its Aftermath, p.231).

A demand for reform of the Belgian Congo was raised in America, where politicians threatened to investigate King Leopold. Other critics included the novelist Mark Twain and the black activists Booker T. Washington and W.E.B. DuBois. British opponents of the private empire included E.D. Morel, Roger Casement, Arthur Conan Doyle and Joseph Conrad. The Belgian deputy Emile Vandervelde toured the region and defended the critics of the empire in the Congo 's courts. (Polasky, The Democratic Socialism of Emile Vandervelde).

The most surprising of these dissidents was perhaps Morel. A successful trader of French extraction, Morel's full name was Georges Edmond Pierre Achille Morel-de-Ville. He was employed from l89l at Elder Dempster, the Liverpool shipping company that controlled the trade between Britain and the Congo. An occasional visitor to Belgium, Morel also worked as a freelance journalist. He started to write about Africa from l893. One early article, published in the English Pall Mall Gazette on l6 July l897, defended King Leopold's Free State. Contrary to the accounts that were then coming out in other British papers, Morel insisted that there was no slavery in Leopold's colony. Black workers were paid the equivalent of 30’s per month, more than many unskilled workers in Britain. Some 4,000 tonnes of goods were sent out from the Congo each year. The colony was evidently not bankrupt. If there were problems with the Congo, this was because the people were still degenerate, ignorant and backward. The Belgian experiment deserved 'fair play'. (E.D. Morel, History of the Congo Reform Movetnent, Oxford,1968).

So far, there was nothing untypical about Morel. But one day in 1897 or 1898, a strange thought occurred to him. Morel took to studying the goods loaded and unloaded from the Congo ships. He saw vast quantities of rubber and ivory being unloaded in Antwerp, but nothing of any substance was sent out, beyond officers and firearms. What did that mean? The realisation then dawned on him that there could only be one answer. For all the wealth produced in Africa, the people of the country must receive nothing in return. Their wealth was simply being stolen from them. On 24 March 1900, Morel penned his first critical article, 'Belgium and the Congo State ', in The Speaker. He described the Free State as a system of private theft. Morel left his post with Elder Dempster, devoting his energies full-time to the anti-Belgian cause. He established a paper, the West African Mail, which filled its columns with exposes of Leopold's 'system'. (J. Marchal, E.D. Morel Contre Leopold: L'Histoire du Congo 1900-1910, vol.I, Paris, 1996, pp. 12-14, 16, 20).

Morel made contact with Roger Casement, the British consul to the region. They met for the first time on 10 December 1903, with Casement recording in his diary: 'Grattan Guinness called on me in afternoon and then Ed. Morel. First time I met him. The man is honest as day. Dined at Comedy together late and then to chat till 2 am. Morel sleeping in study.' It was an eventful meeting. Casement persuaded Morel to launch a new public campaign, The Congo Reform Association. Through the next ten years, Morel's Association campaigned for reform. Hundreds of meetings were held each year. The campaign grew in size. It also suffered many setbacks. One of Morel's best sources was a Nigerian trader, Hezekiah Andrew Shanu, an independent-minded person, with strong business links across the region. Shanu's letters of criticism had to be shipped out from the Congo in great secrecy. They were then published in the British press, but always under a pseudonym. In 1904, Leopold's agents revealed that Shanu was the source. Facing ruin, Shanu killed himself. From 1903 onwards, Morel did not campaign just for the reform of the Belgian Congo, but also for the transformation of the French Congo. He argued that the French rulers of the neighbouring territory had witnessed the success of Leopold's empire, and were now determined to copy it themselves. The intensive competition between French and British traders had been to the detriment of British interests: 'The factories of British merchants are broken into; native traders in British employ are flogged; produce paid for by British merchants is openly appropriated.78 This last observation highlights an important contradiction within the reform movement. Morel and his closest friends closest to the reality of European colonialism were radicalised by the campaign. They also learned of widespread abuses in British Africa, and realised that more was wrong than simply the Belgian ownership of the Congo Free State and the actions of French traders. From being simply a middle-of-the-road businessman, Morel became a critic of all imperial adventures. Yet, even while Morel and Casement were pushed leftwards, their campaign still received considerable support from Liverpool businessmen and Conservative bishops. In May 1903, the House of Lords unanimously passed a motion accusing the Belgian rulers of the Congo of ill-treating the black population. The message was directed towards the rulers of imperial Britain. Morel described his cause as 'the British Case'. Only after 1908 did Morel's full radicalism become evident. Following the success of this campaign, his next cause would be the struggle to expose the secret treaties, and the pernicious role they played in the outbreak of the Great War. After 1914, Morel blamed European colonial adventurism for the outbreak of war. (G. Gudenkauf, Belgian Congo: Postal History of the Lado Enclave 1397-1910, 1986, p. 52).

By then, however, Morel was taking positions far to the left of the ones that he had held before 1908.Morel's ally Roger Casement was an Anglo-Irish diplomat. Arriving in Africa in 1885 he briefly worked for Elder Dempster, which also employed Morel. Casement then served as a civil servant on Leopold's project. This experience of the Congo in the 1880s served Casement well. It meant that he possessed vivid memories of the situation before Leopold's empire had been fully established; against which he could then contrast the system at its height. In 1891 Casement was appointed to a post at the Colonial Office, working for the Niger Coast Protectorate. Then in autumn 1900 Casement was sent back to the Congo as British Consul. It was a position of some considerable authority. Sent by the government to answer the colony's critics, Casement found everywhere the signs of a people dying. Fields were deserted.

The surviving people complained bitterly of floggings and of the rubber tax. Casement was convinced that Leopold's whole project was unjust. His 'Congo Report' was submitted to the Marquess of Lansdowne on II December 1903, the day after his first meeting with Morel. 'The trade in ivory', Casement wrote, 'has entirely passed from the hands of the natives of the Upper Congo, and neither fish nor any other outcome of local industry now changes hands on an extensive scale or at any distance from home'. One Belgian expedition of 1900 had resulted in seventeen deaths and loss of much livestock. Compensation was paid to chiefs at a rate of 1,000 brass rods per head (50 francs), 'not probably an extravagant estimate for human life, seeing that the goats were valued at 400 rods each (20 francs).' The population of Lukolela, he observed, had fallen from 6,000 in January 1891 to 719 in December 1896. Another Town, '0', had comprised 4,000 people in 1887. Scores of men had put off in canoes to greet us with invitations that we should spend the night in their village. On steaming into 0 [in 1903] ... I found that this village had entirely disappeared, and that its place was occupied by a large 'camp d'instruction', where some 800 native recruits, brought from various parts of the Congo State, are drilled into soldier-hood by a Commandant and a staff of seven or eight European officers.

The population of Lake Mantumba had fallen by 60 per cent as a result of forced labour.

During the period 1893-1902, the Congo State commenced the system of compelling the native to collect rubber and insisted that the inhabitants of the district should not go out of it to sell their produce to traders .... This great decrease in population has been, to a very great extent, caused by the extreme measures resorted to by officers of the State, and the freedom enjoyed by the soldiers to do just as they pleased.

On his return to England, Casement devoted his energies to the Reform Association. It was launched following a meeting in the Philharmonic Hall in Liverpool on 24 March 1904. Earl Beauchamp was elected president, Edmund Morel the honourary secretary. Other early supporters included the Bishops of Durham, Liverpool, Rochester and St Asaph. In June 1905 Casement became a Companion of the Order of St Michael and St George. The award was made in recognition of his services to the reform of the Congo. It raises an awkward point. Casement was well aware that a part of the campaign's support relied on the reformers' refusal to criticise similar adventures conducted by the British throughout Africa. Indeed, while some supporters of the campaign argued that the best solution would be the full freedom of the Congolese people, others could join it believing that the only alternative to Belgian control was British rule. Casement and Morel were radicalised by their experiences into the adoption of a more fundamental critique of imperialism. Yet they made few efforts initially to distance themselves from mainstream support. (Peter Singleton-Gates and Maurice Girodias: The Black Diaries: An account of Roger Casement's life and times with a collection of his diaries and public writings, Paris, 1959, p.200).

After 1918, Morel considered himself a socialist, yet even now his politics were complex and were shaped by a latent racism, which came to the fore at the time of the French occupation of the Rhineland. Morel's response, The Black Horror on the Rhine, accused the French of employing 50,000 African troops, 'savages', to rape German women. The pamphlet went through many editions. Its success with European readers has been compared to another contemporary falsehood, The Protocols of the Elders of Zion. See R. Reinders, 'E.D. Morel and the "Black Horror on the Rhine", International Review of Social History 13 ,1968, pp. 4-28).

The novelist Arthur Conan Doyle joined the campaign relatively late, publishing his book The Crime of the Congo in 1909. It was dedicated to E.D. Morel, 'The unselfish champion of the Congo races'. Of Belgium, Conan Doyle wrote: 'Her colony is a scandal before the whole world. The era of murders and mutilations has, as we hope, passed by, but the country is sunk into a state of cowed and hopeless slavery. It is not a new story, but merely another stage of the same.' Was it fair to put so much emphasis on Belgian rule? What about British territories? Conan Doyle, a self-declared patriot, rejected the comparison: 'Where land has so been claimed, it has been worked by free labour for the benefit of the African community itself, and not for the purpose of sending the proceeds and profits to Europe. (Conan Doyle, The Crime of the Congo, see above).

Then in July 1901, Emile Vandervelde, a parliamentarian and a leading member of the Socialist International, encouraged a Belgian takeover of the Congo from Leopold and a fundamental reform of the regime there, arguing that 'European civilisation is destined to conquer the world'. On 1 July 1903 Vandervelde attacked existing systems of colonialism as the source of slavery abroad and militarism at home. As long as the empire remained 'in the forms that it takes under the capitalist regime', then such exploitation would continue. Working closely with Morel, Vandervelde told the Belgian parliament on 7 Decemeber 1906: 'We cannot be responsible before world opinion without having acted ourselves, without having reformed the institutions of the Congo.' (Polasky, The Democratic Socialism of Emile Vandervelde, pp. 1O-II, 16, 53, 57-9,61-2,67-9,71).

As late as 1908 Leopold's allies sought to try a black American minister, Sheppard, whose accounts of the horrors had encouraged the reform movement. Morel wired Vandervelde asking for the name of a young lawyer who might be persuaded to voyage out to Africa and defend Leopold's critics. To general surprise, Vandervelde took on the case on a pro bono basis, travelling out to the Congo at his own expense, defending the minister, even risking his own life, but eventually securing Sheppard's release. For all Vandervelde's appealing personal qualities, though, his politics were shaped by the same compromises as I hose of Morel or Casement. His biographer Janet Polasky presents her subject as standing Between Reform and Revo/ution. This is too generous:

Vandervelde's argument that the reform of empire was better than deserting the people to stand alone meant in reality that the Congolese should remain under outside dominance. Such rule may have been reformed, but it was still a form of empire. Had the leaders of Belgian parliamentary socialism clearly demanded self-government for the people of the Congo, such was the crisis, the demand could have been won. In its place, Vandervelde's own scheme was adopted. After 1908, Leopold's private empire was 'nationalised' by the Belgian state.

Thus the Belgian state sought to nationalize its African administration specifically, and the colonial effort more generally. However the effort that went into colonial education after 1908 suggests that the imperial state always viewed its colonial rule to a degree as insecure, perhaps even threatened from within. Despite the great self-assuredness of rule on the ground in the Congo, many Belgian colonials perceived the metropolitan population’s lack of knowledge or interest in the Congo as a danger. Technological, cultural, and religious superiority were not enough to run an empire: national faith in the colony was a necessary accompaniment to overseas expansion. Moreover, colonial rule was not static, rather it was recognized as something in a constant process of becoming. The state and colonial enthusiasts in Belgium wanted to direct how that becoming would turn out.

It is important to address education because by the 20th century elementary education for school-age children in Belgium, as in the rest of western Europe, was required, and the classroom had become a site of instruction in ideology. “The elementary school became the principal institution through which the established order sought to preserve the status quo.” (Theodore S. Hamerow, The Birth of a New Europe: State and Society in the Nineteenth Century, 1983, 167).

The status quo changed in 1908 when Leopold II transferred the EIC to his other state, and instruction needed to change as a result. After 1908, there was widespread concern among colonial veterans, officials, and enthusiasts that Belgian children did not know enough about the empire and that there was an “indifference of the masses for colonial things”. (Closet to Janssens, 9 Aug. 1932, folder 205.816.3 R 1925-49, portefeuille R61 O.C., AA, see also Bulletin de l’Association des Vétérans Coloniaux, no. 1, new series, Aug. 1945 p. 11-12)

Decades after the reprise,director of Belgium ’s colonial university Norbert Laude called on the Commission de Propagande Coloniale Scolaire and the Ministry of Public Education to rectify the matter. (N. Laude, “A propos de l’enseignement colonial en Belgique,” Institut Royal Colonial Belge Bulletin des Séances/Koninklijk Belgisch Koloniaal Instituut Bulletijn der Zittingen 16, no. 2,1945: 280-282).

On a more practical level, administrators and others were concerned that the lack of colonial education restricted the number of candidates to work in the colony. This classroom propaganda reinforced and interacted with pro-imperial messages emanating from Belgian World’s Fairs, the Musée du Congo belge, and the Office Colonial’s (O.C.) quinzaines coloniales, all of which emphasized indoctrinating children. Targeted propaganda in the classroom reinforced messages from these other media: love of dynasty and nation, reverence for Leopold II and the pioneer period, and negative views of Africans.

After the Belgian takeover, Minister of Colonies Jules Renkin sought to address the need for skilled administrators and doctors in the colony resulting from the lack of an education system or colonial spirit among Belgians inherited from the EIC. (Communication faite par M. Orts à la séance du 20 Novembre 1908: de la formation des fonctionnaires coloniaux (n.p., 1908), 4, “Documentation. Commission instituée en vue de rechercher les meilleurs moyens de formation aux carrières coloniales,” report by Institut Solvay, Institut de Sociologie, Groupe d’études coloniales, RG 981, Papiers Pierre Orts, MRAC archives).

In 1910 and 1911, respectively, Renkin created an École de Médicine Tropicale and an École coloniale, both in Brussels. Yet he also almost immediately sought to overhaul and essentially recreate the institutions in order to foster a true school of higher learning for overseas administrators. In 1920, Renkin’s successor Louis Franck oversaw the creation of the flagship colonial educational institution in Belgium, the École Coloniale Supérieure, later renamed the Université Coloniale, seated in Antwerp. (Gann and Duignan, The Rulers of Belgian Africa, 180; A.R. of 30 Sept. 1910). It was renamed Institut Universitaire des Territoires d’Outre-Mer (INUTOM) by Arrêté du régent, 4 May 1949.By 1946 they claimed to have taught close to 1,500 students. (La Revue Colonial Belge, no. 12, 1 Apr. 1946: 15).

But the colonial university in Antwerp , renamed the Université Coloniale in 1923, was exceptional for a number of reasons: it was a boarding school; it was the only state colonial university; it was a strictly national institution; and it was an auxiliary of the Ministry of Colonies. Students lived on campus and their travel off campus, for example back home or to the city of Antwerp, was restricted in order to keep students out of trouble and to cultivate a sense of community. At least in its first years, time off campus was limited to the hours 19h30-22h00 every day and from Saturday afternoons to Sunday night. (Form letter, N. Laude, 23 Sept. 1926, dossier “I.U.C. 1925/1929,Dossier Personnel,” Papiers Robert Moriamé, MRAC archives).

To further foster “camaraderie”, students lived and ate meals together, often sharing those meals with professors. (“C.A. de l’Univ. Coloniale séance du 8/2/27,” portefeuille 94 INUTOM 2e DG 2/4 no. 115 ,3899, 94 -Requètes - Réclamations des étudiants, AA).

The school was for Belgian citizens only, indicating it was a vehicle to nationalize the Congo administration. The program lasted four years,with part or all of the third dedicated to military service.To enter the Université coloniale, students had to be Belgian, be at least 18 years old in the year in which they entered the school, pass a medical exam, and pass an entrance exam in either French or Flemish. Brochure de Propagande: Ecole Coloniale Supérieure (n.p: n.d.), 5. There was de jure prohibition of Congolese attending the university because Congolese did not have Belgian citizenship. Mulatto students were not legally forbid entry, but in practice they were excluded. “Note pour Monsieur le Ministre,” 27 Jan.1950 and letter from Van den Abeele to President of the Conseil d’Administration de l’INUTOM, 18 Aug. 1950, portefeuille 91 INUTOM, 2e DG 2/4 no. 111 (3898) 91 Elèves mulâtres, AA. Nevertheless photographs from the 1927-28 and 1948-49 promotions show some students of very dark complexion. See Fondation Royale des Amis de l’Institut Universitaire des Territoires d’Outre-Mer/Vriendenfonds van het Universitair Instituut voor de Overzeese Gebieden, Middelheim: Mémorial de l’Institut Universitaire des Territoires d’Outre-Mer/Gedenkboek van het Universitair Institut van de Overzeese Gebieden (N.p.: Rossel Edition, 1987).

The school appealed to potential students’ sense of adventure and desire to join an elite even though by 1910 the conquest of the Congo was a fait accompli and the empire less and less could entice recruits with the prospect of adventure, battle, and rapid advancement. Minister of Colonies Louis Franck exhorted students at the end of one of his speeches to,“Become men capable of commanding.” In essence thus the education was moral more than anything else and the school endeavored to create an elite to administer the colony,” It wants to form MEN!” (Brochure de Propagande: Ecole Coloniale Supérieure, 10).

One student recorded Lemaire as telling his students he would do all in his power so that the school produced “a genuine elite, not an elite of words, no, an Elite in the flesh, in heart and mind.” (Roger Depoorter, Le Commandant Charles Lemaire: Pionnier et Pedagogue 1863/1926/Kommandant Charles Lemaire: Pionier en Pedagoog 1863/1926, Antwerp: Fondation Royale des Amis de l’INUTOM/Koninklijk Vriendenfonds van het UNIVOG, 1985).

What we do find in school textbooks in Belgium after 1908 is that there was little written about ‘colonialism in the Congo’in fact in attention to the colony was the rule after the 1908 reprise. In fact Godefroid Kurth’s La Nationalité Belge, a pro-Catholic, anti-socialist history school text that justified the existence of the Belgian nation-state, was updated for publication in 1912, that is to say soon after the annexation of the Congo. This nearly 200-page long work on Belgian history devoted only one page to the Congo, even incorrectly placing the date of annexation at 1909. To put Kurth’s and the other texts discussed below in perspective, it is useful to consider for comparison purposes another general text on Belgian history, Belgium, published in 1945 in a United Nations series edited by Robert J. Kerner in which 78 of 454 pages of text are dedicated to the Congo, almost one fifth of the book. Jan-Albert Goris, ed., Belgium (Berkeley, 1945).

C. Debaere and N. Piret’s 1927 Nieuwe en Nieuwste geschiedenis set aside just seven of its 224 pages to European expansion as a whole, with only one page on the Congo. (C. Debaere and N. Piret, Nieuwe en Nieuwste geschiedenis. Met talrijke platen, kaarten, leesstukken en toepassingen. Leerboek der algemeene geschiedenis ten gebruike van het middelbaar onderwijs en het lager normaalonderwijs. III, 2nd ed, 1927).

Even into the 1950s, there was little increase of coverage of the Congo in textbooks. H. Corijn’s 1951 Algemene en nationale geschiedenis--oriented to the official teaching plan-- dedicated a whole section to “Colonial Expansion and the European Balance,” but only four pages to Belgium and its colony; according to Raphael De Keyser, “Colonial administration or colonization in the literal meaning of the words are practically not treated.” In fact school history textbooks focused on “great men” history, had a moralizing tone, and were patriotic.

What set Belgium apart from other colonizing powers was the fact that Belgium took on the task of colonizing central Africa with reluctance, as opposed to others’ expansion into the continent. Belgian children could be especially proud because Belgian imperialism was altruistic.

Thus Godefroid Kurth presented Belgium as a little, feisty colonial power, taking up a task where no other power dared to tread. Kurth returned to the Congo in the first appendix of his text, regarding Belgium’s role in imperialism: a little country had done what no one else could, or would, do, spread religion and civilization in central Africa, creating the possibility of a future of millions of Christians in a large African nation that could join the ranks of the world’s great countries. Belgium was not only feisty, it was the best colonizing power, paralleling what British schoolchildren learned of their own empire. (MacKenzie, Propaganda and Empire, 1984).

In spite of being a Socialist, Vandervelde as we have seen in an elaborate appeal to the most heroic of instincts, was well versed in the art of concealing privilege. In fact where hen in 1906, 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 were created along the way.

But when Adam Hochschild, King Leopold's Ghost,1999, argues that there is a “collective amnesia” in Belgium about the colonial past, what this should mean is that there is a lack of knowledge among Belgians. It is in this context that I added my own 1999 critical investigation of in this case King Leopold III and SS Ernst Schaefer and Bruno Beger.

From the vantage point of 1908, the idea of someone writing a history of Belgian imperial propaganda in the classroom a century later might have appeared strange, for why would the state, or other groups, need to educate Belgians about the Congo? 

 

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