Title: The Congo Situation Today

Publisher: Congo Reform Association

Place of Publication: Boston

Date: February 1908

Places: Congo Free State; Leopoldville (Congo); Stanley Pool


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The Congo Situation Today

February, 1908

The new year brings the Congo Situation this much nearer a solution -- that the public has at last been forced to recognize the futility of depending upon Leopold of his own free will to cede the Congo territory to Belgium on terms involving genuine reforms.

The Delay Through the Past Year.

In the first months of 1907, international intervention in the Congo issue appeared immediately imminent. Our Senate had unanimously adopted a Resolution authorizing the President to co-operate with the other powers in measures designed to relieve the sufferings of the Congo natives. Our Administration had twice communicated to the British Government its desire to aid in the amelioration of conditions in the Free State. The exposé of Leopold's paid lobby in the United States had startled the world into a realization of the methods he has been employing to insure the perpetuation of his rubber-getting system in the Congo. The British Government had on several occasions implied an intention of taking some decisive step very soon. But at that moment something occurred which had often occurred before in the devious development of the Congo Situation. Leopold made a move which in outward appearance seemed a pledge that he would forthwith accede to the demands of the powers for a thorough-going reform of Congo conditions. He had the project of Belgian annexation of the Congo brought up again before the Belgian Parliament. The British Foreign Minister thereupon announced that action by his Government would be delayed till the result of the proposed negotiations between Belgium and the Congo State became clear. Our Administration took a similar position. For the international action which seemed a certainty, a tedious delay, which has now dragged itself over an entire year, was thus substituted.

Annexation Proposals Prove Worthless.

Now at last, however, both the terms of the Colonial Law, drafted by a Belgian Parliamentary Committee to apply to the Congo if annexed, and the provisions of the Treaty of Transfer, drafted by special commissioners, are known to the public, and the utter inadequacy of both instruments to secure any deep-reaching change in conditions in the Free State is manifest. Neither the Colonial Law nor the Treaty stipulates for a restoration of the land and its produce to the Congo natives. Neither stipulates for the abolition or radical reduction of the extortionate labor tax, the payment of which at present, as Leopold's own Commission has admitted, amounts to incessant slavery. Neither stipulates for the abolition of the present commercial monopolies and the establishment of free trade as provided for in the Berlin Act. The proposed Treaty and Colonial Law, moreover, are impossible not only because of their omissions. They positively provide that the practical control of Congo affairs, legislative and executive, shall be left with the King. The Colonial Minister is to be responsible to the King. The members of the Colonial Council are to be appointed by him. Worst of all, the regulation of the budget -- that is, the determination of the sources of income and purposes of expenditure -- is expressly left with the King. This last provision means that the astounding financial manipulations, exposed once and for all in 1906 by Prof. Cattier of the University of Brussels, could continue indefinitely. It is indicative of the utter inadequacy of an unsupervised transfer of the Congo to Belgium that the debate in the Belgian Parliament has waged not about the fundamental questions mentioned above, but merely about the purely local issue of whether Leopold or the Belgian Parliament shall control the finances of a special section of the Congo called the Domain of the Crown.

Better Elements in Belgium Helpless.

From a priori consideration alone, it could have been predicted that any hope of a genuine annexation of the Congo to Belgium was bound to be disappointed. There are in the Belgian Parliament and public, single individuals and groups of individuals who desire to see thorough reforms in the Congo, and who have urged their views to the extent of their ability. But these elements of the public and Parliament are a small minority, and a helpless minority. A dominant influence is exercised by the King and his financial associates. Leopold II, by a process vividly described by Dr. Robert E. Park in Everybody's Magazine for December, 1906, has succeeded in making himself the general manager of Belgium. He has used his prerogatives as King to advance his financial fortunes, and has in turn made his great wealth react to practically expand his powers as King. Through his press bureau he has controlled the views of the great inert mass of the Belgian public. He is determined to perpetuate the existing regime of enormous profits in the Congo, and his beneficiaries are, of course, of the same mind. There are millions invested in the present "situation" in the Congo. These "vested interests" include many of the most influential citizens and officials of Belgium. The actual state of affairs was vividly expressed recently by M. Janson, of the Chamber of Deputies, who said that all the talk about annexing the Congo is nonsense, since Belgium has for a long time been annexed to the Congo. Under these circumstances to alter conditions in the Free State and institute reforms is a practical impossibility, -- unless some extraordinary force be brought to bear from without.

International Intervention Necessary.

International intervention is the outside force which must be depended upon. There is no longer any rational ground for believing that the pending negotiations in Belgium will terminate in any satisfactory positive result. The Liberal members of the Belgian Chamber of Deputies have unanimously voted in caucus to oppose the Treaty, because it does not provide for a cession of the Congo to Belgium in full sovereignty. The Treaty has been referred to the Committee in charge of the Colonial Law. Latest reports from Brussels are to the effect that no further action of importance can take place in Belgium before the end of the current year, particularly in view of the Parliamentary adjournment for elections in April. Premier de Troos, of the Belgian Ministry, has been replaced by M. Schollaert, whose appointment has been said to signify that Leopold is willing to make certain concessions as to the terms of annexation. But these concessions can only be on the point of the control of the Crown Domain, for it is on that point only that the dominant elements in the Belgian Parliament demand concessions. Even should these concessions be made, the proposed terms of annexation would still leave the fundamental evils in the Congo system untouched. Such annexation would only render these evils harder to correct, for it would shelter them behind a nominal Belgian administration, whereas now Leopold, who by his violation of the Acts of Berlin and Brussels has made himself an international outlaw, can be held directly accountable. Since it is by no means certain that the Belgian Parliament will vote to annex the Congo, and since any annexation which may be voted is certain to fall short of the requirements of the powers, there is no longer any sound reason why international intervention should be delayed.

The Position of the United States.

On the 8th of last October the Congo Reform Association voted to urge the Administration to press for immediate international intervention. The kindred Association in England adopted on the 21st ult., resolutions calling on the British Government to take immediate and decisive action in the case, and in these resolutions particular reference was made to co-operation between the United States and Great Britain. The Association in this country does not, in its representations to the Administration, specifically urge co-operation with Great Britain. This may be the most expedient way for the United States to exert its influence to end the Congo abuses; it is a question for the Administration to decide. The Association urges only that the Administration at once do everything possible to secure international adjudication of the Congo issue, and, in case international action cannot be brought about, which is improbable, to take steps independently to end Congo misrule Though the United States was not a formal signatory of the Act of Berlin, it was a full signatory of the Act of Brussels in 1890, which was a renewal and modification of the Act of Berlin, and it is recognized that under the Brussels Act the United States has the right not only to participate in, but if need be to initiate international intervention in the Congo issue. The Congo Reform Association does not stop short of calling upon the Administration to take the lead in ending Congo misrule, rather than passively to sanction further long-drawn-out and hopeless delay. Transcending all considerations of formal international law in the case are the fundamental principles of humanity which are the very basis of international law. If other powers will not take the first step, in the name of outraged humanity the United States should.

Conditions in Congo Unimproved.

Conditions in the Free State remain essentially as deplorable as they were in 1905, when the damning Report of the Commission of Enquiry was published by Leopold under British pressure. In the words of Prof. Cattier, who is the recognized foremost authority on Congo administration, this Report, "has transformed, as if by a touch of a magic wand, the nature of the Congo Question and the pivotal point of the discussion to which it has given rise. For a heated controversy as to the existence of abuses, it has substituted a calmer consideration of the necessary remedies." The Report made it clear that the system of administration in the Congo was fundamentally at fault, being not a system of government but a system of commercial exploitation. Since 1905 no evidence has been forthcoming to show that this basic system has been altered. All the evidence, in fact, is to the contrary. A resolution adopted on the 19th of September by the Protestant Congo Missionaries may be taken as typifying and summarising the testimony as to the actual conditions existing there today. This body of Protestant Missionaries is the same one which in March, 1904, petitioned the Congo Government to institute reforms. That petition was not even answered. At the next conference, in January, 1906, an Appeal to Civilization was issued, in the course of which these words were used: "We have no object in view but that of the interests of humanity, and the desire that the natives shall not be caused to disappear from off the earth. And so we would utter again our solemn protest against the terrible state of affairs still existing in the Congo State, and we appeal in the name of justice, liberty and humanity to those who value these blessings, to help in every lawful way to secure them for all the Congo peoples. Trusting in Almighty God, we send forth this our protest and appeal." The fact that still another appeal should be made this Fall proves that in the judgment of these missionaries, who come from widely separated parts of the State, conditions are still essentially unimproved. This Missionary conference is composed of delegates from all except one of the Protestant Missions in the Free State. The Resolution adopted on September 19, 1907, is as follows:


"We, as individual missionaries of the various Protestant Missionary Societies of several nationalities, working in Congoland, now assembled in Conference at Leopoldville, Stanley Pool, Sept. 19th, 1907, while giving credit to the Authorities for some slight improvement in the condition of the people, in a few favored parts of the Congo, unanimously express our deep regret that up to the present no adequate measures have been enforced to relieve the situation as a whole, the condition of the natives of the Congo Independent State being still unutterably deplorable notwithstanding boasted reforms.

"We are profoundly thankful for all the efforts that have been put forth in Europe and America for the amelioration of the unhappy state of these oppressed and despairing peoples.

"We would earnestly urge all lovers of liberty and humanity to co-operate and use every legitimate means to bring about an improved condition of affairs. We trust that soon there may be a complete deliverance from a system which robs the native of the elementary rights of humanity, exposes him to unspeakable cruelties and condemns him to almost ceaseless toil, for the enrichment of others, amounting to practical slavery.

"We therefore humbly pray that Almighty God will bless all efforts made on behalf of the Congo millions.

"Signed on behalf of the missionaries, by the Chairman and Secretaries of the Conference.

"H. S. Camman, Congo Bololo Mission.
"T. Hope Morgan, Congo Bololo Mission.
"Kenred Smith, Baptist Missionary Society."

What Can You Do?

What course the United States shall follow is a question which now falls within the jurisdiction of the Department of State. The thing you can do which will help most is at once to write a personal letter to Secretary of State Elihu Root, urging him to do everything possible to secure immediate international intervention in the Congo issue. Personal letters count for vastly more than petitions from organizations, valuable as the latter are, for each letter must be noted and answered, and the cumulative effect as they come in one after another by the hundreds and thousands is tremendous. Personal letters are evidences of popular feeling which cannot be disregarded. If a large enough number of citizens express themselves as desiring action in some particular situation, the Administration must act. Therefore write personal letters at once to Secretary Root. In addition write personal letters to your Senators and Congressmen, to let them know that their constituents have a lively interest in the Congo question and are determined to see the abuses abolished.

Besides writing these letters, join the Congo Reform Association, either by paying the fee of $1.00 to a representative of the Association at any public meeting on the Congo situation you may attend, or by remitting it direct to the central office, 723 Tremont Temple, Boston, Massachusetts. Make checks payable to John Carr, Treasurer. Membership in the Association involves no definite obligation, being understood to be a token of sympathy with the Association's efforts. It entitles to all the literature of the Association, including new pamphlets as they are printed. To become a member of the Association is your best way of keeping in touch with the Congo Reform movement. The Association's need for funds is immediate and urgent, and subscriptions are earnestly solicited.

Send a few cents in stamps for leaflets, or six cents for any of the following pamphlets:

"Evidence in the Congo Case." Statement in reply to Professor Starr's articles in the Chicago Tribune.
"Duty of the U. S. Government."
"The Treatment of Women and Children in the Congo State."
"The Congo News Letter." Issued periodically. Deals with most recent developments.
Mark Twain's "King Leopold's Soliloquy," $0.25.
E. D. Morel's "Red Rubber," $1.25.

Congo Reform Association
723 Tremont Temple
Boston, Mass