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



Chapter XXVIII : State Lands and Concessions (pp.308-339)


This example of vigorous Teutonic candour might be repeated from the columns of many other European journals, but the desire to avoid passing from the historical to the controversial in the present work must limit the use of abundant similar material.
To show that the direct exploitation of domanial forests is made a legitimate source of revenue in Eastern countries, the instance of Japan may be cited. That brave little country, so heroically engaged in fighting for the unmolested right to pursue it's brilliant course of modern progress, directly cultivates and harvests for the benefit of it's treasury a State domain equal to seven times the entire area of Belgium !
When the ministers of his Majesty, King Leopold, were requested to indicate the principles upon which the Domaine Prive of the Congo Free State was developed, they stated that, having in view the necessity for revenue from the soil, the civilising influence of labour, and the social, physical, and moral condition of the African black, they had devised that scheme which would attract the only existing available labour in the country, the cooperation of the native, for which cooperation the State not only paid him, but provided him with liberating and enlightening opportunities for participating in the growth of African civilisation. In it's official reports the Government of the Congo Free State refers to it's aims in this respect :

The object which the Government aims at, is to succeed in turning the private domain of the State to profit, exclusively by means of voluntary contributions [of labour] from the natives, and inducing them to work through the allurement of an earned and adequate payment. The rate must be sufficiently remunerative to stimulate in the natives the desire of obtaining it, and, as a consequence, to induce them to gather in the products of the domain.
Where the attraction of commercial benefit is not sufficient to assure the working of the private domain, it is necessary to resort to the tax in kind; but even in this case, the work is remunerated in the same manner as the voluntary contributions. The Government's orders in this respect are positive. Properly speaking, the tax in kind is not a real tax, since the local value of the products brought in by the natives is given to them in exchange.
The Government has never neglected an opportunity to remind it's agents, intrusted with the collection of taxes in kind, that their part is that of an educator : their mission is to impress on the mind of the natives the taste for work; and the means available would fail of their aim if compulsion was changed into violence.


What is called the Domain of the Crown is a limited territory defined by decrees dated March 8, 1896, and December 23, 1901, lying in the basins of Lake Leopold II. and of the Lukenie River, in the basin of the Busira-Momboya River, and between certain boundaries at the confluence of the Lubefu and Sankuru rivers, to the western summit-line of the Lukenie basin, and including certain contiguous areas. These lands include six discovered mines which so far have not been worked. The Domain of the Crown is a corporate body administered by a committee of three persons appointed by the Sovereign.
The forests of the Congo are the finest in the world. They contain a great variety of hard and soft wood, fruit-bearing trees, rubber trees and vines, and gum trees, and constitute an industrial wealth which is being preserved by enforcing rigorous laws. A decree dated July 7th, 1898, and orders dated November 22, 1898, and March 21, 1902, regulate timber cutting. Under these, steamboats may take on supplies of wood fuel on payment of an annual tax measured according to their tonnage and speed.
The mining laws of the State are embodied in the decrees of June 8, 1888, and March 20, 1893. They provide, amongst other things, that the purchase of land from the State or from individuals does not "confer the right of working the mineral riches beneath the surface"; that "mineral riches remain beneath the surface"; that "mineral riches remain the property of the State"; that "no person can work a mine except by virtue of a special concession from the State"; that "the Government fixes by decree the regions where mining researches are authorised either in favour of all persons without distinction, or of the persons specified in the decrees". A livence fee of 2500 francs and other fees are imposed upon those who, having discovered mineral-bearing properties, desire to work them. A mining cincession is limited to an area not exceeding 24,000 acres. Article 4 of the decree of March 25, 1893, provides that :

Whoever shall discover a mine in the regions where he is authorised to make researches in conformity with Article 3, can obtain a right of preference for ten years for the concession of this mine, on condition that he complies with the regulations laid down in the present Decree.

All mining concessions are limited to a term of ninety-nine years. On it's expiration the State succeeds to the property as it stands. A system of royalties on the products of the mine is stipulated in all concessions. Such royalties shall not be less than one dollar a year on each 2.47 acres. These fixed annual charges may be commuted by arrangement with the State.
In commenting upon the criticism which British merchants and their allies have uttered against the entire land system of the Congo Free State, an eminent Belgian closely identified with those who support the Congolese policy has said :

It is an easy manner to point out, in an undertaking such as the Congolese enterprise, the inherent imperfections and difficulties of the task, and the accidental defects in the instruments which the State is called upon to employ.
It is, however, very unfair to hide under a bushel the good results which have been obtained, and the progress which has been realised, and to expose on a pinnacle a few exceptional and regrettable facts, to draw a conclusion from particular cases to the detriment of the general rule, and to condemn wholesale an institution which draws forth the admiration even of it's enemies, and of which a witness, certainly to be little suspected, has been able to say : "In the whole history of Colonial life, there is no example on record of such a result obtained in such a short period of time".
We are far from overlooking the important role which criticism plays in a matter which as yet so little advanced as the art and science of colonisation, but in order to play this role properly, the critic must remain impartial.
After all, if these severe criticisms have been at times formulated, there are ample compensations in many authoritative comments from abroad. For instance, M. de Lanessan, formerly Minister of the Admiralty in France, says :
"Belgium has shown that, in matters of colonisation, she possesses more practical and rational ideas than ourselves, and a better understanding of the methods of modern colonisation".
As to the condition of the natives, this is the opinion of Sir Harry Johnston, speaking from experience of that part of the Congo which was formerly the most backward :
"This portion of the Congo Free State was inhabited by cheerful natives who repeatedly, and without solicitation on my part, compared the good times they were now having, to the misery and terror which preceded them when the Arabs and Manyema had established themselves in the country as chiefs and slave-traders".


As this volume is going to press, advices are to hand that M. Gaston Doumergue, French Minister for the Colonies, submitted to the President of the Republic of France - and on October 23, 1904, procured his signature to - a decree consolidating the Republic's legislation concerning French West Africa. This decree reaffirms that " all vacant lands in the colonies of French West Africa are the property of the State"; that the property of the State may be alienated, leased, or developed according to the methods employed in the Free State; that concessions may be granted; that property held in common by tribes under their chiefs may not be sold by them without the State's consent, etc. In short, the success of the land regime practised by the Congo Free State having convinced the Germans and the French of it's wisdom, both countries have now conformed their own laws to it.








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