Title: "The Congo State and the Domaine Privé"

Journal: Journal of the Royal African Society

Date: April 1902

Places: Domaine Privé; Katanga River; Lake Leopold; Lake Tumba; Lomami River; Lualaba River; Urua River


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The Congo State and the Domaine Privé

In view of the controversy concerning the trade exploitation of the Congo Free State which has in recent times assumed such widespread proportions and which has attracted the attention of statesmen, diplomatists and Chambers of Commerce throughout the civilised world-we publish a map of the territory of the Congo Free State embracing an area in rough numbers of one million square miles. In this map the Domaine Privé occupies the shaded portion. As will be seen it covers nearly the entire territory of the Congo State, the Lower Congo (from the mouth of the River to Leopoldsville) and an insignificant portion of the Upper Congo being alone open to free competitive trade. The Domaine Privé is now divided into four parts.

Part I is the Domaine Privé stricto sensu where the State has the sole monopoly of the exploitation of the products of the soil. It comprises the Basins of the M'Bomu, Welle, Mongalla, Itimbri, Aruwimi, Loposi and Maringa, Lakes Leopold II. and Tumba and the Lukenie.

Part II is nominally open to free trade. It consists of the Lower Congo and the portions left unshaded on the map. [note 1]

Part III includes the Basins of the Congo, Lualaba, Upper Lomami, Urua and Katanga. The whole of this region has remained closed to free trade since 1892. Last year, however, arrangements were made between the State and the Thys Trust to work a portion of it on a basis of two-thirds profits to the State and one-third to the Thys Trust.

Part IV The Kasai Basin and its affluents.

This vast monopoly is partly worked by the State itself, partly by financiers in the confidence of the State who have formed "Companies" in which the State retains a half interest -- and by the "Thys" group of Companies which succeeded in wresting a large territory from the State as the result of a long and bitter controversy.

Until last year the Kassai region was free and several firms competed therein. Now they have amalgamated and formed a Trust in which the Congo State owns a half interest, and the Kassai region may consequently be considered as forming part of the Domaine Privé.

One of the main principles of the Berlin Act was the exclusion of monopoly and privilege from the Congo Basin, and one of the solemn promises made by the Sovereign of the Congo State at the time of the Conference was -- as Sir Charles Dilke has tersely put it -- "that never would the Congo State directly or indirectly itself trade within its own dominions." That principle and that promise have clearly been violated by the Congo State-monopoly and privilege have been set up in the Congo Basin. The Congo State trades "directly," and "indirectly" it is the largest trader within its dominions. Moreover the Congo State has interpreted Article V of the Berlin Act which declares that "No power which exercises or shall exercise sovereign rights in the above-named regions shall be allowed to grant therein a monopoly or favour of any kind in matters of trade" by officially declaring a monopoly of the products of the soil (that is to say over the articles which in West and South-West Africa constitute trade) -- either for itself exclusively or for certain Corporations in which it not only retains a preponderating financial interest but whose management it controls (appointing and dismissing Directors, &c.) and whose operations it assists by its Force Publique.

It is also urged that the State has substituted for the abuses practised by the Slaveholders abuses at least as flagrant in the form of forced labour coupled with the compulsory collection of forest produce, principally rubber, for the use of the State, and an extensive system of enforced military service, and it is asserted that the system thus introduced is contrary not only to the spirit but the letter of the Berlin Act, and that the safeguards embodied therein for the effective protection of native populations have been abrogated.

Having regard to the gravity and extent of the interests involved it is contended that the circumstances of the case demand careful and authoritative investigation with a view to initiate a new conference of the Signatory Powers to the Berlin Act to reaffirm the principles of the Berlin Act and to insist upon those principles being carried out.



1. It formerly included the Kassai Basin (see Part IV). [back]