Wednesday, July 14, 2010

U.S. Help to Found Belgian Congo

This is an excerpt from a publication of the Belgian Information Center in New York from World War II called "The Belgian Congo at War". It was actually a crucial part of the Allied victory both from the Force Publique contribution to the war against Italian East Africa to the resources of the Congo to the Allied war effort. I was surprised pleasantly to find this section, a person does not often see such openly proud and patriotic views any more.

A few hours before his death, King Leopold II, at the last audience he gave his prime minister, said: "If you yield so much as an inch of the Congo, your old King will rise from his grave to blame you."
On the brink of death, in a palace, the garden of which sheltered immense greenhouses filled with strange African plants, the King remembered the great adventure of his life, his dreams of vast colonial possessions which had become a reality.

He was only twenty when, addressing an assembly, in 1855, he bluntly told the Belgians '"to have a broad vision of world affairs" and he suggested the creation of long maritime lines. Five years later he invited his country to lose no time "if we do not want to see all the best positions, already scarce enough, occupied by other nations more enterprising." Thereafter he waged a written campaign, either writing himself or inspiring other uT:iters, in favor of Belgian colonies, and when he became King (1865) he scanned the map of the world to find a region which had not been annexed by any country.

That very year, an American, Dr. Livingstone, was exploring Central Africa, whose vast expanses were still mysterious and where savage populations were being decimated by Arab slave-traders. After having pushed as far as Lake 'Tanganyika, Livingstone disappeared. Cordon Bennett, owner of the New York Herald, sent a reporter, the Anglo-American Henry M. Stanley, to find him. The two explorers finally met and Stanley's adventures were widely publicized in America and Europe, through the New York Herald.

The most avid reader of Stanley's reports was Leopold II. Later he read Livingstone's heartrending stories of African slavery. The King's mind was made up: he would assume the task of stamping out slavery and would, at the same time, give an African colony to Belgium. In 1876, he called an international conference in Brussels, and the "International Association for the Abolition of the Slave Trade" was formed under the King's chairmanship.

However, political difficulties soon piled up and what was now known as the "International Congo Association" had no standing in international law. Leopold II had to negotiate with France about a claim on the mouth of the Congo River, Then Portugal, with the support of England, put in a series of claims which threatened the whole Belgian undertaking. Leopold 11 acted with such diplomacy that both France and Germany refused to recognize the Portuguese claims and in the end the British government withdrew its support of the Portuguese.

Finally, the United States of America stepped in. On April 10, 1884, the American Government officially recognized the Brussels Association. Thanks to that strong moral help, all political difficulties disappeared. In quick succession, the various European countries admitted the King's peaceful conquest and on February 26, 1885, an International Conference meeting at Berlin recognized the "Congo Free State" under the sovereignty of Leopold II.
The act of Berlin "proclaimed" freedom of trade and of navigation in the Congo basin, excluded all preferential treatment, granted identical commercial and civil rights to foreigners and nationals.

The Congo became, under the King's rule, a colony open to all; nationalism and tariff walls were--and still are--excluded. The slave trade was abolished. Catholic and Protestant missionaries preached the Gospel to the blacks. Hardy pioneers enthusiastically seconded the work of the King, However, the sovereign was bitterly criticized by some people. One of his most violent detractors was Sir Roger Casement, the traitor who was hanged by the British during World War I.

In 1889, the King willed to Belgium the new African Empire but violent and unfair campaigns were launched both against Leopold's administration and the handing over of the Congo to Belgium. However, in 1908, die Belgian Parliament accepted the King's gift. Belgium now possessed a vast and rich colony.

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