Thursday, November 18, 2010

Francis, Baron Dhanis

Francis Dhanis was a Belgian national hero of the Congo Free State. He was the son of a Belgian father and an Irish mother, being born in London in 1861, and when he had grown up he studied at the École Militaire to enter the Belgian military service. Upon graduation he joined one of the great heavy infantry regiments, the grenadiers, and did good service to achieve the rank of major. But before that, when he was still a lieutenant, he volunteered to accept great danger and enter the service of King Leopold II in the Congo Free State. In 1887 he was sent for his first duty tour in the Congo and he accomplished great service there. His duties did not at first have much military requirements since he was mostly building outposts, roadside stations and trying to extend and build up the infrastructure of the country. However, there was soon a problem when the first Belgian agents came in contact with the massive slave-trading operation of the Arabs in the Upper Congo where some had established their own little kingdoms devoted to only slavery. Something had to be done to stop this and Francis Dhanis was chosen to command an expedition into the Upper Congo to eradicate the Arab slavers.

In April of 1892 Francis Dhanis and his force of African soldiers set out to kill, capture or drive off the enemy in the Upper Congo to disrupt and destroy their slave-trading network. This was a long and hard campaign, chronicled by Dr. Sydney Hinde who went along, in his book "The Fall of the Congo Arabs". Dhanis and his men captured the Arab slave fortresses at Nyangwe, Kasongo and then Kabambari, finally securing the area in January of 1894. The next year, for his great service to the Congo Free State, King Leopold II made Dhanis a baron and appointed him vice-governor of the Congo Free State. Was this job perhaps in a nice office behind a desk? Absolutely not!

Not long after taking his post in 1896 Baron Dhanis commanded another expedition into the Upper Nile region. However, Baron Dhanis had problems with his native soldiers who were mostly of the Batetela tribes. Some of their chiefs had been executed for cannibalism (Belgian authorities were trying to stop this horrific tradition) and the natives were unsatisfied about that. Finally they made a rebellion, breaking discipline, murdering their European officers and going off on their own. This was called the Batetela Rebellion. Baron Dhanis had to forget about the Arabs as he had his own well armed soldiers trying to kill him while far into an almost unexplored wilderness that was heavy with disease. For two long years (1897-1898) Baron Dhanis and his remaining soldiers fought constantly in a struggle for their own survival. Baron Dhanis was not the kind to surrender and as well as his own survival he was determined to bring to justice the bandit soldiers. It took time but you know Baron Dhanis found a way to one by one break up all of the groups of rogue soldiers. Many historians have said this was an even more impressive achievement that the victorious campaign against the Arabs earlier.

Baron Dhanis had shown great cleverness in covering the ground, keeping himself and his men alive and always accomplishing his mission, in whatever way he could find, no matter how impossible the scenario seemed to be. When Baron Dhanis returned home finally to Belgium he held the honorary title of vice-governor general of the Congo Free State. He died in Brussels, a celebrated national hero, on November 13, 1909.

No comments:

Post a Comment