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



Chapter XXXIII : Testimony of Travellers and Thinkers (Continued) (pp.411-417)


The three authorities whose testimony was given in the preceding chapter are all distinguished travellers of British nationality. It is now proposed to lay before the reader the opinions held upon Belgian Administration in the Congo by three well-known Americans - Mr. James Gustavus Whiteley of Baltimore, member of the Institute of International Law. who has represented the United States Government at several international congresses; the Rev. W.H. Leslie, a missionary of the American Baptist Missionary Union; and Mr. Mohun, a former United States Consul at Boma.

MR. JAMES G. WHITELEY

It is unfortunate that so many false impressions about the Congo have been accepted without examination. For example, there is a popular belief that the King runs the Congo "for revenue only", and that he oppresses the natives in order to extort money from them. The exact opposite is the truth. The king receives no revenue from the Congo Government; on the contrary the State owes it's very existence to the generosity of the King, who advanced several million dollars to keep the Government going in it's early struggle for existence. It is true that there are in the Congo extensive Cwown lands, the revenue from which belongs to the King, but His Majesty refuses to take the receipts from this land and has turned the money into a fund for the erection of schools, the encouragement of science, and similar purposes. He does not even manage the fund himself, but has placed it in the hands of three trustees.
I have seen the statement in several newspapers that the Congo State was created by the Berlin Conference in 1885 and placed in the hands of King Leopold for administration, the Powers reserving a sort of right of guardianship over it. This is entirely erroneous. The Congo was a sovereign State before the Berlin Conference was thought of. The first official acknowledgment of the new State came from the United States in the spring of 1884. It was afterwards formally recognised by other nations, and it entered the Berlin Conference on an equality with the other Powers. It has never placed itself under the guardianship of any Power or collection of Powers. It has no connection with Belgium except that King Leopold happens to be king of each of them. The two Governments are entirely independent.

One of the great achievements of the Congo State has been the suppression of the Arab slave traders, who were in the habit of invading Central Africa, carrying off slaves to the eastern markets, and laying waste the country through which they passed. It is estimated that 100,000 natives were killed each year in these slave raids. I recently saw an enormous statement to the effect that these slave raids are still carried on, and that they are encouraged by King Leopold and his agents as a means of revenue. It is difficult to see how the King or his Government could reap any profit by encouraging the slave-raiders to destroy the villages, and kill off a hundred thousand or so of the inhabitants. Such lack of logic is damaging to the case of the gentlemen who put it forward as a serious argument. As Lord Westbury once said to a young English barrister : "Never make a mistake in your logic; the facts are always at your disposal".
In this case, however, the anti-Congo critics have availed themselves of both false logic and false "facts". The facts are that the slave-raiders were finally vanquished and driven out by the Congo forces in the early nineties, after a severe struggle and at the cost of much Belgian blood. As the present Viceroy of India said some years ago : "The Congo Free State has done a great work and by it's administration the cruel raids of the Arab slave-dealers have ceased to exist over many thousand square miles".
Another prevalent error about the Congo Government is in regard to the treatment of the natives by the officials. An impression has got abroad that there are many atrocities committed.
There have been cases in which the natives have been maltreated by minor officials, but these are isolated cases, and are severely punished by the authorities. Such cases have occurred in all public services where an attempt has been made to govern inferior races. Such things have happened in the Philippines, in British Africa, and in India. No colonising nation can cast a stone at King Leopold on that score. Among a large number of officials scattered over a vast territory there will often be one or two wicked stewards who despitefully use the natives. All that any State can do is to keep vigilant watch and to punish the wrongdoers, and this the Congo State has done. It has even established a Commission for the protection of the natives. By the decree of 1896, this Commission consisted of seven members, three being Catholic priests and four Protestant missionaries.
It has been said, among other things, that the State practically enslaves the natives by forcing them to pay a tax in labour. The tax is light. According to a statement made the other day by Baron de Favereau, it consists of 40 hours' work per month, and for this work they are paid at the regular rate of wages obtained in the district. It is a tax which helps the State and also helps the native, for it teaches him to work. It is one of the most civilising influences in African colonisation, for it is only by teaching habits of industry to the natives that civilisation can make any progress in the Dark Continent.
The detractors of the Congo administration make a great outcry, but as Burke said in one of his celebrated speeches : "You must not think because the crickets make a great noise that they are the only inhabitants of the field. The cattle browsing in the shade make less stir, but they are infinitely more important". Those who cry out against the Congo are a small band, and generally of small importance. Their evidence is light in comparison with the testimony of such men as the Count de Smet de Naeyer, the Baron van Eetvelde, Baron Wahis, the Chevalier Descamps, and Mr. Nys, but if these witnesses be considered as in any way prejudiced on account of their official position, you have only to look at the evidence of Sir Harry Johnston, late British Commissioner to Uganda, Paul Leroy-Beaulieu, the great authority on political economy, Mr. Pickersgill, the British Consul, besides the missionaries, such as the Rev. G. Grenfell, of the British Baptist Missionary Society, Mr. Augouard, Rev. Holman Bentley, Father van Hencxthoven, Rev. Herbert S. Smith, Mgr. Streicher, Rev. Lawson Forfeit, Father Gabriel, and Rev. W. Verner of the American Presbyterian Mission.
The Congo State furnishes a model for civilisation in new countries. A great work has been accomplished in Equatorial Africa, and, as a distinguished missionary said, "Posterity will place the name of Leopold at the head of human benefactors for the princely enterprise, perseverance, and sacrifices contributed by him in such a cause".


THE REV. W.H. LESLIE

In a recent number of the Missionary Review of the World, a magazine published by Messrs. Funk & Wagnalls of New York, there appeared an article written by Rev. W.H. Leslie, a missionary of the American Baptist Missionary Union, stationed in the Congo. In that article Mr. Leslie refers to the exceeding degradation of the Congo people twenty years ago. He states that, naturally, not a little evil remains, that immorality and various heathen practices are still prevalent. But he speaks with much enthusiasm of the social and moral uplifting and the industrial development within that twenty years. He says that the people are learning to work, are learning to read and write, are clothing themselves, are building better houses. In other words, they are gradually adopting the manners and customs of civilisation.

MR. MOHUN

Of course you must understand that for the moment I am in the service of the Congo Free State, and a great many people might consider anything I should say in favour of the Congo as being biased; but I can assure you that, in my opinion, it would be impossible for any one to give other than a favourable report on the work of the Free State in the Eastern Province. The administration is excellent. The country is quite quiet from the Falls to Tanganyika. The native tribes seem contented and happy, and are paid by the Government for every stroke of work they do. The price of rubber has increased, and every man who brings in rubber receives pay for it. Formerly robber and murder existed to a great extent among the native tribes, but are now quite rare; and the old "Mwavi", or ordeal by drinking poison, seems to be disappearing. Justice is administered with an impartial hand, and I firmly believe the natives are beginning to appreciate the benefits of good government.
Some months ago a woman was shot dead near my camp. I immediately sent for the chief and I told him that I wanted the murderer arrested and brought in. Three hours later he returned with him and also two accessories to the crime, together with all the stuffs they had stolen from the woman. The principal actor in the crime was tried and hanged, while the others received long terms of punishment. This incident is merely cited to show that when the natives are living in a contented way, and are satisfied with their surroundings, they will assist the Europeans wherever possible. I could enumerate a dozen cases where natives have themselves arrested and brought to justice thieves, ravishers &c., of their own accord. They never received a present for these services. In the Manyema, which is very thickly populated, a great market has been established at Vieux Kasongo, and this serves as a meeting-place for thousands twice a week. Caravans come from Ujiji nearly every month, and the natives journey there by a 15 or 20 days' march. I never saw a disturbance at the market, either going or returning. By common consent guns, knives, spears, and knobkerries are excluded from articles of exchange, and the men only carry thin walking-sticks. There are no soldiers guarding the market, but immunity from thieves is guaranteed by some ten or twelve native policemen, who receive no pay, and are highly pleased to have an opportunity of showing their authority.
I have been astonished in coming down river from Kasongo to the coast to see what extraordinary changes have taken place. First, the administration is now established on a good, firm basis, and all the officials take an intelligent interest in their work, with the result that scandals are quite a thing of the past. The stations are all splendidly and solidly built in brick, and the grounds are laid out in a very pleasing way. The transport service by canoe between Kasongo and Stanley Falls goes without a hitch, and thousands of loads go up river every year, absolutely unguarded, and the loss by theft is almost nil. The steamer service between the Falls and Pool is good, and an enormous improvement over the old days, especially in the matter of messing. The large steamers Hainaut and Brabant are most imposing-looking craft, and comfortably fitted up. They carry 200 tons of cargo and 600 troops, in addition to 40 white passengers. The new steamer La Flandre, of 250 tons, is on the slip at Leo, and I think will make her first trip in February next year (1904). She is to be enlightened by electricity. So far as I know, the whole country is tranquil, with the exception of a small portion of the Bangala district north of Bumba.
It has been the fashion during the past for travellers who have been in the Congo State to run it down in every way, but it gives me the reatest pleasure to be able to affirm that only a most captious critic would be able to find fault with it's administration today.
With regard to specific pronouncement on the alleged murder of several hundred natives who failed to supply the required quota of rubber, I can say nothing, it having been out of my district. Personally, I do not believe it, excepting in a vastly modified degree; and I must point out that the authorities are taking such steps as must bring any offenders to summary justice. I absolutely deny the absurd attempt to fasten responsibilities upon the authorities for any acts of violence they cannot control from this side. Such acts committed while I was there would have been reported, and it is evident they are now taking steps to prevent, in so far as possible, any recurrence of them. In all human institutions there are imperfections; here and there employees prove themselves unworthy of the trust reposed in them; but these, in my opinion, are exceptions rather than the rule.








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