Belgian Congo

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A Congolese man with the severed hand and foot of his five-year-old daughter. Belgium's mercenaries also killed his wife and mother.
Tomorrow is a mystery,
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Wie es eigentlich gewesen

The Belgian Congo was a Belgian colony in the geographic area that is now the Democratic Republic of the Congo which became infamous for its brutal forced labour regime[1][2][3][4][5][6][7][8][9][10][11][12][13][14][15][16] which killed between eight and ten million people.[17] Colonial exploitation of the Congo occured in two phases. First, King Leopold II took personal control of the territory and gave it the hideously ironic name, the Congo Free State (1885-1908).[18] After international outcry over the brutality inflicted on the Congolese natives, the Belgian government reluctantly confiscated the territory from Leopold and instituted a marginally less murderous regime (less murderous in that it only killed one million people[19]).

The Congo Free State (1885-1908)[edit]

Slaves loading a steamboat on the Congo River.

During the 1880s and beyond, the major European powers were rapidly dividing and colonizing Africa in a period known as the Scramble for Africa. To prevent colonial conflicts from occuring on the continent, the European powers met at the Berlin Conference to hammer out some ground rules. Among other things, this meeting confirmed the Congo Free State as being the private property of King Leopold II. No, not Belgium. Leopold.[20] Leopold managed to get the European powers to agree to this by explaining that he wanted to help "civilize" the natives and convert them to Christianity.[21] Really, he argued, Belgian rule would be for their own good. This appealed to the other European leaders because they were using much the same rhetoric to justify colonialism themselves.[22][23]

Unfortunately for the Congolese, Leopold was lying his ass off.

Initially, the colony was a financial failure. However, the rubber boom happened,[24] and Belgian explorers stumbled across a huge number of rubber vines native to the Congo.[25] At this point, Leopold began to turn the Congo into a Hell on Earth. Villages of natives were forced to venture out into the jungles and gather rubber. This was a painful and labor-intensive process, especially because the best way to harvest rubber while keeping the trees alive for more harvesting was to slice the vines, allow the latex sap to cover one's body and dry, then peel it off along with skin and hair.[26] The native laborers were given quotas by their overlords, and failure to meet them would be met with arson, rape, whippings, and massacres.[27]

Congolese men holding severed human hands.

The quotas themselves were insane, motivated by nothing but sheer profit. The Anglo-Belgian Rubber (ABIR) Congo Company was the primary agent assigned by Leopold to produce rubber from the Congo, and they made massive profits by selling rubber for almost ten times as much as it cost to produce.[28] The desire to maximize production (and thus profits) lead to an issuance of production quotas that had no bearing at all on what was realistically possible. Meanwhile, the lack of any formal bureaucracy on the ground gave administrators much leeway to be as brutal as possible in the likely event that the Africans were unable to produce inhumanely large quantities of rubber.[29]

Leopold and the ABIR Company's colonial administrators hired mercenaries to enforce their demands, and infamously mandated that they sever the hands of anyone they killed to prove that they weren't wasting bullets on hunting or sport.[30] Government-issued guns are only for shooting people, y'see. Of course, the undisciplined mercenaries couldn't help themselves, so in order to cover it up, they just raided villages and severed hands from living people.[31] Severed hands even became a commodity of sorts as villages used them to bribe mercenaries to avoid punishment for failure to meet quotas. This resulted in small wars between villages as they attempted to gather hands from other natives.[32] King Leopold disapproved of the mutilations, but not due to humanitarian reasons. He was quoted as saying "Cut off hands - that's idiotic. I'd cut off all the rest of them, but not hands. That's the one thing I need in the Congo."[33]

While the images of severed hands became the greatest symbol of Belgium's brutality in the Congo, it was only the tip of the iceberg. Belgian authorities ordered the razing of entire villages and the murder of all of their inhabitants in the event of any resistance or repeated failures to meet quota.[34]

Needless to say, this kind of treatment did not take long to be noticed. E.D. Morel, a British journalist was the first to notice something rotten in the heart of Africa. He was working at a shipping company at the time and noticed while great wealth flowed out of Congo Free State, the only things that were ever shipped back were weapons, ammunition, and tools of bondage. Eventually, the international public got wind of what was happening in the Congo, beginning with the publication of the Casement ReportWikipedia's W.svg by a national of the United Kingdom and further inflamed with Joseph Conrad's Heart of DarknessWikipedia's W.svg and Mark Twain's King Leopold's SoliloquyWikipedia's W.svg. This international outcry and intense diplomatic pressure forced the Belgian Parliament to officially annex the Congo as a possession of the Belgian state.[35]

The Belgian Congo (1908-1960)[edit]

A slave being whipped with a chicotte

Theoretically, things should have gotten better. In some respects it did, essentially with the passage of legislation outlawing the "red rubber" system detailed above and most of the worst instances of violence. However, many other laws, especially the ones banning forced labor as a whole were completely ignored due to a lack of administration on the ground.[36] Corporations operating in the Congo and even the Belgian government itself continued to use slave labor in the Congo, albeit using slightly less obvious and egregious methods.[37] Indeed, the vast majority of the administrators appointed by Leopold remained in place under the new regime despite their myriad crimes.[38]

Natives who failed to do the work demanded of them were punished with prison, and in prison, the chicotte, a type of whip, was still in use in 1959.[39] For a time, the Congolese were still forced to gather rubber, but just before World War I, the price of rubber fell as rubber plantations elsewhere in the world began producing. By then, the wild rubber vines in the Congo were largely tapped out.[40]

Reports by various doctors and officials show the low importance the Belgian government as a whole, in spite of protests from some of their officials, placed on healthcare and basic education of the natives.[41][42][43][44][45]

A report published by these doctors in 1923 noted that "It is of course the case that when an entire population is put to work, in a manner harmful to its very existence, it cannot be a question of voluntary labour."[41] By threats of prison and the chicotte, workers were forced to work from morning until night. [41]While the work was painful enough for an adult, it was an intolerable strain for old men and the infirm, who made up the majority in certain fields of labor, such as palm fruit harvesting. Unable to supply the required quantities by themselves, the men had to call upon their wives to help them. Children were forced to work too.[41] At one post mentioned by the report, children aged 5 to 14 made up the entire workforce. This intense forced labor regime resulted in a decline of food cultivation, causing famines and disease.

Mine workers in the Belgian Congo.

Other Congolese were forced to work in the mines. Laborers were taken from their homes and marched to the mines with ropes around their necks, under the guard of undisciplined soldiers. Upon arrival, they found unhealthy working conditions, a heavy, stamina-draining workload, insufficient food for the output of energy required, and near constant physical abuse.[46] Some men were jailed for complaining to management about their wives being raped, and whipped if they persisted in complaining.[46]

The Huileries du Congo Belge (HCB), a subsidiary of Lever Brothers, was one of the companies that recruited Africans by force, their numerous agents accompanied by armed auxiliaries. The agents encountered increasing resistance during their tours, or else found villages emptied before they arrived.[47] Dr. Émile Lejeune, medical officer of the Congo-Kasi province, drafted a report finding rations, accommodation, and clothing to be inadequate, and the workload to be dangerous for the health of even healthy young men.[41] A number of workers were dying, and while Lejeune found documentation of rates of mortality to be inadequate, he found the most frequent causes of death recorded to be disease, especially pneumonia and bronchial infections.[41] The HCB provided blacks with just one meal a day, and due to lack of pans and utensils, the preparation was often unhygienic and unpleasing.[41] No clothing or blankets were provided, which was a major problem since the majority of deaths were caused by respiratory ailments.[41] Labor camps were crowded and lacked latrines, kitchens, medical facilities, and even a place to dispose of trash.[41]

Jules Marchal, who was a colonial official in the Belgian Congo from 1948-1960, himself administered punishments with the chicotte during that time to force natives to grow cotton. He must have had a change of heart, since he later proceeded to write a number of books revealing the brutality of the regime he served and of the previous regime, King Leopold's Congo "Free" State.[48][49][50]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. Marchal, Jules (1999). Forced labor in the gold and copper mines: a history of Congo under Belgian rule, 1910-1945. Translated by Ayi Kwei Armah (reprint ed.). Per Ankh Publishers. 
  2. Marchal, Jules (2008). Lord Leverhulme's Ghosts: Colonial Exploitation in the Congo. Translated by Martin Thom. Introduced by Adam Hochschild. London: Verso. ISBN 978-1-84467-239-4.  First published as Travail forcé pour l'huile de palme de Lord Leverhulme: L'histoire du Congo 1910-1945, tome 3 by Editions Paula Bellings in 2001.
  3. Likaka, Osumaka (1997). Rural Society and Cotton in Colonial Zaire. Madison, Wisconsin: The University of Wisconsin Press. 
  4. Rich, Jeremy (Spring 2009). "Lord Leverhulme’s Ghost: Colonial Exploitation in the Congo (review)". Journal of Colonialism and Colonial History. http://muse.jhu.edu/article/265076. Retrieved 17 March 2018. 
  5. Hochschild, Adam (1999). "18. Victory?". King Leopold's Ghost: a story of greed, terror, and heroism in colonial Africa. Boston: Mariner Books. 
  6. Buell, Raymond Leslie (1928). The native problem in Africa, Volume II. New York: The Macmillan Company. pp. 540-544. 
  7. Zoellner, Tom (2009). "1 Scalding Fruit". Uranium: war, energy, and the rock that shaped the world. New York: Penguin Group. pp. 4-5. 
  8. Lewis, Brian (2008). "Sunlight for Savages". So Clean: Lord Leverhulme, Soap and Civilisation. Manchester: Manchester University Press. pp. 188-190. 
  9. Edmondson, Brad (2014). "10: The Sale Agreements". Ice Cream Social: The Struggle for the Soul of Ben & Jerry's. San Francisco, California: Berrett-Koehler Publishers. 
  10. Makelele, Albert. This is a Good Country: Welcome to the Congo. pp. 43-44. 
  11. De Witte, Ludo (January 9, 2016). "Congolese oorlogstranen: Deportatie en dwangarbeid voor de geallieerde oorlogsindustrie (1940-1945)". http://www.dewereldmorgen.be/long-read/2016/01/09/congolese-oorlogstranen-deportatie-en-dwangarbeid-voor-de-geallieerde-oorlogsindustrie-1940-1945. Retrieved 17 March 2018. 
  12. "Lord Leverhulme". http://www.history.co.uk/biographies/lord-leverhulme. Retrieved 17 March 2018. 
  13. Mitchell, Donald (2014). The Politics of Dissent: A Biography of E D Morel. SilverWood Books. 
  14. "Un autre regard sur l'Histoire Congolaise: Guide alternatif de l’exposition de Tervuren". pp. 14-17, 25-28. https://www.deboutcongolais.info/histoire-du-congo.pdf. Retrieved 17 March 2018. 
  15. Seconde partie : Travail forcé pour le cuivre du Katanga https://www.cobelco.info/Histoire/Congo2text.htm
  16. Troisième partie: Travail forcé pour l'or https://www.cobelco.info/Histoire/travfor_or.htm
  17. 'King Leopold's Ghost': Genocide With Spin Control Kakutani, Michiko. New York Times. September 1, 1998
  18. Marchal, Jules (2008). "Introduction by Adam Hochschild". Lord Leverhulme's Ghosts: Colonial Exploitation in the Congo. Translated by Martin Thom. Introduced by Adam Hochschild. London: Verso. p. xix. ISBN 978-1-84467-239-4. 
  19. I recorded no democide for Belgium, although it may have been responsible for close to a million once it took over the Congo https://www.hawaii.edu/powerkills/COMM.7.1.03.HTM
  20. Full Text of the General Act of the Berlin Conference on West Africa
  21. 1885: Belgian King Establishes Congo Free State National Geographic
  22. The Mission Civilisatrice (1890-1945)
  23. Robert Livingston Schuyler, "The rise of anti-imperialism in England." Political science quarterly 37.3 (1922): 440-471. in JSTOR
  24. Development of the natural rubber industry
  25. Gumvines "Lost Crops of Africa: vol III"
  26. HOW HEART OF DARKNESS REVEALED THE HORROR OF CONGO’S RUBBER TRADE Literary Hub
  27. Belgium's Heart of Darkness Stanley, Tim. History Today Volume 62 Issue 10. October 2012.
  28. Father stares at the hand and foot of his five-year-old, severed as a punishment for failing to make the daily rubber quota, Belgian Congo, 1904 Rare Historical Photos.
  29. Gibbs, David N. (1991). The Political Economy of Third World Intervention: Mines, Money, and U.S. Policy in the Congo Crisis. American Politics and Political Economy. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
  30. Red Rubber: Atrocities in the Congo Free State in Confidential Print: Africa
  31. Renton, David; Seddon, David; Zeilig, Leo (2007). The Congo: Plunder and Resistance. London: Zed Books. ISBN 978-1-84277-485-4.
  32. Hochschild, King Leopold's Ghost, p. 166
  33. The hidden holocaust The Guardian. 1999-05-13
  34. Stengers, Jean (1969). "The Congo Free State and the Belgian Congo before 1914". In Gann, L. H.; Duignan, Peter. Colonialism in Africa, 1870–1914. I. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. pp. 261–92.
  35. Pakenham, Thomas (1992). The Scramble for Africa: the White Man's Conquest of the Dark Continent from 1876 to 1912 (13th ed.). London: Abacus. pp. 588–9. ISBN 978-0-349-10449-2.
  36. Marchal, Jules (1999). Forced labor in the gold and copper mines: a history of Congo under Belgian rule, 1910-1945. Translated by Ayi Kwei Armah (reprint ed.). Per Ankh Publishers.
  37. Hochschild, Adam (1999). "18. Victory?". King Leopold's Ghost: a story of greed, terror, and heroism in colonial Africa. Boston: Mariner Books.
  38. Stengers, Jean (2005), Congo: Mythes et réalités, Brussels: Editions Racine.
  39. Marchal, Jules (2008). "Afterword". Lord Leverhulme's Ghosts: Colonial Exploitation in the Congo. Translated by Martin Thom. Introduced by Adam Hochschild. London: Verso. p. 217. ISBN 978-1-84467-239-4.  First published as Travail forcé pour l'huile de palme de Lord Leverhulme: L'histoire du Congo 1910-1945, tome 3 by Editions Paula Bellings in 2001.
  40. Marchal, Jules (2008). "Introduction by Adam Hochschild". Lord Leverhulme's Ghosts: Colonial Exploitation in the Congo. Translated by Martin Thom. Introduced by Adam Hochschild. London: Verso. p. xvii. ISBN 978-1-84467-239-4. 
  41. 41.0 41.1 41.2 41.3 41.4 41.5 41.6 41.7 41.8 Marchal, Jules (2008). "2: The Lejeune Report (1923)". Lord Leverhulme's Ghosts: Colonial Exploitation in the Congo. Translated by Martin Thom. Introduced by Adam Hochschild. London: Verso. pp. 27–36. ISBN 978-1-84467-239-4.  First published as Travail forcé pour l'huile de palme de Lord Leverhulme: L'histoire du Congo 1910-1945, tome 3 by Editions Paula Bellings in 2001.
  42. Marchal, Jules (2008). "4: In Barumbu Circle (1917-1930)". Lord Leverhulme's Ghosts: Colonial Exploitation in the Congo. Translated by Martin Thom. Introduced by Adam Hochschild. London: Verso. p. 68. ISBN 978-1-84467-239-4.  First published as Travail forcé pour l'huile de palme de Lord Leverhulme: L'histoire du Congo 1910-1945, tome 3 by Editions Paula Bellings in 2001.
  43. Marchal, Jules (2008). "5: In the Basongo and Lusanga Circles (1923-1930)". Lord Leverhulme's Ghosts: Colonial Exploitation in the Congo. Translated by Martin Thom. Introduced by Adam Hochschild. London: Verso. pp. 96–98. ISBN 978-1-84467-239-4.  First published as Travail forcé pour l'huile de palme de Lord Leverhulme: L'histoire du Congo 1910-1945, tome 3 by Editions Paula Bellings in 2001.
  44. Marchal, Jules (2008). "7: The Compagnie Due Kasai Proves to be Worse Than the HCB (1927-1930)". Lord Leverhulme's Ghosts: Colonial Exploitation in the Congo. Translated by Martin Thom. Introduced by Adam Hochschild. London: Verso. pp. 116–117. ISBN 978-1-84467-239-4.  First published as Travail forcé pour l'huile de palme de Lord Leverhulme: L'histoire du Congo 1910-1945, tome 3 by Editions Paula Bellings in 2001.
  45. Marchal, Jules (2008). "7: The Compagnie Due Kasai Proves to be Worse Than the HCB (1927-1930)". Lord Leverhulme's Ghosts: Colonial Exploitation in the Congo. Translated by Martin Thom. Introduced by Adam Hochschild. London: Verso. pp. 121–128. ISBN 978-1-84467-239-4. 
  46. 46.0 46.1 Marchal, Jules (1999). Forced labor in the gold and copper mines: a history of Congo under Belgian rule, 1910-1945. Translated by Ayi Kwei Armah (reprint ed.). Per Ankh Publishers. pp. 240-242. 
  47. Marchal, Jules (2008). "1: The Early Years (1911-1922)". Lord Leverhulme's Ghosts: Colonial Exploitation in the Congo. Translated by Martin Thom. Introduced by Adam Hochschild. London: Verso. pp. 6–7. ISBN 978-1-84467-239-4.  First published as Travail forcé pour l'huile de palme de Lord Leverhulme: L'histoire du Congo 1910-1945, tome 3 by Editions Paula Bellings in 2001.
  48. Jules Marchal: postuum interview met eenzaam waarheidsvinder – tegen de Belgische Congo-mythes. http://www.sypwynia.nl/archief/interview-jules-marchal/
  49. Marchal, Jules 1924-2003. http://worldcat.org/identities/lccn-n96039138/
  50. Interview de Jules Maréchal. http://www.larevuetoudi.org/fr/story/poursuite-du-travail-forc%C3%A9-apr%C3%A8s-l%C3%A9opold-ii