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

Chapter XXIII : The Postal, Telegraph, and Telephone Service (pp.243-247 )

Modern men regard the post-office and the mission school as substantial signs of civilisation wherever the two are found in mutual endeavour. In compliance with Article VII, of the General Act of Berlin, the Congo Free State joined the Postal Union, and has sent official representatives to it's periodical congresses.
In the Belgian Congo the postal service is very efficient. It already penetrates to districts most remote from the central office at Boma. It was effectively established in 1885 when the irregular service was succeeded by the rudiments of the present system. In 1887 it was, in fact, a piece of perfect governmental machinery. On the 28th of February that year it signed a formal Postal Convention with Belgium. It was soon thereafter apparent that a postal money-order-service was required to facilitate the transit of small sums between Europe and the Congo. Agreements in this respect were made with Belgium on May 13th, 1893, and November 24, 1898. The rapid development of the Congo Basin already calls for even further extension of the system.
The latest report on the subject is that of Vice-Geovernor-General Fuchs, which follows :

There are at present on the Congo : 23 post-offices, sub-post-offices, and depots for stamps.
According to the returns before me, there were transported in 1885 only 33,140 letters and printed objects, whereas for 1902 the postal movement was represented by 372,007 letters and printed objects.
Correspondence is conveyed by either railway or steamer; on the roads it is forwarded to it's destination by special native couriers.
The weight of the despatches enclosing letters and printed matter may not exceed, for transport by land, 10 kilogrammes. The porters required for this service are furnished by the chiefs of posts.
The transmission of correspondence into the interior of the country is, besides, regulated by instructions, to which the local authorities frequently draw the serious attention of the territorial chiefs. Thus, in all parts of the State territory, the couriers must leave on a fixed day, and they have a certain time, which has been calculated after much experience as sufficient, for the journey from one point to another.
It is expressly forbidden to the authorities to detain the native couriers after the date fixed for their departure, or to entrust them with correspondence not sealed. All postal packages must be paid for (with the exception that certain officials have the right to post free) and enclosed in a sealed envelope having the address clearly shown.
Each postal despatch contains a ticket of advice which is to be returned to the originating office, dated and signed by the agent of the office that received it, after he has found the contents exact. The carrier of the mail is also in possession of a route ticket which informs him of the number of sacks and envelopes composing the mail. It must be checked and dated, and must show in a special column, for the way out and back and for each station, the hour of arrival and departure of the couriers.
The sub-controllers of the post-offices must forward each month, for the purpose of verification, to the Controller of the post-office at Boma, the route tickets of the couriers sent during the previous month.
The Director of Finance sends, as often as possible, the Controller of the Post-Office to examine the accounts of the various offices which are run by selected agents appointed from the Belgian administration.
In districts where sub-post offices are established, the District Commissioner sees to the strict observance of the instructions regulating the important postal service.
It has been found that in several districts the services of soldiers in the garrison have been utilised for the mails. Not only did these not always render the services which workmen or other men specially engaged for the service of transports of all kinds render, but even there was reason to fear that the soldiers, on account of their uniform and arms, as well as being without control, sometimes abused their powers to make levies on the villages through which they passed. But now the strict instructions of the Government forbid soldiers being taken away from their garrison and military duties, and require that they should always remain under the control of their chiefs. It has, therefore, been positively forbidden to send any mail by soldiers of the Public Force.

Telegraph and Telephone Service

On 27th November, 1893, the State ordered by decree the first telegraphic line, and in July, 1895, a first wire was stretched across the river; and on 15th September, 1898, it became possible to telephone and telegraph from Boma to Leopoldville, or for a distance of 452 kilometres. Later on, and when the transport of material had been made easier by the opening of the Matadi-Leopoldville railway, the telegraph line was extended to Coquilhatville.
At the present there are thirteen telephone and telegraph offices working in the State.
The principal offices and distance separating them from each other are :

52 kilometres
185 kilometres
215 kilometres
233 kilometres
177 kilometres
121 kilometres
102 kilometres
114 kilometres

1,199 kilometres

of development. This extensive telegraph and telephone line is carried on iron posts from Boma to Leopoldville, and from Leopoldville to Coquilhatville the wire is supported in some places on steel posts, in others on trees, in the proportion approximately of 4494 steel posts and 2782 trees.
The line has to make two very important crossings of water, one across the Congo a little above Underhill Point (Hell's Kettle), the other across the Kassai near it's mouth.
At the crossing of the river at Underhill the wires are supported by trellised steel towers, the piers of which are distant 800 metres from each other; and they are placed 73 and 63 metres respectively above the bed of the river at the highest flood.
The crossing of the Kassai is made by two casts of the line, one being 450 and the other 670 metres in length. Fourteen steel towers, of 36.50 and of 38.50 metres in height, help crossing the river. One of the towers is placed on an island, and four conductors ensure the proper working of the telegraph line.
The camps at Lisala and Umangi are also connected by a telephone line 22 kilometres in length. Besides a strong permanent body of native workers and European linesmen, the line is maintained by the natives of the villages through which it passes. The natives receive ample compensation in monthly payments.
Another telegraph and telephone line of about 320 kilometres, which leaves Kassongo on the Lualaba for Baraka on Lake Tanganyika, was opened on 5th December, 1903. It connects the telegraph and telephone offices of Kassongo, Kabambare, Kalembe-Lembe, Baraka. This line will be extended to Lake Kivu, in the extreme eastern part of the Free State.
For about two years past experiments have been in progress to establish communication by wireless telegraphy between Banana and Ambrizette, so as to connect the Congolese system with the rest of the world.
Telegrams for Europe are at present brought either by the Stame steamers or by ocean steamers from Boma to St. Paul de Loanda, to Sao Thome, and to Sierra Leone, whence they are transmitted to their destination. Telegrams can also be sent from the Congo for Europe by the French route of the Gaboon by taking them to the French office of Brazzaville. A convention recently established between the French Republic and the Government of the Congo Independent State will allow the telegraphic systems of the two States to be connected by sinking a cable in Stanley Pool between Brazzaville and Kinshassa. This work finished, the Congo State will be connected with the telegraphic system of the globe.

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Last revised on February 14th 2002

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