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[EDITOR'S NOTE: The following account of the Congo Independent State was written before the annexation of the State by the Belgian Government. Belgium's right to take over the Congo and the successive steps which have led up to the annexation will be found treated under sections II and VII. On 20 August, 1908, the Chamber of Deputies approved the treaty of annexation, and on 9 September following the treaty was adopted by the Belgian Senate. By this agreement the Belgian Government took over the Independent State, including the Domaine de la Couronne, with all its rights and obligations. Among other trusts the government guaranteed certain allowances to Prince Albert and Princess Clementine, and created two funds, one, $9,100,000 to be expended in Belgium for public works, and another of $10,000,000 to be paid to the king and his successors in fifteen annuities and used for objects connected with the Congo. The present article deals with the Independent State -- both in its interior organization and international position -- as it was down to the time of the annexation.]


America has not been without a share in the discovery of the Congo Free State. It was James Gordon Bennett, the proprietor of the " New York Herald", who (October, 1879) engaged (Sir) Henry Morton Stanley to undertake his voyage through Africa to find the lost explorer, David Livingstone. Americans, therefore, may a claim a part in the honour of a discovery which has changed our geographical notions and opened a new country to civilization. Congo had been considered an arid, uninhabited desert ; Stanley found there rich forests, an immense river, vast lakes, and millions of human being to be civilized. Further, the United States was the first power (22 April, 1884) that recognized the flag of the International Association as that of a friendly state. There are (1908) in Africa four Congo states: the French German, Portuguese, and the Independent, or Free, State. It is this last which, more than the others, deserves particular attention. It was here that the plenipotentiaries, gathered at Berlin (24 Feb., 1885), hoped to see realized their ideal of generous freedom and civilizing humanity. Leopold II ascended the throne of Belgium in 1865. A man of undoubted genius and erudition, of large ideas and tenacious will, he was also inspired with great ambitions. Even before becoming king, in his speeches to the Senate (9 Apr., 1853; 7 Feb., 1860; 31 March, 1861) he expressed the desire to see his country rely on her own resources and extend her empire beyond the seas. Ascending to the throne, he found himself ruler of a country that was so small that it was scarcely visible on the map of the world, and it was only natural that he should conceive the hope of one day ruling a more extended dominion. He therefore set his heart on obtaining the Congo for his people; nor was this his first effort to realize his ambition ; it was perhaps the seventh or eighth attempt he had made a Belgian colonization. Briefly, the successive stages of the foundation of the Congo Free State were as follows: As a consequence of the expeditions (1840; 1 May, 1873) of Livingstone and Stanley, public attention began to be drawn to Central Africa, and Leopold II divined the greatest possibilities of the newly-discovered country. On 12 Sept., 1876, he called a Conférence Géographique at Brussels, which gave birth to the association for the exploration and civilization of Central Africa commonly called the International African Association. This was divided into different national committees, each charged with the task of promoting the common cause. The Belgian committee was founded on 6 Nov., 1876; King Leopold assisted at its foundation and delivered a remarkable speech. The Belgian was the only committee which displayed any serious activity. It collected a sum of 100,000 dollars, five times as great as the united collections of all the others, and took the leading part in the organization of the first expedition. The expedition naturally followed the route which had already been traced by Livingstone, i.e., it moved from east to west. It was a failure, however, and many lives were sacrificed in vain. In January, 1878, the news came that Stanley had crossed right through Central Africa, from the Zanzibar Coast to the mouth of the Congo River, whose upper course he was the first to discover during the course of the journey. It was then that Leopold conceived an idea of sending out an expedition which should start from the western coast and explore the country. While others were content to applaud Stanley or to listen to his interesting narratives, the King of Belgium resolved to employ the explorer to further his designs, which were not merely commercial or political, but sincerely humanitarian as well. At the very moment Stanley set foot on European ground, envoys were waiting for him at Marseilles. The king succeeded in gaining him for his purpose, and then proceeded to found (Nov., 1878) a society afterwards called the International Congo Association. In the name of this association, in which Leopold was the principal through hidden agent, Stanley's little party, counting only thirteen white men, set out. It was not the only expedition intent on planting a European flag on this virgin soil; at the same time a French and a Portuguese mission were also on their way. Toward the end of 1879 Stanley reached a non-Portuguese territory on the right bank of the Congo River and founded there the post of Vivi. Moving slowly up the river he came at last to the Pool. The Brazza mission was already there, and the French flag was planted on the right bank. The French had not crossed the river, however, and the Portuguese expedition had stopped at the Upper Kwango, thus leaving the country to the interior open to the future colony. During this journey, Stanley concluded many treaties with the native chiefs, by which they were to submit to the suzerainty of the Association, founded a certain number of ports in the north toward the equator, and in the south in the Kassai district, and actually set up a government which was soon semi-officially recognized. In Oct., 1882, France tacitly acknowledged the capacity of the Association to enjoy international rights (see letter of M. Duclerc, president of the Council, to Leopold II). The United States (22 April, 1884) and Germany (8 Nov., of the same year) recognized in a more explicit manner the flag of the Association as that of a friendly State. A week later (15 Nov. 1884) the famous Berlin Conference was opened. The object of this conference, which included delegates from fourteen nations, is stated clearly in the heading which serves as preamble to the act containing the collection of decisions and called "l'Act Général de Berlin ". It runs as follows: "Wishing to regulate, in a spirit of mutual good understanding, the conditions most favourable to the development of commerce and civilization in certain parts of Africa, and to assure to all nations the advantage of free navigation on the two principal African rivers [ Congo and Niger] which flow into the Atlantic; desirous on the other hand of forestalling any misunderstandings or disputes which new acts of occupation on the African coast might cause in the future; concerned also with the measures to be taken for increasing the welfare both material and moral of the native races . . ." During the intervals between the meetings of the conference M. Strauch worked had to win for the flag of the International Association official recognition by all the powers represented; his efforts were successful, and Leopold, as founder of the association, was able to officially communicate the fact to the conference at its second last meeting (23 Feb., 1885). The plenipotentiaries then expressed their high appreciation of the work done by the king; at the same time they welcomed the birth of the new state, thus founded. At the final meeting of the conference, the Berlin Act was accepted by the Association, which was then hailed by Bismark as "one of the principal guardians of the work which they had in view". The moment had now arrived for Leopold to show himself. Hitherto he had worked through various societies which had finally developed into the International Association; he was the moving spirit of them all. He now came forward in the name of this Association, and receiving from the Belgian Chamber (vote of Chamber of Representatives, 28 April, 1885; vote of the Senate, 30 April, 1885) the necessary authorization he announced to the various powers on 1 August, 1885, and the days following, "that the possessions of the International Association would henceforth form and be called the Independent State of Congo". He further declared himself sovereign of this State. It was understood that the only constitutional bond of union between Belgium and the Independent State of Congo was the person of the king. Thus was founded the Independent State. Leopold can justly regard it as his own creation. Nevertheless it is only fair to recognize the part taken in the work by some Belgian statesmen. Without the recognition of the Powers the Independent Congo State could not have won a secure position, and this recognition was obtained through the brilliant diplomacy of Mr. E. Banning and of Baron Lambermont at Berlin. Without the authorization of the Belgian Chambers Leopold could not have occupied a new throne; it was M. Beernaert, then prime minister, who obtained this authorization, and he is therefore justly regarded as "one of the statesmen who have contributed most to unite the destinies of Congo and of Belgium " ( Leroy-Beaulieu, "De la colonisation", 352).


Recognition by the Powers

The international position held by the Independent State results directly from the friendly recognition of the powers accorded by treaty to the International Association, from which sprang the Independent State. Following, in chronological order, are the names of the contracting Powers and the dates of the treaties: United States of America (22 April, 1884); German Empire (8 Nov., 1884); Austria-Hungary (24 Dec., 1884); The Netherlands (27 Dec., 1884); Spain (7 Jan., 1885); France and Russia (5 Feb., 1885); Sweden and Norway (10 Feb., 1885); Portugal (14 Feb., 1885); Belgium and Denmark (28 Feb., 1885); Turkey (25 Jun., 1885); Switzerland, (19 Nov., 1885); Republic of Liberia (15 Dec., 1885); Japan (9 July., 1900).

Neutrality of the Congo

By the General Act of Berlin (ch. iii) the Powers has agreed to respect a political neutrality in the Congo Basin. They allowed all Powers having possessions there to put their territories under the power of this neutrality. Availing itself of this privilege, the Independent State, 1 Aug., 1885, declared its perpetual neutrality. This declaration was afterwards repeated, 19 Dec., 1894, on the occasion of certain changes of frontier.

Obligations Imposed by the Act of Berlin

In declaring its adhesion to the Act of Berlin (24 Feb., 1885), the Independent State contracted certain commercial, political, and other obligations which we shall briefly describe.

(a) Freedom of Commerce.-- All nations were to have perfect freedom in commercial enterprise; the subjects of all flags were to be treated with perfect equality and be at liberty to engage in all kinds of transport; there was to be freedom of traffic on all coasts, rivers, and lakes of the Congo, and the harbours were to be open; free transport and free transit were to be allowed to merchandise, save only such taxes or duties as might be required to defray the expense entailed in the interest of commerce (subsequently, by an agreement made at Brussels, 2 July, 1890, an import duty of ten percent maximum might be imposed); finally no monopoly or privilege or a commercial nature might be granted.

(b) Protection of Natives, Missionaries, Travellers.-- The powers signing the Act bound themselves to care for the native peoples, their moral and material welfare, and co-operate in suppressing slavery and especially the slave trade. They bound themselves to protect and assist, "without regard to distinctions of nationality or of creed, all religious, scientific, philanthropic establishments or enterprises, formed or organized for such ends, or calculated to instruct the inhabitants and make them understand and appreciate the advantages of civilization". In particular, Christian missionaries, men with scientific ends in view, and explorers, together with their escorts, were to be the objects of special protection (Article 6).

(c) Freedom of Religious Worship.-- "Liberty of conscience and religious toleration are expressly guaranteed to natives as well as to other subjects and to foreigners. The free and public exercise of all forms of worship, the right of erecting religious edifices, and of organizing missions belonging to all creeds shall not be submitted to any restriction or restraint" (ibidem).

(d) Postal Conventions.-- The terms of the Universal postal union, revised at Paris, 1 Jan., 1878 (Art. 7) were to be observed in the Congo Basin; there were officially accepted by the Independent State, 17 Sept., 1885. In like manner, 13 Sept., 1886, the additional Postal Act of Lisbon was adopted, on 19 June, 1892, the Universal Postal Convention of Washington, and on 26 May, 1906, that of Rome.

(e) Mediation and Arbitration.-- In case serious disagreements should occur over the territories where commercial freedom was allowed, the Powers signing the act bound themselves "before having recourse to arms, to seek the intervention of one or several friendly Powers". In such a case the Powers reserved to themselves the right of having recourse to arbitration (Art. 12).

Conditions of the Act of Brussels

The Slave Trade and Traffic in Spirits.-- On 2 July, 1890, on proposal of England, an international conference met at Brussels. A general act was proposed and signed by all the Powers that formerly had passed the Berlin Act, and also by the Independent State. By this the signatory Powers bound themselves to take measures to prevent the slave trade and to restrict the traffic in spirits in the zone lying between 20° N. lat. and 22° S. lat. Within this territory the distillation of liquor or importation thereof was forbidden in regions where the use of such liquor was not yet common. In the other parts where it was already in use a heavy import duty was imposed. This duty was fixed by the convention of 8 June, 1899, at seventy francs per hectolitre, fifty percent alcohol (about $1.57 a gallon), for a period of six years; an equivalent excise duty was laid on the manufacture of such liquors.

Right of Preference of France

Apart from the general provisions which govern its dealings with the Powers, the Independent State, owing to certain conventions, has special relations with France and Belgium. We shall treat first of those concerning France, comprised in the famous, but often badly explained, "Right of Preference". On 23 April, 1884, Colonel Strauch, President of the International Association, declared in a letter to Jules Ferry that if, owing to unseen circumstances and contrary to its intention, the Association was compelled in the future to sell its possessions, it would consider itself obliged to give preference of purchase to France. On the following day the French minister officially acknowledged the letter and added that in the name of the French government he bound himself to respect the established relations and the free territories of the Association. Thus the right was constituted. Writing, however, on 22 April, 1887, to Bourée, minister of France at Brussels, Baron von Eetvelde declared that the Association never meant or intended that this right accorded to France should be to the prejudice of Belgium of which Leopold II was king. In his letter of 29 April, Bourée replied that this interpretation had come to his notice, but said nothing more. When in 1895 the question of the cession of the Independent State to Belgium was raised, it seemed prudent to negotiate with France. As a consequence the convention of 5 Feb., 1895, was made between France and Belgium ; France, on the one hand, agreed not to oppose the cession, and on the other secured a favourable determination of borders in Congo. On the same date, by another convention, the Belgian Government, already acting as a successor to the Independent State, recognized the right of preference of France to the purchase of these territories, in case of a complete or partial exchange, concession, or lease to another Power. It declared besides that it would never give up gratuitously either the whole or a part of these said possessions. It is quite clear, therefore, (1) that the right of preference is simply one of pre-emption, i.e., in case of alienation on terms of sale, negotiations must first be entered into with France ; (2) that France recognized in 1895 the priority of Belgium in this respect, or at least consented not to deny Belgium the right of preference.

Belgium's Right to Take Over the Congo

The Belgian Act of 28 April, 1885, had declared: "the union between Belgium and the new state of Congo will be exclusively personal". This could not, however, prevent the subsequent gift on the part of the king, nor could it take from Belgium the right of accepting such a donation. By his will, dated 2 August, 1889, which was placed in the hands of M. Beernaert, who communicated it to the Chambers, Leopold II was to leave as a legacy to his country all sovereign rights over the Independent State of the Congo. He added, besides, that should the Belgian Government wish to take over the Congo before this time, he would be happy to see it accomplished during his lifetime. An agreement was next entered into, 3 July, 1890, by which Belgium was to advance to the Congo twenty-five million francs, five millions at once and the remaining twenty at the rate of two millions a year. Six months after the expiration of the ten years (18 Feb., 1901) Belgium might, if it wished, annex the Independent State, with all the possessions, rights, and emoluments belonging to this sovereignty, providing it assumed the outstanding obligations of the State to third parties, "the king expressly refusing all indemnification for the personal sacrifices he had made". On 5 Aug., 1894, the king-sovereign announced that he was prepared to put at the immediate disposal of Belgium his possessions in the Congo. Following this announcement a treaty of annexation was concluded, 8 Jan., 1895, between the Belgian government and the independent state, subject to the approval of the Chambers. This was given 12 Feb., 1895, but was withdrawn, 19 June, and the treaty annulled by mutual consent, 12 Sept., 1895. However, a new loan confirmed Belgium's option for 1901.

When this date arrived, Baron Van Eetvelde, minister of the State of Congo, addressed (28 March, 1901) a dispatch to the chief minister of the Belgian cabinet, Count de Smet de Naeyer, to the effect that possibly the moment had not yet arrived for Belgium to take over the Congo State; and that if this were so, in view of the letter of 5 August, 1889, and the existing ties between Belgium and the Congo, it would, perhaps, be neither politic nor useful to fix a new term for the right of option. A further communication, 22 May, 1901, emphasized the right held by Belgium, in virtue of the above-mentioned letter and the legacy of the king. It added that in case the right of annexation were unexercised, but not relinquished, Belgium ought to renounce, during such extension of her option, the payment of interest and the repayment of capital due to her. At the same time the Independent State declared its readiness to submit to annexation. M. Beernaert now proposed to annex the Congo, thus opposing the Government project of 28 March, 1901, namely, to suspend the repayment of the capital lent, and the payment of the interest. The king, by letter addressed 11 June, 1901, to M. Woeste, member of the Chamber, personally took part in the question. Only three items of this letter are public: the first clearly pointed out that the moment was inopportune for annexation; the second stated that in relation to the Congo Belgium should remain in the position she held in consequence of the Convention of 1890; the third enumerated the proofs of the attachment which the king had for his country. Thus came about the Belgian law of 14 Aug., 1901, which renounced the repayment of the loans and the interest thereon until such a time as Belgium should surrender the right of annexation -- a right which she declared she wished to preserve. From the examination of these acts it seems certain that Belgium has an incontestable right to take over the Congo during the lifetime of the king. That certain prominent politicians, in a preliminary discussion in 1906, seemed to have ignored this right, was doubtless only the effect of a surprise. When, however, as on 3 June, 1906, the king-sovereign in a letter to the secretaries-general of the Independent State, added to his will a codicil which seemed to impose on Belgium the obligation of respecting (besides the engagements entered into with third parties) certain royal foundations, the amendment was not acceptable to the Chambers. The minister then stated that these wishes on the part of the king were not imposed as conditions, but were only earnest recommendations. On 14 Dec., 1906, the house moved that while it desired for the Congo the advantages of civilization it was not unmindful of Belgium's rights ; furthermore, that the question of taking over the Congo should be settled with the least possible delay.

The Territory

The declarations of neutrality, together with the friendly treaties by which the united Powers of Germany, France, Portugal, etc., recognized the State, determined roughly its frontiers. Greater precision resulted from the treaty with England of 12 May, 1894. With France, owing to some difficulties which arose, five treaties were made, the last being signed 25 May, 1894. Treaties still have to be made with Germany to settle the Lake Kivu question and with Portugal about the Lake Dilolo region. With the exception of a narrow border-zone to the east near Lake Albert Edward, situated in the Nile Basin, nearly all the territory in the State belongs to the Congo Basin, which is about 1,158,300 sq. m., which is equivalent to a square having a side of three hundred leagues, or to seventy-five times the area of Belgium, or five times that of France. It is bounded on the north and north-west by French Congo and the Anglo-Egyptian Sudan ; on the east by British East Africa (Uganda Protectorate) and German East Africa ; on the south-east and south by Rhodesia and Portuguese Angola ; and on the west by the Atlantic Ocean (which gives it about twenty-two miles of coastline) and the Portuguese territory of Cabinda. The State stretches from a little above 5° N. lat. to below 13° S. lat. and from 12° to between 31°-32° E. Long., the most easterly point being on the Upper Nile .


Physical Geography

The general aspect of the State has often been compared to a huge cup. To the west lie the Crystal Mountains; to the south-east, the long chain of the Mituba bordering on the plateaux of Ka-Tanga, from which descend the streams of Lualaba, Luapala, etc., whose waters unite to form the Congo River. This vast central depression, divided into several terraces, rests on alternate strata of granite and gneiss. Lacustral settings (grit and clayey schists) are often found, as well as laterite. The innumerable rivers of the Congo are rocky in their upper courses and cut their way by rapids from one terrace to another, until, on the great alleuvial plains of the centre, they form an immense network of from 9,000 to 11,000 miles of navigable water-ways and spread out fan-like from Leopoldville. The principle tributaries of the Congo are the Ubanghi and Welle to the north; the Kassai-Sankuru, Lomami, etc., to the south. Beyond Stanley Pool are the famous falls, which, by preventing continuous river-traffic necessitated the railroad (about 270 miles, a journey of two day), binding Leopoldville to the seaport of Matadi (the highest point of the Congo Estuary reached by streamers). The falls of the Upper River will likewise be doubled by railroads. In fact, a trunk line to Stanley Falls has been completed, and another, to the "Gates of Hell" commenced. Others in the direction of the Nile, of the Katanga, and of the English and Portuguese railways have been determined upon.

There are two seasons in the Lower Congo, the dry and the rainy. In the centre the climate, always warm and rainy, produced a vast equatorial forest of green trees and jungle. In these regions much cocoa, coffee, copal, nut- and palm-oil, and above all, caoutchouc are produced. Besides the elephant, hunted to excess, the fauna of the country include the antelope, monkey, zebra (which is hoped to domesticate), okapi, hippopotamus, and crocodile. There are also found termites, ants, mosquitoes, and the terrible tsé-tsé which causes the sleeping sickness. With regard to mineral wealth, Katanga gives promise of an immense amount of malachite copper (2 million tons, valued at $800,000,000, according to the official report of Jan., 1908), much tin (20 million tons, valued at $16,000,000 along the Lualaba): also iron magnitite and oligist. Gold also has been found in the mines of Kambobe, while those of Kilo (Aruwimi) produced 8841.25 oz. Troy ($170,000) in 1905.

Ethnography and Population

Three indigenous races are found in the Congo Basin. The Azandé, who seem to belong to the Nigritian races, inhabit the north-east frontier. The aboriginal pygmies are found in the centre, mingled with the rest, but especially in the region of the great forest. The larger part of the peoples belong to the Bantu family.The population is probably about 20 millions, although other estimates from twelve to thirty millions have been given.


The language of the Blacks is, radically, the agglutinative speech of the Bantu peoples, i.e., it forms its words without fusion or alteration. It is divided into over forty very different dialects. The language is rich, rational, philosophic, and betokens a much higher level of civilization than do the morals and customs of this wretched race. In Lower Congo contact with the Portuguese has influenced the ideas and habits of the Blacks; it has taught them the commercial value of certain products, such as caoutchouc, and brought them under the enervating influence of alcohol ; here the race has degenerated. In Upper Congo the Arab influence has introduced by violence both slavery and habits of industry. The pernicious practice of inhaling the fumes of hemp has come also with Arab domination. In the centre of the country the race remains more pure.

Political Organization

Present native customs show traces of a former supremacy of one chief over the others. There are unmistakable signs both of vassalage and of suzerainty. The tribes are ruled by a chief (mfumu), whose authority, however, is checked by the presence of a council of elders. The succession to the chieftaincy is hereditary, but not in the direct line of male descent. While only males can occupy the throne, the succession passes not to the son, but in the collateral line to the brother and then to the son of the daughter. Other information on ethnographic questions is given under VIII. MISSIONS IN THE CONGO.


Some figures with regard to the commerce of the Congo may be given here. In 1887 when a total of the exportations of the Independent State was first made, the figure was about $396,088. This we may compare with the figures of subsequent years: -- 1890, $1,648,439; 1895, $2,188,603; 1900, $9,475,480; 1905, $10,000,432; 1906, $11,655,566. Caoutchouc represents the greater part of this output. Its value was, in 1905, $8,751,180 (19,938,975 lbs.). The value of ivory (472,260 lbs)for the same year was $967,554; palm nuts (11,355,529 lbs), $302,817; palm oil (4,335,229 lbs.), $220,678. Import statistics date only from the establishment of import duties in the second quarter of 1892. We append some dates and figures: -- 1893, $1,835,020; 1895, $2,137,169; 1900, $4,944,821; 1905, $4,015,072; 1906, $4,295,517. These figures represent largely Belgian commerce. In 1906 the Congo's exports to Belgium reached $10,860,939; the imports from Belgium were $3,057,058. Imports from the United States did not exceed $6000.


How did the Congo State arise? The question is not an easy one to answer. Certain authors, the mouthpieces of the State, regard the Independent State as the natural heir of the petty chiefs who governed the various Congolese tribes. They maintain that through the treaties made with these chiefs the supreme power passed from native to European hands. This is a thesis easy to formulate, but impossible to defend. For in fact an international treaty supposes the existence of two nations. Now it may be admitted that the Congolese had, at the period in question, a political organization -- though this point has been doubted by some; at any rate the International Association was at the time surely nothing more than a private company. Again, when the native chiefs agreed to put their mark on the bottom of a treaty in exchange for a few pieces of cloth, did they realize what they were doing? Did they realize that they were veritably abdicating, and not simply authorizing some European to settle on their land? A recent defender of the position stated above has gone so far as to imagine that Stanley improvised on the Congo coast a course of international law for the use of the native chiefs. For this Stanley had neither time nor means at his disposal, and he would have found it difficult to do so through an interpreter. Further, even if the chiefs did wish to transfer their authority, could they have done so without the consent of their tribes? Lastly, the treaties in question were nearly all made with chiefs who inhabited the present French Congo; they affected only a very small part of the present Congo State.

Others say that the Independent State was created by the Berlin Conference. This hypothesis is also unacceptable. What right had this Conference over the Congo Basin? The plenipotentiaries claimed none; what they wished to do was not created new states, but to make the Powers, present and future, holding interests in central Africa, accept a regime of free trade. As a matter of fact it was during the intervals between the meetings of the Conference that the Independent State had its flag recognized by the different Powers one after another. The Conference, as such, only congratulated the State. It supplied the means of existence, but it did not create it. M. Cattier (Droit et administration de l'Etat Indépendant, p. 43) is rightly of the opinion that the Independent State owes its origin to an act of occupation. but was this lawful? Doubtless it was. First the land was a prey to the most revolting savage cruelties, even to cannibalism; second, it was ravaged by ceaseless intestine wars and by the slave trade; third, it denied strangers the protection of the jus gentium , or law of nations. In such a case the common good of mankind sanctioned the imposition of a state of order and security, and hence the creation of a civilizing power. The Powers represented at the Berlin Conference gave the king-sovereign a free hand in the political occupation of the Congo Basin, while the treaties made with the native chiefs and the victories won over the Arabs likewise contributed to this end. But it was only when this occupation grew sufficiently effective (about 1895) that the embryonic polity of 1885 became in a true sense the Independent State. It is carefully to be noted that the occupation above referred to did nothing more than transfer the political authority; it did not modify or affect any private rights, e.g., property rights.


Legislative and Administrative Power

Leopold II exercises over his Congolese subjects a sovereignty which makes him the most absolute monarch in the world; he governs them by his sole and uncontrolled will. He gives all important orders, constitutes the whole administration, and is the source of all authority in his African kingdom. He has established the Congo Central Government at Brussels. While reserving himself the supreme legislative power, he has, since 1 Sept., 1894, confided to the secretary of state the direction of the Central Government. This official can enact measures ( Arrêtés du Secrétaire d'Etat ) which have the force of laws. When he is absent his place is taken by three secretaries-general, who, acting in concert, possess his power; as a matter of fact, since the period of office of Baron Van Eetvelde there has been no secretary of state. Further, the sovereign-king instituted (16 April, 1889) at Brussels a Conseil Supérieur , which acts as a high court of justice and gives advice on such questions as the king submits for consideration. His Majesty names the members of this council. In the Congo territory itself a governor-general is at the head of the administration. He possesses a restricted legislative power and can make police regulations and the like. The state capital is at Boma. The country is divided into fourteen districts, governed by the commissaires , and these are subdivided into zones and secteurs which are under the authority of the chefs de zone, chefs de secteur .

Judicial Power

For the administration of civil and criminal cases there are five lower courts, each composed of a judge, and officier du ministère public (procureur d'Etat) to represent the people, and a greffier ; there is also a court of appeal composed of a president, two judges, an officier du ministère public (procureur général) , and a greffier . In places where there is no regular court the officier du ministère public (who must be a doctor in law ) can, within certain limits, exercise a summary jurisdiction. Finally, the native chiefs ( mfumu ) have certain judicial powers over their own peoples. The repression of crimes, or, in the terminology of Congo law, infractions, which include even such offenses as that of murder (see Code Pénal d l'Etat Indép.), is further confided to local courts, appointed by the governor-general and composed (at least normally) of a judge, who need not have have studied law (very often he is the commissaire ), and an officier du ministère public (substitute) who must be a doctor in law. There are also military courts ( conseil de guerre, conseil de guerre d'appel ). At the head of this administration of justice is the conseil supérieur de Bruxelles , which constitutes the cour de cassation . The judges and officers of justice are not appointed for life, but are all removable; the governor-general possesses a sort of supremacy both in their nomination and supervision.

Domanial Policy

At first (1885-1891) the State favoured private initiative and claimed for itself no monopoly. Later on (since 1892), anxious to increase its resources, and hearing of the vast wealth of rubber and ivory in the Upper Congo, it inaugurated a regime of monopoly. Invoking an ordinance of 5 July, 1885, which had declared that "the unoccupied lands must be considered as belonging to the State", it invalidated all acts of occupation made, whether by natives or strangers, after this date. It then put in practice a system of proprietorship and exploitation of the soil and its products. We add here a short resumé of the extremely complex legislation now in force:

(a) Concerning the Natives. -- The decrees profess respect for all native occupation "such as it existed before 5 July, 1885". Hitherto no adequate or serious inquiry has determined the rights which the natives possessed in virtue of this occupation. Does the State admit that they now have a true proprietary right to any part whatever of the soil? It is impossible to say. At any rate, they may not, without authorization of the governor-general, dispose of their lands to a third party. The natives may continue, then, to inhabit their plots of land where they plant msnioc ; in addition by virtue of the reform decrees of 1906 each village has been allotted an area triple the size of that which it previously inhabited and cultivated. The natives are full possessors of the products of the lands thus cultivated. Further, if they formerly enjoyed any certain use of any woods or forests they may still retain that use.

(b) Concerning the Non-Natives. -- The rights above-mentioned being safeguarded, all the rest of the Congo State has been declared property of the State; it is consequently at the absolute disposition of the sovereign-king, who has distributed it thus: (1) One-third constitutes the Domaine National, administered by a council of six charged with the task of developing its revenues. These revenues are intended to cover the ordinary budget expenses, to pay off the public debt, to form a reserve fund, and to serve certain purposes of public utility for the Congo State and for Belgium. (2) One-ninth, selected in the richest part of the country, forms the Domaine de la Courone. It is the private property of the king who, however, has the intention of giving it eventually to some institutions of public utility, and in the meantime desires that its revenues should create and subsidize certain works and institutions for the general good, whether in the State or in Belgium. Six mines, hereafter to be selected, also belong to the Domaine, which is administered by a committee. Hitherto both of these territories have been administered ( en régie ) by the employees of the State. (3) The rest of the territory constitutes the Terres Domaniales, which the state reserves to itself to sell, to let, or to grant as it pleases. All alienation or letting of these lands must, to avoid nullity, be ratified within six months by the king. Of these public lands about one third have been granted or alienated, principally to concessionary companies. The grants of use, however, far exceed the alienations, and they give to the companies in question the monopoly of exploitation. In the greater number of these companies the state owns half the stock.

Fiscal System

(1) The State subjects non-natives to direct and personal taxes similar to those in Europe. As a consequence of the Brussels Conference (2 July, 1890), a customs duty was laid on all imports. The exports custom duty on rubber (0.65 franc per kilogram -- about 6 cents per pound) and ivory (1 to 2.1 francs per kilogram -- about 9 cts to 17 cts per pound) forms one of the principal sources of revenue of the State.

(2) The natives are subject to conscription. Since the reforms of 1906 the annual contingent to be supplied is divided into two sections, one of which goes to the army and the other furnishes labourers for the public works. The soldiers serve for seven years, the workmen for five. Further, the natives who are not so engaged are subject to a poll tax affecting every adult, male or female. This tax varies from 6 to 24 fr. (about $1.20 to $4.80) a year; it may be paid in money, in kind (food-stuffs as a rule), or in personal labour. Every year the commissaire draws up for the different villages tables of equivalence between money, kind, and labour, which must, since the last reforms, be publicly exhibited. The personal labour demanded may not exceed in duration a total of forty hours a month -- hence the phrase "forty hours' tax". For this labour the natives receive a certain remuneration -- by "an act of pure condescension" according to the latest decrees. The annual income and outlay of the State are about $30,000,000 fr. (roughly $6,000,000. The products of the Domaine National together with taxes paid in kind represent 16,500,000 fr. The remuneration paid (in kind) to the natives amounts to 2,500,000 to 3,000,000 fr.


For some years past the Independent State has been the object of very severe criticism, particularly on the part of the Congo Reform Association, directed by Mr. E. D. Morel. We do not presume to judge intentions; nevertheless, this hostility, directed against only one of the four Congos, and that one dependent on a people powerless to defend itself, creates in Belgium painful feelings of surprise. Grave accusations have been made against the French Congo; the German Parliament in the name of humanity has heard earnest protests against excesses in the German Congo; and it is not likely, if a commission were to traverse Rhodesia, that it would have nothing but eulogies to record. Why then single out one country, and that a defenseless one? It seems but fair, also, to remark that one cannot justly compare a colony in its beginnings with a colony established more than a century ago. The early history of the colonies has ever been a sad one, as is instanced by Macaulay's account of Warren Hastings and the British occupation of India. On the other hand wrong does not justify wrong. The standard of a government should be absolute justice, and it is from this point of view that the wrongs imputed to the Congo administration will be considered. The accusations fall under two heads: (1) infidelity to the promises given to the civilized Powers; (2) injustice toward the Congolese.

(1) Breach of Faith

The land system inaugurated in 1891 is said to be incompatible with the commercial freedom stipulated for at Berlin, in particular with Article 5, which forbade the granting of monopolies, and any privileges in commercial matters. The Independent State denies the charge of infidelity: "There is no 'commerce' in selling the product of one's own land. We do no more than that. The monopolies we accord are not commercial." In support of this view the opinions of jurists of different countries are adduced. These were consulted, especially in 1892, and included professor Westlake and Sir Horace Davy, the latter an English judge and member of the Privy Council.

(2) Inhuman Treatment of the Natives

This accusation appeals to Christian people; it touches the principles of humanity. The Congo State is accused of oppressing, instead of civilizing, the Congo, and charges of atrocious cruelty have been brought. So grave were these that King Leopold thought it wise to establish an International Commission of Inquiry with unlimited authority to investigate the condition of the natives. The decree of 23 July, 1904, entrusted this important duty to M. Janssens (General Advocate of the Court of Cassation of Belgium ) as president of the commission, Baron Nisco, an Italian (Temporary President of the Boma Tribunal of Appeal), and Doctor de Schumacher (Counsellor of State and Chief of the Department of Justice of the Canton of Lucerne, Switzerland ). The commission arrived at Boma, 5 October, 1904. They concluded their investigation 13 Feb., 1905, and on the 21st of the same month embarked for Europe. The report was made public, 5 Nov., 1905, in the official bulletin of the Independent State, and is obviously the most serious item in the question we are now discussing. We must except, however, the chapter dealing with the missionaries. In this the commission departed from their habitual prudence and their expressions here -- as is commonly stated -- do not accurately represent their judgment. According to this report one cannot directly charge the Independent State with responsibility for cruelties inflicted upon individuals. There are doubtless isolated crimes, but these are punished. There are also in involuntary consequences of governmental measures, but these unhappy effects were not foreseen. Such were the delegation of powers to the agents of companies; the giving of firearms to black sentinels; the failure to distinguish between military demonstrations to prevent rebellion and war operations to repress a revolt. Moreover the report drew attention to grave abuses in the recruiting of laborers, in the imposition of compulsory labour on the native, in the land regime, and in the organization of justice.

Following the publication of this, the king named a Reform Commission, whose work resulted in certain recommendations drawn up by the Secretaries-General of the State. These the king accepted and embodied in the Reform Decrees of 3 June, 1906.

It would be premature at this time to forecast the probable influence of these reforms on the general situation in the Congo; we are too near the events. Impartial history will distinguish the good from the evil, and fix the responsibilities. It may be said that the Report recognized, on the part of the Independent State, the splendid campaign against the Arabs, signalized by many deeds of heroism, which put an end to the slave trade, and rendered its resuscitation almost impossible. To the intestine wars between the chiefs have succeeded, almost everywhere, peace and security. The use of the flail and of alcohol have been rigorously prohibited, and the cannibal tribes can but very rarely find an opportunity of indulging their savage instincts. Finally it may be observed that in this whole affair Belgium is in no way responsible; this is an opinion expressed by two ministers of the British Government (see debates of the British Parliament for 27 Feb. and 3 March, 19808). Belgium as a whole has remained aloof from the African project, and the methods adopted were not known to it. If, indeed, the Congo Government had appealed with more simplicity and frankness to the religious sentiments of the Belgian people; if it had taken care to proclaim a programme of Christian civilization, it would have kindled more enthusiasm among them, and evoked more sympathy. In that case also it would have found more easily the men capable of contributing to a work of such supreme moral importance.


By a vote of 14 Dec., 1906, the Belgian Chamber of Representatives expressed its willingness to consider as soon as possible the question of annexation. A commission of eighteen was immediately charged with making a draft of proposed colonial law. When M. de Trooz succeeded M. de Smet de Naeyer as prime minister, he announced his intention of rapidly brining about the transfer of the Congo State to Belgium. During August, 1907, the Belgian and the Congo Governments each named four plenipotentiaries to draw up the treaty of annexation. A praiseworthy activity was displayed. The commission of eighteen adopted on first reading a tentative body of laws : the plenipotentiaries agreed to sign a treaty. The treaty however was not well received by the public; the Liberal Left unanimously declared they could not accept it. The principal difficulty, it seems, was the clause in the Treaty of Cession which assures the perpetuity of the Domaine de la Couronne. It is true that the revenues of this Domaine were to be disposed in a generous way; yet many representatives refused to bind the mother country to the maintenance of a foundation which had merely been earnestly recommended. In the meantime M. de Trooz died. M. Schollaert, his successor, pronounced in favour of annexation, and his declaration before the Chamber gave promise of more acceptable conditions of annexation. An additional clause introduced by his into the treaty greatly improved the situation.



The evangelization of the Congo began as early as 1484, when Diego Cam discovered the mouth of the Congo River, known as Zaire until the seventeenth century. Cam's naval chaplain set himself at once to preach the "good news" to the natives, and won to the Faith the chief of the Sogno, a village on the right bank of the Congo, where he first landed. Some of the inhabitants of this village accompanied Cam on his return voyage and were solemnly baptized at the court of John II of Portugal. Later, the head chief of the Banza-Congo (Outeiro, the present San Salvador ) asked King John for missionaries. Three were sent (whether they were Dominicans or Franciscans or members of a Lisbon chapter we do not know ); they finally baptized the

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