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

Chapter XXXIV : Testimony of Travellers and Thinkers (Continued) (pp.418-423)


The following valuable testimony is extracted from an interesting volume, written by this gentleman, entitled The Native Problem in South Africa :

The Congo atrocities campaign is fed upon just a sufficient substratum of truth to make it plausible. But the public in their administered sentimentality travel very wide of the true case. After a full career of blood-curdling horrors unhesitatingly placed at the door of the administration in highest authority irrespective of conditions of environment or personal responsibility, a Sir Harry Johnston, accepted authority, in plenitude of personal knowledge and experience presents a rock of fact which checks the wave of misrepresentation.
In the Congo Free State in addition to be superior council to advise the King in Belgium, the Governor General has the assistance of a similar nominated holy body at Boma. Local conditions here do not admit at present of following the French system, but it is guided largely in it's deliberations by the reports and advice of the district commissioners who with the cooperation of the local chiefs and their own officials form really limited autonomous administrations.
Turning to the Congo Free State the general division of the territory, from an administrative point of view, is based on the districts at the head of each of which is a district commissioner representing the State. The commissioner is assisted by sub-commissioners, but is alone responsible for the good order of his district. Their principal instructions, on which the State lays great stress, are to maintain friendly relations with the natives and whenever possible to prevent or patch up intertribal disputes; they are also charged with abolishing as far as possible barbarous customs and especially human sacrifices and cannibalism, still practised over a large extent of the territory .... In close cooperation with the district commissioner is the native chief or chiefs of the district. The institution and recognition of these are encouraged by the State in order to improve the relations between it and the natives, to consolidate authority over individuals, to ameliorate their condition, and to facilitate their regular contribution to the development of the country. The chiefs have, as a rule, to be first recognised as such by native custom, and are then officially recognised by the Government, and receive a certificate to that effect. They are allowed to exercise their usual authority according to native usage and custom, provided the same be not contrary to public order and is in accordance with the laws of the State. They are held personally responsible for their tribe's supply of public labour as notified to them annually. The acknowledged native chiefs number 258.
The safeguards provided by the cooperation of the chiefs, and the supervision of the central authority are now on the Congo supplemented, as far as human action under such conditions can go, by a very thorough organisation of the judicial side of the Government. It has pleased many of the critical theorists who have attacked the Congo Free State to say that this latter has been established merely as a blind to the actions of the administration. It may be merely remarked that no infant struggling State is likely to go to the great expense of such an elaborate and widely organised system of justice as has now been called into existence on the Congo por rire, and furthermore that jurists of the character of those now serving on the Congo are not those capable of lending themselves to such practices. A certain amount of latitude must of course be made for the different conditions in individual countries, especially when in a state of savagery, but generally speaking the Congo tribunals do their duty as well as similar ones in British colonies.
The Sovereign and Government of the Congo Free State have stated over and over again that they desire justice to be rendered impartially, and that it is necessary that offences committed by natives should not remain unpunished, so penal laws must also be applied to the whites who are guilty of illegal doings. The mere fact of having constituted a superior court of appeal with judges of different nationalities and of appointing foreign lawyers and magistrates as judges and officials of the lower courts in the interior of the country is a proof, and a more than evident guarantee, of the impartiality and seriousness of the judicial administration aimed at. The writer holds no brief for the Congo Free State; rather the contrary in fact, but in common fairness after a very lengthy study of it's judicial machinery, laws and decrees, and the instructions given to it's officials, he finds it difficult to conceive what more King Leopold could have done to safeguard it's internal affairs than has now been done - given the peculiar conditions of the country. The abuses which have from time to time arisen in the past have been due, as far as one acquainted with similar conditions in West Africa can see, to three things, viz. : (1) to the abuse of power by agents of the concessionaire companies before the State had fully realised the necessity of keeping a sharp control over these semi-independent individuals; (2) to the want of experience of early officials; and (3) to the lack of trained colonial servants whose known antecedents and constitutions fitted them for isolated and arduous responsibility in an unhealthy, tropical, and savage country. It is only right to add, however, that through isolated misdeeds may still continue to occur here and there as everywhere else, the measures now in force guard as far as possible against a repetition of the former regrettable occurrences, and where these occur the offenders are brought to trial without delay.
The native idea represents that of primitive society everywhere in the world, the European that of latter-day civilisation; and if this were always borne in mind, less nonsense would be written by those ill-informed sentimentalists who insist on treating the former on the lines of the latter.
Nothing is more astounding in regard to the Congo campaign - to take a very flagrant case in point - than the utter ignorance displayed by those who, while violently denouncing every detail of Congo administration, appear to be totally unaware either of the past history of social evolution, of modern civilisation in Europe, or of the conditions existing in other African countries at the present day.
We have here (British Central Africa) admitted, as in Uganda where we have shown that it has been actually carried out, the right of the British Crown to assume ownership of "vacant lands", and the principle enunciated that the reserves allotted must be sufficient to allow of the lying falow of the ground for a period of three years in addition to allowing a proportion for the natural increase of the family. Had the same principles set forth above been applied to the early days to British West Africa that country would be far more prosperous and advanced than is the case today.
Bearing these facts in mind it is possible to understand more fully the situation on the Congo where the general system has been pursued of assuming possession of the vacant lands and allotting to natives reserves throughout the country, though it may be remarked that on the plea of conquest alone the State has a valid title to a large part of the country apart from that set forth.
In the case of the Congo Free State, however, the opposite course has been taken, i.e. the State has undertaken the direct exploitation of it's private domains, the profits realised being allotted to public works and the expenses of administration; and without stopping to examine the necessities of the case it's critics have eagerly seized on this as a point of attack.
When criticisms, however, are raised against the very complete system of land tenure now in existence on the Congo as regards the State, non-natives and natives, it is as well to remember that the exploitation of the land by the State is an after and separate act quite unconnected with the assumption of sovereign powers over the land in the State, which latter is in accord with general European and universal American custom, though after all whether a State raises money for public revenues by selling, leasing, or by personally exploiting the State lands seems to be a mere matter of detail in which the principle of the action is exactly the same. En passant it may be remarked that the Royal Niger Company, though an administration, raised it's principal revenue and paid it's dividends by it's trade - not by duties or taxes.
Further south, getting down to the Congo again, we find a State which, sharing these views, has the courage of it's convictions and acts upon them to the great scandal of our own Exeter Hall set, no doubt, but to the very marked improvement of the native races affected as well as to the development and opening of the State.

It will have been observed in what special terms Mr. Davis repudiates personal interest in championing the Congo Administration against it's detractors. Should any reader be so sceptical as to question the accuracy of it's repudiation, attention is invited to the following declarations by three English statesmen, two of them of high political attainment, and all three by social position and actual record of approved bona-fides.


It is only fair to remember that the Congo State has done a great work, and by it's administration the cruel raids of Arab slave-dealers have ceased to exist over many thousands of square miles.


Look at the Congo State. Everything has not gone there as well as it could be wished, but still a great domination is maintained. There are two sets of opinions; but what is undoubtedly true is that Belgium - a very much less powerful country than Great Britain - has been able to maintain the dominion of her King over a territory larger than the Sudan.


Lord Cranbourne, now Marquess of Salisbury, declared, during the debate of 20th May, 1903, in the House of Commons, that "There was no doubt that the administration of the Congo Government had been marked by a very high degree of a certain kind of administrative development. There were steamers upon the river, hospitals had been established, and all the machinery of elaborate judicial and police systems had been set up".

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