International

Belgian Congo

Belgian Congo, French Congo Belge, a former colony (coextensive with the present-day Democratic Republic of the Congo) in Africa, ruled by Belgium from 1908 until 1960. It was established by the Belgian parliament to replace the previous, privately owned Congo Free State, after international outrage over abuses there brought pressure for supervision and accountability. The official Belgian attitude was paternalism: Africans were to be cared for and trained as if they were children. They had no role in legislation, but traditional rulers were used as agents to collect taxes and recruit labor; uncooperative rulers were deposed. In the late 1950s, when France and the United Kingdom worked with their colonies to prepare for independence, Belgium still portrayed the Congo as an idyllic land of parent-child relationships between Europeans and Africans.

Picture released in 1955 of Congolese street saleswomen in the former Belgian Congo (Congo Belge), now called the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), a colony of Belgium between King Leopold II’s formal relinquishment of personal control over the state to Belgium on 15 November 1908, and the dawn of Congolese independence on 30 June 1960.

Private European and American corporations invested heavily in the Belgian Congo after World War I. Large plantations (growing cotton, oil palms, coffee, cacao, and rubber) and livestock farms were developed. In the interior, gold, diamonds, copper, tin, cobalt, and zinc were mined; the colony became an important source of uranium for the United States during World War II. Africans worked the mines and plantations as indentured laborers on four- to seven-year contracts, in accordance with a law passed in Belgium in 1922. Roads, railroads, electric stations, and public buildings were constructed by forced labor.

African resistance challenged the colonial regime from the beginning. A rebellion broke out in several eastern districts in 1919 and was not suppressed until 1923. Anti-European religious groups were active by the 1920s, including Kimbanguism and the Negro Mission in the west and Kitawala in the southeast. Unrest increased in the depression years (1931–36) and during World War II. Because political associations were prohibited at the time, reformers organized cultural clubs such as Abako, a Bakongo association formed in 1950. The first nationwide Congolese political party, the Congo National Movement, was launched in 1958 by Patrice Lumumba and other Congolese leaders.

An image from a 1905 book on the Congo Free State captures the process of drying rubber in the forest.

In January 1959, riots broke out in Leopoldville (now Kinshasa) after a rally was held calling for the independence of the Congo. Violent altercations between Belgian forces and the Congolese also occurred later that year, and Belgium, which previously maintained that independence for the Congo would not be possible in the immediate future, suddenly capitulated and began making arrangements for the Congo’s independence. The Congo became an independent republic on June 30, 1960.

Related posts

Peter Tosh

samepassage

These Africans shamelessly played an active role in the transatlantic slave trade

samepassage

The Maji Maji Rebellion Of Tanzanians Against German Brutality (1905-1907)

samepassage

The Pan-African Congress

joe bodego