Belgian Congo

Belgian Congo

Infobox Former Country
native_name = Congo belge (French)
Belgisch Kongo (Dutch)
conventional_long_name = Belgian Congo
common_name = Congo
continent = Africa
region = Congo
country = Democratic Republic of the Congo
status = Colony
empire = Belgium
event_start =
year_start = 1908
date_start = 15 November
event_end = Independence
year_end = 1960
date_end = 30 June
event_post = Secessions¹
date_post = July-August, 1960
p1 = Congo Free State
flag_p1 = Flag of Congo Free State.svg
s1 = Republic of the Congo (Léopoldville)
flag_s1 = Flag of Congo Kinshasa 1960.svg

symbol = Coat of arms of the Democratic Republic of the Congo

image_map_caption = The Belgian Congo
capital = Léopoldville/Leopoldstad
national_motto = Travail et Progres
(Work and Progress)
anthem = National Anthem of Belgium
religion =
currency = Congolese franc
government_type =
leader1 = Leopold II
year_leader1 = 1908-09
leader2 = Albert I
year_leader2 = 1909-34
leader3 = Leopold III
year_leader3 = 1934-51
leader4 = Baudouin I
year_leader4 = 1951-60
title_leader = King of Belgium
representative1 = Baron Wahis
year_representative1 = 1908-1910
representative2 = Eugène Jacques Pierre Louis Jungers
year_representative2 = 1946-1951
representative3 = Henri Arthur Adolf Marie Christopher Cornelis
year_representative3 = 1958-1960
title_representative = Governor
footnotes = ¹ Secession of Katanga on July 11, and South Kasai on August 8, 1960.

The Belgian Congo (Dutch: Belgisch Kongo, French: Congo Belge, German: Belgisch Kongo) was the formal title of present-day Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) 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. [citebook|title=The Congo from Leopold to Kabila: A People's History|author=Georges Nzongola-Ntalaja|year= 2002|publisher=Zed Books|id=ISBN 1842770535]


King Leopold II of Belgium successfully forced treaties upon native tribal and ethnic chieftains through expeditions of Henry Morton Stanley in June 1884. Leopold then raised publicity campaigns with the aid of American General Henry Shelton Sanford to persuade President Arthur and Congress to recognize Leopold's claim to the Congo.


Leopold made over his personal property, the Congo Free State, mainly due to international outrage over the brutality of his reign. Annexation to Belgium was accomplished by means of the Treaty of November 15, 1908, approved by the Belgian Parliament in August and by the King in October of the following year. The colony was administered by a governor-general at Boma, assisted by several vice governors-general. In Brussels, there was a colonial minister, who presided over the Colonial Council of 14 members, of whom 8 were appointed by the King and 3 chosen by the Senate and 3 by the Chamber of Deputies (lower chamber). The colony was divided into 15 administrative districts. The colonial budget was voted annually by the Belgian Parliament.

When the Belgian Government took over the Administration from King Leopold II, the situation in the Congo improved substantially.

The educational system was dominated by the Roman Catholic Church and, in some rare cases, Protestant churches, and the curricula reflected Christian and Western values. For example, in 1948, fully 99.6% of educational facilities were controlled by Christian missions. Native schooling was mainly religious and vocational. Children learned how to write and read, and some mathematics, but that was all.

Political administration fell under the total and direct control of the coloniser; there were no democratic institutions. The head of state remained the King of the Belgians (who no longer had any political influence). The Belgian government controlled the country, but day-to-day operations were carried out by the governor general (see Colonial heads of Congo), who was appointed as a colonial administrator by the government.

There was a kind of "Apartheid", as there were curfews for natives and other such restrictions were commonplace. Though there were no specific laws (as in South Africa and the South of the United States at the time) barring blacks from entering the same establishments whites frequented, there was de facto segregation in most areas.

In 1952, Governor-General Léon Antoine Marie Pétillon wrote to the Secretary of Colonies, saying that if nothing was done to ameliorate the situation in the Congo, Belgium would lose its only colony. He wanted to give the native people more civil rights, even suffrage. The Belgian government was against this proposal, saying that "it would only destabilise the region". In Belgium, some members of Parliament wanted to incorporate the Congo into the Belgian Kingdom. Native Congolese people would thus be Belgian citizens, and would therefore have full political rights. The same Léon Petillon was, however, vehemently opposed to transplanting Belgium's political issues to Congo on the grounds that it would 'divide the colonial Belgians'; he preferred to leave education in the hands of Catholic schools, but was forced to accept the founding of state schools. Likewise, to "preserve unity" and being monolingually French-speaking, he opposed the application of Belgium's language laws to its colonies, which had been demanded by some Flemish politicians. This would have made Dutch legally equal to French in the colonies as well. Congo's looming independence kept this issue from coming to fruition under his successor Henri Cornelis, the last Governor-General of the Belgian Congo.

In the 50's the Belgians experimented with giving the natives, particularly the so-called "evolués", a limited amount of political power. The évolués were the more Europeanized and thus, in the eyes of the colonial government, more civilized blacks.

However, Belgium was not very interested in its colony, as the government never had a strategic long-term vision in relation to the Congo. The Belgian King Baudouin I, on the other hand, took a lively interest in the Congo during and after his first visit to his country's largest colony in 1955. Baudouin had become king in 1951 after his father, Leopold III, was forced to abdicate due to a controversy over the way he dealt with Nazi Germany's occupation of Belgium. The new king was generally seen as stiff and socially awkward. The Belgian press reported that the King seemed to "blossom" during this visit to Congo, in their opinion due to the huge crowds of cheering people, both black and white. The contrast could not have been greater with his second visit in 1959, when he unilaterally, and thus according to some Belgian politicians at the time unconstitutionally, decided to fly to the Congo to try to delay the country's independence. Upon his arrival in Léopoldville/Kinshasa he was pelted with rocks by blacks who were angry with the imprisonment of Patrice Lumumba (who whould later play an important role in post-independence Congo before he was assassinated). Though his reception in other cities was considerably better, the shouts of "Vive le Roi!" were often followed by "indépendence immédiate!". Indeed, a number of blacks were under the mistaken impression that Baudouin had flown to the Congo to grant it its independence. [citebook|title=Bwana Kitoko en de koning van de Bakuba|author=Erik Raspoet|year=2005|publisher=Meulenhoff/Manteau|id=ISBN 9085420202]

The Belgian Congo was one of the major exporters of uranium to the United States during World War II and the Cold War, particularly from the Shinkolobwe mine. The colony provided the uranium used in the fabrication of the atom bombs dropped on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945.

Even in the 1950s forced labour still continued in Congo, and life expectancy was less than forty years.

The rise of nationalism

The seeds of Congo's post-independence woes were sown in the emergence in the 1950s of two markedly different forms of nationalism. The nationalist movement — which the Belgian authorities, to some degree, turned a blind eye to — promoted territorial nationalism wherein the Belgian Congo would become one politically united state after independence. In opposition to this was the ethno-religious and regional nationalism that took hold in the Bakongo territories of the west coast, Kasaï, and Katanga.

In the early 1950s, these emerging nationalist movements put Belgium under increasing pressure to transform the Belgian Congo into a self-governing state. Belgium had ratified article 73 of the United Nations Charter, which advocated self-determination, and both superpowers put pressure on Belgium to reform their Congo policy. The Belgian government's response was largely dismissive. However, Belgian professor Antoine van Bilsen, in 1955, published a treatise called "Thirty Year Plan for the Political Emancipation of Belgian Africa". The timetable called for gradual emancipation of the Congo over a thirty-year period — the time Van Bilsen expected it would take to create an educated elite who could replace the Belgians in positions of power. The Belgian government and many of the "évolués" were suspicious of the plan — the former because it meant eventually giving up the Congo, and the latter because Belgium would still be ruling Congo for another three decades. A group of Catholic "évolués" responded positively to the plan with a manifesto in a Congolese journal called "Conscience Africaine", with their only point of disagreement being the amount of native Congolese participation. King Baudouin's spectacularly successful visit later that same year caused many in the Belgian government and press to dismiss the very idea of independence as it appeared that the black Congolese were very loyal to Belgium and its monarchy. Foreign observers such as the international correspondent of the Manchester Guardian remarked that Belgian paternalism 'seemed to work', and compared Belgium's seemingly loyal and enthusiastic colonial subjects to the restless French and British colonies. However, they failed to take into account that many blacks thought Baudouin had come to stop the colonial whites from mistreating the natives. While he did consistently emphasize better treatment of blacks, there were few major shifts in policy after his visit - the king's political power was constitutionally limited to almost none anyway. The situation deteriorated quickly after 1955.


The Mouvement National Congolais

Parallel to this was genesis of the Mouvement National Congolais (which was technically formed in 1956). The MNC was led by charismatic future prime minister Patrice Lumumba and supported the idea of complete unity for the Congo territory upon its independence. The party spread quickly after its formation to at least 4 provinces (there were six at the time). In 1959, an internal split was precipitated by Joseph Kalonji and other MNC leaders who favored a more moderate political stance (the splinter group was deemed Mouvement National Congolais-Kalonji. Despite the organizational divergence of the party, Lumbumba's leftist faction (now the Mouvement National Congolais-Lumumba) and the MNC collectively had established themselves as by far the most important and influential party in the Belgian Congo. Belgium vehemently opposed Lumumba's leftist views and had grave concerns about the status of their financial interests should Lumumba's MNC gain power. However, the MNC gained a plurality in the Congo's first independent elections and forced Belgium to acknowledge Lumumba as Prime Minister.

1959 and 1960: accelerating towards independence

Following the Léopoldville riots in March 1959 and Kasavubu's incarceration, 1959 initially saw the legalization of all Congolese political parties, followed by general elections throughout the Congo. The electoral activity resulted in all kinds of maneuvers by Congolese parties from which three political alliances emerged: a coalition of the federalistic nationalists of which consisted of six separatist parties or organizations, two of which were ABAKO and the MNC - Kalonji, the MNC-Lumumba, and finally that of the strong-man of Katanga, Moïse Tshombe, conscious of the economic vitality of its area and the business interests of the Mining Union (just like Kalonji with respect to the diamond exploitations in Kasaï). In 1960, the Round Table of Brussels was convened and occurred between January 20 and February 20. Congolese representatives and Belgians set the stage for nationwide elections later in the year. In May took place the legislative and provincial elections which marked new cleavages and alliances (the high vote-count for ABAKO) from which a compromise resulted: Joseph Kasavubu was elected President by the Parliament, Lumumba being a Prime Minister.


* Baron Théophile Wahis (November 1908-May 1912; originally appointed by Leopold II in 1900)
* Félix Alexandre Fuchs (May 1912–January 1916)
* Eugène Joseph Marie Henry (January 1916–January 1921)
* Maurice Eugène Auguste Lippens (January 1921–January 1923)
* Martin Joseph Marie René Rutten (January 1923–December 1927)
* Auguste Constant Tilkens (December 1927–September 1934)
* Pierre Marie Joseph Ryckmans (September 1934–July 1946)
* Eugène Jacques Pierre Louis Jungers (July 1946–January 1952)
* Léon Antoine Marie Pétillon (January 1952–July 1958)
* Henri Arthur Adolf Marie Christopher Cornelis (July 1958–June 1960)

See also

* Free Belgian Forces
* Force Publique
* University of Lovanium
* "Tintin in the Congo"
* "Heart of Darkness"


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