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



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


In 1902 a general reduction of direct taxation was decreed. At the same time the taxation of all religious, charitable, and scientific institutions and enterprises was reduced to 50 per cent of the rate which prevailed when the State had no revenue from import dues or from it's domain lands. By a decree of 25th June, 1902, all personal taxes are entitled to one-fifth reduction so long as the State lands (domaine), tributes, and taxes in kind, yield the sum of 17,000,000 francs annually. In order to develop and extend the public highways, and works increasing the facilities of commerce, religion, agriculture, etc., the native prestations and their proper distribution have formed the subject of numerous decrees, all seeking to equitably adjust this form of taxation. One of the later decrees, that of 18th November, 1903, provides, amongst other measures protective of the native, that "In order to fix the tax justly and equitably among the natives, the territorial chiefs must take into account the nature of the work to be done, the age and the skill of the natives subjected to the prestation, and finally the obligation of the State to remunerate the natives for all the work done by them". (Report of the Vice-Governor-General, July 1904.
The items constituting the State's annual expenditure throw an interesting light on the subject of these native prestations in the Congo State. The State's enemies found their charges of slavery largely upon the fact that the State enforces this labour upon the natives instead of imposing a tax in specie. In 1903 the State paid to it's European officials and employes in the Congo force publique the sum of 1,800,000 francs, whereas during the same period the wages it paid to natives in the same service amounted to 2,050,000 francs. In developing the State lands at a cost of 6,014,790 francs during that year, the sum of 2,802,190 francs was paid to natives as wages. For extending agriculture and replanting India-rubber vines the sum of 1,373,932 francs was expended in 1903. The following items, taken from the table of expenditures for the same year, may be interesting :

Home Department
The Administrative Service of Europe
The Administrative Service of Africa
The Army
Naval Expenditure
Sanitary Department
Public Works
Missions and Educational Establishments
Expenses relating to some Transports in Africa, not Drawn up in the Budget
165,000.00
3,180,310.00
7,701,765.00
2,023,376.00
504,120.00
1,081,885.00
121,425.00
1,600,000.00


Financial Department
The Administrative Service of Europe
The Administrative Service of Africa
Agriculture
Exploitation of the Domain
Savings-Bank, Interest of the Loans, and Guaranteed Stock
99,000.00
503,065.00
1,373,932.00
6,041,790.00
1,656,228.00


Foreign Office and Justice
The Administrative Service of Europe
Postal Department
Navigation
Justice
Worship
227,100.00
66,000.00
140,200.00
910,000.00
250,000.00


The currency of the Congo Free State consists of copper, silver, and gold coins and paper notes. The former are issued under a decree of 27th July, 1887, which established the monetary system upon the gold standard. The gold coins are of the value of twenty francs; the silver coins are the five, two, one franc, and the fifty centime piece. The copper coins are the ten, five, two, and one centime pieces.

Paper Currency. By a decree of February 7, 1896, with the object of facilitating business transactions between the different parts of the State, banknotes of the State, payable to the bearer at the General Treasury of the Congo Free State, in Brussels, were issued. The decree sanctioned a first issue of notes to the value of 400,000 francs.
An order of the Secretary of State of February 8, 1896, limited the value of the issued notes to a sum of 269,850 francs, comprising 2000 notes of 100 francs each, and 6,985 ten franc notes.
Formerly, in the Lower Congo, agents of the State and merchants were accustomed to give the natives, in exchange for their services, a mokande or cheque, which enabled them to purchase what they required at the factories.
It is evident that silver, copper, and paper currency of the State have a great advantage over the mokande or cheque system, these latter often being only payable at a fixed date and by certain persons. At first the circulation of money was slow and difficult. It was only with a good deal of trouble that foreign money was displaced in the Lower Congo, and in the interior there was the same difficulty in abolishing the custom of barter, and the usage of the mitako, or brass wire.
Finally, to accelerate the introduction of State currency, the Government decreed :
1. To pay the soldiers and native workmen in cash, and also to pay in the same manner for all goods bought from the natives by the State;
2. To stop all payments in kind at the stations of the Lower Congo;
3. To substitute for the rations formerly issued by the State to the agents, an equivalent in cash, and so forth.
Immediately after the enforcing of these measures the State currency began to circulate rapidly, and merchants no longer hesitated to open retail stores, where the natives in the employment of the State and commercial companies, and other natives as well, came to exchange their money for European goods.
At the present time, in the region south of Stanley Pool, the greater part of the commercial transactions between Europeans and natives is carried on through the medium of the State currency, and in the native markets it is no longer possible to purchase anything except with the silver or copper Congolese money - the preference being given to silver. (Descamps)


The native's love of tinsel causes a large quantity of the silver and copper coins put into circulation to disappear from the sphere of commerce. Congolese vanity manifests itself in many forms. Necklaces, earrings, bracelets, anklets, and other ornaments are made of the State coins, and worn by the men and women of all the tribes which come in touch with the Congo coinage. Powerful chiefs are often buried with many coins upon their bodies.








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