Chapter I : Historical Introduction
Part 2 : Foundation of the Colony. The Independent State of the Congo (1885) and the Belgian Colony of Congo (1908)


from : J. Roland and E. Duchesne, Cours Complet de Geographie : Le Congo Belge, Namur 1914, pp.6-11



International African Association (1876)

The moment Stanley arrived in the very heart of Africa, at Brussels on September 12th 1876, on the initiative and in the palace of the King of the Belgians, opened a conference of geographers, to which the king had called the notables of various countries, especially the geographers, explorers, the scientists and philantropists from all over the world. 37 personalities representing Germany, Austria-Hungary, Belgium, France, Great Britain, Italy and Russia, followed the royal invitation; their deliberations, which lasted for three days, ended in the foundation of the Association Internationale Africaine (International African Association). It had as an objective the exploration and opening to civilisation of Central Africa, to abolish the trade in blacks and to create an uninterrupted chain of stations which were of commercial, scientific and hospitable nature : so the manifesto of it's origin, the aim of a both philanthropic and economic work of Leopold II.
The Exploration of the black land began to be realized after an elaborated plan of cooperation, and by the efforts of various national committees. Between 1877 and 1885 the Belgian Committee organized 5 expeditions on the eastern coast of Africa - a sixth did not leave Zanzibar; they were respectively commanded by Cambier, who founded the station of Karema on the eastern bank of Tanganyika, by Popelin, by Carter and Cadenhead, by Ramaeckers and Becker, by Storms who created the post at Pala, on the western bank of the Tanganyika, opposite Karema. But the results did not correspond with the effort, and did not compensate either the financial efforts sacrificed not the losses in human lives which these expeditions cost.
The French Committee and the German committee were more successful; the first organized the expedition of Brazza, which determined that the French Congo would become a French possession; the second organized the expedition of Boehm and Reichard who laid the foundation for what was to become the colony of German East Africa. "Already it was possible to see how these expeditions began to lose their disinterested character and tended to serve, beyond science, the interests of conquest for civilization. The International African Association, created in 1876 to accelerate the exploration of Africa, disintegrated over the rivalry of it's national committees which had pretended to join together, and every state claimed it's liberty of action." (Vidal de la Blache and Camena D'Almeida, La Terre, p.47)


Committee to Study the Upper Congo (1878)

In the meantime, Stanley appeared, on April 9th 1877, at the estuary of the Congo; his victorious traversal of the basin of the great African river demonstrated "that the route, which was long searched for for the conquest of Central Africa for civilizing influence and the commercial exploitation by Europe, was finally found ..... The Conge opened a path which lead to the heart of the continent .... It is the steamer which will be the instrument of the peaceful and quick conquest of Central Africa. A small flottilla, transported to Stanley Pool, employed on the waters of the Upper Congo, will achieve more, than any years for those, who for three centuries of laborious, costly and heroic attempts of overland penetration achieved." (Wauters).
It is this which was understood in Brussels. Without delay, and without abandoning the organization of the expeditions on Zanzibar, the Belgian Committee worked out a new plan to penetrate Africa from the west; and the day on which, in January 1878, Stanley came back from Africa and debarked at Marseilles, two delegates of Leopold II. were waiting for him, their mission being to make tentative enquiries and to obtain his cooperation in the realization of the newly conceived project.
On November 25th 1878, King Leopold II. dounded the Comite d'Etudes du Haut Congo (Committee to Study the Upper Congo). Three months later, in February 1879, Stanley left Europe for Zanzibar to recruit travellers and indigenous carriers, and to rejoin a first Belgian expedition which waited at the Bay of Banana.
The era of speculative discoveries, of purely scientific explorations was closed. Stanley's mission was both an economic and political mission clearly defined : economic, it had as it's goal to "inquire the practical means of using the Upper Congo, of establishing friendly relations with trading tribes, to establish among them bases of operation" (Wauters); political, he had to act to obtain from the indigenous chefs the rights to occupy the territory, to conclude with them treaties of renouncement of their personal sovereignty, hitherto ignored in history, to create a new organism, a European state.
One mentions the price of these labours, but with what success, Stanley accomplished the work he had been confided with. In two years the expedition crossed the region of cataracts, transporting with it, across the swamps and ravines, the pieces of disassembled steamers; they opened a way through rock and forest. On November 29th 1881, they arrived, finally, at Stanley Pool. Coming from Gabon, de Brazza had preceded them; luckily he had only occupied the right bank of the Pool, where he had founded Brazzaville. Stanley established himself on the opposite side, on the left bank, and he created Leopoldville. Setting out from Saint-Paul de Loanda, the Portuguese mission lead by Capello and Ivens, after having explored the Kwango, was halted in their enterprise to descend the river.
Stanley manasged to pass through those two competing expeditions. Before the end of 1881 he had reassembled the first steamer on the river, soon followed by two others.
It is this small flotilla which began the expeditions of reconnaissabce and which established along the river, from Stanley Pool to Stanley Falls, a chain of stations, flanked by even more others on the Lower Kasai, the Fini-Lukenie, on Lac Leopold II., on the Mongala and on the Rubi.
Without interruption arrived from Europe new agents, Belgian officers for the most part : Hanssens, Gillis, Valcke, Harou, Braconnier, van de Velde, van Gele, Avaert, Coquilhat, Haneuse, Nilis, and many others. While the Belgians established themselves on the Upper Congo, explorers of other nations, Thomson, van Meckow, Giraud, Junker, Wissmann and Pogge visited the border regions of the basin, the Kasai, the Katanga, the Great Eastern Lakes, the Uele.


International Association of the Congo (1883)

For the Belgians, the bases of occupation were placed and prudence commanded to defend them against the revindications which were to be expected. The moment did arrive when the nascent work was to be protected from potential greed and to make the rights acquired by treaty with the indigenous chefs incontestable. The Comite d'Etudes du Haut-Congo transformed itself into an Association Internationale du Congo (International Association of the Congo), which took as it's task to regulate, on the basis of the accords and new treaties, the situation of a virtually created colonial empire, and to reach at the end the goal of achieving recognition of souverain rights. While on the Congo the expeditions succeeded each other, under the leadership of audacious agents and officers, Belgian or foreign, Delcommune, Parminter, van Kerckhoven, Liebrechts, Gleerup, Georges le Marinel, Massari, Hodister, Grant Elliott etc., in Europe, the vigilance and aptitude of Leopold II., "the soul and the heel of the Association", moved aside and surmounted the diplomatic difficulties and rivalrous pretentions. The United States and France, in the meantime (April 1884) recognized the sovereignty of the Association, France under the precondition of a right of preference in case the Association one day may want to alienate it's possessions.
Much later, in the convention of February 5th 1895, the government of the republic admitted that the right of preference claimed by France had not been conceded because being opposed by Belgium.

But a convention was signed two months previously between Portugal and Britain in which the latter power, in exchange for certain economic advantages, accepted Portuguese sovereignty over the coast and over both banks of the lower Congo. The agreement with France, the support and intervention of Bismarck, who declared himself openly in favour of the work of the king of the Belgians, decided England to rally itself to take the view of Leopold II. and to denounce the previously concluded Anglo-Portuguese treaty. On November 3rd 1884, Germany officially recognized the Association as a sovereign power, and, at the proposal of Bismarck, the representatives of the powers met at Berlin in conference, with the aim to search and to establish an international agreement over certain principles regarding the colonization of Africa.


Berlin Conference (Nov. 1884 - Feb. 1885); Recognition of the Independent State of the Congo (1885).

Fourteen powers were represented at the Berlin Conference. Their labours extended over three months. Successively, over the duration of the conference, the states represented recognized the sovereignty of the Association Internationale du Congo and, on February 23rd 1885, notification of it was made at the Conference. L'Etat Independant du Congo, the Independent State of the Congo or the Congo Free State, was founded, and took it's rank among the sovereign states.
The deliberations of the conference resulted in the General Act of the Berlin Conference, to which the new state immediately declared to stick to. Concerning the Congo basin, the act stipulates : 1st complete commercial liberty; the liberty of establishment; the liberty of conscience and religious tolerance; the protection of the indigenous population and the amelioration of their material and moral conditions; - 2nd the prohibition of slavery and the suppression of trade in black slaves on land and on sea; - 3rd the possibility to declare oneself neutral, the obligation to subject oneself to mediation or arbitration, by those powers who exercise the right of sovereignty or protectorate in case of dissent arising within the limits of the basin of the Congo or with a subject of his; - 4th the liberty of navigation on the Congo and it's affluents (the street, railway or canal circumventing a river section obstructing navigation are regarded a part of the respective river; - any maritime or river toll may not be established) (Act of Navigation).
Two months after the closing of the conference, Leopold II. requested, conforming with the Belgian constitution, and obtained from the Chamber of Representatives and the Senate the authorization to become the Sovereign of the Independent State of the Congo. One of the first acts of the new state was to declare itself perpetually neutral. It adopted a blue flag with a golden star in it's center, which the International African Association had hoisted since 1877.


Progress of the Occupation.

With the year 1885, that is to say with the foundation of the Congo Free State, "the era of sensational explorations which, over a period of 10 years, gained the admiration and awe of the scientific world, opened" (Wauters). They were successively the explorations of the protestant missionary Grenfell, the discoverer of the Ubanghi and of the greater part of the other affluents mentioned by Stanley; of the Portuguese Capello and Ivens, who explored a part of the Katanga, of the German Wissmann, who explored the Kasai and it's principal tributaries, the Sankuru and the Lulua. But it was Stanley who reappeared on the Congo in 1887, at the head of an English expedition dispatched to aid Emin Pasha (Schnitzer), blocked at Wadelai, on the Upper Nile, by the Mahdist Revolt. They explored the Aruwimi, discovered the Ruwenzori Mountains and Lake Albert Edward. At Kavali, on the rim of Lake Albert, it was to link up with the old Egyptian governor of the Soudan to escort him to the eastern coast.
In the same time, the Compagnie du Congo pour le commerce et l'industrie (Company of the Congo for Commerce and Industry), founded in Brussels in 1886, sent to Congo Alexandre Delcommune, the Captains Cambier and Thys, who were to engage in productive voyages of reconnaissance and studies through various remote regions of the territory. Dupont, Director of the Museum of Natural History at Brussels, explored, from a geological standpoint, the Region of the Falls and the banks until Kwamouth. In 1888, van Gele, accompanied by the Lieutenants Georges le Marinel and Hanolet, continued on the Ubangi-Uele the investigations begun by Grenfell and continued, after van Gele, in the basin of the Uele, by Captain Roget.
In 1890, the Captains Delporte and Gillis embarked, making astronomical observations and geodesical works laying the base of the cartography of the central basin. To all these names of van Kerckhoven is added, who from the Uele travelled to the Nile; of Nilis and la Kethulle, who, setting out from Rafai on the Bomu, penetrated the Bahr-el-Ghazal; of Hanolet who pushed into the basin of the Chari, of Paul le Marinel, Delcommune, Stairs, Bia and Francqui, which were joined by the geologer Cornet, in Katanga.
From 1887 to 1890, Cardinal Lavagerie, the ardent defender of the African negroes, undertook and pursued in Europe a generous campaign against the trade in negro slaves. At his call, numerous anti-slavery societies were established. While the Cardinal's devoted missionaries, the Peres Blancs (White Fathers), continued on the black continent their heroic apostolate, expeditions were organized to assist them in their work and to oppose the vivid force of the razzias of slave-trading Arabs. Successively the Captains Joubert, Jacques and Descamps, Hinck and Ectors, Commandant Long, who were to join and second Dhanis, Storms, Ponthier, van Kerckhoven, Chaltin, Milz, Gillain, Hinde, Wouters, Hambursin, already in a conflict with the slave-traders who called themselves Rumaliza, Arab Sultan of Udjidji, Sefu, Sultan of Kasongo and son of Tippo-Tip and their ally, the indigenous chief Gongo Lutete. The Aran campaign lasted from 1892 to January 1894. The glory of it's termination, by the defeat of Rumaliza, belongs to the valorous Commandant Dhanis.
In the course of this memorable campaign, marked by acts of courage and devotion, among which should be popularised the name of the hero Cassart, who, in the episode of the sublime abnegation of Sergeant de Bruyne, refused to abandon his Lieutenant, Lippens, prisoner of Sefu, and died with them by the blows of the cruel Sultan of Kasongo.
After, as well as before this campaign, the exploration of the occupied territories was continued methodically. At the eastern limits, Lothaire reached the Semliki from the west, Lieutenant Lange explored the Ruzizi; Lieutenant Brasseur explored the valley of the Luapula until Lake Moero.
In the course of the years 1894-1895, the Captains Delanghe, Christians and Francqui repelled the Mahdists, which were carrying out their incursions into the basin of the Uele; at the instigation of the latter, the cefs of the Azande rebelled; they were defeated in 1896 by Chaltin and Dubreucq. In 1897, the revolt of the vanguard ofDhanis, who was heading for the Nile, created difficulties and threatened in one instant the work of exploration. The revolt was repressed, thanks to the bravery of Lieutenant Henry and to the energy of Doctor Meyers. A little earlier, at the other end of the colony, the garrison of Luluabourg mutinied; pushed back down the Katanga, by Michaux andLothaire, the rebels were definitively defeated by Major Malfeyt. The work of exploration was taken up again, the itineraries were multiplying, new posts were created, the numerous points permitting to draw more and more exact maps. In 1899, the scientific mission of Commandant Lemaire in Katanga was particularly fruitful in results and in a conclusive answer pertaining the question of the source of the Congo. In the same year engineer Adam laid, in the valley of the Aruwimi, part of the projected rail between Stanleyville and Lake Albert; Commander Cabra, assisted by Mayumbe in the delimitation of the frontiers of the State to the Cabinda Enclave, astronomically determined the position of numerous points.
In 1900, Moore answered the problem of the origin of the Tanganyika and explored the regions located to the north of the lake, notably the volcanic Virunga Massive and Lake Kivu. The year 1902 was marked by two important missions, the one by Commandant Lemaire in the region Congo-Nile and the one by Captain Jacques, who had as it's goal the study of a route for a railway connecting the mining region of Katanga with the Lualaba (at Bukama) and with the Sankuru (at Pania Mutombo).
In 1903, Laurent, of the Agricultural Institute at Gembloux, ended his third voyage of studying the flora, agriculture and it's cultural practices along the lower, middle and upper Congo. He died on sea, on his return, and the results of his research are published by de Wildeman. In the latest times, finally, the travels and prospections, the commercial and mining enterprises, the layings of rails, the works on frontier delimitation were continued and multiplied, too numerous to be listed here, while the christian missions, striving for the moral amelioration, the agricultural and professional education of the indigenous, and the continuing to act in missionary work, to which we later devote a special chapter.


The Belgian Colony of Congo (1908)

It was especially due to the activity and intelligent cooperation of Belgian agents and officers, investing a lot of their blood, their effort and their devotion to the royal enterprise, which built the work of Leopold II. No one more than Belgium gave financial aid to the Congo Free State. In 1887, it authorised the emission of a credit over 150 million francs. Two years later it engaged in a financial effort to construct the railway along the lower Congo. On August 2nd 1889, the king in his testament bequeathed the Congo to Belgium; one year later the testament was brought to the knowledge of the country.
The Congo Free State in the meantime faced grave financial difficulties. The rapid development of the African enterprise, the increasing costs of the young state made it necessary to find a direct financial assistance. In July 1890 the following convention was signed : the Belgian State granted the Congo Free State, a credit without interest over 25 million francs, five millions paid immediately and another 2 millions annually over a period of 10 years; in returm, six months after the last payment, Belgium could annex the Congo Free State, with all it's goods, rights and advantages attached to the sovereignty of that state; but also would take responsibility of the obligations of the State to others.
It does not fit in the frame of this study to explain why Belgium did not exercise it's right on the expiration of the period of 10 years, in 1900. It was only in 1908 by a vote of the legislative chambers, sanctioned by the king, that the annexion of Congo was decided upon, which since forms a Belgian colony.







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Last revised on February 13th 2002

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