1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Congo Free State
CONGO FREE STATE, the name formerly given by British writers to the État Indépendant du Congo, a state of equatorial Africa which occupied the greater part of the basin of the Congo river. In 1908 the state was annexed to Belgium. The present article gives (1) the history of the state, (2) an account of the topography, ethnology, &c., of the country and of its economic condition at the date of its becoming a Belgian colony.
The Congo Free State owed its existence to the ambition and
force of character of a single individual. It dated its formal
inclusion among the independent states of the world
from 1885, when its founder, Leopold II., king of the
formation. Belgians, became its head. But to understand how it came into existence a brief account is needed of its sovereign’s connexion with the African continent. In 1876 King Leopold summoned a conference at Brussels of the leading geographical experts in Europe, which resulted in the creation of “The International Association for the Exploration and Civilization of Africa.” To carry out its objects an international commission was founded, with committees in the principal countries of Europe. The Belgian committee at Brussels, where also were the headquarters of the International commission, displayed from the first greater activity than did any of the other committees. It turned its attention in the first place to East Africa, and several expeditions were sent out, which resulted in the founding of a Belgian station at Karema on Lake Tanganyika. But the return of Mr (afterwards Sir) H. M. Stanley from his great journey of exploration down the Congo forcibly directed the attention of King Leopold to the possibilities for exploration and civilization offered by the Congo region. On the invitation of the king, Mr Stanley visited Brussels, and on the 25th of November 1878 a separate committee of the International Association was organized at Brussels, under the name “Comité d’études du Haut Congo.” Shortly afterwards this committee became the “International Association of the Congo,” which in its turn was the forerunner of the Congo Free State. The Association was provided with a nominal capital of £40,000, but from the first its funds were largely supplemented from the private purse of King Leopold; and by a gradual process of evolution the work, which was originally, in name at least, international in character, became a purely Belgian enterprise. Mr Stanley, as agent of the Association, spent four years in the country,founding stations and making treaties with various chiefs. The first station was founded in February 1880 at Vivi, and before returning to Europe in August 1884 Mr Stanley had established twenty-two stations on the Congo and its tributaries. Numerous expeditions were organized by King Leopold in the Congo basin, and the activity of the International Association and its agents began seriously to engage the attention of the European powers interested in Africa. On behalf of Portugal, claims were advanced to the Congo, based on the discovery of its mouth by Portuguese navigators centuries before. In the interests of France, M. de Brazza was actively exploring on the northern banks of the Congo, and had established various posts, including one where the important station of Brazzaville is now situated. The fact that the International Association of the Congo had no admitted status as a sovereign power rendered the tenure of its acquisition somewhat precarious, and induced King Leopold to make determined efforts to secure for his enterprise a recognized position. Early in 1884 a series of diplomatic events brought the question to a head. The 2nd Earl Granville, then British foreign secretary, in February of that year concluded a convention with Portugal, recognizing both banks of the mouth of the Congo as Portuguese territory. This convention was never ratified, but it led directly to the summoning of the Berlin Congress of 1884–1885, and to the recognition of the International Association as a sovereign state.
The United States of America was the first great power, in a convention signed on the 22nd of April 1884, to recognize the Association as a properly constituted state. Simultaneously, King Leopold had been negotiating with the
Recognition by the
powers. French government, the Association’s most serious rival, not only to obtain recognition but on various boundary questions, and on the 23rd of April 1884 Colonel M. Strauch, the president of the Association, addressed to the French minister for foreign affairs a note in which he formally declared that the Association would not cede its possessions to any power, “except in virtue of special conventions, which may be concluded between France and the Association, for fixing the limits and conditions of their respective action.” The note further declared that, as a fresh proof of its friendly feeling towards France, the Association engaged to give France the right of preference if, through unforeseen circumstances, it were compelled to sell its possessions. Mention may here be made of the fact that in a note dated the 22nd of April 1887, M. van Eetvelde, administrator-general of the foreign affairs of the Congo State, informed the French minister at Brussels that the International Association had not intended in 1884 that the right of preference accorded to France could be opposed to that of Belgium; and on the 29th of April the French minister took note, in the name of the French government, of this interpretation of the right of preference, in so far as such interpretation was not contrary to pre-existing international engagements. Germany was the next great power after the United States to recognize the flag of the International Association as that of a friendly state, doing so on the 8th of November 1884, and the same recognition was subsequently accorded by Great Britain on the 16th of December; Italy, 19th of December; Austria-Hungary, 24th of December; Holland, 27th of December; Spain, 7th of January 1885; France and Russia, 5th of February; Sweden and Norway, 10th of February; Portugal, 14th of February; and Denmark and Belgium, 23rd of February. While negotiations with Germany for the recognition of the status of the Congo Free State were in progress, Prince Bismarck issued invitations to the powers to an international conference at Berlin. The conference assembled on the 15th of November 1884, and its deliberations ended on the 26th of February of the following year by the signature of a General Act, which dealt with the relations of the European powers to other regions of Africa as well as the Congo basin. The provisions affecting the Congo may be briefly stated. A conventional basin of the Congo was defined, which comprised all the regions watered by the Congo and its affluents, including Lake Tanganyika, with its eastern tributaries, and in this conventional basin it was declared that “the trade of all nations shall enjoy complete freedom.” Freedom of navigation of the Congo and all its affluents was also secured, and differential dues on vessels and merchandise were forbidden. Trade monopolies were prohibited, and provision made for civilizing the natives, the suppression of the slave trade, and the protection of missionaries, scientists and explorers. Provision was made for the powers owning territory in the conventional basin to proclaim their neutrality. As regards navigation, only such taxes or duties were to be levied as had “the character of an equivalent for services rendered to navigation itself”; and it was further provided that (Article 16) “The roads, railways or lateral canals which may be constructed with the special object of obviating the innavigability or correcting the imperfection of the river route on certain sections of the course of the Congo, its affluents, and other waterways, placed under a similar system as laid down in Article 15, shall be considered, in their quality of means of communication, as dependencies of this river and as equally open to the traffic of all nations. And as on the river itself, so there shall be collected on these roads, railways, and canals only tolls calculated on the cost of construction, maintenance, and management, and on the profits due to the promoters”; while as regards the tariff of these tolls, strangers and natives of the respective territories were to be treated “on a footing of perfect equality.” The International Association not having possessed, at the date of the assembling of the Conference, any recognized status, was not formally represented at Berlin, but the flag of the Association having, before the close of the conference, been recognized as that of a sovereign state by all the powers, with the exception of Turkey, the Association formally adhered to the General Act.
Thus early in 1885 King Leopold had secured the recognition of the Association as an independent state, but its limits were as yet not clearly defined. On the 5th of February, as the result of prolonged negotiations, France conceded the right of the Association to the course of the lowerAgreements as to limits. Congo below Manyanga, and accepted the Chiloango river and the water-parting of the waters of the Niadi Kwilu and the Congo, as far as beyond the meridian of Manyanga, as the boundary between her possessions and those of the Association on the lower river. From Manyanga the frontier was to follow the Congo up to Stanley Pool, the median line of Stanley Pool, and the Congo again “up to a point to be settled above the river Licona-Nkundja,” from which point a line was to be drawn to the 17th degree of longitude east of Greenwich, following as closely as possible the water-parting of the Licona-Nkundja basin. The identity of the Licona-Nkundja subsequently gave rise to considerable discussions with France, and eventually a protocol, signed at Brussels on the 29th of April 1887, continued the boundary along the Congo to its confluence with the Ubangi (Mobangi), whence it followed the thalweg of that river to its intersection with the 4th parallel of north latitude, below which parallel it was agreed that the northern boundary of the Congo Free State should in no case descend. In accepting this frontier King Leopold had to sacrifice all claims to the valley of the Niadi Kwilu, in which he had founded fourteen stations, and to the right bank of the Ubangi. With Portugal the Association concluded an agreement on the 14th of February 1885, by which the northern bank of the Congo was recognized as belonging to the Association, while Portugal retained the southern bank of the river as far as Noki. North of the Congo Portugal retained the small enclave of Kabinda, while south of the river the frontier left the Congo at Noki and followed the parallel of that place to the Kwango river.
In April 1885 the Belgian chamber authorized King Leopold “to be the chief of the state founded in Africa by the International Association of the Congo,” and declared that “the union between Belgium and the new State of the Congo shall be exclusively personal.” This act of the Belgian legislature regularized the position of King Leopold, who at once began the work of organizing an administration for the new state. In a circular letter addressed to the powers on the 1st of August 1885 His Majesty declared the neutrality of the “Independent State of the Congo,” and set out the boundaries which were then claimed for the new state. At the date of the issue of the circular the agreements with France and Portugal had partially defined the boundaries of the Free State on the lower river, and the 30th degree of longitude east of Greenwich was recognized as the limit of its extension eastwards.
The following is a list of the agreements subsequently made with reference to the boundaries of the state (see also Africa, §5):—
1. 22nd of November 1885, with France.—Protocol for delimitation of the Manyanga region.
2. 29th of April 1887, with France.—Protocol for delimitation of the Ubangi region.
3. 25th of May 1891, with Portugal.—Treaty for delimitation of the Lunda region, and convention of even date for the settlement of frontiers on lower Congo.
4. 24th of March 1894, with Portugal.—Declaration approving delimitation of Lunda region.
5. 12th of May 1894, with Great Britain.—Agreement as to Nile valley and boundaries with British Central Africa.
6. 14th of August 1894, with France.—Agreement as to Mbomu river, and Congo and Nile basins.
7. 5th of February 1895, with France.—Agreement as to Stanley Pool.
8. 9th of May 1906, with Great Britain.—Agreement as to territories leased in 1894 in the Nile valley.
The net result of the above agreements was to leave the Congo
Free State with France, Portugal and Great Britain as her
neighbours on the north, with Great Britain and Germany as
her neighbours on the east, and with Great Britain and Portugal
on her southern frontier. The main object of King Leopold’s
ambition was to obtain an outlet on the Nile, and for the history
of the incidents connected with the two important agreements
made in 1894 with Great Britain and France, and their sequel
in the agreement made with Great Britain in 1906, reference
must be made to the article Africa, § 5. The expenditure
necessitated by the efforts of the king to attain his object involved
a heavy strain on the finances of the state, reacting on
its internal policy. The avowed object of the Free State was
to develop the resources of the territory with the aid of the
natives, but it early became apparent that the Arab slave-traders,
who had established themselves in the country between Lake
Tanganyika and Stanley Falls and on the upper river, opposed
a serious obstacle to the realization of this programme. The
scanty resources at the disposal of the state imposed a policy
of restraint on the officers who were brought into relations with
the Arabs on the upper river, of whom Tippoo-Tib was the chief.
In 1886 the Arabs had destroyed the state station at Stanley
Falls, and it was apparent that a struggle for supremacy was
inevitable. But the Free State was at that time ill prepared
for a trial of strength, and at Mr Stanley’s suggestion the bold
course was taken of appointing Tippoo-Tib governor of Stanley
Falls, as the representative of King Leopold. This was in 1887,
and for five years the modus vivendi thus established continued
in operation. During those years fortified camps were established
by the Belgians on the Sankuru, the Lomami, and the Arumiwi,
and the Arabs were quick to see that each year’s delay increased
the strength of the forces against which they would have to
contend. In 1891 the imposition of an export duty on ivory
excited much ill-will, and when it became known
that, in his march towards the Nile, van Kerckhoven The War
the Arabs. had defeated an Arab force, the Arabs on the upper Congo determined to precipitate the conflict. In May 1892 the murder of M. Hodister, the representative of a Belgian trading company, and of ten other Belgians on the upper Lomami, marked the beginning of the Arab war. When the news reached the lower river a Belgian expedition under the command of Commandant (afterwards Baron) Dhanis was making its way towards Katanga. This expedition was diverted to the east, and, after a campaign extending over several months, during which several battles were fought and the Arab strongholds of Nyangwe and Kasongo were captured, the Arab power was broken and many of the leading Arabs were killed. The political and commercial results of the victory of the Free State troops were thus described by Captain S. L. Hinde, who was Baron Dhanis’s second in command:—
“The political geography of the upper Congo basin has been completely changed, as a result of the Belgian campaign against the Arabs. It used to be a common saying in this part of Africa that all roads lead to Nyangwe. This town, visited by Livingstone, Stanley and Cameron, until lately one of the greatest markets in Africa, has ceased to exist, and its site, when I last saw it, was occupied by a single house. Kasongo, a more recent though still larger centre, with perhaps 60,000 inhabitants, has also been swept away, and is now represented by a station of the Free State 9 m. away on the river-bank. In harmony with this political change the trade routes have been completely altered, and the traffic which used to follow the well-beaten track from Nyangwe and the Lualaba across Tanganyika to Ujiji, or round the lake to Zanzibar, now goes down the Congo to Stanley Pool and the Atlantic.”
These results had been attained largely by the aid of native levies and allies, and a number of the men who had taken part in the Arab campaign were enlisted as permanent soldiers by the Belgians. Among these were some Batetelas, who in 1895 revolted in the Lulua and Lomami districts. The mutineers were eventually defeated; but in 1897, while Baron Dhanis was making his way with a large expedition towards the Nile, the Batetelas again revolted, murdered several of their white officers, and took possession of a large area of the eastern portions of the state. Although defeated on several occasions by the Free State forces, the mutineers were not finally dispersed until near the end of 1900, when the last remnants were reported to have crossed into German territory and surrendered their arms. In other parts of the country the state had difficulties with native chiefs, several of whom preserved their autonomy. In the central Kasai region the state had been unable to make its authority good up to the time it ceased to exist.
The international position of the Free State was from the first
a somewhat anomalous one. It has already been noted that the
right of preference accorded to France in 1884, as
interpreted in 1887, was not intended to be opposed Inter-
national position. to that of Belgium. By his will dated the 2nd of August 1889 King Leopold bequeathed to Belgium “all our sovereign rights over the Independent State of the Congo, as they are recognized by the declarations, conventions and treaties concluded since 1884 between the foreign powers on the one side, the International Association of the Congo and the Independent State of the Congo on the other, as well as all the benefits, rights and advantages attached to that sovereignty.” In July 1890 Belgium acquired, by the terms of a loan to the Congo State which was granted free of interest, the option of annexing the state on the expiry of a period of ten years and six months. Notwithstanding this loan the state became involved in further financial difficulties, and on the 9th of January 1895 the Belgian government entered into a treaty with King Leopold to take over the Free State with all its possessions, claims and obligations, as from the 1st of January of that year. In anticipation of the consent of the Belgian parliament to this treaty, a Franco-Belgian convention was signed on the 5th of February 1895, by which the Belgian government recognized “the right of preference possessed by France over its Congolese possessions in case of their compulsory alienation, wholly or in part.” But after long delays and a violent press the ministry fell, the bill providing for annexation was withdrawn, and the chambers voted a further loan to the Free State to enable it to tide over its immediate difficulties. In 1901, on the expiry of the term of years fixed in the loan convention of 1890, the question of the annexation of the Congo State by Belgium again formed the subject of prolonged discussion. A bill was brought forward in favour of annexation, but this time it was opposed by the Belgian government, which proposed simply to let the loan run on without interest. King Leopold likewise declared himself to be opposed to immediate annexation, and the bill was withdrawn. Under the terms of the government measure, which finally passed through the Belgian parliament in August 1901, Belgium retained her right of option, though not the right to exercise it at a fixed date. Moreover, in anticipation of the time when the Congo State would become a Belgian colony, there was issued under date of 7th of August 1901 the terms of a proposed loi organique, regulating the government of any colonial possessions which Belgium might acquire.
The discussions which from time to time took place in the Belgian parliament on the affairs of the Congo State were greatly embittered by the charges brought against the state administration. The administration of the state had indeed undergone a complete change since the early years of its existence. A decree of the 1st of July 1885 had, it is true, declared all “vacant lands” the property of the state (Domaine privé de l’état), but it was not for some time that this decree was so interpreted as to confine the lands of the natives to those they lived upon or “effectively” cultivated. Their rights in the forest were not at first disputed, and the trade of the natives and of Europeans was not interfered with. But in 1891—when the wealth in rubber and ivory of vast regions had been demonstrated—a secret decree was issued (Sept. 21) reserving to the state the monopoly of ivory and rubber in the “vacant lands” constituted by the decree of 1885, and circulars were issued making the monopoly effective in the Aruwimi-Welle, Equator and Ubangi districts. The agents of the state were enjoined to supervise their collection, and in future natives were to be obliged to sell their produce to the state. By other decrees and circulars (October 30 and December 5, 1892, and August 9, 1893) the rights of the natives and of white traders were further restricted. No definition had been given by the decree of 1885 as to what constituted the “vacant lands” which became the property of the state, but the effect of the later decrees was to assign to the government an absolute proprietary right over nearly the whole country; a native could not even leave his village without The state becomes a monopolist trading concern. a special permit. The oppressive nature of these measures drew forth a weighty remonstrance from the leading officials, and Monsieur C. Janssen, the governor, resigned. Vigorous protests by the private trading companies were also made against this violation of the freedom of trade secured by the Berlin Act, and eventually an arrangement was made by which certain areas were reserved to the state and certain areas to private traders, but the restrictions imposed on the natives were maintained. Large areas of the state domain were leased to companies invested with very extensive powers, including the exclusive right to exploit the produce of the soil. In other cases, e.g. in the district of Katanga, the state entered into partnership with private companies for the exploitation of the resources of the regions concerned. The “concession” companies were first formed in 1891 under Belgian law; in 1898 some of them were reconstituted under Congo law. In all of them the state had a financial interest either as shareholder or as entitled to part profits.
This system of exploitation of the country was fruitful of
evil, and was mainly responsible for the bad treatment of the
natives. Only in the lower Congo and a narrow strip
of land on either side of the river above Stanley PoolCharges of maladmin-
istration. was there any freedom of trade. The situation was aggravated by the creation in 1896, by a secret decree, of the Domaine de la conronne, a vast territory between the Kasai and Ruki rivers, covering about 112,000 sq. m. To administer this domain, carved out of the state lands and treated as the private property of Leopold II., a Fondation was organized and given a civil personality. It was not until 1902 that the existence of the Domaine de la couronne was officially acknowledged. The Fondation controlled the most valuable rubber region in the Congo, and in that region the natives appeared to be treated with the utmost severity. In the closing years of the 19th century and the early years of the 20th the charges brought against the state assumed a more and more definite character. As indicated, they fell under two main heads. In the first place the native policy of the Congo government was denounced as at variance with the humanitarian spirit which had been regarded by the powers as one of the chief motives inspiring the foundation of the Congo State. In the second place it was contended that the method of exploitation of the state lands and the concessions system nullified the free trade provisions of the Berlin Act. Reports which gave colour to these charges steadily accumulated, and gave rise to a strong agitation against the Congo State system of government. This agitation was particularly vigorous in Great Britain, and the movement entered on a new era when on the 20th of May 1903 the House of Commons agreed without a division to the following motion:—
“That the government of the Congo Free State having, at its inception, guaranteed to the powers that its native subjects should be governed with humanity, and that no trading monopoly or privilege should be permitted within its dominions, this House request His Majesty’s Government to confer with the other powers, signatories of the Berlin General Act, by virtue of which the Congo Free State exists, in order that measures may be adopted to abate the evils prevalent in that state.”
In accordance with this request the 5th marquess of Lansdowne, then secretary of state for foreign affairs, issued a despatch on the 8th of August 1903 to the British representatives at the courts of the powers which signed the Berlin Act, drawing attention to the alleged cases of ill-treatment of natives and to the existence of trade monopolies in the Congo Free State, and in conclusion stating that His Majesty’s government would “be glad to receive any suggestions which the governments of the signatory powers might be disposed to make in reference to this important question, which might perhaps constitute, wholly or in part, the subject of a reference to the tribunal at the Hague.” This despatch failed to evoke any response from the powers, with the single exception of Turkey, but the public agitation against the Congo State régime continued to grow in force, being greatly strengthened by the publication in February 1904 of a report by Mr Roger Casement, then British consul at Boma, on a journey which he had made through the middle Congo region in 1903 (described as the “Upper” Congo in the report). The action on the part of the British government resulted in considerable correspondence with the Congo government, which denied the charges of systematic ill-treatment of the natives and controverted the contention that its policy constituted an infringement of the Berlin Act. In July 1904, however, King Leopold issued a decree appointing a commission of inquiry to visit the Congo State, investigate the condition of the natives, and if necessary recommend reforms. The commission was composed of M. Edmond Janssens, advocate-general of the Belgian Cour de Cassation, who was appointed president; Baron Giacomo Nisco, president ad interim of the court of appeal at Boma; and Dr E. de Schumacher, a Swiss councillor of state and chief of the department of justice in the canton of Lucerne. Its stay in the Congo State lasted from the 5th of October 1904 to the 21st of February 1905, and during that time the commissioners ascended the Congo as far as Stanleyville. Report of the Commission of inquiry. The report of the commission of inquiry was published, minus the minutes of the evidence submitted to the commissioners, in November 1905. While expressing admiration for the signs which had come under its notice of the advance of civilization in the Congo State, the commission confirmed the reports of the existence of grave abuses in the upper Congo, and recommended a series of measures which would in its opinion suffice to ameliorate the evil. It approved the concessions system in principle and regarded forced labour as the only possible means of turning to account the natural riches of the country, but recognized that though freedom of trade was formally guaranteed there was virtually no trade, properly so called, among the natives in the greater portion of the Congo State, and particularly emphasized the need for a liberal interpretation of the land laws, effective application of the law limiting the amount of labour exacted from the natives to forty hours per month, the suppression of the “sentry” system, the withdrawal from the concession companies of the right to employ compulsory measures, the regulation of military expeditions, and the freedom of the courts from administrative tutelage. Simultaneously with the report of the commission of inquiry there was published a decree appointing a commission to study the recommendations contained in the report, and to formulate detailed proposals.
Naturally the development of the charges against the Congo State system of administration was followed with close interest in Belgium. Little or nothing was done, however, Renewed movement for annexation in Belgium.to advance the bill brought forward in August 1901, providing for the government of the Congo State in the event of its becoming a Belgian colony. The existence of this measure was recalled in a five days’ debate which took place in the Belgian parliament in the spring of 1906, when the report of the commission of inquiry and the question of the position in which Belgium stood in relation to the Congo State formed the subject of an animated and important discussion. In the resolution which was adopted on the 2nd of March the chamber, “imbued with the ideas which presided over the foundation of the Congo State and inspired the Act of Berlin,” expressed its confidence in the proposals which the commission of reforms was elaborating, and decided “to proceed without delay to the examination of the projected law of the 7th of August 1901, on the government of Belgium’s colonial possessions.” The report of the reforms commission was not made public, but as the fruit of its deliberations King Leopold signed on the 3rd of June 1906 a number of decrees embodying various changes in the administration of the Congo State. By the advocates of radical reforms these measures were regarded as utterly inadequate, and even in Belgium, among those friendly to the Congo State system of administration, some uneasiness was excited by a letter which was published along with the decrees, wherein King Leopold intimated that certain conditions would attach to the inheritance he had designed for Belgium. Among the obligations which he enumerated as necessarily and justly resting on his legatee was the duty of respecting the arrangements by which he had provided for the establishment of the Domaine de la couronne and the Domaine privé de l’état. It was further declared that the territories bequeathed would be inalienable.
The fears excited by this letter that King Leopold desired to restrict Belgium’s liberty of action in the Congo State when the latter should become a Belgian colony were not diminished by the announcement in November 1906 of four new concessions, conferring very extensive rights on railway, mining and rubber companies in which foreign capital was largely interested. This was immediately before the opening in the Belgian chamber of a fresh debate in which the history of the Congo question entered on a new stage of critical importance not only from the national but the international point of view. It had become evident, indeed, that things could not continue as they were. In reply to an influential deputation which waited upon him on the 20th of November, Sir Edward Grey, speaking as the representative of the British government in his capacity as secretary of state for foreign affairs, expressed the desire “that Belgium should feel that her freedom of action is unfettered and unimpaired and her choice unembarrassed by anything which we have done or are likely to do”; but he added that if Belgium should fail to take action “it will be impossible for us to continue to recognize indefinitely the present state of things without a very close examination of our treaty rights and the treaty obligations of the Congo State.”
The debate in the Belgian chamber opened on the 28th of November and was not concluded till the 14th of December. It was largely occupied with the consideration of the relations between Belgium and the Congo State from the constitutional point of view. A resolution was finally adopted by 128 votes to 1, thirty Socialist members abstaining from voting. In this resolution the chamber took note of “the replies of the government, according to which the declarations contained in the letter of the 3rd of June do not constitute conditions but ‘solemn recommendations,’ while ‘the convention of cession will have no other object than to effect the transference and define the measures for its accomplishment, and the Belgian legislature will regulate the régime of its colonial possessions in unrestricted liberty.’ ” In conclusion the chamber, “desiring without prejudice (sans préjuger sur le fond) that the question of the annexation of the Congo should be brought before the chamber in the shortest possible time, in accordance with the intention expressed by the government,” recorded its desire that the central committee charged to examine the draft law of the 7th of August 1901 should “hasten its labours and lay its report at an early date.” (J. S. K.)
For the purpose of considering the proposed colonial law the
central committee was changed into a special commission,
which from the number of members constituting it
became known as the Commission of XVII. The Progress of negotiations.
commission held its first meeting on the 31st of January
1907, and did not complete its labours until the 25th
of March 1908. Taking as the basis for discussion the draft loi
organique of 1901, it elaborated a measure laying down the
principles applicable to the Congo State when it should become a
Belgian colony. The draft bill of 1901 had left the autocratic
power of the sovereign unchanged; the colonial bill as passed
by the commission completely reversed the situation, replacing
the absolutism of the king by thorough parliamentary control.
This result was only achieved after a severe struggle and after
an emphatic declaration by Sir E. Grey that the British government
would regard any other solution as inadmissible (see infra).
While the commission was sitting, further evidence was forthcoming
that the system complained of on the Congo remained
unaltered, and that the “reforms” of June 1906 were illusory.
Various revolts of the natives also occurred, and in some parts
of the state complete anarchy prevailed. Not only in Great
Britain and America did the agitation against the administration
of the Congo State gain ground, but in Belgium and France reform
associations enlightened public opinion. The government
of Great Britain let it be known that its patience was not inexhaustible,
while the senate of the United States declared that
it would support President Roosevelt in his efforts for the
amelioration of the condition of the inhabitants of the Congo.
The attitude of the powers was at the same time perfectly
friendly towards Belgium. In this manner the movement in
favour of ending the baneful régime of Leopold II. was strengthened.
On the 10th of July 1907 the Belgian premier announced
that negotiations with the Congo State would be renewed, and
on the 28th of November following a treaty was signed for the
cession of the Congo State to Belgium. This treaty
cession. stipulated for the maintenance of the Fondation de la couronne. This “government within a government” was secured in all its privileges, its profits as heretofore being appropriated to allowances to members of the royal family and the maintenance and development of “works of public utility” in Belgium and the Congo, those works including schemes for the embellishment of the royal palaces and estates in Belgium and others for making Ostend “a bathing city unique in the world.” The state was to have the right of redemption on terms which, had the rubber and ivory produce alone been redeemed, would have cost Belgium about £8,500,000.
Even those politicians least disposed to criticize the actions of the king protested vigorously against the provisions concerning the Fondation. It was recognized that the chamber would not vote the treaty of cession unless those provisions were modified. Negotiations between Leopold II. and the Belgian premier followed. While they were in progress the British government again expressed its views, and in very monitory language. They were conveyed in a passage in the king’s speech at the opening of parliament on the 29th of January, and in a statement by Sir Edward Grey in the House of Commons on the 26th of February. Sir Edward Grey affirmed that the Congo State had “morally forfeited every right to international recognition,” and quoted with approval Lord Cromer’s statement that the Congo system was the worst he had ever seen. The foreign secretary declared, in reference to the negotiations for the transfer of the Congo to Belgium, that any semi-transfer which left the controlling power in the hands of “the present authorities” would not be considered by Great Britain as a guarantee of treaty rights. On the same day that Sir Edward Grey spoke a parliamentary paper was issued (Africa No. 1, 1908) containing consular reports on the state of affairs in the Congo. The most significant of these reports was from Mr W. G. Thesiger, consul at Boma, who in a memorandum on the application of the labour tax, after detailing various abuses, added, “The system which gave rise to these abuses still continues unchanged, and so long as it is unaltered the condition of the natives must remain one of veiled slavery.” Eight days later (on the 5th of March) an additional act was signed in Brussels annulling the clauses in the treaty of cession concerning the Fondation, which was to cease to exist on the day Belgium assumed the sovereignty of the Congo and its property to be absorbed in the state domains. Leopold II., however, was able to obtain generous compensation for the surrender of the Fondation. Certain fragments of the domain, including an estate of 155 sq. m. in Africa, a villa at Ostend, and some land at Laeken, were kept by the king, who further retained a life interest in property on the Riviera and elsewhere. Belgium undertook at her own charges and at an estimated cost of £2,000,000 to complete “the works of embellishment” begun in Belgium with funds derived from the Fondation and to create a debt of £2,000,000 chargeable on the funds of the colony, which sum was to be paid to the king in fifteen annual instalments—the money, however, to be expended on objects “connected with and beneficial to the Congo.” The annuities to members of the royal family were to be continued, and other subsidies were promised. But the most important provision was the agreement of Belgium to respect the concessions granted in the lands of the Fondation in November 1906 to the American Congo Company and the Compagnie forestière et minière, companies in which the Congo State had large holdings.
Both the treaty of cession and the additional act were submitted to the Commission of XVII. That body expressed its approval of both measures. Its report on the treaty and the proposed colonial law were presented to the chamber on the 3rd of April. Neither the treaty, the additional act, nor the colonial law expressly modified the land, commercial and concessionary régime established in the Congo, but article II. of the colonial law provided that laws should be passed as soon as possible to settle the natives' rights to real property and the liberty of the individual, while the Belgian government announced its determination to fulfil scrupulously all the obligations imposed on the Congo by international conventions. Public opinion in Belgium was disturbed and anxious at the prospect of assuming responsibility for a vast, distant, and badly administered country, likely for years to be a severe financial drain upon the resources of the state. But, though those who opposed annexation formed a numerous body, all political parties were agreed that in case of annexation the excesses which had stained the record of the Free State should cease.
On the 15th of April 1908 the chamber began a general debate on the Congo question. The debate made it clear that while the Belgian people did not desire colonial possessions, annexation was the only means of escape from a situation Completion of Act. the country found intolerable. The debate closed on the 20th of August, when the treaty of annexation, the additional act and the colonial law were all voted by substantial majorities. Amendments had been made in the colonial law giving parliament fuller control over Congo affairs and securing greater independence for the judicature. On the 9th of September following the three measures were also voted by the senate. Thus at length ended the hesitation of the legislature, fourteen years after the first annexation bill had been submitted to it. On the 14th of November the state ceased to exist, the rights of sovereignty being assumed by Belgium the next day without ceremony of any kind. Administrative control in Brussels was transferred to the newly created ministry of the colonies.
II. The Belgian Congo
The colony of which Belgium became possessed in the manner narrated in the historical sketch has an area estimated at 900,000 sq. m. It is bounded W. by the Atlantic, N. by French Congo, N.E. by the Anglo-Egyptian Sudan, E. by the Uganda Protectorate, British and German East Africa, S.E. by northern Rhodesia (British), S.W. by Angola (Portuguese). The coastline is only 25 m. long. It extends north from the estuary of the Congo, the northern bank of the estuary belonging to Belgium, the southern to Portugal. The greater part of Belgian Congo lies between the parallels of 4° N. and 10° S. and 18° and 30° E.
Physical Features.—Except for its short coast-line, and for a comparatively small area on its eastern frontier, the colony lies wholly within the geographical basin of the Congo. It may roughly be divided into four zones:—(1) the small coast zone west of the Crystal Mountains, through which the Congo breaks in a succession of rapids to the Atlantic; (2) the great central zone, described below; (3) the smaller zone east of the Mitumba range (including the upper courses of some of the Congo tributaries which have forced their way through the mountains), and west of Lake Mweru and the upper course of the Luapula; and (4) an area which belongs geographically to the Nile valley. The Crystal Mountains form the western edge of the great CentralAfrican plateau and run, roughly, parallel to the coast. The
Mitumba range extends from the south-eastern frontier of the colony, in a north-easterly direction towards Lake Tanganyika, and northwards along the western shore of that lake, past lakes Kivu and Albert Edward to Albert Nyanza, forming the western edge of the western or Albertine rift-valley. This long mountain chain has numerous local names. It varies in altitude from 5000 to 10,000 ft. The eastern escarpment is precipitous, but on its western face it slopes more gently into the Congo basin. North of the Lukuga river the main chain throws out into the central zone, in a north-westerly direction, a secondary range known as the Bambara Mountains, which forms one of the boundaries of the Manyema country. The interior or lake zone is a high plateau with an average elevation of 3000 ft. above sea-level.
The central zone dips with a westerly inclination from the Mitumba Mountains towards the western edge of the plateau. It is described as “a country of alluvial plains, without any marked mountain features, very well watered, covered with forests and wooded savannahs” (A. J. Wauters). The forests occupy the river valleys and are densest in the east and north-east of the state. In these primeval forests the vegetation is excessively rank; passage has to be forced through thick underwood and creeping plants, between giant trees, whose foliage shuts out the sun’s rays; and the land teems with animal and insect life of every form and colour. Describing the forests of the Manyema country, west of Lake Tanganyika, David Livingstone wrote: “Into these [primeval forests] the sun, though vertical, cannot penetrate, excepting by sending down at mid-day thin pencils of rays into the gloom. The rain water stands for months in stagnant pools made by the feet of elephants. The climbing plants, from the size of a whipcord to that of a man-of-war’s hawser, are so numerous, that the ancient path is the only passage. When one of the giant trees falls across the road, it forms a wall breast high to be climbed over, and the mass of tangled ropes brought down makes cutting a path round it a work of time which travellers never undertake.” This description is equally applicable to the forest region extending eastward from the mouth of the Aruwimi almost to Albert Nyanza. This forest covers an area of some 25,000 sq. m., and into a great part of it the sunshine never enters. It is known variously as the Pygmy Forest (from the races inhabiting it), the Aruwimi or Ituri Forest (from the rivers traversing it), the Stanley Forest (from its discoverer), or the Great Congo Forest. It is the largest fragment within the colony of the immense forest which at one time seems to have covered the whole equatorial region. By the banks of the rivers occur the “gallery” formations; i.e. in what appears an impenetrable forest are found avenues of trees “like the colonnades of an Egyptian temple,” veiled in leafy shade, and opening “into aisles and corridors musical with many a murmuring fount” (Schweinfurth).
The Congo and its tributary streams are separately noticed. They form, both from the point of view of the physical geography and the commercial development of the colony, its most important feature; but next in importance are the forests. The wooded savannas are mostly situated on the higher lands of the central zone, where the land dips down from the Mitumba Mountains to the Congo.
The part of the colony within the Nile basin is geographically of great interest. It includes some of the volcanic peaks which, north of Lake Kivu, stretch across the rift-valley and attain heights of 13,000 and 14,000 ft.; Albert Edward Nyanza and part of the Semliki river; part of Ruwenzori (q.v.), the so-called “Mountains of the Moon,” with snow-clad heights exceeding 16,500 ft. The colony also includes the western shores of lakes Tanganyika and Kivu (q.v.).
Geology.—The portion of the great basin of the Congo included in the colony is mainly occupied, so far as it has been explored, by sandstones. These are separable into a lower group (Kundelungu) of red felspathic grits and into an upper group (Lubilasch) of white friable sandstones. Both are considered to represent the Karroo formation of South Africa. The basin in which these sandstones were laid down is limited on the east by ancient gneisses and schists overlain by the highly inclined red felspathic grits. The ancient rocks of Katanga form the southern boundary. The northern periphery lies in French Congo: the western boundary is formed by a zone of Archean and metamorphic rocks and a region composed of several rock groups considered to range between the Silurian and Carboniferous periods; but it is only in the limestones of one group that fossils, indicating a Devonian age, have been found. Rocks of Cretaceous and Tertiary ages are confined to the maritime zone.
Flora.—The most valuable of the forest flora are the lianas, notably Landolphia florida, which yield the india-rubber of commerce. There are also timber trees such as mahogany, ebony, teak, lignum vitae, African cedars and planes, while oil, borassus and bamboo palms are abundant. Other trees are the redwood and camwood. Gum- and resin-yielding trees and plants (such as the acacia) are numerous. Euphorbias attain great size and orchillas are characteristic of the forest weeds. There are innumerable kinds of moss and lichens and ferns with leaves 12 ft. in length. Of the creepers, a crimson-berried variety is known as the pepper climber. Orchids and aloes are common. In the savannas are gigantic baobab trees. In the densest forests the trees, struggling through the tangle of underwood to the light, are often 150 ft. and sometimes 200 ft. in height. The undergrowth itself rises fully 15 ft. above the ground. In many districts the coffee and cotton plants are indigenous and luxuriant. Of fruit trees the banana and plantain are plentiful and of unusual size. Peculiar to the maritime zone are mangoes and the coco-nut palm. Papyrus is found by the river banks.
Fauna.—The forests are the home of several kinds of monkeys, including the chimpanzee in the Aruwimi region; the lion, leopard, wild hog, wolf, hyena, jackal, the python and other snakes, and particularly of the elephant. Among animals peculiar to the forest regions are a tiger-cat about the size of a leopard, the honey badger or black Ituri ratel and the elephant shrew. The zebra, giraffe and the rare okapi are found in the north-eastern borderlands. In the more open districts are troops of antelopes, including a variety armed with tusks, and red buffaloes. Hippopotami and crocodiles abound in the rivers, which are well stocked with many kinds of fish, including varieties resembling perch and bream; and otters make their home in the river banks. The manati is confined to the lower Congo. Bird and insect life is abundant. Among the birds, parrots (especially the grey variety) are common, as are storks and ibises. Herons, hawks, terns, Egyptian geese, fishing eagles (Gypohierax), the weaver and the whydah bird are found in the lower and middle Congo. Whenever the crocodile is out of the water the spur-winged plover is its invariable companion. The innumerable butterflies and dragon-flies have gorgeous colourings. White and red ants are very prevalent, as are mosquitos, centipedes, spiders and beetles.
Climate.—Situated in the equatorial zone, Belgian Congo shows, over the greater part of its area, only a slight variation of temperature all the year round. The mean annual temperature is about 90° F. From July to August the heat increases slightly, with a more rapid rise to November. During December the thermometer remains stationary, and in January begins to rise again, reaching its maximum in February. March is also a month of great heat; in April and May the temperature falls, with a more rapid decline in June, the minimum being reached again in July. The mean temperature is lowered on the seaboard by the coast stream from the south, and the thermometer falls sometimes to little over 50° F. Again in the plateau regions in the south the night temperature is sometimes down to freezing point. There is a marked distinction between the wet and dry seasons in the western districts on the lower Congo, where rains fall regularly from October to May, the dry season being from June to September. But nearer the centre of the continent the seasons are less clearly marked by the amount of precipitation, rain falling more or less regularly at all times of the year. The seasons of greatest heat and of the heavy rains are thus coincident on the lower river, where fever is much more prevalent than on the higher plateau lands nearer the centre of the continent. The amount of the rainfall shows great variations in different years, the records at Banana showing a total fall of 16 in. in 1890–1891 and of 38 in. in 1893–1894. Even in the rainy season on the lower river the rain does not fall continuously for a long period, the storms rarely lasting more than a few hours, but frequently attaining great violence. The greatest fall registered as occurring during a single tornado was 6 in. at Bolobo. In July grass fires are of common occurrence, and frequently sweep over a great expanse of country. M. A. Lancaster, the Belgian meteorologist, formulated, as the result of a study of all the available data, the following rule:—That the rainfall increases in the Congo basin (1) in proportion as one nears the equator from the south, (2) as one passes from the coast to the interior. On the lower Congo the prevailing winds are from the west and the south-west, but this prevalence becomes less and less marked towards the interior, until on the upper river they come from the south-east. The wind, however, rarely attains any exceptional velocity. Storms of extreme violence, accompanied by torrential rain, and in rare instances by hailstones, are of not uncommon occurrence. On the coast and along the course of the lower river fogs are very rare, but in the interior early morning fogs are far from uncommon. Europeans are subject to the usual tropical diseases, and the country is not suited for European colonization. This is due more to the humidity than to the heat of the climate.
Inhabitants.—The population is variously estimated at from 14,000,000 to 30,000,000. The vast bulk of the inhabitants of the Congo basin belong to the Bantu-Negro stock, but there are found, in the great forests, sparsely distributed bands of the Pygmy people, who probably represent the aboriginal inhabitants of Central Africa. (see Akka; Bambute; Batwa; Wochua). In the north-east of the colony, in the upper basin of the Welle and the Mbomu, the Niam-Niam (q.v.) or Azandeh, a Negroid race of warriors and hunters with a social, political and military organization superior to that of the Bantu tribes of the Congo basin, have intruded from the north. They were forcing their way southwards when the Belgians appeared in the upper Congo about 1895 and arrested their further progress. Neighbours to the Azandeh are the Mangbettu and Ababwa, who are found chiefly in the country between the Welle and the Aruwimi. The Mangbettu, who formerly established a hegemony over the indigenous population, Mundu, Abisanga, Mambaré, &c., have practically disappeared as a tribe, though their language and customs still survive. The characteristics of the inhabitants of this region are well summed by Casati, who states that the Mege are considered the most skilful in elephant-hunting, the Azandeh in iron-work, the Mangbettu in wood-carving, the Abarambo in ivory-carving, and the Momfu in agriculture. Arab culture and traces of Arab blood are found in the districts where the slave traders from the east coast had established stations. This Arab influence extends, in varying degrees of intensity, over the whole eastern province, that is the region bounded east by Tanganyika, west by the Lualaba, and north by Stanley Falls and the Mangbettu country. It is mainly evident in the adoption of Arab clothing and the building of houses in Arab fashion. In the valley of the Sankuru the population has been slightly modified by Chinese influences. About 1894 a party of coolies from Macao who had been working on the railway in the cataracts region endeavoured to return home overland. They got as far as the Sankuru district, where the survivors settled and married native women.
Of the Bantu tribes several main groups may be distinguished. The lower Congo and coast regions are occupied by the Ba-Kongo (otherwise Ba-Fiot), a division including the Mushi-Kongo, found chiefly in the Congo division of Angola, and the Basundi, who live on both banks of the river in the cataracts districts, the Kabinda and the Mayumbe—the two last named dwelling in the coast districts and foot-hills immediately north of the mouth of the Congo. A custom prevails among the coast tribes of placing their marriageable maidens on view in little bowers specially built for the purpose-the skin of the girls being stained red. The Ba-Kongo, as a whole, appear to be a degenerate race, the primitive type having been degraded by several centuries of contact with the worst forms of European civilization (see further Angola: Inhabitants). Extending from the Kwango affluent of the Kasai to Lake Tanganyika are the Luba-Lunda groups. Of these the most widespread tribe is the Ba-Luba (q.v.). The next in importance, the Ba-Lunda, are mostly confined to the western half of this vast region. They have given their name to the Lunda district of Angola. From the 16th century (and possibly earlier) down to the close of the 19th century the Lunda peoples formed a more or less homogeneous state, the successive sovereigns being known as the Muata Yanvo. The Katanga, one of the Luba tribes, also founded a kingdom of some extent and power. They occupy and have given their name to the south-east part of the colony. In southern Katanga a tribe called Bassanga are cave-dwellers, as are also the Balomoto, who live in the Kundelungu hills west of Lake Mweru. Possibly connected with the Luba-Lunda group are the cannibal Manyema (q.v.), whose home is the district between Tanganyika and the Lualaba at Nyangwe.
Living north of the Luba-Lunda tribes, and occupying the country enclosed by the great bend of the Congo and bounded west by the Kasai, are a large number of tribes, the chief groups being the Bakuba, Basongo Mino, Balolo, Bakete, Bambala, Bayaka, Bahuana, &c. Of these the Basongo Mino are spread over the country between the Kasai and Lomami. Between the last-named river and the Lualaba dwell the savage and cannibal Batetela and Bakussu. Farther north and largely occupying the valley of the Ruki are the Mongo, a large forest tribe. Along the middle Congo from Stanley Pool to Stanley Falls the more important tribes are the Bateke, in the Stanley Pool district, but chiefly on the north side of the river in French territory; the Bayanzi (Babangi), between the mouths of the Kasai and the Ubangi; the Bangala, one of the most gifted of the Congo tribes, whence are recruited many of the soldiery; the Bapoto and the Basoko. These Bangala are not to be confused with the Bangala of the Kwango, also cannibals, who in marauding bands under leaders styled Jaga were devastating the country in the days of the early Portuguese settlements in the Congo regions. The Banza and Mogwandi are large tribes living in the region between the Congo and the Ubangi.
These Bantu races may be further divided into plain, forest and riverine tribes. With the exception of a few riverine tribes, such as the Wagenia who are fishers only, all are agriculturists and the majority keen traders, going long distances to buy and sell goods, but there are marked differences among them corresponding to their environment. The riverine tribes build excellent canoes and large “fighting” boats, and are almost uniformly expert boatmen and fishermen and live much on the water; so much so that Hermann von Wissmann and other travellers were struck by the insignificant leg development of several of these tribes. In general the physical development of these people is scarcely so great as that of the average northern European, but the majority are well formed. The most savage and truculent of the tribes are those who live in the forest regions; the most advanced in culture, the dwellers in the plains. Nearly all the tribes have tattoo markings on the face and body; to this rule the Ba-Kongo tribes are an exception. Save where the tribes have come under Arab or European influence, the clothing is extremely scanty, but absolute nudity is not known. The villages of the tribes of the lower Congo are usually surrounded by a palisade; the houses or huts are rectangular and about 7 ft. high, fetishes are usually found over the entry. The Bateke build their houses in circular groups opening on a sort of courtyard; the houses in Bangala villages are built in parallel rows about 200 ft. apart; plantations of manioc usually surround the villages. Two varieties of culture exist among the tribes inhabiting the state: that extending over the western and central area, and that of the Welle district and eastern fringe. In the former the bow with vegetable string is the chief weapon, and clothing is woven from palm fibre; in the east spears are found, and in the Welle district swords and throwing-knives also; clothing made from skins also makes its appearance, and more attention is paid to the shades of departed ancestors.
Some tribes, notably the Ba-Luba, possess considerable skill in working in wood, ivory and metals (chiefly iron and copper). The knives, spears and shields of native workmanship frequently show both ingenuity and skill, alike in design and execution. Musical instruments of crude design are common. Over a great part of the country the natives manufacture cloth from vegetable fibre. They employ four different colours, yellow, the natural colour, black, red and brown, which are obtained by dyeing, and these colours they combine into effective designs. In some tribes a rude form of printing designs on cloth is practised, and on the Sankuru and Lukenye a special kind of cloth, with a heavy pile resembling velvet, is made by Bakuba and other tribes. In several districts the action of the state officials and the concession companies in enforcing the collection of large quantities of rubber caused the tribes to abandon their former habits and industries; on the other hand, cannibalism, formerly widely prevalent and practised by tribes with a comparatively high culture (e.g. the Bangala), has been largely stamped out by the rigorous measures adopted by the state. The holding of slaves, and slave-raiding by one tribe upon another, is also prohibited.
In general, each tribe is autonomous, but, as already stated, considerable kingdoms have been created by the Luba-Lunda groups, as also by the Ba-Kongo, the founders of the “Kingdom of Congo” (see Angola). The Balunda “empire” of Muata Yanvo fell to pieces on the death of the chief Muteba, killed in a war with the Kioke, a Bantu tribe of the upper Kasai, in 1892. At one time this “empire” extended from the Kwango to the Lualaba. The Katanga kingdom, then ruled by an Unyamwezi adventurer named Msiri, was overthrown by the Congo State in 1891. The kingdom of the Cazembe (q.v.), which was to the south and east of Katanga, has also vanished. Among the Bangala, each village has its chief.
Each tribe speaks a different language or dialect of Bantu, the chief groups being described in the article Bantu Languages. Swahili, a Bantu tongue with an admixture of Arabic, &c., is understood by many tribes besides those which have been under the direct influence of the Zanzibar Arabs, and it is the most general means of communication. The religion of the Congo tribes is difficult to define. Belief in a Supreme Being is vague but universal, but as this Being is good, or at least neutral, he is disregarded, and the native applies himself to the propitiation and coercion, by magical means, of the countless malignant spirits with which he imagines himself to be surrounded, and which are constantly on the watch to catch him tripping. Elaborate funeral rites, often accompanied by human sacrifice, play a most important part in native life. The idea is that the dead man shall enter the spirit world in a manner befitting his earthly rank, or he would be despised by the other spirits, and also that if proper respect were not shown to his remains, he might bring supernatural punishment on his relations. The point to be recognized is the extremely close connexion in the mind of the native between life in this world and the next, and between the mundane and the supernatural.
The European population, before 1880, consisted of a few traders, Dutch, English, French and Portuguese, having factories in the Congo estuary. By the end of 1886 the Europeans numbered 254, of whom 46 were Belgians. In January 1908 the white population had risen to 2943, 1713 being Belgians. Swedes (200) and Italians (197) came next in numbers. The British numbered 145.
Towns.—There are no large towns in the European sense, but a number of government stations have been established. At none of these stations is the total population over 5000. Boma (q.v.) is the headquarters of the local administration and the residence of a British consul. It is situated on the right bank of the lower Congo, about 60 m. from its mouth, is one of the principal ports of call for steamers, and the centre of a considerable trade. Banana, close to the mouth of the Congo and Banana Point, possesses one of the best natural harbours on the west coast of Africa, and is capable of sheltering vessels of the largest tonnage. There are a number of European factories, some of them dating from the 16th century, and the place is the centre of a considerable commerce. Matadi is situated on the left bank of the Congo, at the highest point of the lower river which can be reached by sea-going vessels. It is the point of departure of the Congo railway. The railway company has constructed jetties at which steamers can discharge their cargo. Lukungu, situated on the banks of the river of that name, a southern tributary of the Congo, about half-way between Matadi and Stanley Pool, was formerly the capital of the Falls district, and the chief recruiting station for porters on the lower Congo. Tumba, the present capital of the district, is a station on the Congo railway, the half-way house between Matadi and Stanley Pool. It is about 117 m. from Matadi and 143 from Dolo, the terminus of the railway on Stanley Pool. Dolo is situated a short distance from the pool, and has two channels by which vessels can enter and leave the port. Quays and a slip for launching vessels have been constructed. Leopoldville is the capital of the Stanley Pool district. It is situated about 7 m. from Dolo on the flanks of Mount Leopold. Other places of importance are Luluaburg, on the Lulua river; Lusambo, the capital of the Lualaba-Kasai district, on the Sankuru river; Coquilhatville, the capital of the equatorial district, at the mouth of the Ruki; Stanleyville, the principal station of Stanley Falls district; New Antwerp, a thriving little town, the capital of the Bangala district, situated on the right bank of the Congo close to 19° E.; Banzyville, the capital of the Ubangi district, on the river of that name; and Basoko, at the junction of the Aruwimi and the Congo. Jabir is the capital of the Welle district, and in the Lado Enclave (q.v.) on the upper Nile the principal places are Rejaf, Lado and Dufile. Nyangwe, on the Lualaba, a little south of 4° S., was a large native town which, about the middle of the 19th century, came under the dominion of the Zanzibar Arabs. It was visited by David Livingstone in 1871, and from it in 1876 H. M. Stanley began his descent of the Congo. In 1892 the town was taken from the Arabs by the Congo State troops and destroyed. It has since regained considerable importance as a trading centre.
Communications.—There is a regular mail service between Antwerp and the ports of the lower Congo, which are also served by steamers from Liverpool, Hamburg, Rotterdam and Lisbon. The Congo and its affluents afford over 6000 m. of navigable waters (see Congo). A public transport service on the rivers is maintained by the state. From its mouth to Matadi (85 m.) the Congo is navigable by ocean-going vessels. From Matadi a railway, completed in 1898 at a cost of £2,720,000, and 260 m. long, goes past the cataract region and ends at Stanley Pool, whence the Congo is navigable to Stanley Falls, a distance of 980 m. From Stanley Falls a railway runs towards the Nile. An agreement with Great Britain, concluded in May 1906, provided for the continuation of this line from the Congo State frontier through the Lado Enclave to the navigable channel of the Nile near the station of Lado, a steamboat and railway service across Africa from the Congo mouth to the Red Sea being thus arranged. Another railway (79 m. long), completed in 1906, follows the left bank of the Congo from Stanley Falls, past the rapids to Ponthierville, whence there is a navigable waterway of 300 m. to Nyangwe. From Nyangwe a railway goes towards Lake Tanganyika. Above Nyangwe, on the main stream, another railway is built around the next series of cataracts, thus opening to through communication the upper Lualaba. The total length of steam communication by this route, from Katanga to the mouth of the Congo, is about 2150 m.—1548 by water and 596 by rail. The Katanga region is also served by lines forming a continuation of the Northern Rhodesia railway system. Besides these main lines a railway (about 90 m. long), having its river terminus at Boma, serves the Mayumbe district. The principal stations are connected by telegraph lines, and, by way of Libreville in French Congo, cable communication with Europe was established in 1905. The colony is included in the Postal Union.
Agriculture.—Until the advent of Europeans the natives, except in the immediate neighbourhood of some of the Arab settlements, did little more than cultivate small patches of land close to their villages. They grew bananas, manioc, the sweet potato, the sugarcane, maize, sorghum, rice, millet, eleusine and other fruits and vegetables, as well as tobacco, but the constant state of fear in which they lived, either of their neighbours or of the Arabs, offered small inducement to industry. Nor can it be said that under their white masters the natives have become great agriculturists, though plantations have been established both by the state and private companies, and coffee, cocoa, tobacco, rice and maize are grown for export. Of domestic animals, sheep and goats are common. Oxen have been introduced from Europe. Horses, asses and mules are comparatively rare.
Minerals.—Gold mines are worked at Kilo in the upper basin of the Ituri river, and some 30 m. W. of the Mboga district, Albert Nyanza, where gold has also been found (in British territory). The Ruwe gold mine is in the Katanga district in the south of the colony. It lies west of the Lualaba on the Mitumba range, in about 11° S., 25° 45′ E. Iron is widely distributed, and worked in a primitive fashion. It has been found in the Manyanga country, the Manyema country on the upper Congo, in the Urua country, in the basins of the Kasai and the Lualaba, and in Katanga. Ironstone hills, estimated to contain millions of tons of ironstone of superior quality, have been reported in the south-eastern region. The wealth of Katanga in copper is great, the richest deposits being in the southern districts, adjacent to the Northern Rhodesia border. In this region, watered by the Lualaba, Lufira and other head-streams of the Congo, immense copper ore deposits are found in hills and spurs of rising ground extending over 150 m. east to west. Tin is found on the western edge of the Katanga copper belt and extends north along the banks of the Lualaba. Copper is also reported in other districts, such as Mpala and Uvira on Lake Tanganyika. Lead ore, tin (Ubangi basin), sulphur and mercury have been discovered.
Industries and Trade.—The principal industry is the collection of caoutchouc (see Rubber) from the rubber vines, which exist in seemingly inexhaustible quantities. The value of the rubber exported, which in 1886 was only £6000, had risen in 1900 to £1,158,000. In 1907 the value was £1,758,000. When the state was founded elephant and hippopotamus ivory formed for some years the most important article of export. When Europeans first entered the Congo basin the natives were found to have large stores of “dead ivory” in their possession. Palm oil, palm nuts, white copal, coffee, cocoa, rice, earth-nuts and timber are next in importance among the exports. The trade of the state was of slow growth until after the completion, in 1898, of the railway between the lower and middle Congo, which greatly reduced the cost of the transport of goods. In 1887 the value of goods exported of native origin was £79,000. In 1898 it had risen to £886,000. In the following year (with the railway open) the native produce exported was valued at £1,442,000. In 1905 the total was £2,120,000. More than 75 % of the native produce, known as “special exports,” go to Belgium. The neighbouring Portuguese possessions are the next best customers of the colony. Holland and Great Britain take most of the remainder of the trade. The principal imports are textiles and clothing, foods and drinks, machinery and metals, steamers and arms and ammunition. Two-thirds of the imports are from Belgium; the remainder came from Germany, Great Britain (chiefly cottons), France and Holland. It should be noted that the importation of alcohol, for the use of the natives, is prohibited. Exports greatly exceed the imports in value. Out of a total trade to the value of £3,000,000 in 1905 only £800,000 represented imports. This is due in large measure to the system of forced labour instituted by the state.
Shipping.—As with the trade the largest share of the shipping is Belgian, but it is under 50 % of the whole tonnage. The ports of entry are Banana, Boma and Matadi. In 1904 there entered and cleared these ports 205 sea-going vessels of 421,072 tons. Of the tonnage entered 193,202 was Belgian, 85,934 British, 74,536 French, and 67,400 German. In addition about 500 smaller vessels engaged in the coasting trade enter and clear from Boma and Banana every year.
Constitution.—The Free State, under King Leopold of Belgium, was organized as an absolute monarchy. Civil and criminal codes were promulgated by decrees, and in both cases the laws of Belgium were adopted as the basis of legislation, and “modified to suit the special requirements” of the state; e.g. forced labour (prestations) was legalized (law of the 18th of November 1903). This forced labour was to be remunerated and was regarded as in the nature of a tax. Besides the prestations, a system of corvées, for public works, was enforced. The sovereign was assisted in the task of government by a secretary of state and other high officials, with headquarters at Brussels. The state was represented in Africa by a governor-general, placed at the head both of the civil and military authorities. Under Belgian rule a colonial minister replaced the former secretary of state. The minister has the advice of a colonial council, while the power of legislating for the colony is vested in parliament.
For administrative purposes the colony is divided into thirteen districts and one province, each being governed by a commissary. The districts are Banana, Boma, Matadi, Falls, Stanley Pool, Kwango Oriental, Ubangi, Lualaba-Kasai, Lake Leopold II., Equator, Aruwimi, Bangala and Welle. The region between the Lomami river and the great lakes, and south of the Aruwimi and Welle districts forms the Province Orientale. It is divided into zones, of which the chief are Stanley Falls, Ponthierville, and that administered by the Katanga committee. The districts are also subdivided into zones. In 1898 the territory in the valley of the upper Nile leased from Great Britain was placed for administrative purposes under the same régime as the districts.
Judicial Machinery.—Courts of first instance have been instituted in the various districts, and there is a court of appeal at Boma which revises the decisions of the inferior tribunals. There is a further appeal in all cases where the sum in dispute exceeds a thousand pounds, to a superior council at Brussels, composed of a number of jurisconsults who sit as a cour de cassation.
Religion and Instruction.—The religion of the native population is that commonly called fetishism (see supra, Inhabitants). The state makes no provision for their religious teaching, but by the Berlin Act missionaries of all denominations are secured perfect freedom of action. The state has established agricultural and technical colonies for lads up to the age of fourteen. These colonies make provision for the training of boys recruited from those rescued from slavery, from orphans, and from children abandoned or neglected by their parents. Practical instruction is given in various subjects, but the main object is to provide recruits for the armed force of the state, and only such lads as are unfitted to be soldiers are drafted into other occupations. Missionaries have displayed great activity on the Congo. In 1907 there were about 500 missionaries in the colony, divided in about equal proportion between Protestants and Roman Catholics. They maintain over 100 stations. The missionaries do not confine themselves to religious instruction, but have schools for ordinary and technical training. There are two Roman Catholic bishops.
Finance.—Revenue is derived from customs, direct taxes (on Europeans), transport charges, &c., and from the exploitation of the domain lands. (The prohibition of the import of alcohol deprives the state of a ready source of revenue.) Nearly all the funds required in the work of founding the Free State were provided by Leopold II. out of his privy purse, and for some time after the recognition of the state this system was continued. In the first ten years of his work on the Congo King Leopold is reported to have spent £1,200,000 from his private fortune. The first five years of the existence of the state were greatly hampered by the provision of the Berlin Act prohibiting the imposition of any duties on goods imported into the Congo region, but at the Brussels conference, 1890, a declaration was signed by the powers signatory to the Berlin Act, authorizing the imposition of import duties not exceeding 10 % ad valorem, except in the case of spirits, which were to be subject to a higher duty. By agreement with France and Portugal, a common tariff (6 % on most goods imported, 10 % on the export of ivory and india-rubber, 5 % on other exports) was adopted by these powers and the Congo Free State.
Funds for the administration were also obtained by loans. In July 1887 bonds bearing interest (from January 1900) at 2½ % were issued to the amount of £443,000 to represent sums advanced to the founders of the state. The bulk of these bonds (£426,000) were issued to King Leopold, but in January 1895 His Majesty cancelled the bonds in his possession. In 1888 and 1889 bearer bonds to the amount of £2,800,000 were issued out of an authorized issue of £6,000,000. The balance of the loan was issued in 1902. The bonds are redeemable in 99 years by annual drawings, and are entitled to an addition of 5 % per annum when drawn. The redemption fund is administered by a committee representing the bondholders. The Belgian government in 1890 advanced a sum of £1,000,000, and in 1895 two further sums of £211,000 and £60,000, the former to enable the state to repay a loan and so prevent the forfeiture of an immense territory which had been pledged as security to an Antwerp banker, and the latter to balance the 1895 budget. In October 1896 a loan of £60,000 was raised at 4 %, and in June 1898 a further sum of £500,000 was raised at the same rate of interest. In October 1900 a 4 % loan of £2,000,000 was issued for the purpose of public works, including railways, and in February 1904 a decree was issued authorizing the creation of bonds to bearer for £1,200,000, at 3 %. From 1890 to 1900 King Leopold is stated to have made a grant of £40,000 per annum from his private purse to the public funds. In 1901 Belgium renounced the repayment of its loans and the payment of interest, reserving the right to annex the state, whose financial obligations to Belgium would revive only if that kingdom should renounce its rights to annex the Congo. In 1886 the total revenue of the country was under £3000, derived from the state domains. The revenue from this source, obtained almost entirely from rubber and ivory, had risen in 1891 to £52,000, in 1896 to £235,000, in 1900 to £448,000, and in 1905 to £660,000. These figures do not, however, disclose the total profits which accrued to the Free State from its trading operations in the Congo. Official returns placed the public expenditure at a higher figure than the revenue. The totals given for 1905 were: revenue, £1,197,466; expenditure, £1,392,026. The monetary system is based on the gold standard, and the coinage is the same as that of the Latin union. On the lower Congo transactions are in cash, but on the middle and upper Congo the use of coins in place of barter or the native brass wire currency makes but slow progress. Moreover, save in the lower Congo state payments (down to 1908) were made in trade goods.
Defence.—The army consists of African troops officered by Europeans. Some of the men are recruited from the neighbouring territories, but the greater part consists of locally raised levies, recruited partly by voluntary enlistment and partly by the enforced enlistment of a certain number of men in each district, who are selected by the commissary in conjunction with the local chiefs. The effective strength is about 15,000. There are over 200 European officers, and over 300 European sergeants. The term of service for volunteers does not exceed seven years, while the militiamen raised by enforced enlistment serve for five years on active service, and for two years in the reserve. The artillery includes Krupps, Maxims and Nordenfeldts. A fort has been erected at Chinkakassa near Boma, commanding the river below the Falls, and there is another fort at Kinshassa on Stanley Pool to protect Leopoldville and the railway terminus. The governor-general is commander-in-chief of the armed forces of the state, and the commissaries are in command of the military forces in their districts. In the 1891 budget the expenditure on the army was given at £90,000, and by 1900 it had risen to £312,000. In 1905 the charge fell to £221,241.
Bibliography.—(1) Official: Protocols and General Act of the West African Conference (London, 1885). (Annex I to Protocol 9 contains copies of the treaties by which the International Assn. of the Congo obtained the recognition of the European governments.) Documents diplomatiques: Affaires du Congo, 1884–1895 (Paris, 1895) (a French “Yellow Book”). L’État independant du Congo a l’exposition de Bruxelles (Brussels, 1897). Bulletin officiel de l’état independant du Congo (Brussels, 1885–1908) (published monthly, and replaced, November 1908, by the Bulletin officiel du Congo belge). Documents concernant le Congo, imprimés par ordre de la chambre des représentants de Belgique (1891–1895). Exposé des motifs du projet de loi approuvant l’annexion du Congo à la Belgique (documents parlementaires, No. 91) (Brussels, 1895). Annales du musée du Congo (flora, fauna, ethnography, &c.) (Brussels, 1898 et seq.). Despatch . . . in regard to alleged ill-treatment of natives and to the existence of trade monopolies in the . . . Congo (London, 1903). Correspondence and report from His Majesty’s consul at Boma respecting the administration of the . . . Congo (London, 1904) contains a lengthy report from Mr Roger Casement, the British consul, condemning in several respects the treatment of natives by the state). Further correspondence respecting the administration of the state is contained in the white papers Africa, No. 1 of 1905, 1906, 1907, Nos. 1 and 2 of 1908 and No. 1 of 1909. Rapport de la commission d’enquête dans les territoires de l’état (Brussels, Nos. 9 and 10 of the Bulletin officiel for 1905; a voluminous document; the tenor of the report is indicated in the section History). O. Louwers, Lois en vigueur dans l’état indépendant du Congo (Brussels, 1905).
(2) Non-official: Le Mouvement géographique, a weekly magazine, founded in 1884 by A. J. Wauters, and devoted chiefly to Congo affairs. A Bibliographie du Congo, 1880–1895 (a list of 3800 books, pamphlets, maps and notices), compiled by A. J. Wauters and A. Buyl, was published at Brussels in 1895. The most important books in this bibliography are The Congo and Founding of its Free State, by (Sir) H. M. Stanley (London, 1885), and Le Congo, historique, diplomatique, physique, politique, économique, humanitaire et coloniale, by A. Chapaux (Brussels, 1894). Stanley’s book is of historic importance, describing the work he and his helpers accomplished on the Congo between 1879 and 1884; and Chapaux’s volume gives the best general account of the Free State in convenient size. The history section includes a valuable summary of the work of exploration in the Congo basin from the days of David Livingstone up to 1893. L’État indépendant du Congo, by A. J. Wauters (Brussels, 1899), is a book of similar character to that of Chapaux. Both Chapaux and Wauters deal with ethnology and zoology. Sir H. H. Johnston, George Grenfell and the Congo . . . (2 vols., London, 1908), largely geographical, historical, anthropological and philological studies based on the work of Grenfell. For geology see J. Cornet, “Observations sur la géologie du Congo occidental,” Bull. soc. géol. belg. vols. x. and xi. (1896–1897); ibid. “Les Formations post-primaires du bassin du Congo,” Ann. soc. géol. belg. vol. xxi. (1893–1894); G. F. J. Preumont, “Notes on the Geological Aspect of some of the North-Eastern Territories of the Congo Free State,” Quart. Journ. Geol. Soc. vol. lxi. (1905). The economic aspect of the colony is dealt with in Congo, climat, constitution du sol et hygiène . . . by Bourguignon and five others (Brussels, 1898). The Fall of the Congo Arabs, by S. L. Hinde (London, 1897), is an account of the campaigns of 1892–1893 by an English surgeon who served as a captain in the state forces. The Congo State, by D. C. Boulger (London, 1898), Droit et administration de l’état indépendant du Congo, by F. Cattier (of Brussels University) (Brussels, 1898), and L’Afrique nouvelle, by E. Descamps (professor de droit des gens at Louvain University) (Paris, 1903), are treatises covering all branches of the state’s activity, from the standpoint of admirers of the work of Leopold II., in Africa. Professor Cattier in a later work, Étude sur la situation de l’état indépendant du Congo (Brussels, 1906), severely criticized the Congo administration. Other indictments of Congo State methods are contained in La Question congolaise, by A. Vermeersch (Brussels, 1906); Il Congo (Rome, 1908), by Captain Baccari; Civilization in Congoland, by H. R. Fox Bourne (London, 1903); and King Leopold’s Rule in Africa (London, 1904); Red Rubber (London, 1906); and A Memorial on Native Rights in the Land . . . (London, 1909), by E. D. Morel. Ten Years in Equatoria, by Major G. Casati (London, 1891), contains much information concerning the peoples, zoology, &c., of the north-eastern parts of the state. (F. R. C.)
- The formal proclamation of sovereignty was made at Boma on the 1st of July 1885.
- After 1900 Nyangwe and Kasongo again became towns of some importance, and traffic along the route to Tanganyika revived with the advent of railways, though the main traffic continued down the Congo river.
- For an account of the loans and liabilities of the state see II. The Belgian Congo, § Finance.
- The British parliamentary paper Africa No. 1, 1909, contains a memorandum on the land laws in the Congo State, showing the extent to which trade was monopolized throughout its territories by the government.
- This concession was asserted by traders who had previously dealt direct with the natives, and by traders who hoped so to do, to contravene the provision of the Act of Berlin prohibiting any commercial monopoly in the Congo basin. The state maintained, however, that the proprietor who exploits and sells the produce of his land is not engaging in commerce.
- The best known of these companies are the Abir (Anglo-Belgian India-rubber and Exploration Co.) and the Société anversoise du commerce au Congo. In Katanga the companies holding concessions and the state are jointly represented by the Comité spécial du Katanga. In 1906 four new companies were formed in which British, American and French capital was largely invested. Of these companies the Union minière du Haut Katanga had for object the development of the mineral wealth of the district named, while the Chemin de fer du Bas Congo undertook to build a railway from Leopoldville to Katanga. The American Congo Company was granted a rubber concession in the Kasai basin. The fourth company, the Société internationale forestière et minière du Congo, combined mining operations with the exploitation of forest produce.
- The first power to recognize the transfer of the state to Belgium was Germany, which did so in January 1909.
- Later on a chief named Kalambo carved out a new “empire” in the central part of the Kasai basin, his authority extending westward from the upper Sankuru into the Lunda district of Angola. He was in 1909 and for several years previously independent of the Belgians and Portuguese, and had closed the country to Europeans.
- Forced labour had, however, been authorized in 1891 and exacted in practice since the foundation of the state.