Henry Wellington Wack
The Story of the Congo Free State
New York & London : Putnam 1905



Chapter XII : The Congo Bequeathed to Belgium (pp.145-150 )


The Declaration supplemental to the General Act of the Brussels Conference, referred to in the previous chapter, assured an income to the Congo Free State, which however inadequate for it's needs at that time, served, in a degree, to clear it's future of the doubt which had caused Belgium, as a nation, to shrink from incurring financial responsibility in support of it. The cost of the early undertakings, from the day in 1876 when Stanley took leave of King Leopold in Brussels and set out upon his expedition up the Congo River, and the expenses of the entire enterprise, including those of the International African Association, had been borne by the King and his immediate adherents. The amounts so expended each year now aggregated a sum approximating 100,000,000 francs. On 29th April, 1887, the Belgian nation had authorised the Congo State to raise a loan of 150,000,000 francs, which, however, it did not guarantee. These funds were largely employed to found the chartered companies provided for in the Decree of 27th February, 1887. The time had now again come when the Belgian Chamber should consider the reasonableness of asking the assistance of the Belgian nation, especially as the King's African enterprise had been undertaken for the benefit of civilisation and the expansion of Belgian markets.
On the 3rd July 1890, the day after the General Act of the Conference had been signed, a Convention was concluded between M. Beernaert, the Finance Minister, on the part if Belgium, and Baron van Eetvelde, on the part of the Congo Free State, by which Belgium engaged to lend the Congo State 5,000,000 francs at once, and 2,000,000 francs a year for the next ten years - 25,000,000 francs in all, on condition that Belgium should have the option, six months after the expiration of the ten years, of annexing the Congo Free State "with all the rights and advantages attached to the sovereignty of the State ..."provided it assumed the obligations of the State to third parties, "the King-Sovereign expressly refusing all indemnity on account of the personal sacrifices he had himself made". It was fiurter agreed :

3. From the present time the Belgian State will receive from the Independent State of the Congo such information as it judges desirable, on the economical, commercial, and financial situation of the latter. It may specially ask for communication of the budgets of receipts and expenses, and of the customs dues both on imports and exports. This information is to be given, with the sole object of enlightening the Belgian Government, and the latter will not interfere in the administration of the Independent State of the Congo, which will continue to be attached to Belgium only by the personal union of the two crowns. Nevertheless, the Congo State engages not to contract any loan hereafter, without the assent of the Belgian Government.
4. If at a fixed time Belgium decides not to accept the annexation of the Congo State, the sum of twenty-five million francs lent, inscribed in the ledger of it's debt, would not become demandable until after a fresh period of ten years, but it should bear in the interval interest at the rate of 3 1/2 per cent, payable every six months, and even before this term the Independent State of the Congo should devote to partial repayments all the sums obtained from cessions of land or the mines of the domain.


Long before the date of the Brussels Conference and the Convention just concluded, King Leopold had written to his minister, M. Beernaert, a letter clearly indicating his unselfish purpose in developing the Congo State. The persons who charge the King of the Belgians with governing the Congo for his personal benefit might temper their mendacity by the fact that this letter is dated 5th August, 1889, nearly a year before the conclusion of the Brussels Conference. Having regard to the false charges busily purveyed in respect of his Majesty's true intentions towards his people and the Congo State, it seems but just to quote it :

5th August, 1889
Dear Minister [M. Beernaert] - I have never ceased to call the attention of my countrymen to the necessity of extending their view to countries beyond the sea.
History teaches that States of limited size have a moral and material interest in stretching beyond their narrow frontiers. Greece founded on the shores of the Mediterranean opulent cities, centres of art and civilisation. Venice, later on, established it's greatness on the development of it's maritime and commercial relations, not less than on it's political successes. Holland possesses in the Indies thirty millions of subjects, who exchange the commodities of the tropics for the productions of the mother country.
It is by serving the cause of humanity and progress that people of the second rank appear as useful members of the great family of nations. More than any other, a manufacturing and commercial nation like ours should strive to secure outlets for all it's workers, for those of thought, capital, and labour.
These patriotic preoccupations have dominated my life. They determined the creation of the African work.
My labours have not been sterile. A young and vast State, directed from Brussels, has peacefully taken it's place under the sun, thanks to the benevolent aid of the Powers which have applauded it's beginning. Belgians administer it, whilst others of our countrymen, every day more numerous, profitably employ their capital in it's development.
The immense river basin of the Upper Congo opens to our efforts ways of rapid and cheap communication, which permit us to penetrate direct into the centre of the African Continent. The construction of a railway of the region of the Cataracts henceforth assured, thanks to the recent vote of the Legislature, will notably increase these facilities of access. Under these conditions, a great future is reserved for the Congo, the immense value of which will soon be apparent to every eye.
On the morrow of this considerable act, I have thought it my duty to place Belgium herself, when death shall have struck me, in a position to profit by my work, as well as by the labour of those who have aided me in founding and directing it, and whom I thank here once more. I have therefore made, as Sovereign of the Independent State of the Congo, the Will that I send you. I ask you to communicate it to the Legislative Chamber at the moment which shall appear to you the most opportune.
The beginnings of enterprises such as those which have so much occupied me are difficult and onerous. I have held myself bound to support the cost. A king, in order to serve his country, ought not to fear to conceive and to pursue the realisation of a work, even if it be apparently rash. The wealth of a sovereign consists in public prosperity; it alone can constitute in his eyes an enviable treasure, which he should endeavour constantly to increase.
To the day of my death I shall continue, in the same desire of national interest which has hitherto guided me, to direct and sustain our African work; but if, without awaiting this term, it should be agreeable to the country to establish closer links with my possessions on the Congo, I should not hesitate to place them at it's disposal. I should be happy to see it, during my lifetime, in the full enjoyment of their possession. Allow me, in the meanwhile, to say to you how grateful I am towards the Chambers, as well as towards the Government, for the aid that they have afforded me on several occasions in that creation. I do not think I deceive myself by affirming that Belgium will derive important advantages from it, and that she will see opening before her, on a new continent, happy and larger prospects. .............Believe me, dear Minister, etc. ... LEOPOLD


Accompanying this noble expression of a monarch toward his people on his sacrificial work in their behalf, was the King's Will, as Sovereign of the Congo Free State :

We, Leopold II., King of the Belgians, Sovereign of the Independent State of the Congo :
Wishing to assure to Our well-beloved country the fruits of the work which for many years We jave pursued on the African Continent, with the generous and devoted cooperation of many Belgians :
Convinced of thus contributing to assure for Belgium, if she wishes it, the outlets indespensanle for her commerce and her industry, and to open new paths for the activity of her children :
Declare by these presents, that We bequeath and transmit, after Our death, to Belgium all our sovereign rights over the Independent State of the Congo, as they are recognised by the Declarations, Conventions, and Treaties concluded since 1884 between the foreign Powers on the one side, the International Association of the Congo and the Independent State of the Congo on the other, as well as all the benefits, rights, and advantages attached to that sovereignty.
Whilst waiting for the Belgian Legislature to pronounce it's acceptance of Our aforesaid disposition, the sovereignty will be exercised collectively by the Council of the three administrations of the Independent State of the Congo, and by the Governor-General.
.................................................Leopold
.......Done at Brussels the 2nd of August, 1889

The announcement of the King's Will, bequeathing the Congo State to the Belgian people, was received with a demonstration of popular approval. In 1901 the Convention of 3rd July, 1890, giving Belgium the right to annex the Congo State, was extended for another term of ten years. Meantime the great prosperity of the State and the voice of saner liberalism in the Belgian Chamber are combining the more intimate support of the Belgian Government with King Leopold's progressive African colony. That the Belgian State will take over that colony in 1910, or on the death of King Leopold, is hardly within the pale of rational doubt.








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