Belgium and the Congo



1) a:  To what extent does the personal ambition and psychology of King Leopold explain the initiation of Belgian Colonial policy as well as the ruthlessness and ultimately, cruelty of it?

1b) to what extent does 'ambtion' and 'psychology' help explain not just the actions of politicians but the activity and outcomes of politics itself?

1c) does this tend towards constructivist theory in IR?

2a) To what extent is the emergence of Belgian colonies not the reactive reponse to Leopold's 'bright idea' but rather, though initiated by him becomes a comples of pro and con forces that swirl and gather..and pull in the other uropean nterests?

2b) Again, is this another case of normal political processes - initiation followed by reaction followed by working towards resolution and acceptance by other relevant players who will attempt in the process to satisfy their own interests.

2c) Is the policy style here one of ineractive incrementalism? - adding  a bit here and bit there by negotiation towards the final agreements between players?

3a) Did Belgium manage to pull away from period 'Leopold to denial of the horrors of the Leopold version of Colonision'?  e.g. the Colonial Charter provided a more just colonial structure that brought them closer to other European colonialising states?

3b) Clarify for yourself the structure of colonial rule - devolved or centralised? Indirect or direct rule?

3c) By the 1930s had Belgium enabled development in the Congo that outstripped other colonial powers?

4) To what extent did Belgium adequately prepare the Congolese black african people for independence?

5) Was the political struggle towards Independence for the Congo a struggle of 'Liberation' between two distinct parties: Belgium v the Congolese people...

5b) OR...Was it a complex set of manoevres for post-Independence dominance by the emergence of black leaders and their parties in the late 1950s?

5c) Is this a political truth about the fragmentation of political society when faced with radical change? (Brexit?)


Leopold II - 1835-1909



How do we explain his drive for colonies?


Did he translate his ideas of  Kingship into his rule over 'the colonies?


Or did it come down to somewhat ill-gotten gains from a people who could not resist? Or more complex?


Political and social motives were inextricably linked with the material benefits that could be gained from overseas activity.  The strengthening of the nation, the symbolic and diplomatic affirmation of its grandeur, the reconciliation of contending social groups, the stimulation of national energies; all these elements were present in his expansionist ideas. But all were undeniably linked with and resulted from Leopold ’s basic motive: wealth. (Vantemsche)


and pursuit of personal wealth...



But do it slowly so create pressure groups snce Belgian society/givt was not that impressed by the idea



1876, was Leopold ’s call for an International Geographic Conference to be held in Brussels .


Leopold secured Stanley's services who returned to the Congo to set up stations on behalf of the Comité d’Études du Haut- Congo (Committee for Studies of the Upper Congo), a new organisation backed by the Belgian sovereign. By 1879, Stanley and his team had penetrated the region surrounding the Congo River, reaching present-day Kisangani . They set up posts, first under the aegis of the Committee, which was rapidly dissolved, then under that of the Association internationale du Congo



But underlying this was the trade that could be generated not political ambition but to gain recognition with African chiefs needed political forms of sovereignty of colonial state a la France etc.


In 1884, the British and the Portuguese made an agreement in which Britain acknowledged Portugal’s sovereignty rights over all the territory surrounding the mouth of the Congo River . This meant the end of access to Africa via the Atlantic and hence an end to Leopold ’s dreams.


So he promised free trade for now and the future to the British


and he gave France pre-emptive rights over the Congo should Belgium relinquish their foreign adventure. And \Germany was happy with these arrangements


and this basically played off the major powers in the region against each other in rel to Leopold's ambitions.



Berlin Conference settled the matter.


"the so-called Conventional Congo Basin was and would remain an area of free trade and free navigation. No right of entry could be levied there; everybody would be able to trade freely and on equal footing. This decision played a key role in Belgian colonial history and was at the centre of the controversial activities of the Congo Free State created at the beginning of 1885, with Leopold as absolute ruler..."



But the methods by which the ends were pursued


Pretence of ending slavery: Leopold ’s anti-slavery campaigns were simply a means of establishing trade and political domination in the heart of Africa





children were often seized by the missionaries and brought up apart from their parents, given a primary education, and trained for the Force Publique, which was King Leopold’s army. The Force Publique was obliged to fight the Arab-dominated slave trade, which interfered with King Leopold’s use of the population for a local system of forced labor. And it was also used to subdue the Congolese people in conjunction with the shareholders and overseers that Leopold had appointed.


The costs of doing this funded by Leopold's personal wealth were starting to run out and so began the Belgian state take over of the project as they agreed to fund it.

But to make money but cause objections that it effectively called time on free trade was the 'domain system'


Land unused by the local population would become part of the wealth of the Belgian 'Congo Free state' and be used, or traded


and with this system to maximise its profits the brutality really go under way with forced labour and terrible punishments for under-production etc.


Adam Hochschild estimates that between 5 and 10 million died during Leopold’s tenure. Another author notes that the population was depleted from 30 to 8 million. This meant that two out of every three Congolese died, amounting to one of the worst genocides due to colonization. By 1903, there was some effort to revise the system. The tax on the natives was fixed at forty hours of labour per worker each year. But the mandate was simply nullified by the shareholders and overseers whose only interest in the Congo was profit. Their abuse continued unabated until England mounted a campaign to oblige King Leopold to alter the system. He succumbed to foreign pressure in the year 1909, when he ceded the Congo Free State to the government of Belgium


Thus Belgium becomes  a colonial power.



Belgian authorities had to create a new institutional framework for the Congo.  The law commonly known as the ‘Colonial Charter ’, adopted by parliament in 1908



Aspects of this:


separation of Belgian and Congo finance


Minister for Colonies had delegated powers over Congo but accountable to Colonial Council


Controls over Congo - no free press etc.


a Governor-General


Got rid of the dominal system


Huge investment



The territorial structure of power in the colony itself was organised in the form of subordinated entities whose number varied over the years: provinces, then districts and territories; led by governors, commissioners ( commissaires ) and local administrators (administrateurs territoriaux ) respectively. At an even lower level, authority was exercised by ‘indigenous chieftainships’. Belgium opted for a form of indirect rule by which compliant indigenous chiefs became auxiliaries of the colonial power. 



The railways already constructed were modernised and extended, as were the port and river infrastructures.  In 1920s, there was a significant and renewed flow of private Belgian capital into the Congo. Compared to other colonies, the Belgian colony was at the top of per capita capital investment. By 1938, the Belgian Congo had received forty-eight dollars of foreign capital per inhabitant; in British India (including Burma and Ceylon), this sum amounted to eight dollars


Mining brought wealth.


Between 1938 and 1951, the Congo’s share in Africa’s total exports increased from 4.7 per cent to 7.4 per cent


Major companies such as the Union minière du Haut-Katanga devised a ‘stabilisation’ policy.  They reinforced mechanisation and introduced social protection measures for their black workers.



This paternalistic concern gradually became generalised in the colony. The colonial state endeavoured to establish basic education, health and medical networks





The point was that Belgium was very embarrassed by the horrors that Leopold had perpetrated and wanted to rid themselves of the they devised at least on paper a reasonable system of colonial rule


But for all these advances...


Congolese managers and civil servants, already relatively few in number, were restricted to inferior tasks. The ‘Africanisation of the executives’ that the Belgian coloniser launched into suddenly and belatedly just before his hasty departure was rather limited at the time of independence.


The Congolese lower middle class, middle class and, a fortiori , business class were practically non-existent. The colonial authorities had always prevented access to property and autonomous economic activity. The colonial educational policy was designed to create a large literate base, from which a cultural ‘elite’ could be moulded in some distant future. This policy largely contributed to a dangerous distortion within Congolese society.  Who would lead this independent nation?


So Belgium for all its welfare advances for the Congolese has undermined the possibility of leadership - politically and economically.


Those who did receive secondary education were known as évolués or “evolved ones.” After 1948, they formed the basis of the black bourgeoisie and were afforded special privileges and services. Although their rights were not consistent with those of the colonizers, even secondary education would prompt them to move in the directions that were most feared: they began organizing in groups to demand equal wages for equal work and, ultimately, Congolese independence


Beginning in 1956, newly-created Congolese political associations expressed very cautious and moderated nationalist views. Over time, these organisations were gradually radicalised; initially leading, in 1959 and 1960, to demands for immediate and complete independence.


The coming to prominence of









Vanthemsche suggests that this all rather sudden activity for independence and the gradually rising violence of competition between the several political factions caught the Belgians 'off-guard' and rapidly precipitated them into granting independence.


"a sudden burst of violence in January 1959, followed soon afterwards by other bloody incidents and a campaign of civil disobedience. After a few tentative steps, Brussels succumbed. At the beginning of 1960, after a conference with all the Congolese political forces, Belgium suddenly decided to put an end to its sovereignty in the Congo on 30 June 1960."


But how does this fit with Haskin's discussion?



My questions I posed to you in my email:



Was the political struggle towards Independence for the Congo a struggle of 'Liberation' between two distinct parties: Belgium v the Congolese people...

 OR...Was it a complex set of manoevers for post-Independence dominance by the emergence of black leaders and their parties in the late 1950s?