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



Chapter XXVI : Trade, Revenue, Taxes (pp.274-297)


Among the earlier trading companies on the West Coast of Africa was the house of Regis et Cie., established at Banana in 1858, whose successors, Daumas, beraud et Cie., were carrying on a considerable business when Stanley explored inland from the mouth of the Congo in 1878. The old Dutch house, the Afrikaansche Handels-Vennootschap, of Rotterdam, had a branch at Boma in 1860, and the Portuguese firm of Valle &Azvedo, and the agents of Hatton & Cookson, of Liverpool, opened trading depots near by a few years later. These firma had, however, very little direct trade with the interior of the Congo Basin, commerce in their early time being confined to the coast. Trade with the onterior is almost entirely due to the Belgians.
Before the Free State was founded the trade of Central Africa was chiefly in slaves. As a Belgian writer quaintly observes, the slave was at once the means of labour, the main capital, the vehicle of transport, the common currency, and the usual tribute given to satisfy the covetousness of native chiefs. The slave was the standard of wealth and the element of power. In order to estimate the influence of the slave trade as an economical factor n barbarous communities, and compare it with the trade regime of civilisation, it would be necessary to imagine dealings in some object representing all these uses in our markets.
To destroy the slave trade creates the problem of substituting a trade that is legitimate, that is founded upon the natural resources of the country. It simultaneously creates the problem of labour. The soil depends upon the man in the ratio in which man depends upon the soil. The Belgians heard from Stanley what vast wealth the Congo contained; but that wealth lay behind difficulties so great that no one in Europe ventured to pursue it until the indomitable personality of one man inspired men with the courage to undertake a seemingly hopeless task. Without a railway from Matadi to Stanley Pool commerce could not develop in the Congo Basin. This was Stanley's opinion. His judgment that the Congo had little value without such a railway in the region of the Cataracts has been justified. The Belgians built the railway at a cost nearly treble that of the original estimate. In fact, while others have been groaning and droning and musing upon the ethical theories of ideal colonisation and civilisation, in pamphlets and innocuous books, the Belgians have followed their own gospel of work and been at their task throughout the waking hours of each day. Spontaneous initiative, timely energy, unremitting labour, these appear to be the characteristics of Belgian dominance in Congoland. Having regard to the habit Europeans have of considering Americans the great exemplars of an age of materialism and hustle, thee is almost an element of humour in the fact that one of the first Congolese companies formed under the aegis of the Free State was founded by an American, General Henry S. Sanford, sometime United States Minister at Brussels. This was the Sanford Exploring Expedition, constituted by General Sanford and M. Georges Brugmann in 1887. It's business was that of dealing directly with the natives for rubber and ivory, and it and the Mateba Syndicate and the Compagnie du Congo pour le Commerce et l'Industrie are generally regarded as the pioneers of organised trade in the interior of Central Africa. It would seem, therefore, that the accident of a king's friendship with an American minister, whose wise counsel he often consulted, might justify at least sentimental interest in the welfare of a region where the restless spirit of strenuous American life had manifested it's tendencies nearly twenty years ago. Since the day when General Sanford set the example, forty-eight Belgian and fourteen foreign companies, with an original capital of 136,000,000 francs, have established a commerce in Congoland which is attracting the envy of some and the admiration of many throughout the world.
Before indicating the practical details of the trade and revenue of the State, a brief glance at the ten years before the Brussels Conference enabled it to support by levying import duties will recall the fact that from 1878 to 1890 King Leopold personally expended upwards of 3,000,000 francs a year for the founding and maintenance of the State, irrespective of the meagre support derived from other sources. Indeed, no one felt disposed to support an African enterprise which promised to yield only "enlightened niggers". As Stanley sarcastically said in his lectures in England, too many of his audience measured "civilisation" by the dividends it produced. The inability of the Free State to support itself from enthusiastic humanitarians outside of Belgium was significantly indicated in 1886, when the revenue of the State was less than 75,000 francs ! The exports, chiefly ivory, were only 1,750,000 francs, and the Congo Association, when it was merged in the State, possessed only thirteen stations. Out of two hundred and fifty-four foreigners in the Congo in 1885-1886, only forty-six were Belgians. In fact, nothing looked gloomier than the prospect of the new State in the African jungle; and yet one man, with a superhuman sense of the future, continued to pour gold and his labours upon that dark and distant land with it's thirty million unenlightened souls. Now, when from a wilderness and savagery have been evolved civilisation, a thriving industry, a prolific field and growing market, religion, order, and prosperity, all that the early pioneer did is utterly lost and forgotten in the noisy controversy over a rich spoil.
It was by the Brussels Act of 1890 that the State acquired the right to levy taxes and impose customs dues. What Leopold II. had expended on behalf of the State in it's long formative period was beyond recovery. It will be recalled that the Belgian Parliament had sanctioned a loan to the State of 25,000,000 francs, 5,000,000 francs to be paid soon after the Brussels Conference, the remainder at the rate of 2,000,000 francs a year. To this sum the King, having abandoned all claim to the huge sum he had previously advanced to the State, now added an annual subsidy of 1,000,000 francs. The State, therefore, began the development of it's resources with an assured income of 3,000,000 francs a year - not a large sum when compared with the responsibility of fighting cannibal slave-raiders with one hand while tilling the soil, constructing railways, creating posts and missions, and organising the State's machinery with the other. Beside the task in Congoland, the early American colonist enjoyed a holiday in a land of greater security and healthfulness.
The revenues first provided were on the expert of rubber and ivory. These were fixed, after agreement with the neighbouring States of France and Portugal, at ten per cent. The duty on vegetable products was fixed at five per cent. Import duties were as follows : on arms, ammunition, and salt, ten per cent; merchandise of any kind, six per cent; on spirits, fifteen franc per hectolitre at 50 degrees of the centesimal alcoholmetre; boats, machinery, and articles for industrial and agricultural use were exempt till May, 1898, and thereafter paid only three per cent.
The tax on caoutchouc (rubber) was first fixed at twenty-five centimes a kilogramme (about five cents on two pounds) equivalent to four per cent on it's value in Europe. When, however, the Cataracts Railway was finished, and human porterage along the route from Stanley Pool to Matadi abolished, the tax on rubber was increased to eight per cent of it's European value. Another decree of the same date (February 1898) provided for the payment of a license of 5,000 francs by all persons establishing a rubber factory or depot in the domains. Other sources of revenue are coffee, tea, cocoa, gum-copal, palm oil, palm nuts, rice, tobacco, maize, sugarcane, vegetables, fruit, cinnamon, pepper, ginger, vanilla, nutmegs, cloves, and spices.
Great credit is due the local administrators of the Free State for the progress they have made in a long list of cultivated products, and the growth of the country's export trade resulting from Belgian and native cooperation and industry. For instance, in 1887 the total exports amounted to only 1,980,441 francs; in 1891, 5,353,519 francs, and in 1903, 54,597,835,21.
The following tables indicate at a glance the products imported and exported, their comparison with previous years, and their value :


STATISTICS OF PRODUCTS EXPORTED FROM THE CONGO FREE STATE DURING 1903

Exports Special Commerce General Commerce
Quantity Value Quantity Value


Arachides
Coffee
Rubber
White Copal
Palm Oil
Ivory
Palm Nuts
Cocoa
Beans
Maize
Rough Gold
Rice
Sesame
Tobacco
Wood

Totals
Kilog.

328.463
136,148
5,917,983
341,883
1,647,434
184,954
4,957,635
89,365
740
4,750
5
33,654

235
5 m 3

Frs. Cs.

65,692.60
129,340.60
47,343,864.00
649,577.70
971,986.06
3,791,557.00
1,487,290.50
125,111.00
222.00
546.25
15,000.00
16,827.00

70.50
750.00

54,597,835.21
Kilog.

461,652
172,674
6,594,804
342,317
1,848,092
353,679
5,909,900
89,365
740
4,750
5
33,654
35,810
235
5 m 3

Frs. Cs.

92,330,40
164,040.30
52,758,432.00
650,402.30
1,090,374.28
7,250,419.50
1,772,970.00
125,111.00
222.00
546.25
15,000.00
16,827.00
17,905.00
70.50
750.00

63,955,400.53



TOTAL VALUE OF EXPORTS FOR 1903 : By Place of Export

Place of Export



Free State (Upper Congo)
Free State (total)
Free State (Lower Congo)
French Possessions (Upper Congo)
Portuguese Possessions (Left Bank of the Congo)
German Possessions (West Coast of Africa)
Portuguese Possessions (Basin of the Shiloango)
Portuguese Possessions (Sea Coast)

Totals
Special Commerce

Frs. Cs.

51,790,451.05

2,807,384.16






54,597,835.21
General Commerce

Frs. Cs.


54,597,835.21

6,738,689.35
1,293,043.47
895,611.50
271,840.18
158,380.82

63,955,400.53



COMPARISON OF EXPORTS FOR 1903 WITH THOSE OF PREVIOUS YEARS

Years Values




second half-year, 1886
Year 1887
Year 1888
Year 1889
Year 1890
Year 1891
Year 1892
Year 1893
Year 1894
Year 1895
Year 1896
Year 1897
Year 1898
Year 1899
Year 1900
Year 1901
Year 1902
Year 1903
Special Commerce

Frs. Cs.

886,432.03
1,980,441.45
2,609,300.35
4,297,543.85
8,242,199.43
5,353,519.37
5,487,632.89
6,106,134.68
8,761,622.15
10,943,019.07
12,389,599.85
15,146,976.32
22,163,481.86
36,061,959.25
47,377,401.33
50,488,394.31
50,069,514.97
54,597,835.21
General Commerce

Frs. Cs.

3,456,050.41
7,667,969.21
7,392,348.17
8,572,519.19
14,109,781.27
10,535,619.25
7,529,979.68
7,514,791.39
11,031,704.48
12,135,656.16
15,091,137.62
17.457,090.85
25,396,706.40
39,138,283.67
51,775,978.09
54,007,581.07
56,962,349.44
63,955,400.53



TOTAL VALUE OF EXPORTS FOR 1903 : By Destination

Destination



Belgium
Portuguese Possessions (Sea Coast)
Netherlands
England
Portuguese Possessions (Left Bank of the Congo)
Portugal
British Possessions (East Coast of Africa)
Germany
Frencj Possessions (Upper Congo)
France
German Possessions (East Coast of Africa)
German Possessions (West Coast of Africa)
Italy
British Possessions (West Coast of Africa)
Sweden and Norway
United States of America

Totals
Special Commerce

Frs. Cs.

51,944,628.76
1,786,869.55
415,558.85
213,602.45
66,433.75
63,471.62
50,327.50
22,074.48
16,269.75
6,238.00
7,277.50
2,500.00
1,312.00
820.00
287.00
164.00

54,597,835.21
General Commerce

Frs. Cs.

60,119,981.46
1,872,934.45
1,293,801.56
297,676.91
85,057.75
85,823.62
50,327.50
103,797.78
16,269.75
17,369.25
7,277.50
2,500.00
1,312.00
820.00
287.00
164.00

63,995,400.00









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