Congo Free State

The Belgo-Arab War in the Eastern Congo, 1892-1894

also referred to as Pacification of the Eastern Congo

A.) The Situation Preceding the Fight

The BERLIN CONFERENCE of 1885 recignized the CONGO FREE STATE under its sovereign KING LEOPOLD II. OF BELGIUM, and bilateral international agreements were signed in which the Congo Basin was defined as the sphere of interest of the Congo Free State. At the Berlin Conference of 1885, and again at the BRUSSELS CONFERENCE of 1885, the European nations engaged in colonial policy in Africa promised to do everything within their power to suppress the slave trade.
Yet in the eastern Congo, a vvid slave trade was going on, in which Arabs as well as Africans allied with them were involved; the Lualaba (Upper Congo), the Lomami and other rivers provided the main arteries for that traffic. The Arab influence is indicated in a Muslim community centered on Kassongo and in the fact that SWAHILI was used as lingua franca in the area to some extent.
In 1891, the establishment of Congo Free State stations in Arabs' sphee of interest, as well as the State attempt to collect a tax on ivory trade triggered a struggle which began with the assassination of station chief Hodister on March 15th 1892.

B.) The Cource of Events

The Congo Free State Force Publique was composed of mercenaries, the first generation of whom had been recruited abroad - in Sierra Leone, on the Gold Coast, in Zanzibar etc., later to be filled up with soldiers recruited in the Congo itself. The commanders were almost exclusively Belgian officers who had volunteered for the Congo.
Lt. Francis Dhanis had been placed in charge of the Congo operations. In April and May 1892 he defeated a force commanded by GONGO LUTETE, an ex-slave who had become leader of a band of BATETELAS, native from Manyema country, who themselves were engaged in slave raiding. After his surrender, Gongo Lutete and his force fought, as allies, alongside the Belgians.
The Arab Sefu, son of Tippu Tip, had seized KASSONGO station. On November Sefu and his ally Munie Moharra, chief of the MANYEMA, with a force of 16,000, were defeated by the State force (Captain Michaux and Gongo Lutete) in the BATTLE AT CHIGE. The State force then went on the offensive; a number of tribes submitted to them. On Dec. 30th the State force won a second battle.On Jan. 9th Munie Moharra was killed in a skirmish. On March 4th Sefu suffered a costly defeat on the banks of the Lualaba. On April 22nd, Lt. Dhanis took Kassongo, the Arabs' stronghold.
Rashid, an Arab employed by the Congo Free State at the governor of STANLEY FALLS, himself rebelled upon hearing of the fall of Kassongo (he was a relative of Sefu). Rashid attacked the station at Stanley Falls, in vain; when reinforcements arrived, in a struggle lasting 5 days, great losses were inflicted on his side and he retreated. When Lt. Dhanis received reinforcements in June 1893, Sefu fled to German territory.
While some believed the conflict to be over, a new factor emerged in the person of RUMELIZA, a chief from Ujiji on Lake Tanganyika. In October a battle was fought, which resulted in heavy losses on the side of Rumeliza. Among the casualties was Sefu, who had returned from German territory. When the state troops took the offensive in December, Rashid was to join Rumeliza. On January 9th 1894, Rumeliza's strongly fortified boma was taken and the State forces achieved a decisive victory.

C.) Legacy

The Arab hold on the Eastern Congo was definitively broken; a chain of State stations was established, the Eastern Congo integrated into the Congo Free State. The country was not yet at oeace, as two Batetela uprisings would follow.

D.) Character of the Fight

The 'Arab' side in the war was not as well organized as the state side; Sefu, Rumeliza, Rashid, Munie Moharra and, before his defection, Gongo Lutete appear as rather independently acting allies.
They inflict some casualties on the Public Force, and they are able to hold on to some fortified positions for some time. Despite the superiority in numbers of the 'Arab' side, these partial successes were insufficient to counterbalance the superior equipment and better discipline of the comparatively small Public Force.

Henry Wellington Wack, Belgian Campaigns against the Arabs, in : H.Q. Wack, The Story of the Congo Free State, N.Y. 1905 pp. 177-196

This page is part of World History at KMLA
First posted in 2001, last revised on November 17th 2004

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