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



Chapter XXXIV : Testimony of Travellers and Thinkers (Concluded) (pp.424-445)


MR. Grey (English Civil Engineer)

from the "Morning Post" (London), January 20, 1903

Since I returned to England a few weeks ago I have red some correspondence in the Morning Post on the subject of the administration in the Congo State. I am an Englishman, and have during the last two years led an expedition of the Tanganyika Concessions (Limited), organised in Rhodesia to explore and search for minerals in the Katanga district of the Congo State. During the latter part of 1901 and the whole of 1902 sections of this expedition have explored and settled in the district of Katanga, and at the same time the representatives of the Special Katanga Committee have occupied and governed the country. It is almost impossible for one man to have intimate knowledge of more than a portion of the territory of the Congo Free State, and I can only claim to know a small and remote section. Still, seeing that so much attention has been directed of late to Belgian administration in the Congo, my experiences in that country may be of interest. It is perhaps necessary to explain that the Special Katanga Committee, the governing body in Brussels of the territories of Katanga, is composed of the representatives of an amalgamation between the separate interests of the Congo Free State Government and the Katanga company. The former originally owned two thirds, the latter one-third, of that portion of the Congo State. This administration is entirely Belgian, and the African staff is composed of a representative of the committee, whose headquarters are at Lukonzolwa, on Lake Mweru, and who occupies the position of administrator, and of numerous officials, civil and military, in charge of the various sections of the district and departments of the administration. The country is garrisoned by a large force of native troops, with European officers. My duties have confined me to the section of the district called the Upper Luapula Section, which borders on the south and east with Northern Rhodesia. I have visited the chief of that section, Mr. Vervloet, at his headquarters at Lukafu, and an officer of the Katanga force with a few soldiers has been attached to my expedition.
I have, therefore, had considerable opportunity on the spot of learning the instructions which the Special Committee give their officials, and how those instructions are carried out. I myself and many members of my expedition have become fairly intimate with the native inhabitants of large portions of this district, and have from time to time employed as carriers and miners several hundred labourers. That the natives of this country had never suffered ill-treatment from white men was evident to me from the time I entered the country. They showed no hesitation in working for my expedition and in bringing quantities of food to sell, and always seemed quite confident that fair payment would be given, both for labour and food. I have lived for many years in parts of Africa in which the native inhabitants were for the first time coming under the influence of European government, and where conditions rendered the aid of such government by native troops necessary. It is almost impossible constantly to restrain the tendency to oppress and ill-treat his less powerful countrymen which is inherent in the native soldier, and I do not believe that it ever happens that the advent of that form of government is accompanied by acts of injustice and oppression. Generally there is a constant effort on the part of the European officer to prevent such acts and punish offenders. My experience is that this is especially the case in the district of Katanga. The regulations of the Special Committee provide that no armed parties of soldiers should travel or patrol without a European officer. Native soldiers are not allowed to enter villages alone, and weekly markets are held at which a European official buys food for his soldiers from the neighbouring villages, so endeavouring to do away as far as possible with direct dealing between the soldier and the people. My experience of the last two years has convinced me that in the district of Katanga at any rate the Belgian officials endeavour to treat the Central African native with justice and leniency, and in as great a degree as officials of any other nation look on him as a human being, with a perfect right to sell his labour and his food on terms satisfactory to himself. When I first entered the Congo, at the time that the officials of the Special Committee were establishing their government, and before I had come into personal contact with them, I found some armed natives who posed as soldiers of the Belgian Government, and who lived more or less the life of robbers, raiding and stealing wherever they went. The natives believed that these men were the authorised police of the European Administration, whose white officials they had not yet seen, and members of my expedition reported to me on the shocking behaviour of the Belgian Askari. I later learnt the complete mistake we had made in believing these men to be Government employees. In a short time they completely disappeared, caught or driven out by the agents of the committee. The Ba-Luba and Wasanga, the tribes we have been working among, are, we find, a peacable, industrious race, with practically no warlike propensity, an easy prey to any organised hostile force. I am led to believe that their numbers have decreased during the last fifty years owing to a continuous traffic in slaves with the Arabs of the East and Mambunda of the West. Today the slave trade has ceased in this particular district, the traders being afraid to come anywhere near the Belgian posts. To such an extent have conditions changed with the advent of Belgian administration that many small chiefs are now recovering individuals raided from them by their stronger neighbours and not already sold to the traders when European control reached the country.
In all discussions and criticism of the mistakes made by European administration in Central Africa there is one condition which seems to me to be never taken into account. That is the necessity of employing officials who have to spend a long time learning how to do efficiently the work that they have to carry on from the day they arrive at their posts. There is no school in which to learn Central African Civil Service except Central Africa, and it is impossible in Africa to obtain a sufficient number of qualified officials. Not many go to Central Africa with the idea of making their permanent homes there. It has been my own good fortune to settle in a healthy part of Central Africa, but from my knowledge of the Continent as a whole, I think it is not an exaggeration to state that two-thirds of the officials who leave Europe are, within five years of their arrival, either killed by the climate, invalided home, or have left the country at the termination of an agreement. All these have to be constantly replaced by inexperienced men, with their job to learn. What wonder then that grievous mistakes are sometimes made by some of these untried men, necessarily placed in responsible positions ? In writing this letter to you, I state only my own experience and opinion of the spirit and effect of Belgian administration in the district of Katanga; but it seems natural to me to suppose that the same spirit extends throughout the whole of the Congo territory; and it seems almost the duty, at the present time, of an Englishman who has had the opportunity to judge of the general methods of Belgian administration to give publicity to his knowledge. - Yours, etc.,
............................................. G. Grey


In presence of testimony such as this, it is not matter for surprise that His Eminence, Cardinal Gibbons, should have characterised as inopportune the consideration by the recent Peace Congress at Boston of the oft-refuted accusations brought against the Congo Free State. Where not absolutely false in every particular (as the majority of these slanderous stories most certainly are), they are grossly exaggerated, distorted out of all resemblance to the events they are based upon, and mendaciously attributed to a Government that has consistently and unswervingly repressed wrongdoing, of whatever kind, or by whomsoever done, and brought the light of civilisation to a vast barbarian population more thoroughly and in less time than was ever done before.
The opinion of Cardinal Gibbons upon this point well appears in a letter addressed by His Eminence to the Honorary Secretary of the Congo Reform Association, of which the following is the full text.

HIS EMINENCE, CARDINAL GIBBONS (American)

.....................................Baltimore, Oct. 21, 1904
The Honorary Secretary, Congo Reform Association
Sir, - I avail myself of the first opportunity which has presented itself to acknowledge your letter of the 18th instant. In that letter you call my attention to certain resolutions adopted by the Peace Congress at Boston. I fail to see in these resolutions any vote of censure upon the Congo Free State. They express rather a desire for information in regard to the international status of that State.
It appears that those who voted for the resolutions were in need of enlightenment on the subject, but this information lies near at hand. There is no need to appeal to any tribunal. Diplomatic history, diplomatic correspondence concerning the Independent State of the Congo, and the acts and the protocols of the Conference of Berlin, as well as of the Conference of Brussels, all prove conclusively that the Congo Free State is an independeny sovereign State, and that the powers have no right of guardianship or intervention.
Your letter also refers to certain documents, such as the British Parliamentary White Book, Africa no.7 (1904), which, however, has not escaped my attention. Permit me to say that this book, instead of proving your contention, proves the exact contrary, and shows that both the administration and the courts of the Congo are using their endeavours to correct such evils as may exist - for no human government is perfect.
The interpellation in the Belgian Chamber of Representatives, to which you refer, seems to have been simply a fruitless attempt on the part of the Socialist leader to annoy the Government. The very fact that the Chamber considered Mr. Vandervelde's charges against the Congo, and refused to sympathise with him in his views, is in itself a significant indication of the baselessness of his accusations.
In your letter you are also pleased to say that in speaking in defence of the Congo Government I have spoken "unwittingly", and to imply that I have not considered the facts nor weighed the evidence. I can assure you that I have not spoken without due consideration. As to the evidence, it is overwhelmingly against your contention.
It is only some score of discontented men, depending largely on the untrustworthy hearsay evidence of natives, who have raised an outcry against the Congo Administration, out of a great band of 500 or 600 missionaries, both Catholic and Protestant, who are working on the Congo, and who give thanks to the Congo Administration for it's support to the missions, and for it's successful efforts to introduce Christianity and civilisation into Central Africa.
Overwhelming evidence in favour of the Congo Government has been given recently by missionaries and by travellers, and it is not only Catholic missionaries, like Monsignor van Ronsle and Father van Hencxthoven, who have spoken in praise of the State, but also the most distinguished Protestant missionaries, such as the Rev. Mr. Bentley and Dr. Grenfell.
As it is not likely that you will convert me, and as I see no probability of convincing you, I, for my part, think it is best to consider the correspondence closed.
.... very sincerely yours
.......................... (signed) James, Cardinal Gibbons

VISCOUNT MOUNTMORRES

In the summer of 1904, an Irish peer, Lord Mountmorres, began a journey through the Congo Free State, whence his lordship is sending an admirable series of letters, descriptive of his experiences and impressions, to the London Globe. The dismal scenes of torture, desolation, and death, in which the missionary-agents of the Liverpool merchants assure us that unhappy country abounds, appear in some way to have escaped the observation of this traveller. "The further one goes into the interior the more civilised one finds it, the better organised, and the more developed", says Lord Mountmorres at the opening of his second letter :

I was utterly unprepared [he continues] for what I found at Irebu and at Coquilhatville, buried away there on the equator in the very heart of the great forest. For what are these stations ? Large haphazard jumbles of native dwellings and white men's bungalows in an arid clearing, with ill-kempt roadways, such as one would find in the Western States ? No; here we have great open towns of really artistic brick houses, with palm-thatched roofs and wide verandahs, each standing in it's own little garden, bright with roses and hibiscus, Spanish iris and flamboyants, and set well back along straight, wide avenues shaded by bamboos, mangoes, papayes, acacias, bread-fruit trees, or one of a dozen other leafy and ornamental equatorial trees. In spacious grounds will be found the residence of the local governor, chef-de-poste, or commandant, as the case may be, with it's twenty to thirty-foot verandah and it's flagstaff in front, placed usually so as to command the full view of the river front. Round one or more spacious squares at the intersections of the principal avenues will be the various public offices - the Directorate of Transports, the Post Office, the Magasins de l'Etat, the headquarters of the Force Publique, the Office of Agriculture, and the rest. At Bikoro there are 2200 acres overlooking the lovely Lac Tumba, sometimes miscalled Man Tumba or M'Tumba, a corruption of Mai Na Tumba, water (or lake) of war. Round Coquilhatville there are little short of 4500 acres of these plantations, and round Irebu and Imesse something like 1200 acres in each case. Then near to each station will be extensive market gardens, where every manner of vegetable, both European and tropical, is raised in profusion, and also the large, well-kept farm or farms, which supply the principal officials with beef and mutton, goat and pork, poultry and ducks, and in which a ceaseless series of experiments in breeding and raising stock adapted to the climate is carried on.
And this has been achieved not in one isolated spot near the coast, where material and transport were ready to hand, but at every "white post" up here in the very heart of the black continent, cut off until a few years ago from the capital and the seaboard by that deadly, costly barrier - the white man's cemetery of the Cataract caravan road. How has it been done ? Let us take Irebu as a typical case. Seven years ago a young Belgian lieutenant, Jeuniaux by name, was sent out to take charge of the military training camp at the junction of the Ubanghi, the Congo, and the Tumba Canal, on the site of a former large and flourishing native village. He came, and he found an unhealthy and pestilential swamp covered with the ruins and the filth of the then almost deserted village of Irebu. Among these unpleasant surroundings was a large group of ill-kempt and badly constructed mud and thatch huts - the training camp; and here he was doomed to pass at least three years. But he was young and energetic, and had passed unscathed along the latter half of the caravan road in the cataract district, for the railway was then but half completed. He had seen brich houses in other stations, and clean, well-kept, well-arranged little townships. He would have the same. But his first difficulty was that this was a training camp, whither the raw, untutored savage was drafted in his naked ignorance to undergo six months tuition only; and, so soon as he had acquired a sufficient training to make him of use to the white man, he was hurried on elsewhere and a new batch of raw material took his place. Jeuniaux had but a hazy notion of architecture, but, unaided, he planned and designed his barracks, and acted as his own foreman, devising quaint methods to construct weather-proof walls and roofs from the materials at hand, and instructing his workers, man by man, in these methods, and that without even the medium of a common language.
At last his barracks were built, and the old huts destroyed; coffee, cocoa, maize, sweet potatoes, and bananas grew in well-ordered plantations, between parallel, palm-lined avenues, where formerly had been a wilderness of insanitary ruins. Then came the great feat of all - brick houses for the whites and for the Departemental offices. Bricks, bricks. He knew that bricks were made somehow from some sort of clay, and he had a hazy notion that straw was essential to their composition. So he started on a series of experiments. In the intervals of his work - with two sub-lieutenants to help him, he was responsible for training, feeding, and controlling from 1000 to 1500 soldiers, with their wives and families, for maintaining order in his district, and developing it's commercial resources, and for ruling the natives in it; how well he had done this work I will show in a moment - but, in the intervals, he went on clay-hunting expeditions, and then sat up at night experimenting on what he had found, and at last he produced what he recognised as the real red brick - the philosopher's stone of his research. And so the first brick house in Irebu was built in one year from when Jeuniaux first came. And he built other houses for his lieutenants and white non-coms, and a residency for himself, and a guest house large and comfortable, and post-office, state stores, guard-house, pharmacy, armoury, and houses for all the other whites. One by one they were built, and Jeuniaux, now Commandant Jeuniaux, and his ever-changing pupils built them all, until he had realised his ambition, and had constructed a model station, with it's lovely avenues, it's riverside promenade, it's fine landing stage, it's parade ground, where 1200 men may, without crowding, manoeuvre in companies at once, and it's pretty public gardens. And when his first term of three years was over he left, with the sense of work accomplished, for his six months' holiday. All the time in Europe he pictured the growth of his plantations and his palms, and told his friends he should be glad to get back "home" to Irebu, the town he built with his own hands. And the night before he reached it he could not sleep for excitement; and all day he strained his eyes to catch a glimpse of it, and at last it came in sight. But not the Irebu he knew. The plantations had reverted into jungle, the avenues had disappeared, lost in the quick rank growth; the pleasure gardens were a wilderness; the finest of the palms had been cut down; and he went through the coarse, wild vegetation that clogged the entrance to his house, and into the damp hall-way that was become the home of bats, and of rats, and of lizards, and he sat down there, and he wept. For so, in six short months, had an idle officer left in charge during his absence undone the labour of three years.
But he is not a man to be easily daunted. Today Irebu is as spick and span and as beautiful as he first conceived it. The benefit that accrues to the natives as well as to the whites from so well-built and arranged a station is shown by the change that has occurred in the health of Irebu. One of Jeuniaux's first cares was to make the place sanitary. Now since he built the station, i.e. in the five years since summer, 1899, there have been only two deaths among the whites, - although their number has been increased, - and of these one was a case of sunstroke, the other one probably of deliberate intent to die by disobeying orders during an illness on receipt of bad news. Since 1901 there has not been one death among Europeans. The mortality rate among the soldiers has decreased to 14 per 1000 average, and for the current year to 12 per 1000, or a fraction under. And this despite the fact that the sudden change in their mode of life when they enter military service must be a severe strain on the recruits, and also that Irebu, lying at a junction of waterways, is constantly having dumped down on it cases of infectious diseases, which are discovered on the river steamers, and which are put ashore at the nearest station.
Now, I mention all this about the building of Irebu, not simply to glorify Commandant Jeuniaux, but because the work that has been done there, the difficulties he has had to contend with and has overcomem the result that has been achieved, are identical with what every commandant has met with in each of the beautiful stations that you will find in the Middle Congo. Each of these represents the personal exertion of one individual, and their existence is eloquent testimony to the ability and devotion with which the State is served by it's servants.


MRS. M. FRENCH SHELDON

Mrs. French Sheldon, the traveller and author, returned to Europe in December, 1904, after a tour through the Congo Free State.

I have witnessed [she says] more atrocities in London streets than I have seen in the Congo, which remark applies to the rubber country as well as the rest of the State. I travelled through every part of the country, and am convinced that the allegations of maladministration are groundless. Wherever I went I found the natives treated with kindness and consideration, while the improvements in the condition of the land and it's inhabitants are almost incredible.








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