Congo Belge (French)
|Colony of Belgium|
Travail et Progrès
"Work and Progress"
The Congo (dark green) depicted with Belgian Ruanda-Urundi (light green), 1935.
|-||1908–1910||Théophile Wahis (first)|
|-||1958–1960||Henri Cornelis (last)|
|-||Annexed by Belgium||15 November 1908|
|-||Independence declared||30 June 1960|
|-||1960||2,344,858 km² (905,355 sq mi)|
|Density||7.1 /km² (18.3 /sq mi)|
|Today part of||DR Congo|
The Belgian Congo (French: Congo Belge, Dutch: Belgisch-Kongo (help·info)) was the formal title of present-day Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) between King Leopold II’s formal relinquishment of his personal control over the state to Belgium on 15 November 1908, and Congolese independence on 30 June 1960.
- 1 Congo Free State, 1884–1908
- 2 Belgian colony, 1908–1960
- 3 Colonial economic policy
- 4 Civilising mission
- 5 Resistance and voices of dissent
- 6 Towards Independence: 1945–1960
- 7 Belgian Congo after 1960
- 8 In popular culture
- 9 Governors-General
- 10 See also
- 11 References
- 12 Bibliography
- 13 External links
Congo Free State, 1884–1908
Until the later part of the 19th century, few Europeans had ventured into the Congo basin. The rainforest, swamps and accompanying malaria, and other diseases, such as sleeping sickness, made it a difficult environment for European-style exploration and exploitation. In 1876, King Leopold II of the Belgians organized the International African Association with the cooperation of the leading African explorers and the support of several European governments for the promotion of African exploration and colonization. After Henry Morton Stanley had explored the region in a journey that ended in 1878, Leopold courted the explorer and hired him to help his interests in the region.
Leopold II had been keen to acquire a colony for Belgium even before he ascended to the throne in 1865. He believed that the acquisition of a colony would bestow international prestige on his relatively young and small home country and that it might provide a steady source of income. Belgium showed little interest in its monarch's dreams of empire-building. Ambitious and stubborn, Leopold decided to pursue the matter on his own account.
European rivalry in Central Africa led to diplomatic tensions, in particular with regard to the largely unclaimed Congo River basin. In November 1884 Otto von Bismarck convened a 14-nation conference (the Berlin Conference) to find a peaceful resolution to the Congo crisis. Though the Berlin Conference did not formally approve the territorial claims of the European powers in Central Africa, it did agree on a set of rules to ensure a conflict-free partitioning of the region. The rules recognised (inter alia) the Congo basin as a free-trade zone. In reality, Leopold II emerged triumphant from the Berlin Conference. and Leopold's single-shareholder "philanthropic" organization received a large share of territory (2,344,000 km2 (905,000 sq mi)) to be constituted as the Congo Free State.
The Congo Free State operated as a corporate state privately controlled by Leopold II through a non-governmental organization, the Association Internationale Africaine. The state included the entire area of the present Democratic Republic of the Congo and existed from 1885 to 1908, when the government of Belgium annexed the area. Under Leopold II’s administration, the Congo Free State became a humanitarian disaster. The lack of accurate records makes it difficult to quantify the number of deaths. Many of the deaths were attributed to lack of immunity to new diseases introduced by contact with European colonists. William Rubinstein wrote: "More basically, it appears almost certain that the population figures given by Hochschild are inaccurate. There is, of course, no way of ascertaining the population of the Congo before the twentieth century, and estimates like 20 million are purely guesses. Most of the interior of the Congo was literally unexplored if not inaccessible."
The European and American press exposed the conditions in the Congo Free State to the public in the early 1900s. In 1904, Leopold II was forced[by whom?] to allow an international parliamentary commission of inquiry entry to the Congo Free State. By 1908, public pressure and diplomatic maneuvers led to the end of Leopold II's personal rule and to the annexation of the Congo as a colony of Belgium, known as the Belgian Congo.
Belgian colony, 1908–1960
|Belgians residing in the Belgian Congo, 1900–1959|
On 18 October 1908, the Belgian parliament voted in favor of annexing the Congo as a Belgian colony. This was only after King Leopold II had given up any hope to maintain a substantial part of the Congo Free State as separate crown property. The government of the Belgian Congo was arranged by the 1908 Colonial Charter. Executive power rested with the Belgian Minister of Colonial Affairs, assisted by a Colonial Council (Conseil Colonial). Both resided in Brussels. The Belgian parliament exercised legislative authority over the Belgian Congo. The highest-ranking representative of the colonial administration in the Congo was the Governor-general. From 1886 until 1926, the Governor-general and his administration were posted in Boma, near the Congo River estuary. From 1926, the colonial capital moved to Léopoldville, some 300 km further upstream in the interior. Initially, the Belgian Congo was administratively divided into four provinces: Léopoldville (or: Congo-Kasaï), Equateur, Orientale and Katanga, each presided by a vice-Governor-general. An administrative reform in 1932 increased the number of provinces to six, while “demoting” the Vice-governors-general to provincial Governors.
The territorial service was the true backbone of the colonial administration. Each province was divided into a number of districts (24 in all), and each district into territories (some 120 in all). A territory was managed by a territorial administrator, assisted by one or more assistants. The territories were further subdivided into numerous “chiefdoms” (chefferies), at the head of which the Belgian administration appointed “traditional chiefs” (chefs coutumiers). The territories administered by one territorial administrator and a handful of assistants were often larger than a few Belgian provinces taken together (the whole Belgian Congo was nearly 80 times larger than the whole of Belgium). Nevertheless, the territorial administrator was expected to inspect his territory and to file detailed annual reports with the provincial administration. In terms of jurisdiction, two systems co-existed: a system of European courts and one of indigenous courts (tribunaux indigènes). These indigenous courts were presided over by the traditional chiefs, but had only limited powers and remained under the firm control of the colonial administration. In 1936 it was recorded that there were 728 administrators controlling the Congo from Belgium. Belgians living in the Congo had no say in the government and the Congolese certainly did not either. No political activity was permitted in the Congo whatsoever. Public order in the colony was maintained by the Force Publique, a locally recruited army under Belgian command. It was only in the 1950s that metropolitan troops—i.e., units of the regular Belgian army—were posted in the Belgian Congo (for instance in Kamina).
The colonial state—and in fact any authority exercised by whites in the Congo—was often referred to by the Congolese as bula matari. Bula matari (“break rocks”) was one of the names originally given to Stanley, because of the dynamite he used to crush rocks when paving his way through the lower-Congo region. The term bula matari came to signify the irresistible and compelling force of the colonial state.
When the Belgian government took over the administration in 1908, the situation in the Congo improved in certain respects. The brutal exploitation and arbitrary use of violence, in which some of the concessionary companies had excelled, were curbed. The tragedy of “red rubber” was put to a stop. Article 3 of the new Colonial Charter of 18 October 1908 established that: “Nobody can be forced to work on behalf of and for the profit of companies or privates”. In reality, forced labour, in differing forms and degrees, would not disappear entirely until the end of the colonial period.
The transition from the Congo Free State to the Belgian Congo was a break, but it was also marked by a large degree of continuity. The last Governor-general of the Congo Free State, Baron Wahis, remained in office in the Belgian Congo, and the majority of Leopold II’s administration with him. Opening up the Congo and its natural and mineral riches for the Belgian economy remained the main motive for colonial expansion, but all the same other priorities, such as healthcare and basic education, slowly gained in importance.
The Belgian Congo was directly involved in the two world wars. During World War One, an initial stand-off between the Force Publique and the German colonial army in German East-Africa (Tanganyika) turned into open warfare with a joint Anglo-Belgian invasion of German colonial territory in 1916 and 1917 during the East African Campaign. The Force Publique gained a notable victory when it marched into Tabora in September 1916 under the command of general Charles Tombeur after heavy fighting.
After the war, Belgium was rewarded for the participation of the Force Publique in the East African campaign with a League of Nations mandate over the former German colony of Ruanda-Urundi. During World War Two, the Belgian Congo was a crucial source of income for the Belgian government in exile in London. The Force Publique again participated in the Allied campaigns in Africa. Belgian Congolese forces under the command of Belgian officers notably fought against the Italian colonial army in Ethiopia in Asosa, Bortaï and Saïo under Major-general Auguste-Eduard Gilliaert  during the second East African Campaign.
Colonial economic policy
The economic development of the Congo was the colonizer’s top priority. One important tool was the construction of railways to open up the mineral and agricultural areas.
First World War
Rubber had long been the main export, but its importance fell from 77% of exports (by value) to only 15%.. New resources opened, especially copper mining in Katanga province. The Belgian-owned Union minière du Haut-Katanga, which was to dominate copper mining, used a direct rail line to the sea at Beira. The war caused a heavy demand for copper, and production soared from 997 tons in 1911 to 27,462 tons in 1917, then fell off to 19,000 tons in 1920. Smelters operate at Lubumbashi, Before the war the copper was sold to Germany; the British purchased all the wartime output, with the revenues going to the Belgian government in exile. Diamond and gold mining expanded during the war. The British firm of Lever Bros. greatly expanded the palm oil business during the war, and there was an increased output of cocoa, rice and cotton. New rail and steamship lines opened to handle the expanded export traffic.
Under Belgian rule, two distinct periods of massive investment in the Congo’s economic infrastructure stand out: the 1920s and the 1950s.
After the First World War, priority was given to mining (copper and cobalt in Katanga, diamond in Kasai, gold in Ituri) as well as to the transport infrastructure (such as the rail lines between Matadi and Léopoldville and Elisabethville and Port Francqui). To obtain the necessary capital, the colonial state gave the private companies, to a large extent, a free hand. This allowed, in particular, the Belgian Société Générale to build up an economic empire in the colony. Huge profits were generated and for a large part siphoned off to Europe in the form of dividends. The necessary work force was recruited in the interior of the vast colony with the active support of the territorial administration. In many cases, this amounted to forced labour, as in many villages minimum quotas of “able-bodied workers” to be recruited were enforced. In this way, tens of thousands of workers were transferred from the interior to the sparsely populated copper belt in the south (Katanga) to work in the mines. In agriculture, too, the colonial state forced a drastic rationalisation of production. The so-called “vacant lands”—i.e., the land that was not directly used by the local tribes—fell to the state, which redistributed it to European companies, individual white landowners (colons), or the missions. In this way, an extensive plantation economy developed. Palm oil production in the Congo increased from 2,500 tons in 1914 to 9,000 tons in 1921 and 230,000 tons in 1957. Cotton production increased from 23,000 tons in 1932 to 127,000 in 1939. After World War Two, the system of mandatory cultivation was introduced: Congolese peasants were forced to grow certain cash crops (cotton, coffee, groundnuts) destined for the European market. Territorial administrators and state agronomists had the task to supervise and if necessary sanction those peasants who evaded the hated mandatory cultivation.
The mobilization of the African work force in the capitalist colonial economy played a crucial role in spreading the use of money in the Belgian Congo. The basic idea was that the development of the Congo had to be borne not by the Belgian taxpayers but by the Congolese themselves. The colonial state needed to be able to levy taxes in money on the Congolese, so it was important that they could make money by selling their produce or their labour within the framework of the colonial economy.
The economic boom of the 1920s turned the Belgian Congo into one of the leading copper ore producers worldwide. In 1926 alone, the Union Minière exported more than 80,000 tons of copper ore, a large part of which was processed in Hoboken in Belgium. In 1928, King Albert I visited the Congo to inaugurate the so-called 'voie national' that linked the Katanga mining region via rail (up to Port Francqui) and river transport (from Port Francqui to Léopoldville) to the Atlantic port of Matadi.
During the great depression of the 1930s, the export-based Belgian Congo economy was severely hit by the world crisis, because of the drop of international demand of raw materials and agricultural products (for example, the price of peanuts fell from 1.25 francs to 25 cents). In some areas, as in the Katanga mining region, employment declined by 70% and in the whole country the exploitation of forced labour was diminished while many forced labourers returned to their villages.
After the occupation of Belgium by the Germans in May 1940, the Congo declared itself loyal to the Belgian government in exile in London to continue the war on the Allied side in the Battle of Britain with 28 pilots in the RAF (squadron 349) and in the Royal South African Air Force (350 Squadron) and in Africa. In the East African Campaign, in 1941–42, the Belgian-Congolese army was victorious in Asosa, Bortaï and Saïo. On 3 July, the Italian forces ( under General Pietro Gazzera) surrendered when they were cut off by the Force Public under Lieutenant-général Auguste-Eduard Gilliaert. A Congolese unit also served in the Far Eastern Theatre with the British army in the Burma Campaign.
During World War Two, industrial production increased drastically. After Malaysia fell to the Japanese, the Belgian Congo became a strategic supplier of rubber to the Allies. The Belgian Congo was one of the major exporters of uranium to the US during World War Two (and the Cold War), particularly from the Shinkolobwe mine. The colony provided the uranium used by the Manhattan Project, including in atomic bombs dropped on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945.
After World War Two, the colonial state took on a much more active role in the economic and social development of the Belgian Congo. An ambitious ten-year plan was launched in 1949. It put emphasis on house building, energy supply and health care infrastructure. The ten-year plan ushered in a decade of strong economic growth, from which, for the first time, the Congolese began to benefit on a substantial scale. In 1953, the Congolese were granted the right to buy and sell private property in their own names. In the 1950s, a Congolese middle class, modest at first, but steadily growing, emerged in the main cities (Léopoldville, Elisabethville, Stanleyville and Luluabourg).
A key argument that was often invoked as a justification for colonialism in Africa was that of the "civilizing influence" of the European culture. As elsewhere, this self-declared 'civilizing mission' went hand in hand with the goal of economic gain. Conversion to Catholicism, basic western-style education and improved health care were objectives in their own right, but at the same time helped to transform what was regarded as a "primitive society" into the Western model, in which workers who were disciplined and healthy, and who had learned to read and write could be more efficiently put to work.
The development of education and health care in the Belgian Congo was impressive. The educational system was dominated by the Roman Catholic Church and, in some rare cases, Protestant churches, and the curricula reflected Christian and Western values. Even in 1948, 99.6% of educational facilities were run by Christian missions. Indigenous schooling was mainly religious and vocational. Children received basic education such as learning how to read, write and some mathematics. The Belgian Congo was one of the few African colonies in which local languages (Kikongo, Lingala, Tshiluba and Swahili) were taught at primary school. Even so, language policies and colonial domination often went hand in hand, as evidenced by the preference given to Lingala—a semi-artificial language spread through its common use in the Force Publique—over more local (but also more ancient) indigenous languages such as Lomongo and others. In 1940 the schooling rates of children between 6 and 14 years old was 12%, reaching 37% in 1954, one of the highest rates in the whole of black Africa. Secondary and higher education for the indigenous population were not developed until relatively late in the colonial period. Black children, in small numbers, began to be admitted to European secondary schools from 1950 onward. The first university in the Belgian Congo, the Catholic University of Lovanium, near Léopoldville, opened its doors to black and white students in 1954. In 1956 a state university was founded in Elisabethville. Progress was slow though, until the end of the 1950s no Congolese had risen beyond the rank of non-commissioned officer in the Force Publique, nor to a responsible position in the administration (such as head of bureau or territorial administrator).
Health care, too, was largely supported by the missions, although the colonial state took an increasing interest. Endemic diseases, such as sleeping sickness, were all but eliminated through large-scale and persistent campaigns. The health care infrastructure expanded steadily throughout the colonial period, with a comparatively high availability of hospital beds relative to the population and with dispensaries set up in the most remote regions.
There was an "implicit apartheid", as there were curfews for Congolese city-dwellers and other such restrictions were commonplace. Though there were no specific laws (as in South Africa and the South of the United States at the time) barring blacks from entering the same establishments whites frequented, there was de facto segregation in most areas. For example, the city centers were reserved to white population only, while the blacks were organized in «cités indigènes» (ironically called 'le belge'). Hospitals, department stores and other facilities were often reserved for either whites or blacks. In the police, the blacks could not pass the rank of non-commissioned officer. The blacks in the cities could not leave their houses from 9 pm to 4 am. This type of segregation began to disappear gradually only in the 1950s, but even then the Congolese remained or felt treated in many respects as second-rate citizens (for instance in political and legal terms). The popular comic book Tintin in the Congo, first published in 1931, provides an insight into the view of Africa as primitive that prevailed at that time in Europe.
Because of the close interconnection between economic development and the 'civilising mission', and because in practice state officials, missionaries and the white executives of the private companies always lent each other a helping hand, the image has emerged that the Belgian Congo in reality was governed by a holy trinity of King-Church-Capital (or: the colonial state, the missions and the Société Générale de Belgique).
The ideology underpinning colonial policy was summed up in a catch-phrase used by Governor-general Pierre Ryckmans (1934–46): "Dominer pour servir" ("Dominate to serve"). The colonial government was keen to convey the image of a benevolent and conflict-free administration and of the Belgian Congo as a true model colony. But no or very little attention was paid to the active emancipation of the Congolese. The colonizer alone knew what was good for the Congo. The local population was given no voice in the affairs of the state. It was only in the 1950s that this paternalistic attitude began to change. As from 1953, and even more so after the triumphant visit of King Baudouin to the colony in 1955, Governor-general Léon Pétillon (1952–58) actively favoured the creation of a “Belgian-Congolese community”, in which blacks and whites were to be treated as equals. In the 1950s, the most blatant discriminatory measures directed at the Congolese were hastily withdrawn (among these: the possibility to inflict corporal punishment by means of the feared chicotte—a fine whip of hippopotamus hide). In 1957, the first municipal elections open to black voters took place in a handful of the largest cities—Léopoldville, Elisabethville and Jadotville.
Resistance and voices of dissent
Congolese resistance against colonialism was widespread and took many different forms. Armed resistance occurred sporadically and localized until roughly the end of the Second World War (e.g., revolt of the Pende in 1931, mutiny in Luluabourg 1944). From the end of the Second World War until the late 1950s, the so-called "Pax belgica" prevailed. Until the end of colonial rule in 1960, passive forms of resistance and expressions of an anti-colonial sub-culture were manifold (e.g., Kimbanguism, after the prophet Simon Kimbangu, who was imprisoned by the Belgians).
Apart from active and passive resistance among the Congolese, the colonial regime over time also elicited internal criticism and dissent. Already in the 1920s, certain members of the Colonial Council in Brussels (among them Octave Louwers) voiced criticism regarding the often brutal recruitment methods employed by the major companies in the mining districts. The stagnation of population growth in many districts—in spite of spectacular successes in the fight against endemic diseases such as sleeping sickness—was another cause for concern. Low birth rates in the countryside and the depopulation of certain areas were typically attributed to the disruption of traditional community life as a result of forced labour migration and mandatory cultivation. Many missionaries who were in daily contact with Congolese villagers, took their plight at heart and sometimes intervened on their behalf with the colonial administration (for instance in land property questions).
The missions and certain territorial administrators also played an important role in the study and preservation of Congolese cultural and linguistic traditions and artefacts. One example among many is that of Father Gustaaf Hulstaert (1900–1990) who in 1937 created the periodical 'Aequatoria' devoted to the linguistic, ethnographic and historical study of the Mongo-people of the central Congo basin. The colonial state itself took an interest in the cultural and scientific study of the Congo, particularly after the Second World War through the creation of the Institut pour la Recherche Scientifique en Afrique Centrale (IRSAC, 1948).
Towards Independence: 1945–1960
In the early 1950s, political emancipation of the Congolese elites, let alone of the masses, seemed like a far cry. Nonetheless, it was clear that the Congo could not forever remain immune from the rapid changes that, after the Second World War, profoundly affected colonialism around the world. The independence of the British, French and Dutch colonies in Asia shortly after 1945 had little immediate impact in the Congo, but in the United Nations pressure on Belgium (as on other colonial powers) was stepped up. Belgium had ratified article 73 of the United Nations Charter, which advocated self-determination, and both superpowers put pressure on Belgium to reform its Congo policy. However, the Belgian government tried to resist as best it could what it labeled 'interference' with its colonial policy.
All the same, it was clear to the colonial authorities that something needed to be done to ameliorate the situation of the Congolese. Since the 1940s, the colonial government had experimented in a very modest way with granting a limited elite of so-called évolués more civil rights, holding out the eventual prospect of a limited amount of political influence. To this end "deserving" Congolese could apply for a proof of "civil merit", or, one step up, 'immatriculation' (registration), i.e., official evidence of their assimilation with European civilisation. To acquire this status, the applicant had to fulfill strict conditions (monogamous matrimony, evidence of good behaviour, etc.) and submit to stringent controls (including house visits). This policy was a failure. By the mid-1950s, there were at best a few thousand Congolese who had successfully obtained the civil merit diploma or been granted "immatriculation". The supposed benefits attached to it—including equal legal status with the white population—proved often more theory than reality and led to open frustration with the évolués. When Governor-General Pétillon began to speak about granting the native people more civil rights, even suffrage, to create what he termed a “Belgo-Congolese community”, his ideas were met with indifference from Brussels and often with open hostility from some of the Belgians in the Congo, who feared for their privileges.
It became increasingly evident that the Belgian government lacked a strategic long-term vision in relation to the Congo. This was due partly to the fact that ‘colonial affairs’ did not generate much interest or political debate in Belgium, so long as the colony seemed to be thriving and calm. A notable exception was the young King Boudewijn I of the Belgians, who had succeeded his father, Leopold III, under dramatic circumstances in 1951, when Leopold was forced to abdicate. Boudewijn took a lively interest in the Congo. On his first state visit to the Belgian Congo in 1955, he was welcomed enthusiastically by cheering crowds of whites and blacks alike, as captured in André Cauvin’s documentary film, Bwana Kitoko. Foreign observers, such as the international correspondent of The Manchester Guardian, remarked that Belgian paternalism “seemed to work”, and contrasted Belgium’s seemingly loyal and enthusiastic colonial subjects with the restless French and British colonies. On the occasion of his visit, King Baudouin openly endorsed the Governor-General’s vision of a “Belgo-Congolese community”; but, in practice, this idea progressed slowly. At the same time, divisive ideological and linguistic issues in Belgium, which heretofore had been successfully kept out of the colony’s affairs, now began to make themselves felt in the Congo as well. These included the rise of unionism among workers, the call for public (state) schools to break the missions’ monopoly on education, and the call for equal treatment in the colony of both national languages: French and Dutch. Until then, French had been promoted as the unique colonial language. The Governor-general feared that such divisive issues would undermine the authority of the colonial government in the eyes of the Congolese, while also diverting attention from the more pressing need for true emancipation.
As a result of the inability of the colonial government to introduce radical and credible changes, the Congolese elites began to take matters more and more in their own hands by organising themselves socially and soon also politically. In fact, it can be argued that the seeds of Congo’s post-independence woes were sown in the emergence in the 1950s of two markedly different forms of nationalism among the Congolese elites. The nationalist movement—to which the Belgian authorities, to some degree, turned a blind eye—promoted territorial nationalism wherein the Belgian Congo would become one politically united state after independence. In opposition to this was the ethno-religious and regional nationalism that took hold in the Bakongo territories of the west coast, Kasai and Katanga. The first political organisations were of the latter type. ABAKO, founded in 1950 as the Association culturelle des Bakongo (“lower-Congo region”) and headed by Joseph Kasa-Vubu, was initially a cultural association that soon turned political and, from the mid-1950s, became a vocal opponent of Belgian colonial rule. Additionally, the organization continued to serve as the major ethno-religious organization for the Bakongo and became closely intertwined with the Kimbanguist church which was extremely popular in the lower Congo.
In 1955, Belgian professor Antoine van Bilsen published a treatise called Thirty Year Plan for the Political Emancipation of Belgian Africa. The timetable called for the gradual emancipation of the Congo over a 30-year period—the time Van Bilsen expected it would take to create an educated elite who could replace the Belgians in positions of power. The Belgian government and many of the évolués were suspicious of the plan—the former because it meant eventually giving up the Congo, and the latter because Belgium would still be ruling Congo for another three decades. A group of Catholic évolués responded positively to the plan with a moderate manifesto in a Congolese journal called Conscience Africaine, with their only point of disagreement being the amount of Congolese participation.
In 1957, by way of experiment, the colonial government organised in three urban centres (Léopoldville, Elisabethville and Jadotville) the first municipal elections in which Congolese people were allowed to stand for office and cast their vote. Events in 1957–58 led to a sudden acceleration in the demands for political emancipation. This was, in part, influenced by developments outside the Congo, notably the independence of Ghana in 1957 and President De Gaulle’s August 1958 visit to Brazzaville, the capital of the French Congo, on the other side of the Congo river, opposite Léopoldville, in which he promised France’s African colonies the free choice between a continued association with France or full independence. The World Exhibition organised in Brussels in 1958 (Expo 58) proved another eye-opener for many Congolese leaders, who were allowed to travel to Belgium for the first time. In 1958, the demands for independence radicalised quickly and gained momentum. A key role was played by the Mouvement National Congolais (MNC). First set up in 1956, the MNC established itself in October 1958 as a national political party that supported the idea of a unitary and centralised Congolese nation after independence. Its most influential leader was the charismatic Patrice Lumumba. In 1959, an internal split was precipitated by Albert Kalonji and other MNC leaders who favoured a more moderate political stance (the splinter group was deemed Mouvement National Congolais-Kalonji). Despite the organisational divergence of the party, Lumumba’s leftist faction (now the Mouvement National Congolais-Lumumba) and the MNC collectively had established themselves as by far the most important and influential party in the Belgian Congo. Belgium vehemently opposed Lumumba’s leftist views and had grave concerns about the status of their financial interests should Lumumba’s MNC gain power.
In the winter of 1958–59, while the Belgian government was debating a program to gradually extend the political emancipation of the Congolese population, it was overtaken by events. On 4 January 1959, a prohibited political manifestation organized in Léopoldville by ABAKO got out of hand. At once, the colonial capital was in the grip of heavy rioting. It took the authorities several days to restore order and, by the most conservative count, several hundred died. The eruption of violence sent a shock-wave through the Congo and Belgium alike. On 13 January, King Boudewijn solemnly declared in a radio address that Belgium would work towards the full independence of the Congo "without hesitation, but also without irresponsible rashness".
Without committing to a specific date for independence, the government of prime minister Gaston Eyskens had a multi-year transition period in mind during which provincial elections would take place in December 1959, national elections in 1960 or 1961, after which administrative and political responsibilities would be gradually transferred to the Congolese, in a process presumably to be completed towards the mid-1960s. On the ground the reality looked quite different. Increasingly, the colonial administration saw itself confronted with non-cooperation (e.g., refusal to pay taxes). In some regions anarchy threatened. At the same time it was clear that an important portion of the Belgian population in the Congo opposed the idea of independence and felt betrayed by Brussels. In those circumstances, and faced with a radicalization of Congolese demands, the chances of a gradual and carefully planned transition towards independence dwindled rapidly. In 1959, King Baudouin made another visit to the Belgian Congo. The contrast with his 1955 visit could not have been greater. Upon his arrival in Léopoldville, he was pelted with rocks by blacks who were angry with the imprisonment of Lumumba, convicted because of incitement against the colonial government. Though Baudouin's reception in other cities was considerably better, the shouts of "Vive le roi!" were often followed by "Indépendance immédiate!" The Belgian government wanted to avoid at all cost being drawn into a futile and potentially very bloody colonial war, as had happened to France in Vietnam and Algeria or to the Netherlands in Indonesia. For that reason, it was all the more inclined to give in to the demands for immediate independence voiced ever more vocally by the Congolese leaders. It was hoped that somehow, and in spite of the lack of preparations (including the lack of an educated elite: there were only a handful of Congolese holding a university degree at that time), miraculously, things might work out. This became known as "Le Pari Congolais" — the Congolese bet.
In January 1960, Congolese political leaders were invited to Brussels to participate in a round-table conference to discuss independence. Patrice Lumumba was discharged from prison for the occasion. The conference agreed surprisingly quickly to grant the Congolese practically all of their demands: a general election to be held in May 1960 and full independence — "Dipenda" — on 30 June 1960. This was in no small measure thanks to the strong united front put up by the Congolese delegation. The political maneuvering ahead of the elections resulted in the emergence of three political alliances: a coalition of the federalistic nationalists consisting of six separatist parties or organizations, two of which were ABAKO and the MNC—Kalonji, the centralist MNC—Lumumba, and finally that of the strong-man of Katanga, Moïse Tshombe, conscious of the economic vitality of its area and the business interests of the Union Minière (just like Kalonji with respect to the diamond exploitations in Kasaï). The parliamentary elections resulted in a divided political landscape, with both the regionalist factions—chief among them ABAKO—and the nationalist parties such as the MNC, doing well. As time until independence day was running out, a compromise arrangement was forced through, with Kasa-vubu becoming the first president of the Republic of the Congo and Lumumba its first head of government. As planned, scarcely five months earlier, the hand-over ceremony took place on 30 June 1960. The location was the new residence of the Governor-General of the Belgian Congo in Léopoldville.
The ceremony was overshadowed by a significant incident: in his speech, King Boudewijn praised his forefather Leopold II, founder of the Congo Free State, and the blessings of Belgian colonial rule. Prime Minister Lumumba retorted with a vehement indictment of colonial oppression.
Scarcely one week after the handover of sovereignty, a rebellion broke out within the Force Publique against its officers, who were still predominantly Belgian. This was the signal for disturbances all over the Congo, mainly instigated by dissatisfied soldiers and radicalized youngsters. In many areas, violence specifically targeted European victims. Within weeks, the largest part of the more than 80,000 Belgians who were still working and living in the Congo were evacuated in all haste and often under traumatic circumstances by the Belgian military and later by the United Nations intervention force.
Belgian Congo after 1960
The rebellion that had started in Thyssville in the Bas-Congo in July 1960 quickly spread to the rest of the Congo. In September 1960, President Kasa-Vubu declared prime minister Lumumba deposed from his functions and vice versa. The stalemate was ended with the arrest of Lumumba. In January 1961, he was flown to the rich mining province of Katanga, which by that time had declared a secession from Léopoldville under the leadership of Moïse Tshombe (with active Belgian support). Patrice Lumumba was brutally murdered (in 2002 Belgium officially apologised for its role in the elimination of Lumumba; the CIA too has been suspected of complicity). A series of rebellions and separatist movements seemed to shatter the dream of a unitary Congolese state at its birth. Although independent, Belgian paratroopers intervened in the Congo on various occasions to protect and evacuate fellow citizens. The United Nations maintained a large peace-keeping operation in the Congo from late 1960 onward. The situation stabilised only in 1964–65, with the re-integration of the Katanga province and the end of the so-called Simba Rebellion in Stanleyville (province Orientale). Shortly after that army colonel Joseph Désiré Mobutu ended the political impasse by seizing power himself.
Mobutu enjoyed the support of the West, and in particular of the United States, because of his strong anti-communist stance. Initially his rule favored consolidation and economic development (e.g., by building the Inga-dam that had been planned in the 1950s). In order to distance himself from the previous colonial regime, he launched a campaign of Congolese "authenticity". As a result the colonial place names were abandoned in 1966: Léopoldville became Kinshasa, Elisabethville Lubumbashi, Stanleyville Kisangani. During this period, the Congo maintained close economic and political ties with Belgium, although these were occasionally overshadowed by the financial issues that had remained unresolved after independence (the so-called "contentieux"), for instance the transfer of shares in the big mining companies that had been held directly by the colonial state. In 1970, on the occasion of the tenth anniversary of independence, King Baudouin paid an official state visit to the Congo.
Mobutu’s régime radicalized during the 1970s. The Mouvement populaire de la Révolution (MPR), of which Mobutu was the président-fondateur, firmly established one-party rule. Political repression increased considerably. Mobutu now renamed the Congo into the republic of Zaïre. The so-called "Zaïrisation" of the country in the mid-1970s led to an exodus of foreign workers and economic disaster. In the 1980s the Mobutu regime became a byword for mismanagement and corruption. Relations with the former colonial power Belgium went through a series of ups and downs, reflecting a steady decline in the underlying economic, financial and political interests. After the end of the Cold War, Mobutu lost support in the West. As a result, in 1990, he decided to end the one-party system and dramatically announced a return to democracy, but subsequently dragged his feet and played out his opponents against one another to gain time. A bloody intervention of the Zaïrian Army against students on the Lubumbashi University Campus in May 1990 precipitated a break in diplomatic relations between Belgium and Zaïre. Pointedly, Mobutu was not invited to attend the funeral of King Baudouin in 1993, which he considered a grave personal affront. Finally, in 1997 Mobutu was chased from power by a rebel force headed by Laurent-Désiré Kabila, who declared himself president and renamed Zaïre into the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Assassinated in 2001, Laurent-Désiré Kabila was succeeded by his son Joseph Kabila, who in 2006 was confirmed as president through the first nation-wide free elections in the Congo since 1960. On 30 June – 2 July 2010, King Albert II of the Belgians and Yves Leterme, the Belgian Prime Minister, visited Kinshasa to attend the festivities marking the 50th anniversary of Congolese independence from Belgium.
Certain practices and traditions from the colonial period have survived into the independent Congolese state, such as a strong centralising and bureaucratic tendency, or the organizational structure of the education system and the judiciary. The influence of the Congo on Belgium has manifested itself mainly in economic terms: through the activities of the Union Minière (now Umicore), the development of a nonferrous metal industry, and the development of the Port of Antwerp and diamond industry. To this day, Brussels Airlines (successor of the former Sabena) has maintained a strong presence in the DRC. It is estimated that there currently (2010) remain more than 4,000 Belgians resident in the DRC, while the Congolese community in Belgium is at least 16,000 strong. The "Matongé" quarter in Brussels is the traditional focal point of the Congolese community in Belgium.
In popular culture
In literature and publications
The Belgian Congo features prominently or as a backdrop in some great works of Western literature. Among those are:
- André Gide (1927), Voyage au Congo
- Peter Bates (2003), White King, Red Rubber, Black Death;
- Hergé (1930), Tintin in the Congo;
- Evelyn Waugh (1931), Remote people;
- Kathryn Hulme (1956), The Nun's Story (also 1959 film by Fred Zinnemann, starring Audrey Hepburn);
- Graham Greene (1959), A burnt-out case;
- Lieve Joris (1987), Terug naar Congo.
- Barbara Kingsolver (1998), The Poisonwood Bible
- Joseph Conrad (1899), Heart of Darkness
- In the song "We Didn't Start the Fire" by Billy Joel, the Belgian response to the Congo Crisis following independence is mentioned.
- In "Short Memory", by Midnight Oil, the line "Belgians in the Congo" appears in the first verse.
- Raoul Peck's movie Lumumba (2000)
- Lucasfilm's "The Adventures of Young Indiana Jones: Oganga, the Giver and Taker of Life" (1999), takes place in Belgian Congo and German East Africa.
- Fred Zinnemann's movie The Nun's Story (1959), has scenes that take place in the Belgian Congo.
In visual art
- "Colonie belge" – usually depicting a black prisoner being flogged by a black guardian under the watchful eye of a white official — is a recurring theme in Congolese paintings by artists like Tshibumba Kanda-Matulu, C. Mutomobo, and others.
- Baron Théophile Wahis (November 1908 – May 1912; originally appointed by Leopold II in 1900)
- Félix Alexandre Fuchs (May 1912 – January 1916)
- Eugène Joseph Marie Henry (January 1916 – January 1921)
- Maurice Eugène Auguste Lippens (January 1921 – January 1923)
- Martin Joseph Marie René Rutten (January 1923 – December 1927)
- Auguste Constant Tilkens (December 1927 – September 1934)
- Pierre Marie Joseph Ryckmans (September 1934 – July 1946)
- Eugène Jacques Pierre Louis Jungers (July 1946 – January 1952)
- Léon Antoine Marie Pétillon (January 1952 – July 1958)
- Henri Arthur Adolf Marie Christopher Cornelis (July 1958 – June 1960)
- Belgian Congo in World War II
- List of colonial governors of the Congo Free State and Belgian Congo
- University of Lovanium
- French Congo
- (French) République démocratique du Congo, Laval University, Canada
- (Dutch) Vlamingen en Afrikanen—Vlamingen in Centraal Afrika, Faculteit Sociale Wetenschappen, Katholieke Universiteit Leuven, Belgium
- Georges Nzongola-Ntalaja (2002). The Congo from Leopold to Kabila: A People's History. Zed Books. ISBN 1-84277-053-5.
- Hochschild 61–67.
- Hochschild 84–87.
- "Map of the Belgian Congo". World DIgital Library. Retrieved 21 January 2013.
- John D. Fage, The Cambridge History of Africa: From the earliest times to c. 500 BC, Cambridge University Press, 1982, p. 748. ISBN 0-521-22803-4
- Rubinstein, W. D. (2004). Genocide: a history. Pearson Education. pp. 98–99. ISBN 0-582-50601-8
- Vanthemsche, Guy (2007), La Belgique et le Congo, Brussels: Editions Complexe, pp. 353–4.
- Senelle, R., and E. Clément (2009), Léopold II et la Charte Coloniale, Brussels: Editions Mols.
- A good overview in: Dembour, Marie-Bénédicte (2000), Recalling the Belgian Congo, Conversations and Introspection, New York: Berghahn Books, pp. 17–44.
- Meredith, Martin (2005). The Fate of Africa. New York: Public Affairs. p. 6.
- Likaka, Osumaka (2009), Naming Colonialism, History and Collective Memory in the Congo, 1870–1960, Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, p. 56.
- Stengers, Jean (2005), Congo: Mythes et réalités, Brussels: Editions Racine.
- McCrummen, Stephanie (4 August 2009). "Nearly Forgotten Forces of WWII". The Washington Post. Washington Post Foreign Service.
- See "Le Rail au Congo Belge, 1890-1920 (Volume 1)." (1993, Ediblanchart). ISBN 2872020101.
- "Belgian Congo" in Encyclopædia Britannica (1922 edition) online
- Vanthemsche, Guy (2007), La Belgique et le Congo, Brussels: Editions Complexe.
- Buelens,Frans (2007), Congo 1885–1960, Een financiëel-economische geschiedenis, Berchem: EPO.
- Boahen, A. Adu (1990). Africa Under Colonial Domination, 1880–1935. p. 171.
- Likaka, Osumaka (1997), Rural Society and Cotton in Colonial Zaire, Madison: University of Wisconsin Press.
- Brion, René and Jean-Louis Moreau (2006), De la Mine à Mars: la genèse d'Umicore, Tielt: Lannoo.
- On this subject see for instance: Fabian, Johannes (1986), Language and Colonial Power, The Appropriation of Swahili in the Former Belgian Congo 1880–1938, Berkeley: University of California Press.
- Mantels, Ruben (2007), Geleerd in de tropen, Leuven, Congo en de wetenschap, 1885–1960, Leuven: Universitaire Pers, pp. 201–236.
- A critical assessment of the colonial obsession with sleeping sickness in: Lyons, Maryinez (1992), The Colonial Disease, A social history of sleeping sickness in northern Zaire, 1900–1940, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
- Vanderlinden, Jacques (1994), Pierre Ryckmans 1891–1959, Coloniser dans l'honneur, Brussels: De Boeck.
- Pétillon, L. A. M. (1967), Témoignage et réflexions, Brussels: Renaissance du Livre.
- Likaka, Osumaka (2009), Naming Colonialism, History and Collective Memory in the Congo, 1870–1960, Madison: University of Wisconsin Press.
- See for instance a lecture by Nancy Rose Hunt (2002), Rewriting the Soul in Colonial Congo: Flemish Missionaries and Infertility, Antwerp University PDF
- See: www.aequatoria.be
- Ndaywel è Nziem, Isidore (1998), Histoire générale du Congo, Paris-Brussels: De Boeck & Larcier, pp. 456–63.
- Raspoet, Erik (2005). Bwana Kitoko en de koning van de Bakuba. Meulenhoff/Manteau. ISBN 90-8542-020-2.
- Gerard-Libois, Jules (1989), "Vers l'Indépendance: une accélération imprévue", In Congo-Zaïre, Brussels: GRIP, pp. 43–56.
- Kalulambi Pongo, Martin (2009), "Le manifeste 'Conscience africaine: genèse, influences et réactions", In Tousignant, Nathalie (ed.), Le manifeste Conscience africaine, 1956, Brussels: Facultés Universitaires Saint-Louis, pp. 59–81.
- Aziza Etambala, Zana (2008), De teloorgang van een modelkolonie, Belgisch Congo 1958–1960, Leuven: Acco, pp. 105–110.
- Young, Crawford (1965), Politics in the Congo, Decolonization and independence, Princeton: Princeton University Press, pp. 140–161.
- Ryckmans, Geneviève (1995), André Ryckmans, un territorial du Congo belge. Paris. L'Harmattan, pp. 215–224.
- Verlinden, Peter (2002). Weg uit Congo, Het drama van de kolonialen. Leuven: Davidsfonds.[page needed]
- For an overview of developments in the Congo after 1960 see: O'Ballance, Edgar (2000), The Congo-Zaire Experience, 1960–98, Houndmills: MacMillan Press.
- An illuminating first-hand account of the CIA's activities in the Congo in 1960–61 in: Devlin, Larry (2008), Chief of Station, Congo: Fighting the Cold War in a Hot Zone, Cambridge: PublicAffairs
- Willame, Jean-Claude (1989), "Vingt-cinq ans de rélations belgo-zaïroises", In Congo-Zaïre, Brussels: GRIP, pp. 145–58.
- Wrong, Michela (2001), Living on the brink of disaster in Mobutu's Congo, In the footsteps of Mr Kurtz, New York: HarperCollins, pp. 195–200.
- Bud, Guy (Hilary 2013). "Imperial Transitions: Belgian-Congolese relations in the post-colonial era". SIR, (2): 7–8.
- Swyngedouw, Eva and Erik Swyngedouw (2009), "The Congolese Diaspora in Brussels and hybrid identity formation", In Urban Research & Practice, vol 2, 1, pp. 68–90.
- Fabian, Johannes (1996), Remembering the Present, Painting and Popular History in Zaïre, Narrative and Paintings by Tshibumba Kanda Matulu, Berkeley: University of California Press.
- Vanthemsche, Guy (2012). Belgium and the Congo, 1885-1980. New York: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-0-521-19421-1.
- Ndaywel è Nziem, Isidore (1998). Histoire générale du Congo. Paris and Brussels: De Boeck & Larcier.
- Stengers, Jean (2005). Congo, Mythes et réalités. Brussels: Editions Racines.
- Van Reybrouck, David (2010). Congo, Een geschiedenis. Amsterdam: De Bezige Bij.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Belgian Congo.|
- Belgian Congo article in Encyclopædia Britannica 1922 extension.
- Oasis Kodila Tedika and Francklin Kyayima Muteba. Sources of growth in Democratic Republic of the Congo before independence. A cointegration analysis. Revue congolaise d’économie / Congo Economic Review. Document de Travail / Working Paper. WP02/10 — July 2006.