Title: The Latest Phase of the Congo Question

Publisher: The Sun Book and Job Printing Office

Place of Publication: Baltimore

Date: 1906

Place: Congo River


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The Latest Phase of the Congo Question

Important Reforms Decreed and Put into Operation.

The Congo question has entered upon a new phase. The conditions prevailing in the Free State have been investigated by a commission whose honesty and integrity have been acknowledged even by the bitterest enemies of the Congo Government.

The opinion of the Commissioners was:

1. That the charges against the Congo Administration had been greatly exaggerated.

2. That in certain instances the Congo Government had been guilty of negligence, but that, taking it all in all, the administration compared favorably with the government of the colonies of other powers in Africa.

3. That a number of administrative reforms should be put in operation as soon as possible -- especially that the labor-tax should be more strictly supervised and equitably levied and that the use of "capitas" (armed native overseers) should be prohibited to concessionary companies. These were the two defects in' the Congo Administration which had given rise to most of the criticisms against the Government.

On the 3rd of June, 1906, King Leopold issued twenty-five Decrees carrying out the recommendations of the Commission of Inquiry.

These Decrees cover all the points on which the Administration has been criticized. They provide, among other things, for the extension of the judicial system, for additional grants of land to natives; above all they regulate the labor-tax and abolish the use of capitas or armed native sentries.

It is a large undertaking to put these reforms into operation throughout the whole territory of the Congo, which occupies an area about one-third the size of the United States. Nevertheless the work has been pushed forward rapidly. Instructions in regard to disarming the native sentries were issued by the Vice Governor-General on August 3rd. The instructions in regard to the labor-tax appeared under date of September 8th. Here after the State cannot compel the natives to work for any commercial company. "Henceforth," say the instructions, "the companies shall have recourse exclusively to voluntary and paid labor for the working of their property or concessions."

There can be no doubt that the reforms will be carried out thoroughly and in good faith. In spite of the calumnies put about by the King's enemies, no one can point to a single concrete instance where King Leopold has failed to carry out a promise. Moreover it is clearly to the commercial and political, as well as humanitarian, interests of the King and his Administration to effect reforms which will make the Government run smoother, and which will make the natives happy and industrious rather than discontented and rebellious.

The reforms are of a nature to satisfy the native, to satisfy the Government, and, in fact, to satisfy everybody except the professional reformers and the well-meaning but misguided members of religious and philanthropic societies who blindly follow these professional guides without examining the matter" for themselves.

The professional reformers who continue their campaign against the Congo are fighting a dead issue. The reforms they asked for have been granted. If they really want reforms they now have them. If they want something more they are not acting in good faith, but are seeking an excuse to destroy the State like the wolf in the fable who complained that the lamb had muddied his drinking-pool.

The Accusations Against the Congo.

The accusations against the Congo are chiefly based upon four kinds of evidence:

1. Stories, partly true and partly false, of a few isolated incidents which occurred many years ago during the period when all the energies of King Leopold's Government were engaged in putting down the Arab slave-raids, and in the days when the State was just beginning to set its hand to the task of administering this immense territory in Darkest Africa.

2. Endless exaggerations and multiplications of those stories, reminding one of Falstaff's eleven men in buckram suits grown out of two.

3. Fanciful stories told by natives and accepted by missionaries as gospel truth, without the slightest attempt at verification.

4. Flat libels.

As an example of old stories, galvanized and still doing duty as current events may be cited some statements made by the Secretary of the Boston Congo Reform Association in a magazine just published (December, 1906). He relates as though it were the newest piece of gossip an incident described by Mr. Sjoblom. That incident was first related by Mr. Sjoblom nine years ago, but it is now served up as something fresh and no date given to it. It may or' may not be a true story, but its resurrection suggests that there is a scarcity of fresh "atrocities" in stock.

In the same article the Secretary of the Congo Reform Association of Boston affirms that "cannibalism exists in spite of the dictum of the Inquiry Commission," and then proceeds to prove the prevalence of cannibalism in the present year of grace by narrating without date an incident that occurred more than ten years ago.

False stories are often accepted by simple-minded and zealous clergymen and handed out again with their endorsement and with the added authority of their names and priestly office. As an example may be cited the story circulated extensively this summer on the authority of the Rev. Dr. R. H. Nassau. In June, 1906, a New York paper published the story of an alleged "atrocity." The article appeared over the signature of the Rev. Dr. Nassan who seemed to relate the incident as something within his personal knowledge. The paper, furthermore, stated that Dr. Nassau had lived 45 years in the Congo Free State. The Consul-General of the Congo State investigated the case, and finally obtained from Dr. Nassau a written acknowledgment that he had never been in the Congo Free State, that he had no personal knowledge of the incident related so vividly, that it was simply a story he had read in a book-a book that had been condemned as a libel more than two years ago by an English Court.

The recklessness of certain missionaries in making accusations is also shown in the case of the Rev. Mr. Stannard, an English missionary, who was in June of this year found guilty of libel against an officer in the Congo Service.

One of the most daring attempts to damage the Congo Free State by trumped-up charges was made by Guy Burrows with his book "The Curse of Central Africa." The book related horrors which made a deep impression. It was widely used as a campaign document against the Congo and stories from it are found in circulation to this day in spite of the fact that in 1904 the book was condemned as a libel by the Court of King's Bench in London. It was, moreover, shown at the trial that an effort had been made to coerce the Congo Government into buying the manuscript before publication, but the Government refused to yield to what they considered an attempt to "blackmail."

The Large Majority of Missionaries in the Congo in Favor of the Government.

The enemies of the Congo claim that their views are backed by the great body of missionaries in the Congo. This claim is absolutely false.

There are over 500 missionaries out there, Protestant and Catholic. Out of this number 52 have signed an "Appeal" against the Administration-in other words, about one missionary in ten is against the Government.

Of these 52 signers sixteen are wives of missionaries and are supposed to echo the opinions of their husbands. Thirty-five of the signers have mission stati0l1s in the district near the coast and, consequently, do not speak with any authority in passing judgment on events which- were alleged to have happened in the interior-apparently they relied on stories told them by others. One of the signers has his missionary station situated in Portuguese Africa, and another signer, Rev. Mr. Hensey, arrived in the Congo for the first time on December 23, 1905 and nineteen days later signed the appeal condemning the administration of a country one-third the size of the United States.

The opinion of 52 missionaries, no matter how hastily formed, should be treated with proper consideration, but the opinion of the remaining 450 is evidently of much more weight, and in the documents collected in this pamphlet will be found extracts from letters which go to show that the large majority of Congo missionaries uphold King Leopold's rule in Africa and praise him for the good work he has accomplished.

Among other documents will be found a letter from the principals of all the Catholic Orders in the Congo, expressing the .sentiments of their 384 missionaries in repelling the attacks which have been directed against the Government.

There will also be found at the end of this pamphlet expressions of opinion from the British Baptist Missionary . Society; Dr. Samuel P. Verner, a Presbyterian; Rev. W. Millman, of the Baptist Missionary Society; Rev. Mr. Clarke, and Rev. William George, English missionaries; Monsignor Van Ronsle, Apostolic Vicar in the Congo Free State; Monsignor Roelens, Apostolic Vicar of the Upper Congo; Monsignor Augouard, Father Maguire, Father Colle, Father Beyen of the Order of Premontre, and other missionaries who have had long experience in the Congo. It is true that most of these witnesses for the Congo are Catholics, but it must be remembered that the large majority of missionaries out there are of that church. No Christian, of whatever creed he be, can, for a moment, think that this noble army of nearly 400 Catholic missionaries who are laying down their lives for the salvation of Africa, would condone "atrocities" or uphold and defend a corrupt administration.

Sentiment in Belgium Supports the King's Policy.

The enemies of the Congo, ignoring the opinions of some 400 missionaries who approve the Government, brazenly attempt to pass off the views of 52 as the unanimous missionary sentiment in the Congo. In the same way they try to palm off the opinions of a few socialists and malcontents as the sentiment of the Belgian Parliament and of the Belgian people. The bluff may go with some people (particularly when they label a "Christian-Democrat" as "Catholic and Conservative" or disguise a socialist as a "Liberal"), but anyone who is at all familiar with Belgium is aware that Belgian public opinion upholds and approves King Leopold's administration of the Congo. Go where you will in Belgium and you will find that the great majority of the Belgian people, from the most distinguished statesmen down to the small shop-keeper stand solidly by the King in his colonial enterprise and speak with both admiration and gratitude of the great work he has accomplished for Belgium and for civilization in the Congo.

In the succeeding pages will be found extracts giving the sentiments of such distinguished members of the Belgian Parliament as Count de Smet de Naeyer, Monsieur Woeste, Senator Wiener, and Monsieur Henry Carton de Wiart.

Profits Do Not Go Into King's Pockets.

Some of the "proofs" against the Congo are so ridiculous that they can hardly be considered seriously. For example the Secretary of the Boston Congo Reform Association in a recent publication seriously asserts that as the exports from the Congo exceed the imports by some $6,000,000 a year, it follows that King Leopold, "according to his own figures is looting the country to the extent of about six million dollars a year." It sounds rather like an argument from "Alice in Wonderland." One could as well say that because the exports of India exceed the imports by $100,000,000 a year, England is looting India to the extent of $1OO,OOO,000, or that she is robbing the Transvaal of fifteen million dollars annually and the Malay States of a like amount. The professional reformers of the Congo fear that somebody is making money out of Central Africa besides themselves -- hence they call it "loot" and say it goes into the King's pocket. As usual, they are wrong on both points. There is no "loot" in the matter and the revenues from the State do not go into the King's pocket. There is no mystery about the Congo finances. The revenue from concessions goes to the stockholders of the companies. The State receives in proportion to the number of shares it holds. This money figures in the public budget and is used for the expenses of the Government. Profits from lands managed by the State are also put into the public budget of the State and likewise go into the treasury of the State. No public account is made of the revenue from the Crown Lands, but the money does not go into the King's pockets. It might reasonably be expected that the revenue from the Crown Lands should go to the Crown, but the King has voluntarily renounced personal participation in this revenue and has with great generosity turned the whole amount of income from the Crown Lands into a fund for public improvements in the Congo and in Belgium.

This self-denial on the part of the King does not prevent, his enemies from making out fanciful balance-sheets for him and crediting his imaginary account with fabulous amounts. A recent anti-Congo writer goes so far as to say that the King makes fourteen million dollars a year out of the Congo which looks like the statement of a frenzied financier as the whole annual output from the Congo is only about $10,000,000.

King Leopold gave millions of francs out of his own pocket to support the Congo in its early days. It was his munificence that made the existence of the State possible. It was his initiative and generosity that opened up the country and enabled the missionaries to carry the Cross to the heart of Africa. He has watched over the Congo and guarded it and has prepared it as a rich legacy for Belgium. The Congo is the work of King Leopold's hands and, as His Majesty recently said, "There can be no more legitimate and respectable right than the right of the author to his own work,-the fruit of his labor.

"The Powers assisted at the birth of the new State with benevolence, but not a single one of them was asked to participate in my efforts; not one of them therefore possesses a right of intervention in the Congo, which nothing could justify My rights in the Congo are absolute; they are the results of my labor and expense."

With this clear announcement of the international rights of the Congo Free State should be compared the opinion of the Belgian Minister for Foreign Affairs, Baron de Favereau:

"It would be contrary to all principles of international law that a Government should interfere in the internal administration of a sovereign State."

Also with Mr. Root's equally explicit opinion:

"The Congo State absolutely denies any right on their (i. e., the Powers) part to intervene in its affairs, and none of the other signatory Powers appear to controvert that denial. However this may be, it is certain that the United States has no treaty right of intervention. We could not rightfully summon or participate in any international conference looking to intervention, adjudication or enforcement of a general accord by other African Powers against the Congo State."

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