Disclosure: Falsities on Colonialism

April 30, 2016 by Christine Preston

Christine: Archangel Michael has asked me to include this article as a work of disclosure because it will provide information and will have repercussions on cover-ups and beliefs relating to the dark forces’ conspiracies to create a false history, as well as to introduce erroneous views leading to racism, condemnations, destabilization of countries and political conficts, to eventually create chaos and destruction in the world, which could have sabotaged the Ascension process. This disclosure is about the true face of Belgian colonialism, and it unveils the role of Katanga in bringing civilization to the Congo. I have edited it and shortened it from the article I wrote and posted with the title Katanga: Beyond the Myth on Munication.com on October 13, 2013.  

The true face of Belgian colonialism and Cover-up that the Belgians eradicated slavery

I was born of Belgian colonial parents in Katanga. In 1945, my father signed a 25 year contract to work for the UMHK, the powerful Mining Union of Katanga that did a good job of protecting its employees’ safety, and was even criticized for being too paternalistic, or overprotective. I lived on that high plateau of Katanga for the first 17 years of my life. This company built homes for its employees as well as for the indigenous population, and provided the natives with career training, free education and health services. The employees had free housing and were not charge electricity bills, and electricity was produced from hydro-electric stations. Due to having first-hand life experience in that province, I have felt compelled to have my say about the historical fallacies that seem to have created a myth about Belgian colonialism.

I have traced the circumstances in which various countries attempted to acquire territories for mining exploitations at the end of the 19th century, as well as those in which wealth and economic stability was created on that high altitude plateau, originally called the ancient African Garenganze. This region, that early explorers found extremely difficult to penetrate, is situated above the region that used to be Rhodesia, in the southern part of Africa. Garenganze was destined to become the economic pillar of the Congo after it was renamed Katanga, particularly after the Independent State of Leopold the Second became the Belgian Congo, as the exportation of its minerals sustained the entire economy of the Congolese nation for many decades. I was able to draw from documents published in French in Katanga in the 1950s and 60s, which don’t exist in Britain, as well as academic works. I have reconstructed what I believe is the role of Katanga in the creation of civilization in the Congo.

In the late 1950s, the wealth that Katanga generated caught world attention and some politicians became aware of its potential.  Katanga became a State within a State because the mineral exploitation carried out by the UMHK brought enormous wealth and power. There are many works on the Congo and colonialism, and they are critical of Leopold the Second who, as we shall see, founded the UMHK, but the role of Katanga in bringing civilization to the Congo seems to have been suppressed. Yet it is essential to take it into account in order to unveil the true face of colonialism in the Congo. It is a necessary task because the idea has been disseminated that it was one of the worst in modern African history. This political dissemination of falsities seriously misrepresented the historical facts.  This was achieved by the use of an outrageous scenario of slavery and genocide that never existed.

Political background

The Congo called the Congo Free State from 1908, and later, in 1960, the Belgian Congo, was declared independent from the Belgians, then, due to a disagreement with the way the new government of Leopoldville ruled the country, Katanga attempted to secede from the Congo. It was proclaimed to the world as an independent State separate from the Democratic Republic of the Congo on June 30, 1960, but its secession was not recognized and the United Nations troops were permitted to intervene. There is no mystery why Katanga was prevented from seceding: it generated the greatest source of the Congo’s income.

 The name Katanga was changed to Shaba under the rule of President Mobutu when the Congo was called Zaire (Za-er). Katanga was made the subject of policies of isolation under Mobutu’s tyrannical regime, to divert attention from the source of the country’s wealth. To create his own personality cult, in a fantasy world of his own, Mobutu siphoned about 200 million pounds every year from Zaire’s mineral resources, and lined up his pockets at his citizens’ expenses.

The creation of the UMHK

This company came into being as a result of the merging of a company created by the Belgian King Leopold the second with Cecil Rhodes’ Tanganyika Concessions Limited. This was after a certain Morel had made some accusations concerning Leopold’s regime. Few researchers seem to know that Leopold created the UMHK because of the opposition that the Belgian King had to endure in respect of his rubber tax. This was discussed in the media in Belgium in Leopold’s time, in the late 1890s. He understood that Cecil Rhodes’ Company, called The Chartered, had permitted the Queen of England to avoid being the target of similar accusations. Some scholars have assessed that the achievements of the UMHK were remarkable, and there is plenty of photographic evidence to support the evidence of a shared economic abundance between the Europeans and the native population in the colonial age, but later, the abundant way of life was lost in the homeland that had functioned as an economic pillar for the Belgian Congo for decades.

Outraged by a scenario of slavery and genocide

A book entitled King Leopold’s Ghost by Adam Hochschild, published in 1999, was a best-seller but created an outrage in Belgium when it was published in French, because of its allegations against the Belgian regime.  Hochschild claims that the Belgians enslaved the indigenous population in the Independent State, and that Leopold instituted a reign of terror that resulted with a loss of 10 million lives, a genocide that supposedly took place in the 1890s, in order to maximize profits on ivory and rubber production. Comparing Leopold to Hitler, he claimed that by cunning manipulations, the Belgian King obtained omnipotence in the Congo, and that after he signed over his ‘empire’ to the Belgian government, the Belgian administrators allowed the ‘forced labor’ to continue.  The Belgian readers were infuriated by Hochschild’s comparison of Leopold to Hitler. As a journalist Hochschild had published articles in The New Yorker, Harper’s Magazine, The New York Times Magazine, and The Nation. He also had presented lectures at Harvard’s venues in the USA. However, Hochschild was not an Historian! He kept silent the fact that Belgium went to war against the Arab traders to free the native population from slavery. Was it by ignorance or design?

It was the Arab slave hunters who were responsible for the brutal reality of slavery in the Congo, and the Belgians were engaged in a war against them for many years! Hochschild resurrected an antagonism that already existed towards the Belgian King Leopold in the late 1890s and early 1900s because of an interest in other countries in acquiring territories that were rich in minerals. These territories were claimed following some explorations, expeditions, and establishment of outposts, not by armies outrunning the indigenous population. Hochschild’s scenario of slavery on the basis of the infamous ‘rubber tax’ is a distortion of history! We shall see that the loss of lives in the indigenous population that he blamed on the colonial regime, actually was due to an outbreak of smallpox and famine in 1890. Historical fallacies exploiting the negative sensationalism of genocide and slavery seem to have been fabricated and disseminated for a political agenda.

A fantasy story of 10 million loss of lives in a holocaust of slavery in the late 1890s was also propagated by a supporter of Mobutu’s regime. But instead of being related to the rubber tax, this myth was associated with the construction of a railway line. However, it would not have been possible to know how populated Central Africa was before, or in the 1890s, because the first population census was only carried out by the Belgians in 1905.

Furthermore, the very first census was done in 1905 but it was not intended to count the natives. It only revealed a population of 1,500 Belgians in the immense territories of the Independent State, and only a few dozens in Katanga. However, it is a historical fact recorded in the early explorers’ diaries, that the impoverished society of pre-colonial Africa was scattered, affected by malaria, and little in number. The claim that there was a loss of 10 million lives is completely unsubstantiated, a myth. Belgian scholars have also pointed out that this is a whimsical figure. The figure is also twice as much as the assessed death toll calculated due to more recent armed conflicts in the Congo for a period of twenty years.

How the myth was created

There is evidence that a conspiracy theory emerged in respect of Leopold the second due to a man by the name of Roger Casement, who was a British Consul, in the early 1900s. Hochschild seems to have built up his conspiracy theory upon this report.

Opinion began to tilt against King Leopold’s colonial regime in 1904, when it was the target of criticism as a result of this Consul’s allegations that various atrocities were being committed in the Congo. Leopold’s Secretary stated in a famous letter held in the Royal Museum of the Belgian Congo that the matter was given consideration because the King’s colonial regime was antagonized abroad. Almost a century after Casement’s report, due to Hochschild’s work, the view that Belgian colonials exploited the natives during the entirety of their presence in the Congo, or that their colonial regime was the worst of all, has been promulgated once again. However, we shall see that this is in contradiction with academic views on that subject. It has indeed been established that, under the Belgian system of colonial administration in the Congo, the natives shared in the economic and social progress.

Hochschild criticizes Leopold for having used mercenaries and having bribed local chieftains ‘to sign over their lands and trading rights in perpetuity.’ However, this is not an accurate representation of historical facts. There was a police force but no mercenaries in those days. Explorers and not mercenaries were sent to make deals with the African chieftains. A scholar, by the name of Thomas Pakenham, has, in fact, drawn our attention to an historical scramble because many countries were interested to acquire territories in the Independent State which became the Belgian Congo, and the method of making deals, recorded by the explorers, was common and widely accepted in the 1890s.  Cecil Rhodes also sent expeditions to Msiri, the king of Garenganze, the ancient name for Katanga, in the hope he would sign a treaty that would give rights of exploitation to his Company, The Chartered, but unfortunately for Rhodes, the Belgian team was more successful in its mission to make a deal with this chieftain.

According to Belgian opinion in the 1900sthere existed a faction that was only interested in causing the ruin of the Independent State. The group in question was a certain E. D. Morel who was associated with The Congo Reform Association. Morel was writing freelance articles on African trade issues for the Shipping Telegraph and Liverpool Journal of Commerce, and had criticized Leopold’s regime and certain abuses in the Free State blowing them out of proportion.

The British Queen praised Leopold’s enterprise but after her death the British House of Commons commissioned a British consul, by the name of Roger Casement, to investigate Morel’s allegations. It seems that the report submitted in 1903 was misinterpreted as a confirmation of Morel’s allegations although Casement did not state that Leopold’s regime was responsible for a holocaust.

I have analysed this report and found that on the contrary, Casement assigns the sleeping sickness a prominent place to a loss of human life in the Congo.  Other epidemics also decimated entire villages and could have been responsible for a significant decrease in the indigenous population. 

Furthermore, Casement does not indicate anywhere that Leopold’s regime was guilty of slavery. Casement was questionably associated with Morel before his report was published, as it was together that they had founded a political organization called The Congo Reform Association that claimed to have humanitarian objectives but generated animosity towards the Independent State. They had founded branches, including one in the United States. The Belgian king was of the opinion that the goal of the Congo Reform Association was to put an end to his control.  It was from this source that the antagonism abroad, mentioned by the King’s secretary, originated.  It seems that this organization was a façade to cover-up a political conspiracy against the colonials and destabilize the Congo. According to a scholar by the name of David Gibbs, the role played by the CIA in the Congo due to the potential mineral wealth of the country should not be underestimated because this kind of political manipulations are on a list of interventions that he has drawn.

Casement carried out an investigation in the Congo at the time a fleet of steamers already navigated the Congo River.  At that time there had been some changes in that region which he knew, as steamers provided transport to the most inaccessible parts of Central Africa, and a Railway line connected the ocean ports with Stanley Pool.  It is with praise that he acknowledges in his report that many difficulties were encountered during its construction.  Formerly there was but a tract with many obstacles to overcome. This region was the birthplace of the sleeping sickness, a disease that was still incurable and one that Leopold’s regime had not had time to eradicate.  Laying emphasis on the fact that it was the cause of a great loss of lives, Casement insists that a prominent place must be attributed to this malady for the fact that flourishing centers of population had vanished.

Casement’s Report contains some details that permit us to guess how Hochschild constructed his scenario of slavery. Casement had observed that some natives were forced to work in the rubber trade. This was at the time that Leopold tried to provide a solution to the situation of famine and disease in the Independent State.  One solution was to impose a tax on the population, but as employment was inexistent, a system was devised by the Administration.  It demanded the natives spared a few hours collecting rubber for the State. They were paid a salary, and a tax was then deducted from this salary paid for this work.  What Hochschild corrupts as slavery was Casement’s observation that the natives did not welcome the task, and the fact that an official in charge exercised continuous pressure on the local population because the natives were reluctant to change their way of life. What Hochschild also omits is the fact that it was the only way that money could be found to embark upon a program that would bring to the troubled population the benefits of civilization as well as an eradication of diseases.

There were enormous difficulties in the early days and Leopold was not able to create reasonable conditions overnight as this required time and money, and the territories were extremely vast. In his report Casement observes that an establishment appearing to be a native hospital was dilapidated. This probably was a hospital started in the earliest days by missionaries. As soon as money was available, hospitals were built everywhere.  Casement’s description of changed conditions as a result of the construction of a Railway line has also given Hochschild an opportunity to blame Leopold’s regime. However Morel, Casement, as well as Hochschild, have kept silent about the Belgian expeditions to abolish slavery in the Independent State.  

Morel’s mistake

At the port of Antwerp, in Belgium, Morel had apparently observed armies boarding ships for the Congo. According to Hochschild, Morel had noticed that some passengers in military uniform were holding guns slung across their shoulders. They were bound for the Congo on a steamer that had brought a cargo of rubber to Antwerp in 1890. Hochschild actually reproduced Morel’s text in the hope of providing substantiation for his own allegations. But it back fires!

In an administrator’s office, in Brussels, Morel had apparently found it suspicious that a list of items shipped on board the steamer included cartridges, rifles, and boxes of percussion-cap guns. He wondered why so large a quantity of military material was required. Morel then speculated that it was in relation to slavery despite the fact that the Secretary of State told him that the steamer’s cargo was not a secret and that the Press had been informed.  And this, according to Hochschild, was the episode ‘that awakened Morel’s suspicions.’ This also is the story that Hochschild offers to justify his theory that the Belgians invaded the Congo with armies for the purpose of slavery. He claims that territories were occupied by outrunning native tribes. But this is not true as colonisation was carried out by expeditions, establishing outposts, not by armies. The majority of the outposts were at first situated in the lower Congo around Leopoldville and Stanley Falls. A network of mission stations, stores, schools, and sub-stations were established with a corresponding network of administrative military outposts.

The truth was that the Belgians went to war to eradicate slavery

Morel assumed that the armament that was being shipped was used to enslave the population. However, he appears to have been totally unaware that the Belgians were about to declare war on the Arabs to eradicate slavery in the Independent State in 1890! As to Hochschild, he circumvents the matter of the Belgians’ crusade against slavery, or is completely ignorant of this historical episode. The campaigns were actually launched in 1892, and what explains the fact that the Belgian government was sending troops to Africa in 1890 in preparation for the attacks, is that the journeys by sea, and then inland, could take many months. In certain regions the military campaigns continued till 1894, but it was only by 1907 that the Belgian army finally expulsed the slave hunters from Katanga. Shame on Hochschild for assuming Leopold’s regime enslaved the natives, and for being ignorant of the fact that an army was necessary to oust out the slave hunters present on the territories that had been raided by Rumaliza, an Arab leader whose name meant ‘the one who destroys all.’ In Belgium school children learn about the anti-slavery military campaigns as part of their curriculum, and remember the names attached to them: i.e. Dhanis, Gillain, Ponthier, Henry, Lothaire, Chaltin, and Jacques de Dixmude. This war was so intense that these soldiers are held as heroes.

The Count de Wiart contends in his letter that Leopold genuinely believed that civilization would bring benefits to the natives who had been discovered in appalling conditions. But besides getting some medical teams to start working on a possible treatment for diseases, building hospitals, and finding a way to feed the starving population, the first task that the State actually decided to undertake was to free them from the threat of Arab slavery.

Rumaliza, as well as another slave trader by the name of Tippo-Tip, indeed regularly raided the indigenous population, and massacred those who resisted.  Following various difficult military operations, the Belgian troops, led by Dhanis, Chaltin, Ponthier, and de Dixmude, were successful in 1893, but the war officially declared against the Arab dealers in 1892, continued till 1894, and in Katanga up to 1907.  Dixmude was also a soldier in the 1914-18 ‘Great War’ and is remembered as a pioneer of the African railway and for expeditions he led from 1903.  It seems that the humanitarian organization calling itself the ‘Congo Reform Association’ withheld the facts concerning these military operations from public knowledge to disseminate propaganda against Leopold. Europe, if not the whole world became convinced that slavery was practiced in Leopold’s State though Belgian armies eradicated it!

Furthermore, was Morel ignorant of the fact that the equatorial forest and the South-west area (in Kasai) of the Congo were inhabited by cannibals? It would have been unwise to travel in these regions without military escort. Some tribes were avoided for the most part, not outrun by armies, as outposts were established in unoccupied regions. Expeditions had to be accompanied by military escorts for safety as they were attacked by the natives. Odon Jadot’s expedition to Pangu in Kasai, in 1913, was comprised of three Europeans, including a military chief, one hundred porters, and twenty five soldiers. The soldiers were for protection, not for army invasion as per Hochschild’s gross distortion of history.

122 blown to 10 million

As to the issue of the pressure that had to be applied upon the local population because the natives were reluctant to pay a tax in the form of labour, there was an incident that Hochschild exploited. On July 25, 1903, Casement had reached Lukolela where he witnessed that the population, that had counted 5,000 in 1887, had declined to less than 600. The main reasons for this loss of lives that he provided were the sleeping-sickness, general ill-health, and a shortage of food. However some villagers had complained that they had been flogged and showed their scars.  It was his opinion that punitive measures had been inflicted on them. This particular allegation was investigated by the Belgian government, because, as a result of Casement’s Report, an independent commission of enquiry was set up by the Belgian Parliament and it was discovered that one Belgian national in charge of operations in relation to the collection of the rubber tax had been responsible for ordering the shooting of some natives. A number of officials were arrested and condemned. Some officers were found to be guilty of abuses and the loss of life was 122. Casement had witnessed a local problem equivalent to cowboys taking the law into their own hands during the American pioneers’ western expansion beyond the frontier of civilization, but Hochschild blew it out of proportion from 122 to 10 million! Influenced by the American history of slavery, he presented a vision of terror accusing the colonials to be a society of murderers.

The photograph of a scene of slavery from Amistad, a film by Spielberg, was used to illustrate the Hudson’s review of Hochschild’s book. The content of this work amounts to a transplantation of American history onto the Congo. Whereas Casement’s report is misleading in places, it is possible that Hochschild was driven by the agenda of exploiting the sensational character of genocide.

Slave hunters, not Leopold, taught a mutilation custom

Casement’s report that the indigenous police intimidated their own communities, if they did not deliver rubber, and that soldiers mutilated dead bodies as proof that they had done their duty was distorted by Hochschild with the statement that they attacked their own communities and were under colonials’ orders to cut off the right hand of those they shot, as proof that they had not been wasting valuable bullets.  However, it was during the military campaigns against the Arabs, from 1892 to 1907, that the native soldiers enrolled at the service of the colonial State took the initiative of using a method they had learned from the Arabs themselves. There were but a few European supervisors by comparison to the number of natives enrolled in the State-run army, and they were up against deeply rooted ancient traditions the natives had inherited. The explorers reported that Msiri, the King of Katanga, used to inflict mutilations of this kind upon his own people as a punishment. The scholar Thomas Pakenham also mentions the fact that Msiri was cruel with his own subjects and was in the habit of cutting off a hand, a foot, or an ear for trivial reasons.

The native custom referred to as the cut off hand was not a Belgian punishment but a tradition of ancient Arab and Egyptian origin. It also appears to have been a military ritual to claim a bounty. Such gruesome details have emerged from hieroglyph records recently deciphered. According to these, the Pharaohs’ soldiers had to produce the hand of a slain victim. The Arabs also apparently use the method of hacking off a hand to enforce the law.  This custom became established in the Congo because of Arabic influence in the past. The Congolese officers may have taken the initiative of bringing back hacked off hands from the enemy for the purpose of proving to their Belgian superiors they had made good use of cartridges issued to them, and kept on doing this despite being told it was not necessary.   

The movement that antagonized Leopold’s regime worked very hard to make this cutting off of a hand mutilation a symbol of his regime! In reality it was the Arab slave hunters who were responsible for the devastation of villages, not the recruits. Belgian officers actually fought long and hard in the North of Katanga, as well as in Maniema, against the Arabs with the support of indigenous recruits. They did not attack local tribes but Arab slave traders, some of whom traded human flesh. Hundreds of their men perished in the struggle for freedom of the indigenous population from slavery.

Before Leopold’s State became the Belgian Congo

The year 1906 was full of worries for the Belgian king, the Sovereign of the Independent State of the Congo. In twenty years he had created an empire and an organization, the facets of which were administrative, economic, and military, and this had given him no end of difficulties. Leopold had consolidated the Independent State’s internal situation and the country was becoming prosperous.

Then the antagonism generated by the organization that had recruited support from a group of ill-informed humanitarians, started to give Leopold a serious problem. The movement was referred to by the Belgians as the anti-Congo campaign. The attacks had influenced politicians in other countries and some nations demanded a revision of Berlin’s decision. This was after a quarter of a century of heroic efforts and transformations in central and if Belgian nationals appeared to be privileged it was because they had been first to settle on the virgin territories, had gained experience in colonization, and already had established contacts with the indigenous world.

After the eradication of slavery

Soon after the wars had successfully ousted the Arab slavery raiders out of the Congo, Catholic and Protestant missionaries arrived, settled down, and schools were built for the education of the native population. A medical workforce was brought in to deal with the serious tropical diseases that affected it, such as the sleeping sickness due to the tse-tse fly, and the typhoid fever. Their objective also was to reduce the high infantile mortality rate present in the native population. Leopold also opened the country to commercial enterprises for the exploitation of rubber and ivory, industries, and the construction of a very first Railway line was undertaken in 1890 in the North West of the country. This was before prospection was completed in the South.

King Leopold expected other countries to participate in the enterprise and there was enough potential for all countries to take part in this, even if the Belgians had been the first to settle there.  Hochschild claims in his book that the free trade that Leopold had promised to the French and Americans did not materialize, but this is untrue as associations with American and British companies were made and many subsidiaries were formed.

The creation of sister companies and railway lines

King Leopold’s personal Secretary explains that the antagonism that Casement’s report generated compelled him to create Sister companies including the UMHK. Leopold realized that The Chartered Company of Cecil Rhodes acted as a political screen for the British government. The Chartered had also enforced a tax on the natives below the Plateau of Katanga, in Rhodesia, in the form of labor because of the difficulty to get a labor force, and the natives were therefore forced to work for the British government. However, Britain was not accused of slavery due to the tax system, as Leopold was, because The Chartered was held legally responsible.

Learning from this, the Belgian King also created a Chartered Company in 1891 called Katanga’s Company and the Independent State ceased to be politically active. The company was a political substitute and, from a commercial point of view, had to explore the region, study the possibility of mining exploitation, and of establishing means of transport and communication, including the construction of a Railway network. Then, a subsidiary, the Special Committee of Katanga, or CSK, was created in 1900, and a series of joint prospection contracts were made with Robert Williams, the General Manager of the Tanganyika Concessions Ltd, which was a subsidiary company of The Chartered of Cecil Rhodes.

In 1906, the Belgian King created three Companies in response to the antagonism generated by the Morel and Casement alliance. Furthermore, they were the result of associations with American, French, and British groups. It is normally not understood that from the moment of the inception of these three Sister Companies, the King did not even continue as head of his enterprise despite the fortune he had invested in his colonisation. The King retired from the project and only the investors remained.

It was expected that the criticism due to the mythology created by the anti-Congo movement was going to dissipate. Shortly after this, in 1908, Belgium acquired the colony and it was called the Belgian Congo. The fact that the Congo became Belgian may have caused grievances abroad because various foreign fortunes had been invested in the enterprise and suddenly, the State had become formerly Belgian! The UMHK, or Mining Union of Katanga, which derived from the Special Committee, acquired great importance and the power of a State within a State, and the economy of the Congo depended upon the company’s administration and decisions.

Academic Opinion

But what do scholars say about the situation in the late 19th century or early days? First of all, they recognise that explorers, not armies, took possession of unoccupied land, and that products such as rubber were declared the State’s domain. According to J. Stengers, the explorers had to deal with some objections when a tax was demanded in the form of labor, but they could not have taxed them on an income as none existed yet. There originally were some abuses and coercive methods were used, but from 1906 the State increasingly eliminated them, and the workers depended on what the European officials were like as individuals. According to T. Pakenham, there was a conspiracy to make the world believe that concession companies were corrupt after a commission was set up to investigate alleged abuses in the Congo in Casement’s report and the origin of the conspiracy in question was Morel, who told the horrors of Leopold’s regime as consisting of villages in ruin, mutilated corpses, and severed hands. It is because of these allegations that colonialism was represented as one of the worst in African history.  Pakenham’s position about the allegations is clear as he comments almost sarcastically about Morel that he was a man who believed he had stumbled upon a secret society of murderers. In Pakenham’s opinion, the American Congo Reformation Association which had been founded by the Morel and Casement alliance continued to oppose the concession Companies.

 The construction of a Railway line in 1890

The Mobutu regime was responsible for spreading the rumor that 10 million Zaireans died of overwork, bad food, and poor living conditions, between 1880 and 1910, and that this enormous loss of lives was mostly due to the construction of a Railway line in the 1890s between Matadi and Kinshasa, which used to be called Leopoldville. These lies were to generate hostility towards the Europeans in order to ensure support for Mobutu’s policies of isolation and safeguard his dominion.

This Zairean myth seems to be the source for the claim in a documentary entitled White King, Red Rubber, Black Death that a loss of 10 million lives occurred due to the building of a railway line. This myth may have been inspired by the propaganda disseminated by the political Congo Reform Association founded by Morel and Casement.

In a book with cartoons for the children market, published in English in Britain, I came across the statement that it was between 1880 and 1910, and particularly in the 1890s, that the deaths of 10 million natives occurred due to overwork. In August 1922, Odon Jadot stated in a letter that there was but one European supervising seventy workers when they were building a Railway line in the tropical forest, and that they worked nine hours a day.  On a photograph of people who worked on the construction of the Matadi-Leopoldville Railway line taken in 1894 there are but 31 persons, among whom four whites. It is shown in my article published on Munication.com. The line was completed within a certain amount of years, and a work force receiving wages was used to construct it. A work force of 10 million people would not have been needed to build it.  Furthermore, the Europeans posed very closely to the indigenous labour force. This indicates that they worked in an amicable atmosphere and the latter certainly does not correspond to the imagery of slavery given by Hochschild. It is obvious that he transplanted to the Congo his vision of the historical enslavement of the black people of America, and whether the latter  has also been falsified is another matter. 

The Railway Company of Katanga made the statement in its 1956 hardback volume that there was a difficulty to recruit a labor force for the building of the Matadi-Leopoldville line. This is further evidence against the later allegations of slavery as one does not ‘recruit’ slaves. A 380 kilometers long railway line was constructed between the Port of Matadi and Leopoldville in 1890 where the Congo River was not navigable due to rapids and falls. On the map it is at that level that the Congo River throws itself into the Atlantic.  Although the scheme was extremely hard from a technical point of view, the line was a short one by comparison to the vast distances involved for other networks in the Congo. It was Stanley who went back to Europe in 1884 with a project for this Railway. It was in fact an English consortium to undertake the project for the venture.  In March 1887 permission was obtained to carry out a study for a Railway line to be constructed on the left bank of the Congo River between Matadi and Leopoldville. A subsidiary company was created to undertake its construction on July 31, 1889. They started work on March 15, 1890, and the line was completed in March 1898. This actually was the very first line that was built in Central Africa and it was what quick-started the Congolese economy.

In Katanga the first Railway line was constructed four years after the creation of the UMHK for industrial purposes and was completed in October 1910. The Company recruited workers in Northern Rhodesia because of the difficulty to obtain a labor force in this region. This, as is known from the first explorers’ diaries, was because the Southern region population had been drastically decimated in indigenous villages after an epidemic of smallpox and starvation in the 1890s.

Rhodes had the ambition to build a Railway to link the Cape to Cairo. In 1897 this had become a reality up to Bulawayo. Rhodes and the Belgian King arrived at a perfect agreement. The objective of this amalgamation was the building of a Railway network for commercial export, and Katanga became a cross road and gateway towards Rhodesia.

Scholars praise Belgian colonialism

Viewing the Belgians’ economy as enlightened, two academics by the name of Gann and Duignan said that the colonials played a progressive role rather than a repressive one, and that they transformed the previously impoverished society of pre-colonial Africa.  Unfortunately as the public at large does not read academic works, this opinion has had little influence, and colonialism in the Congo has come to be regarded as one of the worst in modern African history due to the political propaganda. Gann and Duignan trace the criticism directed at Belgian colonialism to the sphere of international politics and say that the Belgians were already suspicious of humanitarianism in the early 1900s and regarded Morel as an agent of a group interested in the ruin of the Independent State of Leopold.

In Political Economy of Third World Intervention, David Gibbs concludes that Morel and his Congo Reform Association agitated public opinion and that as a result the Belgians were tainted by criticism. It is his opinion that the pressure of the conspiracy may have played a part in making what he calls the ‘Belgian management’ more determined to work towards the realization of a society that enjoyed an interaction between the European and native cultures.

Belgians scholars respond to allegations in 2005

Two Belgian scholars at Belgian Universities, Vellut, and Vanthemsche, have responded to Hochschild’s allegations in an article published in 2005. This was following a public reaction after the publication of the French version of King Leopold’s Ghost and the viewing of the documentary entitled White King, Red Rubber, Black Death that was broadcasted by the main TV broadcasting stations in Belgium in 2004. 

Those Belgian scholars have argued that Leopold was driven by humanitarian objectives and that the exportation of tropical products would not have taken place without the construction of a Railway network. As to the accusation that the King sought personal wealth, his goal was to bring abundance to the whole of the Belgian Nation.  In addition he also had a calling as a maker of civilization. He spent to the last penny of his own fortune, then was forced to tighten-up his own expenses, and by 1890 had to borrow money.

The Article also addresses the allegation of an estimated 10 million loss of lives and the idea that Africans perished due to the Belgian colonial age. Vellut objects saying it was a speculation, not a known fact. He says that as early as in 1920 some rumors circulated about a large loss of lives in the period of 1890 to 1920, but it is ascribed to the sleeping sickness, or malaria, and the difficulty is that there were no statistics at the time. The explorers indeed recorded in their log books the fact that some terrible epidemics of smallpox devastated and decimated the population of entire villages. For bibliography and footnotes, see my Article on Munication.com

Disclosure: Falsities on Colonialism

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