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



Chapter XXXVII : Summary, Retrospect, and Prophecy (pp.472-483)


The rise and progress of the Congo Free State marks a unique page in modern history. The boldness of the State's conception, the apparent hopelessness of its early conditions in a region unspeakably savage and barbarous, its gradual evolution under the magic touch of a master hand; the horrifying vicissitudes of its bloody redemption from the accursed slave-raider, and finally its admission into the society of independent nations, constitute a set of circumstances unparalleled in the history of the world. The span of its life from a wilderness to a self-supporting and prosperous State is about twenty-five years. Its rapid evolution was at first watched with sneers and derision. During the last ten years it has been the object of the hostile vigilance of those whose early regard had been scorn. Young as it is, a considerable literature already exists descriptive of the infant State. This literature, however, is very unsatisfactory, being for the most part bitterly partisan, either perceiving no good point at all in King Leopold's rule, or regarding that rule as a perfect thing in which no improvement is possible. Neither attitude is just. And this may be said not only of the Congo Free State and its irresolute and disappointing African neighbours, but of States whose civilisation is the pride of our own times.
There have been error and crime on the Congo as there have been error and crime on the Thames and the Hudson. Savages left the banks of the Thames nearly eighteen hundred years ago. The white man came and refined their cruelties in a thousand ways now practised by civilisation behind the curtain and the padded door.
The aboriginal black cannibal still occupies the banks of the Congo. But his nature, so recently in its savage state, is manifesting great change. He is on his knees in the mission chapel; the song of the White Fathers and the Sisters of Mercy inspires in him the rude awakening of new emotions. His own voice abandons the war-cry and makes its fervid, untaught plea to the white man's God.
On the Congo, religion is perforce a plain, sincere, and comforting thing. It is taught by a small, earnest band of men and women whom the epithets of the flaccid, arm-chair colonising hero will not disturb. These rugged Christian teachers pursue their lowly, patient work to please God - not Liverpool. On the Congo, the gospel knows nothing of the elaborations of insincerity, sophistry, and cant. It finds the soul of the black man in a patient and a practical way by instructing his body in the habits of honest toil, of cleanliness and decency, and by developing an intelligence to supersede his savage instinct.
The results of only twenty years' guidance in this direction are manifest today. They have placed the Negro in the midst of the uncovered wealth of a vast and fertile country; the waterways teeming with traffic; of a magnificent forest stored with rubber; timber in great variety, ivory, oil, and fruit; of promising fields of coffee, cotton, cocoa, tea, and sugar; deposits of gold, copper, coal and iron. This short era of civilisation has created in the Congo over four hundred commercial houses doing a thriving business with Europe; built railways over mountain routes where only Belgian engineers and Belgian capital had the courage and the skill to venture. In the midst of it all the black man's hands and acquired energy have provided him with new value to himself and to the State. He is at the plough, on the cart and the railway, on the wharf and upon the road and the farm, in the shop and factory, learning the uses of the white man's implements of labour, and imitating his enlightened ways. Industry and order, Christianity, civilisation, and material progress have succeeded tribal wars, cannibalism, and the horrible atrocities of the slave chase. This has been achieved by the brawny men of Belgium in less than twenty years.
The smug men of the study, untravelled in regions wilder than Westminster, St. Albans, or Liverpool, are as incompetent to judge of civilisation in Congoland as are the Manyema of the lack of it on Park Lane, in London. Their beautiful theories of civilising the African Negro with illuminated manuscripts, florid dissertations of the Berlin Act, and freedom of (alcoholic) commerce, constitute a pyramid of fustian with but a single thought starring its apex - Empire.
While the English campaign against the Congo Addministration was confined to nebulous libels, proceeding for the greater part from wrangling missionaries and aggressive traders, it was the policy of that Administration, conscious of its own rectitude, to ignore the attacks made upon it. In light of subsequent events, the wisdom of that course appears open to question. Did not one of England's poets observe that a lie seven times repeated without being challenged acquires the force of truth ? Some of the fiction concocted by enemies of the Congo Free State has been so industriously reiterated by so many different agents of English traders that, collectively, the British Government could no longer refuse to give ear to their vapourings. Whether the British Government did so willingly or unwillingly is another story. What has been the outcome of that Government's acquiescence in the demands of the slanderers of the Congo Free State the world now knows. Mr. Roger Casement was sent to the Free State, where he traversed ground carefully mapped out for him, and interviewed natives specially instructed in their parts by the persons whose agitation had occasioned his mission. The result was precisely what might have been expected, and that without impeachment of Mr. Casement's integrity - an inaccurate and partial report. That report, magnified, distorted, garbled, has afforded material for the enemies of the Congo Free State upon which they have not yet ceased to work. The refutation of all its more important pronouncements will probably not disconcert Mr. Casement's believers in the least, as they are immune to the logic of facts. Nevertheless, the Sovereign of the Congo Free State, in order that the world may not accept as a thing against which no defence can be made the judgment passed upon his rule by the cliques banded together to embarrass or overthrow it, in July 1904, resolved to send a special commission to the Congo to inquire into the atrocities alleged to have been committed.
The Committee of Inquiry appointed by King Leopold consists of the following members : (1) Mr. Janssens, Advocate-General of the Supreme Court of Belgium, president; (2) Baron Nisco, Judge of the Court of Appeal at Boma, and (3) Dr. de Schumacher. M. Janssens, who as Advocate-General holds the second highest judicial office in Belgium, is a Belgian; Baron Nisco is an Italian, and Dr. Schumacher is a Swiss. Assisting these three heads of the mission are MM. de Neyn and Gregoire and Professor Dupont, all of whom are Belgians. These gentlemen constitute a Court of Inquiry, and their instructions are to investigate closely every detail of Congo administration, and to examine on oath every person who may be able to give evidence of a nature valuable to the commission. The testimony of missionaries and traders is now being taken, and the committee will see to it that they obtain the evidence of the heads of British and American, as well as of Belgian, French, German, and Italian missions. The investigations are being held in many parts of the State. The committee is to travel throughout the country into all the districts covered by Mr. Casement in his recent tour of inspection, besides visiting many places Mr. Casement never saw. In brief, the committee is to hold inquiry wherever evidence can be obtained. Where native witnesses give evidence of a nature prejudicial to white men, the committee will see that such witnesses are protected from the possibility of suffering at the hands of officials against whom they may bear witness. The Government of the Congo holds itself responsible for the safety and well-being of such witnesses. On the latter point King Leopold has expressed himself in the strongest possible terms. Inquiries are to be held publicly, open to all. The committee has the right to compel witnesses to appear before it. A general instruction to the committee asks for a report laying bare absolutely the condition of the rule in the Congo today, and enjoins it to devote all its efforts to a full and entire revelation of the truth. The duration of the stay of the Committee of Inquiry in Congoland is limited only by the exigencies of the task. The committee sailed from Southampton, in the Belgian SS. Philippeville, on September 16, 1904, and arrived at Boma early in October.
Such are the constitution, powers, and purpose of the Committee of Inquiry now at work in the Congo Free State. It is almost unnecessary to record that the committee has already been denounced by the enemies of the State on every conceivable ground. "A farcical commission" and "a bogus inquiry" are two of the descriptions which have been applied to it. That indefatigable meddler, Mr. H.R. Fox Bourne, who writes contemptuously of Stanley and his work, objected to Dr. Schumacher's presence on the committee on thr ground that he is the brother of King Leopold's private secretary. On its being pointed out that Dr. Schumacher is nothing of the kind, Mr. Fox Bourne retracts his assertion, and substitutes another equally unfounded. Upon the second statement being questioned, Mr. Fox Bourne withdraws that also, and falls back upon his complaint that the members of the Committee of Inquiry will be paid for their labours. Such contentions are simply fatuous. Does not the Aborigines' Protection Society pay Mr. Fox Bourne for his labours ?
During the few years in which the Belgians have been criticised for their progressive rule in the Congo, the Belgian people have heartily cooperated with their King in his long and arduous work. There has been, however, a small but active section in the Belgian chamber spasmodically opposed to the Congo, and to any other expansion of territory, influence, or market, on the part of Belgium. This set of politicians, acting in suspicious harmony with the foreign enemies of the Congo State, have been exploited by the latter as representing the attitude of the Belgian people. To carry out this deception, certain foreign papers, peculiarly interested in the affairs of Liverpool merchants with African schemes, publish the speeches of this disloyal minority, and suppress the addresses of Baron de Favereau, Minister of Foreign Affairs, Count de Smet de Naeyer, Minister of Finance and Public Works, and other Belgian statesmen. In a masterly arraignment of those members of the Chamber who have been hostile to Belgium in this respect, these gentlemen, by their speeches in Parliament, inspired the organisation, in July 1903, of a federation composed of religious, commercial, industrial, social, and scientific societies throughout Belgium. This large and representative body is known as The Federation for the Defence of Belgian Interests Abroad. Its short address, presented to President Roosevelt in October, 1904, has already been referred to. In a speech made at a meeting of the societies allied to the Federation, General Baron Wahis, President of the Brussels African Club, and Governor-General of the Congo Free State, eloquently contrasted the condition of the Central African tribes twenty years ago with their improved state today. Baron Wahis and Vice-Governor-General Fuchs are men on the spot. Their long experience on the Congo invests their statement with authority. In the address referred to, Baron Wahis narrated the following graphic picture of Congolese conditions two decades ago.

Let us see in what position these peoples were before the formation of the State, and what is their position now.
In the Lower Congo, close to the sea, there was one locality which already possessed some importance, viz. Boma. Before the first expedition of the State landed at Boma there were at that point some commercial houses. For a long period they derived their profit from the sale of slaves; later they obtained their chief profits from the sale of alcohol, and, accessorily, of the products of the soil. The traders carried on a more or less prosperous business according to their strength and courage. They made expeditions into the interior, and frequently burnt native villages for not bringing in at fixed periods the expected quantities of palm nuts and other products. Their staff of labourers was composed of slaves upon whom they inflicted torments for the least infraction of their orders. These punishments had no limit. It is related, and the fact is not open to doubt, that during the time of which I am speaking there were once found in the waters of Boma the corpses of thirty blacks attached to one chain. The chain bore the name of "Olivares", but it was alleged, and probably with good reason, that the perpetrator was not Olivares, that the chain had been stolen from him. The name of the person really guilty of this horrible crime was mentioned, and it was represented as the consequence of a mutiny by the staff of a factory. That was the kind of administration to which the blacks were subjected, under the eyes of Europe it may be said, seeing that ships of war had easy access to Boma.
Higher up, in the present district of the Cataracts, the population was in part subject to the Negro king of San Salvador. Read the book of Mr. Bentley, an educated English missionary, who has been in Africa thirty years, and who saw the administration under which the natives lived when he arrived there. He expresses his admiration for the enormous progress which has been made, so far as the protection of the blacks goes, since they came under the government of the Congo State. Why are not the statements of this sterling man, so eminently competent in all questions relating to the protection of the blacks, quoted ? ...
But whatever may be said to the contrary, the system adopted by the Government of the Independent State is more equitable than any other system whatever, and imposes upon the natives a minimum of taxes. Each man's tribute is very small. In certain regions where the rubber is abundant, he can gather in one day the tax that is required of him for a month. Besides the work thus performed by the native being remunerated, their households find themselves in possession of some supplementary resources. The desire to add to their well-being increases each day.
Let us hope that the policy established by the Congo State in this respect will not be changed. The strong black races which cover many parts of its territory will acquire the habit of regular work, in place of their primitive idleness. There will result from this what has resulted in countries long civilised. The countries in which people know how to work are strong, and in the van of progress. Such a future seems to me reserved for the Congo State if it perseveres in its present course.


The story of the Congo Free State offers great opportunity for speculation and for prophecy. Taking a broad view of the opinion prevalent in Europe and the United States, the conclusion that Great Britain seeks to acquire important territory in Central Africa is inevitable. This theory of the anti-Congo campaign is strenuously denied by all unofficial persons engaged in that campaign. And yet there are unmistakable signs that of the many theories so industriously exploited, British acquisition of the keystone of African territorial possession seems to be most in line with the history of British methods of expansion. The Free State is one-third the size of the United States. It lies squarely across the heart of Africa, with an outlet to the sea on the West Coast which brings it many miles and many days nearer European markets. It separates the British African Empire, - the Soudan and the Nile country adjoining the Free State on the north, from the Cape and the Boer war territorial acquisitions on the south. It is as if the Louisiana Purchase, owned by a small country, say Portugal, divided the United States. One might dwell long and interestingly upon the political possibilities of such a rich country and its great waterways separating the energies of the east and the west in our country's social, political, and strategic solidarity. The British and the Germans appreciate the vast possibilities of the great African Continent. While the former expands its territory by costly wars, the latter, by adapting its methods to suit the native populations, encompasses the African market. While the former persists in imposing its ancient, crude, and ineffectual methods of colonial development, the latter, more modern, more direct, is gaining trade and influence which might belong to intelligent British rule. The palsied arm and the obsolete method of regeneration, prevalent in the territories devastated by the Boer war, illustrate the incompetency of the present generation of British colonisers. There failures are multiplying. It is the old story of worship of the Past, confusion in the Present, misconception of the Future.
The growth of the Congo Free State has from the first been skillfully directed by clever men of thought and action. Now that the transformation is complete, and what but three short decades ago was the very heart of savagery has become a valuable commercial and political asset, the forcible ejectment from the African Continent of the authors of all this good is openly discussed ! Such is the reward which is proposed should be meted out to the gallant, self-sacrificing little nation which has replaced the horrors of barbarism by the blessings of civilisation, and incidentally discovered vast material wealth. After disposing of the Belgian possession, that international pigmy, Portugal, occupying Delagoa Bay to the obvious chagrin of Britain, will be served with the long-expected writ of ejectment. These little fellows in Africa will have but one choice of leaving - by the door or by the window. Will the world tolerate such iniquity ? - an iniquity of the baser sort, veiled with specious pretence. Much depends upon the attitude of the American people - youngest of the great nations, herself too recently emerged from the trials and tribulations which beset every newly created State not to discriminate between greed and hypocritical pretence on the one hand and conscientious well-doing on the other.








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