Title: "The Congo Controversy"

Journal: New York Times

Place of Publication: New York

Date: September 13, 1903

Place: Congo Free State


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The Congo Controversy.

The Belgian Government undoubtedly regards the persistent attacks upon the administration of the Congo Free State as calling for defense. What we must assume to be an official attempt to meet some of these charges is contained in a. book of some 200 pages, printed at Brussels. It is called "The Truth About the Civilization in Congo1and," and sets forth with evident care and abundant elaboration the history of the efforts that have been made, under the direction of the Sovereign King, Leopold II., to secure humane and civilizing treatment of the native population, the establishment of courts and the administration of justice, the extirpation of slavery and the Arabian slave trade, the abolition of barbarous native customs, the regulation of the alcoholic liquor traffic, the establishment of the "force publique," or national army, the improvement of the material and moral conditions of the people, and the organization of the Government to carry out the purposes declared in the establishment of the Congo Free State.

It does not appear to be disputed by temperate critics of the conditions described as evil that are now and for some years have been complained of as having flourished in the Congo, that the people of that part of Africa are in many respects better off than they were when Leopold II. became their sovereign, with the approval of the leading Powers. There is general agreement of testimony to the fact that the Arabian slave traders have been driven from the country, and for that reason there has been a cessation of much brutal waste of life. With this dreadful incubus lifted from the land, the natives undoubtedly cheerfully joined the army maintained in part by their liberators to prevent any attempt to revive the hated slave traffic, and met the Congo officials in a spirit of confidence. The courts have to a limited extent strengthened the inclination of the natives to regard the crown officers as their friends. There Is not much doubt that the "poison test" bas been discouraged within the jurisdiction of the State agents, that cannibalism bas been prevented in the settlements under Belgian supervision, and that the condition of the people must be said to have undergone a vast change for the better as a result of the struggle under Leopold II. to overcome the dreadful customs and primitive barbarity that afflicted the country when it passed from African to Belgian control.

But what we accept as an official statement regarding the success of Belgian control in the Congo Free State disappoints us when we seek in it reply to the accusations contained in the pamphlet of Mr. Morel on "The Congo Stave State." There is not a word in the Belgian defense to explain or discredit the charge that the "Domaine Prive," which is practically all of the Congo, has been turned over to the Katanga. Company, the Mongalla Company, the Lopori-Maringa Company, the Kasal Company, and several other. organizations that are called "trusts" by their critics, and that the Government of the Congo Free State is a majority stockholder in each of these companies to exploit concessions. According to such evidence as has been secured by Mr. Morel, the profits of these companies have been enormous. But to get them, in a country without currency, where all the land and. its products are claimed by the crown, and where the taxes are collectible and must be collected "in kind" out of the people, the holders of the concessions, straining every nerve to gratify the royal and merchant shareholders, have appeared to lose sight of the ideals set up in the earlier proclamations of the Sovereign King, and with the help of the native army have subjected the inhabitants, just relieved of fear of the Arabian slave trader, to a new slavery enforced with the sanction of the Government.

These are complaints susceptible of explanation. Their gravity must speedily lead to a denunciation of the abuses they disclose, if they exist, and a remedy at the hands of the Government as soon as may be. We have acknowledged that we believe it possible that French, English, and German rivalry for the trade or the Congo has inspired some of the hostility recently displayed toward Leopold II., but there is still the presumption that we cannot avoid entertaining, that a spirit of cruel commercialism bas crept in where ten years ago there was only a worthy ambition to introduce the light of civilization to "Darkest Africa."