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Monday, November 29, 2004

Colonial Warfare, pt 4

Belgian colonial soldiers

Before we discuss the British in Messapotamia, it would be good to discuss what is widely seen, except in Belgium, as the darkest aspect of colonial history, the creation of the Belgian Congo.

What is so striking is that for the first 30 years of it's history, the Belgian Congo wasn't Belgian. It was the personal property of King Leopold II. One man owned the entire Congo

The Belgian Congo

For almost the entire period of the Congo Free State (1885—1908), the peoples of present-day Congo were subjected to a staggering sequence of wars, repression, and regimentation. The impact of this colonial experience was so devastating, and its aftereffects so disruptive, because the initial shock of European intrusion was followed almost immediately by a ruthless exploitation of human and natural resources. In terms of its psychological impact, the bula matari state left a legacy of latent hostility on which subsequent generations of nationalists were able to capitalize; on the other hand, the sheer brutality of its methods generated a sense of fear and hopelessness, which, initially at least, discouraged the rise of organized nationalist activity.

I.Belgian Paternalism: Underlying Postulates

Reduced to its essentials, Belgian paternalism meant that basic political rights could be withheld indefinitely from Africans as long as their material and spiritual needs were properly met. .......

The darker side of this paternalism was the political control and compulsion underlying Belgian colonial policies. Extensive restrictions affected Africans in their everyday life ranging from prohibition of the purchase of liquor (until 1955) to stringent police surveillance and curfew regulations in the urban centers, and from compulsory crop cultivation to various forms of administrative and social regimentation in the countryside.

II.The Belgian goal

Part of the Belgian goal was to teach Africans to work, not in the "childish" pursuits of their own culture, but in organized, rational routines of productive wage labor in the European manner, for European employers. Such labor was considered to exercise a civilizing influence. A profitable by-product was the provision of cheap labor. The Colonial Charter had declared that no one could be compelled to work, and by 1912 the forced delivery of rubber and other natural products had come to a stop, but until the depression of the 1930s, mining and agricultural companies resorted to recruiting methods little different from forced labor.

The colonial government believed that Africans could be "civilized" through agricultural as well as industrial labor. Agricultural programs began as early as 1917, when the administration first required Africans to raise certain designated crops. The crops most often raised were cotton for export or food crops for towns and mines within the colony, neither of which threatened European interests, nor did either ensure the health and well-being of the indigenous population.


III.The Apparatus of Control

State, church, and business formed the trinity of powers upon which the royal hegemony rested during most of the colonial era. By virtue of their special relationship with the state, formalized by the 1906 Concordat between the Vatican and Belgium, Catholic missions were the privileged instrument of primary and vocational education for the colony’s people; the operating costs of their educational and missionary activities were almost entirely covered by state subsidies. According to some estimates, the mission establishment had virtually as many personnel as the state and three times as many outposts. The business corporations, involved in plantations and mining, were given virtually a free hand to recruit African labor, to organize food production for the labor camps, and to provide social services for African workers and their families. Both missionary and business interests were given direct access to the state through the appointment of representatives to advisory organs, such as the Government Council in Léopoldville and the Colonial Council in Brussels. The result was a close and, most of the time, mutually supportive relationship between the state on the one hand and the church and business interests on the other.

The colonial state was, of course, the pivotal element in this coalition of interests, because of its unchallenged monopoly of force and highly visible administrative presence. From the time of its creation in 1888 until its dissolution in the wake of the 1960 mutiny, the Force Publique provided the colonial state with a formidable instrument of coercion, whose reputation for brutality was well established. The everyday tasks of administration were mostly performed by a corps of colonial civil servants whose density on the ground was without equivalent elsewhere on the continent. By independence there were some 10,000 European civil servants and officers serving in the Belgian Congo. From the territorial administrators to the district commissioners and provincial governors, the network of colonial functionaries reached out from remote areas of the colony to its administrative nerve center in Léopoldville, where the governor general held court. Except for the 1957 local government reform, the grid of administrative control fashioned by Belgium remained virtually unchanged throughout the colonialera.

Adding to the weight of the European hegemony, a system of native tribunals and local councils was introduced in the 1920s to enlist local chiefs in administration of the colony. Few of the chiefs, however, claimed as much as a glimmer of legitimacy, as most of them acted as the agents of the colonial state. The machinery of African participation in local government was a far cry from the native authority systems established in British colonies, for example. Ultimate control over local affairs always rested with European administrators.

The Congo Free State was subject to one of the first international human rights campaigns because of the brutal treatment of the inhabitants.

The costs for opening up the country (railroads etc.), pacification and administration were immense. On the other hand, the Belgians (which formed the vast majority of the Congo Free State's white emplotees) found little commerce going on, when they arrived.

The Free State had declared all uncultivated lands state property, a part of which was administrated as state domain, a part of which was given out to private enterprises in form of concessions. A RUBBER TAX was imposed on the native population - they had to collect latex from wild growing rubber lianes and deliver a certain amount of rubber every month. The natives were asked to also plant rubber vines so that future harvests could be secured. RUBBER was the single most important export product of the Congo Free State. In 1903, 47.3 million Franks worth of rubber were exported by the state, which made up for about 90 % of the State's entire exports; the Free State was the world's leading exporter of rubber.

The conditions under which this prosperity was achieved gave rise to criticism; the form in which the rubber was collected was interpreted as both a STATE MONOPOLY virtually excluding commercial competitors and as a form of FORCED LABOUR - the country's jungle was declared state property, and the natives had, in lieu of paying taxation, to collect and deliver natural rubber.

In England the CONGO REFORM ASSOCIATION, presided by E.D. MOREL, vociferously criticized the administration of the Congo Free State. Human rights were systematically abused in the Congo, as the Africans had to regularly deliver certain quotas of rubber, and if they failed to do so, their families were taken hostage; even atrocities (cases of mutilation) were reported. The Africans were not paid appropriate prices for the rubber they delivered.

While the Congo Free State long attempted to describe abuses as singular events, which would be investigated and dealt with, both exaggerated and made-up stories on atrocities in the Congo and their consequences were published by the Anti-Congo Campaign. Writers such as Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Joseph Conrad and Mark Twain held King Leopold II. personally responsible.

The main historical document frequently quoted is the report by British Consul Roger Casement. Britain, at that time, was very critical of the Congo administration, regarding the factual Congolese rubber collecting monopoly a violation of the principle of Free Trade; British merchant houses were eager to secure a share in the Congo basin's lucrative rubber export.

The Congo Free State, due to it's large share in the world rubber production, was a profitable enterprise, in contrast to most colonies in Africa, and the (enforced) use of natives as workforce provided the foundation of that wealth. The campaign against the atrocities, real as well as alleged, in the Congo Free State served not only philanthropist goals; it was supported by Liverpool trade houses keen on gaining a share in the Congolese rubber trade, and by the British foreign office (which in the Boer war of 1899-1902 just had annexed two other lucrative Free States in Africa - Orange Free State and the Transvaal).

Casement, who was later exposed as gay and executed because of his involvement in the 1916 Easter Uprising, wrote a detailed report on the conditions in the Congo.

Life under free state rule was as brutal as the German General Government in Poland

Complaints as to the manner of exacting service are . . frequent . . . If the local official has to go on a sudden journey men are summoned on the instant to paddle his canoe, and a refusal entails imprisonment or a beating. If the Government plantation or the kitchen garden require weeding, a soldier will be sent to call in the women from some of the neighboring towns. . .; to the women suddenly forced to leave their household tasks and to tramp off, hoe in hand, baby on back, with possibly a hungry and angry husband at home, the task is not a welcome one.

I visited two large villages in the interior . . wherein I found that fully half the population now consisted of refugees . . I saw and questioned several groups of these people . . . They went on to declare, when asked why they had fled (their district), that they had endured such ill-treatment at the hands of the government soldiers in their own (district) that life had become intolerable; that nothing had remained for them at home but to be killed for failure to bring in a certain amount of rubber or to die from starvation or exposure in their attempts to satisfy the demands made upon them. . . . I subsequently found other (members of the tribe) who confirmed the truth of the statements made to me.

. . . on the 25th of July (1903) we reached Lukolela, where I spent two days. This district had, when I visited it in 1887, numbered fully 5,000 people; today the population is given, after a careful enumeration, at less than 600. The reasons given me for their decline in numbers were similar to those furnished elsewhere, namely, sleeping-sickness, general ill-health, insufficiency of food, and the methods employed to obtain labor from them by local officials and the exactions levied on them.

At other villages which I visited, I found the tax to consist of baskets, which the inhabitants had to make and deliver weekly as well as, always, a certain amount of foodstuffs. (The natives) were frequently flogged for delay or inability to complete the tally of these baskets, or the weekly supply of food. Several men, including a Chief of one town, showed broad weals across their buttocks, which were evidently recent. One, a lad of 15 o so, removing his cloth, showed several scars across his thighs, which he and others around him said had formed part of a weekly payment for a recent shortage in their supply of food.

. . . A careful investigation of the conditions of native life around (Lake Mantumba) confirmed the truth of the statements made to me--that the great decrease in population, the dirty and ill-kept towns, and the complete absence of goats, sheep, or fowls--once very plentiful in this country--were to be attributed above all else to the continued effort made during many years to compel the natives to work india-rubber. Large bodies of native troops had formerly been quartered in the district, and the punitive measures undertaken to his end had endured for a considerable period. During the course of these operations there had been much loss of life, accompanied, I fear, by a somewhat general mutilation of the dead, as proof that the soldiers had done their duty.

. . . Two cases (of mutilation) came to my actual notice while I was in the lake district. One, a young man, both of whose hands had been beaten off with the butt ends of rifles against a tree; the other a young lad of 11 or 12 years of age, whose right hand was cut off at the wrist. . . . I both these cases the Government soldiers had been accompanied by white officers whose names were given to me. Of six natives (one a girl, three little boys, one youth, and one old woman) who had been mutilated in this way during the rubber regime, all except one were dead at the date of my visit.

[A sentry in the employ of one of the concessionary private companies] said he had caught and was detaining as prisoners (eleven women) to compel their husbands to bring in the right amount of rubber required of them on the next market day. . . . When I asked what would become of these women if their husbands failed to bring in the right quantity of rubber . . , he said at once that then they would be kept there until their husbands had redeemed them

However, the end of the Congo was even worse than it's creation.

posted by Steve @ 7:39:00 AM

7:39:00 AM

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