Module Twenty Seven, Activity Two

History of the Congo

In Activity One we learned about the geography, cultures, and natural resources of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), recognizing that it is an area of great diversity.

Activity Two will focus on the historical evolution of the DRC from the first occupation of the area more than 2,000 years ago, through the development of centralized kingdoms, the colonial experience, to the period of independence. Like all regions in Africa, Central Africa—where the DRC is located-- has regularly experienced change, sometimes gradual and at other times rapid, particularly over the past five centuries. Indeed, most of the DRC’s current social, economic and political characteristics were shaped since the fifteenth century.  European penetration and colonialism had a particularly strong and lasting impact on the DRC socially, economically, and politically.

Unlike other areas of Africa, no remains of early humans (hominid) have been found in the DRC, or anywhere else in Central Africa and the knowledge about the earliest inhabitants of the region is still limited. However, it is believed that the first inhabitants of the region were forest-dwellers who lived in the tropical forest of the present Congo, or sometimes in the savanna. Evidence suggests that the Ancient Egyptians knew about these first inhabitants many millennia ago (5,000 BCE).

The early history of the DRC reflects the geo-environmental realities of the country: approximately forty percent of the country is comprised of tropical rainforests; most of the rest of the country is dominated by savanna type vegetation. These environmental differences contributed to the development of distinctive cultural, social, economic and political systems resulting in two distinctive historical traditions in the DRC.

Jan Vansina (who we quoted in the first learning activity) in his seminal work on the early history of the tropical rainforests of Central Africa, Paths in the Rainforest, strongly challenges a dominant perspective that due to the restrictive forest environment the forest communities were homogenous (social, economic, political behaviors and practices limited by the forest ecology) and permanent (did not experience significant change and development over time), “that the people living there were too busy surviving in such a hostile environment to change.  Peoples there supposedly still live today as they have done for centuries or millennia . . . in other words, environment determines history and the unlucky peoples here [tropical rainforests of the DRC] have no history because they have never changed.” (p 3).   Throughout the 265 pages of his book Vansina clearly demonstrates that while the tropical rainforest ecology influences the way people live and the institutions they develop, this environment does not determine uniform (monolithic) cultural practices or social and political institutions throughout the rainforest.  Neither does the environment prohibit change within these societies.  The peoples and societies of the rainforest have a history that they helped bring about, just as their neighbors in the adjacent savanna regions did.

Your Turn:

Write an argument to the following:

Debate the validity of the assertion Vansina makes that “the unlucky peoples here [tropical rainforests of the DRC] have no history because they have never changed.” Your discussion can be in two parts: 1) how valid is the claim that the people in the rainforest of the DNC have never changed? And 2) does the “having” of history depend upon change? If not, is it valid to argue that the people who live in the rainforest of the DNC have no history?

The first forest dwellers were hunter-gatherers highly skilled in taking advantage of their forest habitat. They lived in small communities and used tools made of wood and stone and cooked their food over the fires. These early populations are the ancestors of the Mbuti, Twa or the Mbenda people who still live in the region and who are insultingly referred to as ‘pygmies’ because of their short height. They comprise only a very small percentage of the current population of the DRC. [For more information on the theses peoples go to  Module Nine, Activity Two]

Approximately 2,000 years ago a new group of people started moving into what is today known as the DRC. The new migrants are commonly referred to as Bantu-speakers, because they spoke related languages that linguists have classified as belonging to the Bantu (or Niger-Congo) language family. Historians believe that these peoples originated from the region of the present day Cameroon and Nigeria. They (the Bantu) traveled toward the south, into eastern or southern Africa, in successive waves of migration. By the year 200 CE, Bantu speaking peoples had reached the present day DRC and other parts of the region. Over the next millennium, the new immigrants, who came with metalworking and agricultural skills displaced the majority the existing hunter-gatherer communities, or absorbed them into their communities. Consequently, the vast majority of the current population of the DRC belong to communities that speak a Bantu language and are descendant from the earlier Bantu-settlers. [For more information on African language groups go to Module Eight, Activity Two; for more information on the Bantu Migrations go to Module Six, Activity Five]

The Bantu settlers introduced pastoralism and cattle breeding in the region along crop cultivation. They were farmers who also developed other technologies like the art of making tools out of iron and other metals and pottery.

Agriculture and Metallurgy

The new immigrants were agriculturalist, having developed the skills necessary for the domestication of animals and the cultivation of plants—grains, tubers, vegetables, and fruits. In addition they brought with them the skills of metallurgy—the mining of minerals such as iron and copper, and the manufacture of metal tools and weapons. As we learned is some detail in Unit Two, particularly Module Nine (Activity Two) and Ten (Activities Two and Three), the capacity to raise food and to make tools out of metal greatly increased agricultural productivity and the availability of food.

Increased quantities and reliability of food supplies brought about by agriculture and metallurgy allowed for the development of more permanent communities as the necessity to constantly move or migrate in search of food was reduced. Stable communities with growing populations necessitated, in turn, the development of more centralized systems of rules and governance that resulted in the rise of chieftainships and, eventually, significant kingdoms. These historical processes in the DRC are similar to those that occurred in other regions of Africa, although the dominant environmental factor in DRC–tropical rainforest—resulted in economic, political and cultural processes that were unique to Central Africa.

Iron Age

The Iron Age, the period when people started using tools made of iron, is coincidental of agricultural development in Central Africa. The Iron Age in the DRC is divided into two main periods: The early stage of the Iron Age (1st century CE to 10th century CE) and the later Iron Age (11th -18th century).

The main characteristics of the early period in Iron Age were among others the domination of the ironwork, sedentary and semi-permanent life, development of pottery work, and the use of fire by the Bantu-speaking communities.

The later Iron Age saw the development and advancement of the early age carried over with an improvement in skill and technology. This Age was characterized by a more specialized agricultural economy, high population growth, better fed people, with an increase in immigration and a careful use of the land.

Growth of Trade

The development of copper had an important impact on the region. Many peoples looked for products among their resources that could be traded for other precious metal and exotic goods in addition to copper.

Salt, textiles and dried fish were the main products of trade in the region. The salt industry in central Africa developed from the necessity of salt in human (and animal) life. The salt lagoons of the west coast became particularly important, and salt tracks ran into the interior to agricultural communities without salt of their own. The importance of salt to human existence and its absence in the interior of the region resulted in a long distance salt trade, the control of which contributed to the development of political power and the formation of centralized states in the region.

The textile industry, just like the salt industry, led to long distance trade because specialized cloths were made for export to neighboring regions. This trade was controlled by politically powerful individuals who dominated the markets and supplied protection to the long-distance traders who carried the bales of cloth. For the most part, textiles were manufactured from fibers obtained from raffia palm.

Cloth was the most durable possession in almost every household and as such it was preferred for social payments. The bride’s wealth for example was paid in cloth and the control of weaving was in the hand of old men since they no longer had the strength to go hunting. In controlling the cloth industry, old men also controlled marriage and could get married to several young women, insuring that their family line would be dominant in the next generation. Marriage was an important link between communities and men were not expected to marry into their own clan. It was therefore necessary to maintain contact with neighbors.

Dried fish was also a source of wealth in parts of the DRC. Not only did the control and management of fish ponds contribute to the increase of the political power but it also contributed to the power and wealth of the ancestors of the Luba, whom for example, were able to control all aspects of the fishing industry. You may wonder why fish? Out of all food products in central Africa, dried fish was a strong source of protein that was not perishable. It could last months and was easily transportable from one area to another without going bad, fetching a high price. The fishing technique and technology have been modernized in the twentieth century, making this activity one of the major economic activities of the area.

First Kingdoms of the Congo

Historical records show that there was no centralized power uniting all the peoples of what is today the DRC before the arrival of Europeans in the early 16th century. However, there were some exceptional cases of highly developed political societies (like the Kongo, the Bakuba and the Luba-Lunda kingdoms) governed by kings and councils who demonstrated exemplary governance. This section will study three of the main pre-colonial kingdoms of central Africa before the Europeans came: the Kongo, the Bakuba and the Luba-Lunda kingdoms.

Kingdoms of Central Africa
Kingdoms of Central Africa

I. Kongo Kingdom

The Kongo Kingdom was founded in the thirteenth century CE. It developed into the most centralized of all the pre-colonial kingdoms in Central Africa. As shown on the map the Kongo Kingdom was located on the western coast of Central Africa and covered an area between the current countries of Angola in the south, the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo to as far North as southern Gabon.

The relative isolation from the outside world ended in the fifteenth century, specifically in 1483, when the Portuguese landed on the western shores of the Kongo kingdom. Life for the Kongo people and their rulers was never to be the same again.

King Afonso
King Afonso

Manikongo Afonso I of Kongo

King Afonso was an important figure in the history of the Kongo kingdom. It was during his rule that the kingdom had first contact with Europeans.

As you will recall from the discussion in Module Seven B in the late 15th century CE, the Portuguese began a quest to sail around Africa with the goal of making it to India, (south and south-east Asia) the source of the spice trade that was so important at the time in Europe. As Portuguese expeditions gradually circumvented the coast of Africa, they came into contact with various societies along the west coast of Africa. The most important and long lasting of the contacts that the Portuguese made in West Africa was with the Kongo Kingdom

Contact between the Portuguese and the Kongo kingdom began with an incident that happened when Diego Cao, a Portuguese naval officer, decided to explore the interior of the Congo River in 1482. He wanted to navigate further up on the river and commissioned four of his companions go to the Kongo to visit the king.  However, his companions were captured by the ManiKongo (title of the king), who was at the time, Afonso’s father, Nzinga Kuwu. The Manikongo had captured these men because he wanted to learn more from them about the Portuguese Kingdom.

On his trip back down the river, Diego could not find his companions anywhere. He concluded that they had been captured by the Kongolese. In retaliation he forcibly captured four Kongolese young men and took them back with him to Portugal. There they were educated in church schools, became fluent in the Portuguese language, and converted to Christianity. These four Kongolese young men can be regarded as the first ambassadors of the Kongo to Portugal. When they returned to their kingdom after nearly a decade in Portugal, they brought gifts from the King of Portugal to the Manikongo, who in return, as a gesture of goodwill, released the four Portuguese captives.

How did Afonso come to power?

Afonso was appointed governor in the northern province of Nsundi after a disagreement with his father Nzinga Kuwu. He remained in Nsundi for about ten years before deciding to return, following the death of his father, to Mbanza Kongo, the capital of the kingdom, in 1506.

Kongo was highly politically centralized compared to neighboring Central African societies. This level of organization was best exemplified in the elections of new kings. After the death of Joao I (Afonso’s father) a council of eight men and four women were selected to elect the new monarch from among the children of the dead king. Afonso was expecting to be appointed king but to his disappointment, his brother was appointed king by the council. Their choice put a hold on his secret goal to use the power of the position to spread the Catholic faith if he was chosen as king. This decision did not stop his determination to become King. Leading a group of 37 Christians in July 1506 he attacked the forces of the Manikongo (his brother). Afonso was victorious, killed his brother and renamed the capital city Sao Salvador (the Savior) because he believed God helped him overthrow his brother.

Afonso's Reign

There are three key aspects of Afonso reign that are worth mentioning: his international relations, his determination to develop his kingdom, and his strong opposition the slave trade.

One of the first decisions taken by Afonso when he took power was to appoint his cousin Don Pedro de Souza as ambassador to Rome. His goal was to spread Catholicism in his kingdom, and as part of his strategy to realize this goal, he sent young, 12 year old boys (including his own son Henrique) to study in different monasteries in Italy. Henrique became a bishop in 1518 and officiated in Rome for two years before returning to Kongo where he was appointed by his father to lead the local church.

Afonso’s main ambition was to develop his kingdom. For that purpose he asked King Manuel I of Portugal to send him missionaries, masons, carpenters, physicians, and architects to train and work with local artisans. However, only a few missionaries and technicians were sent to the Kongo by the king of Portugal. Among those who were sent were former convicts who had little interest in working on educational and development projects. Indeed, a few months after their arrival, these new missionaries and technicians became involved in initiating the capturing and trading of slaves. Many Kongolese were seized and then shipped to Brazil (Portugal colony in South America) where they were sold into a lifetime of slavery. Upset by the devastation caused by the raiding for slaves, Afonso asked the Portuguese King Manuel I for legal and military assistance but the latter sent only a book of laws and an ambassador as a military adviser; a corrupt adviser who asked for payment for his services.

Although slavery existed among the Kongo, its practice was very different from the new style of slavery brought by the Portuguese. Traditionally, slaves held in Kongolese society, once acquired, were not sold again and often were integrated into the families that ‘owned’ them, and they had defined rights. The Portuguese slave raiding and trading in comparison, was brutal and harsh. In their search for slaves many people were killed and villages were decimated. Moreover, individuals captured as slaves were shipped off to South America where they were permanently separated from their families.

Afonso I appointed a committee that was charged with stopping the kidnapping and selling of slaves. Unfortunately, the first attempts in stopping kidnapping were not successful as some of the Portuguese moved into the interior of the kingdom and continued their hunt for captives. His failure to control the activities of the Portuguese slavers was facilitated in part by silence of the Pope (whose help Afonso I solicited twice). Moreover, the slave trade weakened Afonso’s authority and negatively impacted his credibility with some of the nobles who governed districts within the kingdom who lost faith in his power and ability to rule, increasingly ignoring his edicts.

The Portuguese were also very interested in minerals and sent prospectors in to the interior of the kingdom searching for minerals and precious stones that the believed to be in abundant supply in the Kongo. Fearful of further Portuguese encroachment, Afonso attempted to prohibit prospecting in the kingdom. Afonso’s decision not to cooperate in this endeavor did not sit well with the Portuguese. In retaliation King Joao III of Portugal rejected the Manikongo’s request for sea-going vessels and shipbuilders that needed to establish their own trade with Europe.

The relationship between the Kongo and Portugal continued to deteriorate to the point that the Portuguese tried, unsuccessfully, to assassinate Afsonso, in 1540. In retaliation he ordered the killing of a number of Portuguese traders and clergy. Three years later, Afonso died after thirty seven years of reign marked by somewhat mixed results: his son, Bishop Henrique could not build a native clergy and his hopes for a development of the Kongo were undermined by the Portuguese greed and the devastating impact of the expanding slave trade. Afonso I in the end could not protect his people. Afonso was succeeded by a number of Manikongos who, as the consequence of the increased slave trade, became weaker and weaker. By the end of the 16th century, the Kingdom of the Kongo was a mere shadow of its greatness a century before.

Your Turn:

Timeline Activity

Create a timeline that details the main events (and their corresponding dates) in Afonso’s reign in the Kongo Kingdom.

King Afonso Timeline

II. Bakuba Kingdom

Unlike the Kongo kingdom that was located on the coastal area of the continent, the Bakuba kingdom was in the interior of what is now the Democratic Republic of Congo.  Founded in the 17th century CE, the Bakuba kingdom was able to prosper in large part due to its innovative and peaceful leader Shamba Bolongongo. In many respects, this kingdom exemplifies what Africa could have been without outside influences.

Who was Shamba Bolongongo?

Shamba Bolongongo was a ‘self-made man.’ Because he was born to a slave woman, he lacked status in his own community; few of his childhood peers would have believed that one day he would become a powerful political leader. However he was intelligent, curious, and energetic. Shamba found his village too limited and small and expressed the need to see more of the world. Consequently, along with three other former slaves, he embarked on a series of adventures in a quest for knowledge and new places. Traveling through what is now the central region of the Democratic Republic of Congo, Shamba questioned people, and closely observed the cultural, social and economic practices of the communities that he visited. He was able to interact with farmers, craftsmen, herders and musicians. Satisfied with the amount of knowledge he amassed from these places, he left for new adventures with his companions.

In 1620, he made it to the land of the Bakuba. This land was a federation of approximately twenty groups of closely related people who shared a Bantu language that was similar to his own mother tongue. The federation was dominated by the Bushong, the most powerful among them. Shamba decided to establish himself and was determined to become the next ‘Nyim’ (Bakuba for King). Against great odds he managed to convince the Bakuba to make him king. The major obstacle he faced was fulfilling the Bakuba obligation to have a member of the royal family spit on him. Shamba was aware that no royal family would agree to do this for him. He therefore hid himself under a pile of rubbish near the royal palace and waited until a member of the royal family passed by. His plan worked, when unknowingly a member of the royal family spit on the trash pile where he was hiding. This act led him to the throne.

As Nyim he proved to be a peaceful and innovative ruler and helpful to farmers. Shamba introduced products like maize, cassava and tobacco that were imported from the Americas to his farmers. Cassava became one of the most important foods for the Bakuba, with its root that can be pounded into flour. Maize presented the advantage of being able to be stored and preserved, making it useful during periods of droughts. Sorghum and millet, which were already grown in other parts of the continent for centuries, were also introduced. The increased availability of food resulted in population growth and the expansion of the Bakuba kingdom.

Good governance was one of Shamba’s major concerns; he divided Bakuba into provinces, and appointed councilors and ministers for each province. He also appointed a prime minister and a great council that met in the capital of the kingdom. Shamba implemented a participative governing system in which every citizen felt respected and important in the governing of the society. He also encouraged and promoted the production of music and art in the kingdom.

Shamba had many wives but could not have children. This meant that he had no direct heir to take over as Nyim when he died. It was a testimonial to his political skill and commitment to good governance that there was no succession crisis after his death. Indeed, based on the traditions of governance created by Shamba, the Bakuba kingdom remained influential far into the 18th century, long after his death.

Your Turn:

Illustrate what is meant by: “In many respects, this kingdom exemplifies what Africa could have been without outside influences” as stated previously in this activity in regards to the Bakuba Kingdom.

To do this, compare/contrast what Africa is today to what it could have been, according to this claim. Think in terms of cause and effect. For instance, identify one feature of present day Africa that is a direct effect from the outside influences of colonialism, and then hypothesize what that feature would look like today if colonialism didn’t take place.

You may fill out a chart of your own similar to this example chart below:

hypothetical africa example chart

III. Luba-Lunda

The Lunda kingdom is the third example of a pre-colonial kingdom in the DRC. It is actually a kingdom built on the demise of the Luba state. (See map of Kingdoms of Central Africa)

The Luba state originated around the 11th century CE when the Sonye, a group of Bantu speakers from the savanna lands of Katanga, settled on the Lubilasha River (among the Kalundwe communities near Lake Kisale). Oral tradition indicates that there they found the Kalundwe, a people without centralized strong leadership even though they had a tradition of a queen who weakly governed the people. The Sonye, who had a tradition of strong chiefs, were able to manipulate the local political system when one of their own married the Kalundwe queen. With the support of other Sonye, he used his position as ‘queen husband’ (the Kongolo) to introduce changes in the political system that resulted in greater centralization under the control of the Sonye. He became influential in every aspect of the administration of the Kalundwe communities, including the social, political, military and the religious life of the community. The newly integrated and expanded society became known the Luba Kingdom with a new capital at ‘Mwibele’ near Lake Boya. The Luba flourished under the authority of the Kongolo who delegated many of his responsibilities to his subordinate officials.

According to their traditions, the Kongolo lost power the same way they gained it. Around the middle of fifteenth century, a Bantu group called Kunda from the north settled east of the Kisale Lake. Chief Mbili, the Kunda leader, visited Kamwana, the then current Luba Kongolo. The King gave Mbili such a warm welcome and offered him two of his sisters to marry. One of the sisters gave birth to a boy that was named Kala Ilunga. Ilunga, who grew up in his uncle’s (the Kongolo) palace and became a power hungry warrior who then claimed the Luba leadership by matrilineal descent. This action drew his uncle’s wrath, who then tried to kill him. He escaped to his father’s community (Kunda), where he gained support, and then he came back to fight and defeat his uncle. He managed to kill his uncle and declared himself king. Kala Ilungi started a new dynasty that would rule Luba until the nineteenth century.

The Kunda dynasty followed the end of the Luba kingdom. It expanded so much that it became the Mwata Yamvo kingdom, an empire that developed from the enlarged Lunda kingdom.  Kala Ilunga had an overwhelming influence on the kingdom. He introduced a centralized authoritative and autocratic system of governance with a hierarchical structure and the abandonment of the hereditary system. This proved to be effective; disputes over succession became almost non-existent. The king (Mulopwe) was on top of the hierarchy followed by the vice-king (Nsikala), the ministers (Mwite) and the sub-chief (Malopwe). The king was very powerful and engaged in expansionist conquests. His administrative system and power could not, however, please everybody at the same time.

Kibinda Ilunga, a prince and dissenter, broke away from the Kunda dynasty under the authority of Ilunga Walefu around the sixteenth century and established his own independent state on the banks of the Kasai River among the Lunda people. The Lunda were mostly farmers, iron smelters and fishermen who did not have any centralized authority like the Luba people.

Ilunga and his military were warmly welcomed by the Lunda. Genealogically, the foundation of the Lunda Kingdom can be traced back to Lusenji who was Kibinda Ilunga’s son born from a second marriage. Kibinda Ilunga first married Lueji who could not give birth, so he married Kamonga who gave him a son in the name of Lusenji. Lusenji became a leader through his mother’s lineage.

Around 1600, Maweji succeeded his brother Lusenji. His reign was likely the most impactful in terms of changes and territorial expansion. Maweji laid foundations for what became known as the ‘Mwata Yamvo’ Empire. He changed the title of the King to Mwata Yamvo (‘Lord of the Viper’ or ‘Master of Wealth’) and through conquest and -possibly- peaceful persuasion was able to expand his kingdom to the point where it became known as the Mwata Yamvo Empire.

This empire had a well-defined political organization that equaled or resembled the Luba’s centralized system with few a nuances. Mussumba became the capital city of the kingdom and the king had only a small army that was mainly devoted to protecting subordinate chiefs and helping them to collect taxes. Taxes were collected in the form of goods like ivory, copper, slaves, salt and labor that were traded with the Portuguese on the Atlantic coast and the Swahilis on the Indian Ocean coast. The kingdom remained intact up until the arrival of the Belgian and British colonial powers at the end of the 19th century.

The Hierarchical Organization of Mwata Yamvo (Luba-Lunda)

The histories of these pre-colonial kingdoms in central Africa clearly demonstrate that the region had strong and dynamic centralized states with sophisticated political systems that were supported by diversifying economies supported by long distant trade, well before the arrival of intrusive European trade and colonial conquest in the late 19th century.

Mwata Yamvo Hierarchy

Your Turn:

Answer the following questions:

  1. How would you structure your own empire?
  2. What would the hierarchy look like?
  3. What would the division of power be?
  4. What responsibilities would each person have in the power structure?
  5. Why would you create your empire’s political system like this?
  6. What are the benefits and potential constraints of the system you have created?
  7. How does your system resemble or differ from that of the Luba-Lunda Kingdom? What are the benefits and constraints of the Luba-Lunda Kingdom’s political structure?

The Colonization of the Congo

The story of the colonization of the DRC has much in common with the colonization of other regions in sub-Saharan Africa. However, with the exception of the colonization of the interior of southern Africa by Cecil Rhodes and his British South African Company, in no other region was colonization so closely identified with a specific personality.  Central to the story of the colonization of the DRC was King Leopold II of Belgium.

King Leopold
King Leopold

[For an overview of the Scramble for Africa visit Module Seven B, Activities Two and Three. Module Nine, Activity Four addresses the economic aspects of colonial penetration, and Module Ten, Activity Three deals with political systems and processes that supported colonial rule in Africa]

From 1886 (the conclusion of the Berlin Conference) until 1908, the Congo Free State (as the colony was known) was ruled as the private domain of King Leopold II.  Using the guidelines for colonization established by the Berlin Conference, he gained control of the Congo as his own personal fiefdom.  Leopold II skillfully used these guidelines for the “peaceful” division of Africa among competing European colonial powers that were agreed upon in the 1886 Treaty of Berlin, to gain control of an area more than twenty times larger than Belgium itself.  The Treaty provided a preferred method of gaining colonial control over African kingdoms and communities through the negotiation of treaties with indigenous Congolese leaders.

Although brutal force was used when deemed necessary, Leopold encouraged his agents to “peacefully” persuade African rulers to sign treaties with the King that effectively handed over ownership of their land to the Congo Free State. The African leaders, who were illiterate for the most part, were not aware that they had signed away control of their land and natural resources.  Leopold’s agents presented the treaties as friendship agreements. The most notorious of Leopold’s agents was Henry Morton Stanley, an American journalist, adventurer, and propagandist for European colonialism in Africa.

Your Turn:

Contrasting Perspectives on one of Henry Morton Stanley’s Engagements with Congolese as an Agent for King Leopold II

That Was No Welcome and That Was No Brother

Above is a link to two readings from works published in the late 19th century. Both readings refer to the same event—an encounter between Henry Morton Stanley and his armed entourage and a group of Congolese under the leadership of Chief Mojimba.

Stanley, was an American journalist and adventurer who was most famous to the American public for travelling eastward across the Congo in search of the famous Scottish missionary Dr. David Livingston. As a result of the fame that came from this trip, Stanley caught the attention of Leopold II who hired him as his main agent to “negotiate” treaties with Congolese peoples.  These treaties became the basis for the formation of the Congo Free State.

The first reading title “That Was No Welcome” is extracted from Stanley’s Through a Dark Continent, published in 1885.

The second reading, “That Was No Brother” is an account of the same incident in the words of a Congolese chief Mojimba, who some years after the event shared his remembrance with Father Joseph Fraessle, who supports Mojimba’s claim that his actions were a friendly welcome to Stanley’s party.

Read both accounts carefully.

  1. Whose perspective do you think was the most accurate, Stanley’s or Mojimba’s? Why?
  2. As depicted in his writing, what was Stanley’s attitude towards the Congolese? How did this attitude affect his perceptions of Africans and their culture?
  3. As depicted in his first person account, what was Mojimba’s attitude towards European visitors?

As a consequence of these “legitimate” treaties, in the eyes of Europe, all of the natural resources (including land) belonged to Leopold and all of the peoples of the Congo were his personal subjects. Leopold, through his representatives, put in place a barbaric system similar to that of the plantation in the Americas, where human beings were degraded, brutalized and denied basic human rights.

To finance this enterprise, the King leased nation-sized lands to private companies in the Congo Free State. These companies had the license to make a profit, but in return had to pay taxes and tribute to the king. Companies like the Anglo-Belgian India Rubber Company, and the Antwerp Company took over the exploitation of rubber in the tropical rain forests. These companies forced local inhabitants to collect wild rubber without compensation for their labor. The collection of rubber was asserted by the CFS to be a form of legitimate taxation. Taxation (even without representation) they argued is the right of governments. Based on signed treaties, the CFS was, they asserted, the legitimate government with the right to impose a system of taxation.

Under this system, able-bodied men were given a quota of rubber that they were expected to collect and turn into the companies. Failure meet the quota had dire consequences—one of the hands of the ‘defaulter’ was cut off (see photo below). By the turn of the 20th century, the Congo Free State, in the words of one historian, had become a “Gulag of forced labor.”

Congolese showing chopped off hands
Congolese showing chopped off hands

Fear, based on threat and violent action, was the governing principle of the Congo Free State.  The central agent of state sanctioned disciplinary violence was the Force Publique –a hybrid cross between an army and a national police force.  As historian Michael Deibert, in his book The Democratic Republic of the Congo: Between Hope and Despair, (2013) asserts, the Force Publique became “an object of terror for the Congolese.  Barely disciplined troops harassed civilians with abandon and the ‘chicotte’ –a razor sharp leather whip—was the favored tool for chastising those who fell foul of the authorities, often resulting in permanent injuries.  The amputation of limbs became the norm as a means to instill fear among local people, while ‘slaves’ latched together by chains around their necks and force to work for colonial authorities became a regular sight in the so-called “Free State.” (p 14)

The devastation caused by the twenty-two year rule of the Congo Free State is hard to under-estimate.  Historians agree that the population of the territory that compressed the CFS in 1886 had been reduced by between 35 -50 percent by 1908.  Some of the population decrease was the result of communities moving into neighboring colonies to escape the brutalities of the CFS, but most of the population decrease came from an astonishing high death rate caused by the actions of the Force Publique and the CFS.  Even deaths that would normally be attributed to “natural causes” were abnormally high due to malnutrition, reduced immunity and exhaustion directly linked to forced labor practices.

The brutalities of the CFS shocked other colonial powers, who themselves had unsavory practices in their own colonies. Beginning in the late 1890s, a small cohort of brave individuals began to expose the actions of the CFS.  Two American missionaries, George Washington Williams and William Henry Sheppard, working independently, document the brutalities of the CFS in letters and petitions that they sent back to the U.S.  Roger Cassement, the official British Counsel in Boma (a Belgian administrative center), travelled widely in the CFS and sent back to London detailed eyewitness accounts of the everyday atrocities of the CFS.   The most influential anti-CFS voice was that of E.D. Morel, who in the early 1900s was the head shipping clerk for a company that imported rubber and palm oil from the CFS.   His thorough investigations led to the publishing of Red Rubber – The story of the rubber slave trade that flourished in Congo in the year of grace 1906 (1906), a devastating exposé of the actions of the CFS.

Within a few years the opposition to King Leopold and the CFS had a popular following in the U.S. and in other European countries.  Strong pressure was brought to bear on King Leopold and the Belgian government that resulted in the demise of the CFS in 1908, with the Belgian government taking administrative control of their “new” colony of the Belgian Congo.

In the fifth and final learning activity in this module on the DRC will revisit the era of the Congo Free State through the lens of literature using Joseph Conrad’s short novel The Heart of Darkness; a contemporary fictional (published in 1899) encounter with the Congo Free State.

While it is important to recognize, as will be detailed below, that the policies, practices, and institutions put in place by the Belgian colonial officials were a considerable improvement over the rule of the CFS, the legacy of this devastating era continues to have an impact on post-colonial DRC.  The violence that the DRC has experienced over the past two decades is in part an ongoing legacy of policies and practices of the CFS and of the destabilization of Congolese communities and societies.

For a detailed and accurate account of the atrocities committed in the Congo Free State and the international opposition movement that forced Leopold to hand over the CFS to the Belgian government in 1908, check out a copy of King Leopold’s Ghost: A Story of Greed, Terror, and Heroism in Colonial Africa, by Adam Hochschild from your local library (perhaps your school library has a copy).

Your Turn:

Read the following poem by Rudyard Kipling, and then the response E. D. Morel wrote to that poem:

Then, compare and contrast the poem by Kipling and the response by Morel. Write a short response that details your comparison of these two works.

Land Occupation Map

Colonialism in the Belgian Congo

Activities Two and Three of Module Seven B provide a fairly detailed overview of the history and legacy of colonialism in Africa.  Attention is given in this activity to the goals and objectives of colonial administrations and the political, social and economic policies, practices and institutions that were put in place to facilitate the realization of these goals and objectives.  Recognizing that Africa was colonized by a number of different European colonial powers, attention is given in that activity to differences as well as the similarities between these colonial regimes.  In particular, we drew attention to the distinction between Indirect Rule, instituted in most of Britain’s colonies and Direct Rule, favored by the French in their colonies.

When the Belgian government took control of the Congo Free State in 1908, establishing the Belgian Congo, their immediate political goal was to address the legacy of extreme exploitation, brutality and neglect (of the well-being of Africans and their communities) that was institutionalized in the CFS.

The highest-ranking representative of the colonial administration in the Congo was the Governor-General. From 1908 until 1926, the Governor-general and his administration were posted in Boma, near the Congo River estuary. From 1926, the colonial capital moved to Léopoldville (current day Kinshasa), some 300 km further upstream in the interior.

In establishing mechanisms of colonial governance and control, the Belgian colonial officials were guided by a version of direct rule in which Africans had virtually no voice in the colonial enterprise.  The Belgian colonial authorities responding to the excesses of the CFS were determined to institute policies that would “benefit’ Africans.  However, these good intentions were interpreted through a very specific perspective of African cultures and societies.  This perspective presented African cultures and societies as being hopeless, backward, and “primitive”—incapable of change without direct, purposeful, and long-term external intervention.  Consequently, Belgian colonial policy was guided by the conviction that African societies were incapable of change and development, necessitating a long term commitment to direct European rule in which African participation in policy making was viewed a harmful to the colonial mission of “civilization,” and in which the new institutions of governance and economic activity (production and distribution) were directly and totally controlled and supervised by Europeans at community, district and national levels.

Political historians use the term paternalism to describe the version of direct rule instituted by the Belgians in post 1908 Congo.  This is an appropriate term since the Belgians perceived African adults as children who were culturally hindered from taking responsibility to bring modernization and “civilization” to the Congo.  An extreme version of this perspective actually held that Africans were biologically incapable of exercising the intelligence necessary to govern themselves and to bring Congo “into the 20th century.”  This overtly racist perspective was informed by late 19th century theories, now totally discredited, that claimed that human races were biologically different, and that there was a natural hierarchy of races in terms of intelligence and capability with the Europeans at the top of the hierarchy and Africans near the bottom of the hierarchy.  Such a perspective held that the Congolese were biologically unable to assume the responsibility of developing the Congo socially, economically or politically, potentially necessitating Belgian control for centuries.

Most Belgian colonial officials, European and American missionaries, and representatives of international business who exploited the abundant natural resources of the Congo held a more “moderate” view of African capacity.  They too, were convinced that Congolese in the early 20th century were incapable of “bringing the country into the 20th century,” but they did not assert that this was because of an innate biological inferiority.  Rather, they claimed that traditional cultures instilled values, beliefs, perspectives, and behaviors that placed cognitive barriers that made it impossible for Congolese to initiate radical changes in society and culture that were necessary for the colony to develop. However, this “cultural deficit” perspective, unlike the more extreme biological perspective, recognized that through externally imposed interventions the vestiges of African culture could be gradually reduced, replaced by “modern” European values, perspectives and behaviors.

Consequently, Belgian colonial civil servants along with European (and American) missionaries, and representatives of business, had to take responsibility to bring change and development to the Congo.  Representatives of the colonial state, mission societies and business enterprise claimed the “responsibility and duty” of good parents in providing a strict environment in which their African subjects (“children”) could slowly gain the values, attitudes and skills essential to more full participation in a “modern civilized” society. This philosophy was aptly summarized by Governor-General Pierre Ryckmans (1934–46): "Dominer pour servir" ("Dominate to serve").

In 1956 Thomas Hodgkin, one the first European academic political scientists to study politics in Africa, used another, but not dissimilar, term to describe the Belgian philosophy and practice of colonial rule in the Congo.  He coined the term Platonism which he described in the case of Belgian colonial rule in the Congo as follows: “Platonism is implicit in the sharp distinction, social and legal, between Belgian philosopher-kings and the mass of African producers in the conception of education as primarily concerned with the transmission of certain unquestioned and unquestionable moral values and intimately related to status and function; the belief that the thought and behavior of the mass is plastic, and can be refashioned by a benevolent, wise and highly trained elite; that the prime interest of the mass is in welfare and consumer goods—football and bicycles-not liberty; and in the conviction that it possible by expert administration to arrest social and political change.” (Nationalism in Africa, 1956, p 82)

The colonial power structure in the Belgian Congo differed in a significant way from that in other European colonies.  The metropolitan governments in London, Paris and Lisbon, were central to setting policies and practices in their African colonies.  This was not the case in Brussels, where the Belgian government did not play a central role in setting policies for the governing of the Congo.

Your Turn:

First, answer the following questions:

  1. What does “paternalism” mean?
  2. What are some of the ways in which the Belgian colonizers acted as paternalists to the Congolese?
  3. What are some current ways in Western society in which we paternalize Africans?
  4. What is “Platonism?” Define it in your own words.
  5. How is Platonism different from paternalism? How are they similar?

Now, conduct a little research of your own on the term “The White-Savior Industrial Complex,” which is a contemporary critique of some present-day endeavors to assist Africa. Find reliable and credible sources to define this term, and choose one article to write about. Include the article’s name, author, and publisher, the article’s definition of “White-Savior Industrial Complex,” and your review of the article as it relates to what we have been learning about the Congo in this activity.

Crawford Young, who in the early 1960s became the first American political scientist to systematically study Congolese politics, observed in his now classic study, Politics in the Congo (1965) that the absence of the active engagement of the government in Brussels in the development of policies and institutions in the Congo were determined by three major stakeholders:

It is traditional to analyze the colonial power structure in the Belgium Congo in terms of a trinity composed of the [colonial] administration, Church [Roman Catholic] and large enterprises [exemplified by Union Miniere].  It is important to recognize that not only was this triple alliance a virtually seamless web but each component, in its area of activity, was without peer in tropical Africa in the magnitude of its impact.” (10).

The Belgian version of direct rule, based on paternalism and Platonism, gave no place for traditional African leadership.  Traditional systems and structures of governance were viewed as incompatible with development.  Consequently, unlike the French version of direct rule, Belgian colonial civil servants occupied all positions of governance at the local, as well as district and national levels of administration.  This necessitated a large Belgian presence throughout the country.

Initially, the Belgian Congo was administratively divided into four provinces: Léopoldville (or: Congo-Kasaï), Equateur, Orientale and Katanga, each presided over by a vice-Governor-general. An administrative reform in 1932 increased the number of provinces to six, while “demoting” the Vice-governors-general to provincial Governors.

The territorial service was the true backbone of the colonial administration.  In line with Belgium’s commitment to the concept of direct rule, each province was divided into 24 districts and each district into 120 territories. A territory was managed by a territorial administrator, assisted by one or more assistants. The territories were further subdivided into numerous “chiefdoms” (chefferies), at the head of which the Belgian administration appointed “traditional chiefs” (chefs coutumiers). The territories administered by one territorial administrator and a handful of assistants were often larger than a few Belgian provinces taken together (the whole Belgian Congo was nearly 80 times larger than the whole of Belgium). The territorial administrator was expected to inspect his territory and to file detailed annual reports with the provincial administration.

By 1950 there were more than 10,000 Belgian civil servants working across the colony.  This number was far in excess of the number of French, British or Portuguese civil servants in any of their colonies.  This policy of near total exclusion of Africans in leadership positions within administrative, judicial and military/police systems, would create a devastating impact when the Congo gained its independence in 1960 with very limited human resource capacity to staff these essential institutions of government.

Maintenance of law and order was central to realizing the colonial agenda.  Consequently, a restructured Force Publique, under the direct control of the colonial state, rigorously enforced the colonial policies and insured the law and order in communities throughout the Congo.  Although, the arbitrary acts of brutality of the CFS era were discontinued, corporal punishments such as public floggings, in addition to forced labor and imprisonment, were commonly used until the early 1950s as tools to maintain peace and colonial state control.

In terms of jurisdiction, two systems co-existed: a system of European courts and one of indigenous courts (tribunaux indigènes). These indigenous courts were presided over by the traditional chiefs, but had only limited powers and remained under the firm control of the colonial administration.

The colonial state—and any authority exercised by whites in the Congo—was often referred to by the Congolese as bula matari ("break rocks"), one of the names originally given to Henry Stanley in the 1880s. He had used dynamite to crush rocks when paving his way through the lower-Congo region. The term bula matari came to signify the irresistible and compelling force of the colonial state.

Colonial Political Hierarchy Chart

Christian missionaries/missions provided the second important part of the colonial “trinity” and were considered by the colonial state to be central to the colonial agenda.  Belgians, more so than French or British, subsidized mission work.  By 1958, the vast majority of Congolese had been converted to some version of Christianity with 80% being Roman Catholic.  Indeed, by the end of the colonial era, there were 669 catholic mission posts (each of which were seeded an average of 200 hectares of land) with over 3,000 missionaries and 500 Congolese priests, 25,000 catechists, 386 brothers and 745 nuns.  Protestant missions, although far less numerous, also played an important role in promoting the colonial agenda in areas where they were active.

Belgian colonial officials perceived missionaries to be central to their agenda of pacifying the “native” population, and even more importantly, through conversion and basic schooling socialized the masses into compliant subjects while “detribalizing” their values, attitudes and behaviors.  The perceived importance of Christian missionaries/mission societies in the colonial agenda was not unique to the Congo; Cecil Rhodes, the British-South African mining magnate whose British South African Company controlled the colonies of Northern and Southern Rhodesia and Nyasaland, famously asserted that in the colonial endeavor “one missionary is worth 100 trained soldiers and is much cheaper.”

The colonial state demonstrated how important missionaries were to the colony through concrete action, allocating up to 200 hectares of land to each mission station, and subsidizing the building and staffing of elementary schools and health clinics.  Indeed, a 1924 directive instructed civil servants to work closely with missionaries: “Civil servants, whatever their own religious views, are under a strict obligation to aid the Christian missionaries.” (quoted by Young, p 14)

Leadership within mission societies recognized their importance to the colonial state and to the implementing the colonial agenda. The Roman Catholic bishop, recognizing the mutual benefit to church-state collaboration, wrote in the 1930s,  “What gives us especial hope, is to note that the entire colonial elite, no matter what their own opinion may be, is persuaded that only the Christian-Catholic religion, based on authority, is capable of changing native mentality, of giving to our Africans a clear and intimate consciousness of their duties, of inspiring them to respect authority and a spirit of loyalty toward Belgium.”  (quoted by Young, 14)

Large, internationally controlled business companies or enterprises comprised the third part of the controlling trinity.  Module Nine, Activity Four: Economics of Colonialism provides an overview of the importance of revenue and profits to THE European colonial endeavor across Africa.   European companies were very interested in and committed to the exploitation of the continent’s rich natural resources.  Colonial political administration—the colonial state—provided the political companies with a supportive political arena in which to operate.  In addition to providing land and mineral leases, the colonial state instituted policies that made extraction and export of natural resources and profits easy, and, very importantly, instated law and order through a strong police force—Force Publique.  The colonial state was also dependent on large companies as a source of revenue.  All European colonial powers operated on the maxim that each colony should pay for its own colonial administration through local revenue generation: a cruel irony—Africans and African societies had to pay for their own colonization.  Consequently, colonial administrations encouraged the expansion of international involvement in natural resource exploitation as source of revenue generation through taxation.

The Congo Free State and its successor the Belgian Congo exemplified the co-dependent relationship between the colonial state and large-scale international business interests in Congo’s rich mineral and agricultural resources.  As we saw above, the Congo Free State’s reason de existence was revenue/profit—hence egregious system of exploitation to gather wild rubber and ivory.  Post 1908 Belgian colonial officials, while taking steps to mitigating the egregious practices of the CFS, immediately instituted policies and institutions that supported the safe (for businesses) and efficient exploitation of forest, agricultural and mineral resources.

In the forest regions of the country there was an expansion of palm oil, rubber and lumber extraction.  In the savanna regions large-scale cotton enterprises were developed in partnership with Belgian business.  Most importantly, early in the 20th century Congo vast mineral wealth became evident to European prospectors.  The colonial state entered into a very close, some historians use the term symbiotic relationship, with what became by the 1930s the giant, mining conglomerate  Union Miniéré.   forest regions—rubber and oil palm plantations—“leased” by the state to Lever group and Societe Generale, that controlled one of the world’s largest copper deposits in the south east region of Katanga.

The strong support by the Belgian colonial state for the development of Belgian business interests in the Congo was evidenced in five separate but inter-related areas of support:

  1. They enacted laws and regulations that protected the interests of business and facilitated the easy expansion of new enterprises. At the same time, the colonial state undertook not to interfere with or regulate businesses.  This meant that there were virtually no laws that regulated how workers were treated.  Consequently, occupational safety procedures were lax and not enforced, even in underground mining and there was no minimum wage or benefits standards.  Businesses could mistreat their workers with no fear of state intervention.
  2. Land and mineral rights were allocated to large-scale agricultural and mineral companies often at no charge. Unlike the standard procedure in Europe and North America in which mining and agricultural companies have to submit bids on a competitive basis for land and mineral rights, in the Belgian Congo land and mineral concessions were dispersed by the colonial state, often with no charge to the enterprise.   It is important to note here that not only did the colonial state give up a considerable source of revenue that could have been used to enhance the well-being of the African population, there was no mechanism to provide reimbursement to local communities when vast tracks of land that belonged to them for centuries were expropriated and ceded as land and mineral rights to European companies. Production costs were minimalized and profits maximized in a production system where the “inputs” –mineral ore, land—were free and labor was cheap.
  3. The colonial state helped guarantee a cheap and reliable source of labor for agricultural and mining companies. Although the brutal system of forced labor that was developed by the Congo Free State was made illegal in 1908 when the Belgian colonial government took control of the Congo, the new administration instituted policies that helped guarantee that the rapidly expanding labor needs of mining and agricultural companies were adequately met.  The primary mechanism employed by the colonial state to promote a reliable source of labor was taxation.   The colonial state, arguing that it was their right to tax their Congolese subject, instituted a type of “head-tax,” in which every able bodied adult male was taxed.  This was very similar to the system that was imposed by the British in their settler colonies to the south.  In each local community a census was required.  Based on the census every male was assessed a tax.  The assessed tax could only be paid with Belgian Francs.  The only effective way for male community members to raise the money to pay their tax was to “sell” their labor on a European owed farm or mine through a system that required them to work under contract for specified time.  The colonial state established draconian practices that meted out harsh punishments, including public whippings and imprisonment for workers who failed to fulfill their contract or who were deemed lazy or incorrigible.
  4. The colonial state invested heavily in the expansion and professionalization of the Force Publique, a small army and an elaborate system of local courts and prisons. The state used these institutions of discipline – in the words of one historian—to maintain law and order and to help insure a disciplined and compliant labor force.  Given the importance of this imperative it should not be surprising that these institutions became most central and developed in the colonial state.
  5. The new and expanding mining and agricultural enterprises could only succeed if an adequate communication, transportation and energy infrastructure was developed. Roads and railways were needed to export minerals and agricultural products; a sophisticated telegraph system was also essential to facilitate communication; an inexpensive and reliable source of electricity was an imperative for mining operations, particularly for smelting copper and tin ore, which was too expensive to export, into nuggets and bars.  The colonial state had to fund and develop this infrastructure that primarily benefitted big enterprises. Labor for public works was inexpensive and available given the tax structures established by the colonial state.  Additional labor was provided by incarcerated prisoners.  Prison work gangs became important to infrastructural projects in local communities.

The relationship between business and the colonial state was not totally one sided with business being the sole beneficiary. Big business concerns were taxed, howbeit at very minimal rates.  These taxes, along with the revenue raised taxing the African population, were the primary revenue sources that funded the colonial state.

Given the importance of business to the colonial enterprise, colonial civil servants (Belgians) were committed to the paternalist perspective of the colonial state—that the state was there to shape and control the lives—and minds—of their colonial subjects.  Young quotes a policy circular to civil servants in 1922 “It is a mistake to believe . . .that once taxes are paid and other legal obligations met, the native may remain inactive.  Under no circumstances may magistrates or officials express this opinion.  In every case, I should consider this to be a lack of discipline violating the recommendations of the government and our most positive duties towards our black subjects.”  (p 16)  It was an absolute imperative that the colonial state and its composite departments fulfilled its central role to international business –in ways outlined above.  The Governor-General in 1922 asserted that the central role of civil servants should be “penetrated with the idea that his reason for existence is to favor and develop our occupation and that this duty consists of supporting every enterprise.” (quoted by Young p 16)

The strong symbiotic relationship between the colonial state and enterprise was further facilitated by the structure of the colonial civil service.  Colonial civil servants were required by law to retire after completing 23 years of service.  Consequently many of the forcibly retired civil servants were middle aged, who were more than willing to begin second careers in the Congo where they could make significantly higher salaries working for mining companies than then could if they returned to Europe.   By the 1930s a “revolving door” relationship developed between the colonial civil service and the mines.  As a result, civil servants, desiring good position in post-retirement, were “naturally” inclined to curry favor from their potential future employers by supporting the interests of the companies while still in the employ of the colonial state.

Summary:  The unique system of direct rule that the Belgians developed in the Congo place restricted policymaking and administration to the colonial administration.  Unlike the French in the neighboring French Equatorial African colonies, the Belgian system did not allow for even token participation in the political process by their Congolese subjects. The earliest consultative body set up by the Belgians, the Conseil Colonial had no power other than to advise.  It had fourteen members, six selected by the Belgian Parliament and eight appointed by the King.  As late as 1958, two years before independence, the Conseil did not have a single African representative –instead, most were senior civil servants, members of the clergy and representatives of big business.

The second consultative set of structures in the Belgian Congo was the Conceil de Gouvernement that had four provincial replicas in addition to a national level Conceil de Gouvernement.  Between 1914 when the Conceils were established and 1948 they were comprised of low level civil servants, with no actual power to enact policy.  In 1948 the Conceil de Gouvernement was reformed to be more representative of all colonial stakeholders.  For the first time, twelve years before Congo got its independence, there was African representation, howbeit very meager, in an official government body.  In addition to representatives from business and mission societies, two African representatives were selected for the provincial and national Conceil de Gouvernement.  These two African positions on the Conseils were restricted to traditional chiefs.  The growing urban class of relatively well-educated Congolese were intentionally excluded from membership in the Conseils. 


Your Turn

Using the graphic organizer provided to you below, fill in the boxes with respective information about each of the trinity’s responsibilities, and where the responsibilities overlap (the white boxes that indicate toward the connecting arrows).

Trinity Responisbilities Graphic Organizer

Social Efforts

As elsewhere in Africa, the question of colonial investment in social welfare in the Belgian Congo was controversial. Mission societies and some colonial officials asserted that the colonial administration had an ethical obligation to provide schools, clinics, and adequate sanitation for its colonial subjects. However, most colonial interest groups—mining and trading companies, commercial farmers and the majority of colonial officials –did not view social welfare provisioning as state obligations. This perspective was strengthened by the political and economic realities of the Belgian Congo. The colonial administration did not have the revenues available to adequately address the varying social welfare needs and they were unable to borrow funds for this purpose. Moreover, given the undemocratic nature of colonialism—the African colonial subjects were not given a voice in the political arena—there was no real political incentive to address these needs.

When colonial officials did invest money in developing a skeletal public health care such as a concerted effort in the 1930s to limit the spread of debilitating sleeping sickness, it was based more on its own economic self-interest than it was on an altruistic response to an ethical obligation. In that case, the sleeping sickness epidemic significantly reduced the availability of labor for colonial projects.


In post-1908 Belgian Congo, the issue of schooling for the Congolese colonial subjects was developed out of an attempt to take into consideration the perspectives and interests of the three main actors in the colony: the colonial state, the church/mission societies, and business.  Educational policy in the colony was influenced by the larger colonial philosophy of paternalism, as discussed above. Consequently, there was agreement among these stakeholders that policy related to schooling should not involve the Congolese population, since as “children” they did not have the capacity to decide what type and how much schooling was appropriate.  Given this perspective, there was general agreement among the “trinity” that elementary schools held promise as institutions where Africans could be “de-tribalized” and re-socialized with modern Christian values and perspectives. But, given the perspective that Africans did not have the same cognitive capacity, it was not seen as necessary; indeed it would be counter-productive to significantly develop post-elementary education in the colony.

However, in spite of this consensus there were at times significant differences between these three major stakeholders regarding how much and what type of schooling should be made available to the Congolese.

Christian Missions: Both the dominant Roman Catholic mission societies and the less numerous Protestant mission groups viewed basic schooling as essential to their goal of converting the Congolese people to Christianity and to instilling (socializing) the converts with Christian values and perspectives.  Most important to the mission agenda were basic literacy (to facilitate reading the Bible), basic arithmetic, a heavy dose of religious-values indoctrination, supplemented by basic vocational education emphasizing “scientific” farming, and “home-making” (for female students). As the twentieth century progressed, mission societies began to advocate for additional schooling limited to a small number of Congolese in order to train teachers, medical assistants and ministers/priests.  However, consistent with the ideology of paternalism, they did not push for the expansion of secondary or higher education for the majority of the Congolese children.  Indeed, in addition to its Christianizing agenda, schools continued to be seen, in the words of a leading mission educator, to instill discipline and “le gout et l’habitude du travail manuel” [“a taste for and habit of manual work.”]

A major concern for the mission societies was the funding of their educational efforts.  The societies were dependent on the colonial state to fund the building and staffing of their schools.  The colonial state, as will be detailed below, did not have the capacity to meet the expansionary vision of the mission societies even when state officials were sympathetic to expanding basic educational opportunities.

Mission School in Northern Belgian Congo African Focus: Sights and Sounds of a Continent
Mission School in Northern Belgian Congo
African Focus: Sights and Sounds of a Continent
Mission Hospital in Belgian Congo Africa Focus: Sights and Sounds of a Continent
Mission Hospital in Belgian Congo
Africa Focus: Sights and Sounds of a Continent
Mission Church in Belgian Congo Africa Focus: Sights and Sounds of a Continent
Mission Church in Belgian Congo
Africa Focus: Sights and Sounds of a Continent

Business:  Belgian and European business concerns in the Congo did not share the missionary perspective on the importance of basic schooling as a moral and religious imperative.  Consequently, their perspective on schooling for the masses of population was more guarded, based partially on the recognition that expansion of education would demand an increase in state revenue which in turn would require increased taxation that would eat into their profits.  Moreover, businesses were interested in a disciplined, compliant workforce.  Some business leaders in the Belgian Congo expressed concerns that education could result in a less compliant and more vocal workforce.

However, the expansion of the large-scale mining industry resulted in an increased demand for a minimally skilled permanent workforce.  Consequently, by the 1940s the large mining companies supported the expansion of elementary level of education accompanied by a very gradual expansion of secondary education to fill the few skilled labor positions available to Congolese workers.

Colonial state: In the early decades of the twentieth century, colonial officials in the Congo did not perceive the expansion of elementary education to all Congolese as part of their responsibility to the people.  Their response to pressure from mission societies and business to expand access to a full six years of elementary education was tempered by very real revenue restraints.  The central imperative of the colonial regime was to provide a safe, secure, and supportive environment for profit seeking businesses. Realizing this imperative necessitated some taxation to support infrastructural development and security through the army, Force Publique, and system of courts and jails, along with a minimal allocation of funds to support basic education. This system severely restricted the funds available to expand educational opportunities for the majority of Congolese.

An important factor that led the colonial regime to increase funding to schooling in the 1940s and 1950s was the expansion of the state institutions.  The growing security and infrastructural demands on the state necessitated a considerable expansion in the number of middle level African civil servants, which in turn necessitated a significant expansion of state support for basic and even secondary education in the Congo in the years leading up to independence in 1960.

In summary, the limited educational system that was allowed to develop in the Congo had a basic curriculum modeled on that of the metropole (Belgium) and the content of schooling was heavily Europeanized (based on European education models). Consequently, school curricula in the Congo, like elsewhere in colonial Africa, were oriented towards Europe and seldom focused on Africa; students fortunate enough to attend school learned about the history, geography, and environment of Europe but not of Africa.  The few students who completed primary or secondary school had the skills to assist the colonial state or mission societies, but were not equipped to address the economic and social problems confronting their own communities.

At independence in 1960 Congo had an extensive primary school system (70% enrollment) but less than 10 percent of the students who completed primary school went to secondary school and the country had only 50 university graduates.  This certainly did not provide a strong human resource foundation on which to build a new independent country whose orientation dramatically shifted from profit maximization for large extractive businesses to facilitating social and economic development oriented towards improving the lives of the Congolese citizens.

Your Turn

  1. What were Belgian business officials concerned would happen if the Congolese became educated? Do you think this fear wass based on truth? What do you think might happen if the Congolese had been more educated?
  2. What was the primary goal of Christian mission education? What skills did they want the Congolese to have, and why?
  3. >What did Congolese students learn in school? What is problematic about this?

African response to Belgian Colonialism

In most of our discussion on colonialism in the Congo, the voice of the Congolese people has been muted. The narrative has concentrated on the actions of the three major European colonial stakeholders: the state administration, mission societies, and big business, as well as the consequence of these actions on the Congolese people and societies.  If we were to end the story at this point, it would be severely deficient.  We would be guilty of the same paternalism that informed colonial perspectives, embracing the perspective that African input is unimportant, since their actions were inconsequential to the history and ending of colonialism in the Congo. Although there was a tremendous imbalance of power between the colonialists and the colonized that frustrated many African initiatives, the Congolese population were not passive recipients of colonial rule; they responded to colonial intrusion with a variety of acts of open and covert resistance.  We now turn our attention to these voices and actions.

Political and Economic Resistance:  Compared to early demonstrations of political resistance throughout British and French colonies in Africa, overt acts of resistance by Congolese to Belgian rule was far more muted.  This reflects the effective dismantlement of traditional Congolese political systems and civil society, first through the brutal actions of the Congo Free State followed by the active paternalism of the Belgian colonial state that intentionally erased traditional systems of power and governance and excluded African participation in any institutions of governance at the local, provincial and colony-wide levels.

Political resistance to colonial rule in the Congo prior to the movement towards independence in the late 1950s was location-based.  Peasant farmers in the rural areas were confronted with a different expression of colonial governance and economic exploitation than was experienced by the growing urban workforce in the mid 20th century. Consequently, the focus of and tactic employed in resisting colonial rule were not the same in rural and urban areas.

Three factors contributed to peasant unrest in the Belgian Congo. First, there was strong opposition to the imposed “head-tax” that was placed on all adult males.  As elsewhere in colonial Africa (Module Nine, Activity Six), the dual purpose of this tax was to provide revenues to the colonial state that used the taxes to support “disciplinary” institutions such as the army and Force Publique, whose primary duty was to maintain law and order and compliance to colonial dictates through the brutal use of force, if necessary, and as the primary mechanism to “recruit” labor for Belgian owned mines and industries.  Opposition to this tax is understandable since it was an imposed taxation “without representation,” that had little benefit to the people and was used primarily to enforce draconian, or excessively harsh or severe, colonial laws. Moreover, many rural dwellers had no option other than to sell their labor to earn the necessary funds to pay the assessed tax. Historians are in agreement that these taxes were, in reality, a mechanism for forced labor since few Congolese willingly sought work in mines and industries where working conditions were harsh, benefits nonexistent, and wages barely provided for subsistence living.

The second factor that contributed to rural resistance in the Belgian Congo was the forced cultivation of non-food crops. Beginning in the era of the Congo Free State, the colonial regime forced forest-dwellers to collect rubber and palm oil. While the Belgian colonial government ended the egregious practice of brutal punishment for Congolese men who did not collect their quota of rubber or palm oil, they continued to force participation in rubber and palm oil production through the mechanism of taxation. As described above, forest dwellers, like peasant farmers, were required to pay a head-tax on all adult males.  Forest dwellers were required to pay their tax through the collecting of rubber and palm oil. An adapted practice was introduced in the savanna regions of southern and eastern Congo, where the Colonial state was interested in engaging the peasant-subsistence farming communities in the production of cash crops that would benefit the Belgian economy. As the French colonialists did in French West Africa (Module Nine, Activity Seven), the Belgians forced peasant farmers in these savanna areas to replace their food production with the growing of cotton which was a non-indigenous crop. This policy created significant hardship for the peasant farmers who not only had to learn to grow an alien crop, due to labor and land necessary to produce cotton, they were unable to produce sufficient food crops to meet their dietary needs, resulting in them having to purchase, for the first time, some of the food that they consumed.  To add insult to injury, the system was set up to maximize the profits of the Belgian companies who were given concessionary charters to purchase all of the cotton produced in a given region.  The price paid to the peasant farmers for the cotton they produced was not set by open market rates, it was set by the companies who established purchase prices to maximize their profits, but that barely covered production costs and did not provide sufficient surplus to cover the cost of the food that peasant farmers had to purchase to make up for what they could no longer produce.

The third factor that caused resistance in rural areas were the draconian methods of punishment that the colonial government used as a mechanism to force compliance with their laws and regulations.  Failure to pay taxes or to produce cotton or to comply with other rules and regulations resulted in a variety of harsh punishments including imprisonment, forced labor on public works, and corporal punishment including public whippings.

Rural dwellers expressed their opposition to systems of oppression through both passive and overt acts of resistance. Passive acts of defiance including tax evasion, deliberate sabotage of crop production expressed through failing to properly water or fertilize the crop, or migration without official permission to urban areas or to other rural areas where cotton production was not promoted.

There are also examples of overt act for rebellion in rural areas of the Belgian Congo.  One of the major rural revolts was the Pende uprising of 1931 in the Kwilu region of south central Congo, about 200 kilometers east, south-east, of Kinshasa which claimed over one thousand lives before it was finally put down by the Belgians. The revolt was directly tied to the colonial political economy in general and the economic hardships imposed by two cotton concession companies operating in the region, the Huileries du Congo Belge and the Compagnie du Kusai, in particular.

Interestingly, Kwilu was also the center of religious independency in the 1930s-1940s, which will be discussed below. Combined with peasant unrest, it laid a foundation for late 1950s when Parti Solidaire Africain, one of the most progressive pro-independence nationalist political parties the time was formed this region.

Urban-based resistance to colonial rule was also in response to both draconian political policy and egregious exploitation by mines and industry. The earliest urban unrest occurred in the 1941 with two strikes in mineral rich Katanga, the first in Likasi and the second in Elizabethville (Lubumbashi) both were put down with violent force that left over 100 strikers dead.

In 1944 major insurrection occurred between February and March that started with a mutiny by Congolese soldiers in the barracks and spread along the major line of rail that joined Lubumbashi and mineral rich Katanga province with the central commercial agricultural province of Kasai Occidental (city of Kananga). The insurrection involved virtually all the social classes of the anti-colonial alliance with specific demands for reform that spoke to the needs/interests of soldiers, mine and industrial workers, junior civil servants and peasant farmers.  Agreed on demands by the insurrectionists are summarized by John Higginson in his 1989 book, A Working Class in the Making: Belgian Colonial Labor Policy, Private Enterprise, and the African Mineworker, 1907 – 1951.

(1) an end to hunger and starvation; (2) the abolition of forced cultivation of cotton and the abusive power of government appointed chiefs and social assistants; (3) reduction in the head tax, which given African wages was higher than similar taxes levied in South Africa; (4) better treatment by European officers and the abolition of racial epithets such as ‘macaque’ and ‘singe’; (5) the abolition of corporal punishment in prisons; (6) the abolition of the economic privilege of the white skin.” (P 198)

The insurrection was finally put was forcibly down by the army and Force Publique, resulting in hundreds of deaths and the imprisonment of additional hundreds.  However, the colonial government was forced into a reluctant realization that the concerns of the Congolese people had to be addressed, even if in a minimalist manner.  Consequently, improvements were made in the working conditions for urban workers, in the provision of health, education, and other social services.  But, there was no movement to significantly increase the Congolese participation in the institutions of governance or to open up skilled and managerial positions in industry or government.   This would have to wait until the late 1950s, when it was far too late to salvage the colonial system, or most unfortunately, to lay a solid political and economic foundation for an independent Congo.

Religious resistance

Congolese grievances were not restricted to the political and economic spheres.  Missionaries were often considered to be the least offensive of the ruling “trinity” in the Belgian Congo—indeed some missionaries were relative liberals in comparison to Belgian colonial officials and representatives of the business community.  However, missionaries were often guilty of racial paternalism and of general support for the colonial agenda.  Congolese response to mission paternalism was complicated by the reality that all African societies are deeply religious and spiritual as is detailed in Module Fourteen. During the 20th century the vast majority of Congolese converted to Christianity, but they brought to this conversion a significant reservoir of Africanist perspectives and beliefs that formed their response to mission ideology and practice.

In Module Fourteen, Activity Four we provide a detailed description of African Initiative (or Independent) Churches (AICs) that were formed throughout colonial Africa beginning in the early 20th century, many of which are still vibrant today. In the Belgian Congo AICs provided a significant resistance to both the mission churches from which they broke away and to the harsh political, economic and social realities of the colonial experience.

There were a number of AIC movements formed in the Congo during the colonial era the largest and most successful in terms of influence and membership is the Kimbanguist Church

The Kimbanguist Church emerged from the charismatic ministry of Simon Kimbangu in the early 1920s. Kimbangu was already a member of the English Baptist Mission Church when he reportedly first received his visions and divine call to preach the word and heal the sick. Touring the lower Congo, he gained a large following drawn both from members of Protestant churches and adherents of indigenous religious practice. He preached a doctrine that was in many ways stricter than that of the Protestantism from which it evolved. Healing by the laying on of hands; strict observance of the law of Moses; the destruction of fetishes; the repudiation of sorcery, magic, charms, and witches; and the prohibition of polygyny were all part of his original message.

One of the few known photos of Simon Kimbangu taken in prison. No date provided.
One of the few known photos of Simon Kimbangu taken in prison. No date provided.

The extent of his success caused increasing alarm among both church and state authorities. Numerous preachers and sages appeared, many of them professing to be his followers. Some of these preachers and possibly some of Kimbangu's own disciples introduced anti-European elements in their teachings. And European interests were affected when African personnel abandoned their posts for long periods in order to follow Kimbangu and participate in his services.

In June 1921, the colonial government judged the movement out of control, banned the sect, exiled members to remote rural areas, and arrested Kimbangu, only to have the prophet "miraculously" escape; the escape further amplified his popular mystique. In September of that year he voluntarily surrendered to the authorities and was sentenced to death for hostility against the state; the sentence was later commuted to life imprisonment.  Kimbangu died in prison in 1950. His movement, however, did not die with him. It flourished and spread "in exile" in the form of clandestine meetings, often held in remote areas by widely scattered groups of congregants.

Simon Kibangu who spent 30 years in prison was the longest serving political prisoner in modern history—three years longer than the 27 years spent in prison by the far more famous Nelson Mandela in South Africa. Kimbanguism, as articulated in the colonial era, had two concomitant goals: the salvation of the soul and the liberation of the Congo.  To control the movement and that of other AIC initiatives the colonial regime established four rural detention centers (“concentration camps”) for religious adherents.  Ironically, these camps were used by the authoritarian Mobutu regime to house political prisoners in the 1970s and 1980s.

In 1959, on the eve of independence, the state despaired of stamping out Kimbanguism and afforded it legal recognition.  The legalized church, known as the Church of Jesus Christ on Earth was founded by Prophet Simon Kimbangu (Église de Jésus-Christ sur Terre par le Prophète Simon Kimbangu—EJCSK). Currently it is the second largest (surpassed only by Roman Catholics) in the DRC, claiming a membership of five million.  The Kimbanguist Church received international recognition in 1969 when it became the first AIC to be granted membership in the World Council of Churches, the largest global association of Christian churches.

Since the independence of the Congo in 1960, the Kimbanguists have bent over backwards to curry favor with the state. In the 1980s the then church head, Simon Kimbangu's son, regularly exchanged public praise with the authoritarian leader President Mobutu and it became one of the state's main ideological supports. Structurally, the church organization has been changed to parallel the administrative division of the state into regions, subregions, zones, and collectivities. The Kimbanguist Church deliberately rotates its officials outside their areas of origin in order to depoliticize ethnicity and centralize power, a policy taken directly from the state. An insistence on absolute obedience to the leader and a ban on doctrinal disputes also are shared by both institutions. In many ways, by the 1980s the Kimbanguist Church and the Roman Catholic Church had exchanged places in their relationship with the state; the former outlaw has become a close ally and the former ally to the colonial regime became an outspoken critic of the regime of President Mobutu whose rule will be detailed in the next learning activity.

Main Kimbanguist Temple at Nkamba, DRC
Main Kimbanguist Temple at Nkamba, DRC

Your Turn

Complete the following graphic organizer with the information you have just read about the various forms of open and covert resistance by the Congolese in response to their colonization. First, define what is meant by “open resistance” and “covert resistance,” and then find explicit examples from the reading that would qualify as either one of these types of resistance.

Resistance Graphic Organizer

After completing the graphic organizer, answer the following open-ended question:

Which do you think is more effective, open or covert resistance? Why?

Independence Movement

In Module Seven (B) Activity Four, we provided an overview of the rise of African nationalism and the demand for political independence that developed across the African continent in the aftermath of World War II.  However, the response to the winds of change (a phrase used by British Prime Minister Harold MacMillian) was not recognized or accepted in a uniform way by the various colonial powers.  Britain, with the exception of its settler colonies in Kenya and Rhodesia, responded to the demands of African nationalists, recognizing the independence of the Sudan (1956), Ghana (1957), the Gambia, Nigeria, and Sierra Leone (1960).  France was somewhat more reluctant, but bowed to popular demands in French West and French Equatorial Africa, recognizing the independence of their former colonies beginning with Guinea in 1958 and the remainder in 1960.

Portugal totally resisted the legitimate demands for self-rule in its three colonies (Angola, Guinea-Bissau, Mozambique) until liberation movements formed in these three countries combined with the ending of military rule in Portugal led to the independence of their former colonies in 1974.

The Belgian government and colonial regime responded differently to the winds of change that were blowing across the Congo in the form of increased demands for greater participation in the political area, the right to form trade unions, for an end to social discrimination, as well as for greater access to education.  As late as the mid-1950s, the colonial government maintained its commitment to paternalism, asserting that the Congolese were not ready to assume more voice in their own governance.  Indeed, the colonialist reacted with dismay when in early 1956 a Belgian professor, A.A.J. Van Bilsen, published a short article in which he argued that the government should begin to train Congolese for self-governance, a process that he projected would take 30 years!

The Congolese, unlike the colonial regime, fully embraced the winds of change. In the post-World War II era, the growing urban working class became more vocal in their demands for increased wages, better benefits, the ending of harsh disciplinary actions by employers and the right to form trade unions to represent their interests. Congo, by the late 1950s, had the largest wage workforce in sub-Saharan Africa, except for South Africa—in 1954 there were 1,146,000 in Congo (compared to just over 600,000 in Southern Rhodesia (Zimbabwe)—the next largest wage force in sub-Saharan Africa.  However, only 7,500 were unionized (less than 1%) compared to 25% unionized in the neighboring colony of Northern Rhodesia.  The annual income per capita was just $77 for urban workers and $29 for rural workers. The 13.5 million Congolese earned 58% of the national income, whereas the 100,000 plus Europeans controlled 42% of the national income.

In addition to growing opposition by urban workers, in 1956 a group of Catholic intellectuals formed a group called Conscience africaine (African Consciousness) that accepted the concept of guided, gradual movement towards independence, as proposed by Van Bilsen, but took the opportunity of this endorsement to demand a beginning of the proposed process of incorporating Africans into the decision-making structures of governance. A demand, that even by the mid 1950s, the colonial government was not willing to entertain.

The winds of change gave rise to other, more militant, Congolese voices who were not sympathetic to Van Bilsen’s gradualism.  In the same year (1956), the Alliance des Bakongo, (Abako) a more radical group led by a middle-level civil servant, Joseph Kasa-Vubu, rejected a 30-year plan in their published response, instead calling for immediate emancipation and movement towards independence. The Belgian colonial officials were shocked at the response by Abako, and its support in urban areas of western Congo.  This organization, however, was regional in its orientation, initially appealing to the peoples of this region.

In 1958, under the leadership of Patrice Lumumba, a second more radical and more national political party was formed: the Mouvement national Congolese (MNC—National Movement of the Congo). We will focus more on Patrice Lumumba in activity three, but his importance to the independence movement in the Congo and his stature as a Pan Africanist should not be underestimated. In late 1958, Lumumba was one of three Congolese leaders who attended the All African Peoples’ Conference that was hosted by Ghanaian President Kwame Nkrumah, who had led Ghana to independence a year earlier in 1957.  The presidents of the few other independent African countries—Egypt, Sudan, Guinea, were also in attendance as were the leaders of nationalist parties from around the continent.  Lumumba and the other delegates from the Congo were strongly impacted by the arguments made in support of the immediate independence of all African colonies, the need for Africa’s economic autonomy from control by companies based in the former colonial powers, and for the movement towards Pan African solidarity and unity.

Lumumba returned home with a strong commitment to accelerating demands on Belgium to grant independence to the Congo.  Indeed, under his leadership, the MNC organized a mass meeting of party supporters on December 28, 1958.  It was at this public meeting that for the first time Congolese leaders openly, and strongly, advocated for independence.  Worried that MNC would gain support, the rival Abako party under the leadership of Joseph Kasa-Vubu, called for a public meeting of their party for the following week, on January 4, 1959.  However, the colonial government, which had been greatly surprised by the MNC rally and by the positive support it had generated among the Congolese, decided at the last minute to ban the rally planned by Abako. When the government sent in police to keep the meeting from starting, the people who had gathered reacted by throwing stones at the police and at nearby businesses.

Taken by surprise, the colonial state reacted harshly by attacking the protesters, a number of whom were killed, severely injured, or imprisoned. When news of these events reached Brussels, the king and government were shocked. These officials were so totally instilled with the paternalism that had guided their rule in the Congo for decades they could not understand the depth of dissatisfaction expressed by the Congolese protesters.  These officials genuinely believed that vast majority of the people of the Congo accepted Belgian rule and were appreciative of the efforts that the colonial state, church and industry made to “improve” the lives of the people.

The harsh “reality check” of the protesters, caused a radical re-evaluation by Brussels of the future of their political control in the Congo.  By mid-January of 1959, in two separate policy statements, the king of Belgium and the government in Brussels indicated a willingness to negotiate a quick transition to independence.

The rest of 1959 and early 1960 was a chaotic time in the Congo as the colonial state tried to put into place a transition to independence within a political context where it had allowed virtually no Congolese participation, in which there were no Congolese civil servants in the higher ranks who had experience or expertise in administering government departments, and fewer Congolese with any professional qualifications.

Added to the uncertainty caused by the legacy of Belgium paternalism was the response of the small Congolese elite who were poised to become the leaders of a new nation that was nearly as large as the U.S. east of the Mississippi, and with a population comprised of more than 200 ethnic groups that were the primary source of the people’s identity and loyalty. Outside of this small elite group, identification with the Congo was almost absent. In January 1959 there was one recently formed national political organization (MNC) and one relatively organized regional party (Abako). However, when it became clear that the Belgians were poised to give up political control of the Congo, political parties were quickly formed by elites who perceived an opportunity to achieve political positions of power.

Unfortunately, given the lack of national identity, most of the rapidly formed political organizations were ethnically or regionally based and were formed by aspiring political elites, many of whom drew support from ethnic and regional loyalties. These “ethnic entrepreneurs,” had national aspirations, but lacked the resources to develop truly national organizations; therefore, they relied on local loyalties and networks to further their ambitions. Consequently, the 18-month period leading up to independence was marred by regional or ethnically based competition, at times expressed in violence that established a blueprint for post-colonial politics in the Congo.

A constitutional conference early in 1960 established a federal political system with a strong national government that was comprised of bi-cameral legislature; an elected National Assembly with 137 seats and an elected Senate with 84 seats.  Under the constitution, the party that won the most seats in the National Assembly would select the Prime Minister and cabinet.  Both chambers of the legislature would elect the country’s president, who would have less power in this system than the prime minister.

Twenty-six parties contested the elections on May 22, 1960 on the eve of independence.  No one party won enough seats to control the legislature, however, the MNC under Lumumba’s leadership won 33 seats more than twice as many as the second place party.  Lumumba formed a coalition with some of the smaller parties and was selected to be independent Congo’s first prime minister.  The National Assembly and Senate then elected Kasa-Vuvu as president.

King Baudouin of Belgium, Leopold II’s great grandson, traveled to the Congo in June, 1960 to represent his country at Congo’s independence celebration on June 30, 1960.

King Baudouin at the Independence Celebration
King Baudouin at the Independence Celebration
Patrice Lumumba
Patrice Lumumba
Joseph Kasa-Vuvu
Joseph Kasa-Vuvu
President Kasa-Vuvu at the Independence Date Parade, June 30, 1960
President Kasa-Vuvu at the Independence Date Parade, June 30, 1960

Your Turn: 

Introduction: The Belgian style of colonialism, as expressed and experienced in the Congo, shared common attributes with the way colonialism was practiced by other European powers in their African colonies. However, the colonialism practiced in the Congo also had unique attributes expressed in extreme paternalism. For example, while in the late 1950s Congo had the largest industrial labor forces in all of Africa, it also had one of the most underdeveloped education systems in all of Africa. This legacy loomed large, as Congo became an independent nation in June 1960.  Your assignment is to write a persuasive essay in which you use historical evidence provided in this section to intelligently project the impact of this legacy on the capacity of independent Congo to govern effectively, and its ability to seriously address social and economic needs of the newly independent country.

Question: How does the political legacy—the impact of paternalism and total exclusion of African participation— impact Congo’s post-independence history?

Example Thesis Stem: Congo’s post-independence history is impacted by the political legacy of paternalism and exclusion by __________________________.

Minimum Requirements:

  • Define paternalism (using in-text and source citation)
  • Explain African exclusion (using in-text and source citation)
  • Make an argument for how paternalism and exclusion has impacted Congo’s post-independence history
  • Speculate as to what the Congo’s post-independence history would have been had paternalism and exclusion of African participation not occurred
  • Use the Congo’s history as (an) example(s) to support your argument (using in-text and source citations)
  • Use examples from other countries’ history to support your argument (using in-text and source citations) For example, use an African country that experiences indirect rule (Ghana, Nigeria, Uganda) and/or an African country that experienced a less paternalistic form of direct rule (Senegal, Mali, Cote D’Ivoire), and/or an African country that was a European settler dominated colony (Angola, Kenya, Zimbabwe).
  • 4 pages
  • MLA format and citations
  • 3 source citation on works cited page
  • 3 in-text citations
  • Argumentative elements: argument, claim, evidence, warrant, counter-argument
  • Essay elements: intro, thesis, topic sentences, body paragraphs, conclusion

Go on to Activity Three or select from one of the other activities: