Arthur Doyle.

The Crime of the Congo


It must be admitted that the Roman Catholic Church, as an organized body, has not raised her voice as she should in the matter of the Congo. Never was there such a field for a Las Casas. It was the proudest boast of that church that in the dark days of mans history she was the one power which stood with her spiritual terrors between the oppressor and the oppressed. This noble tradition has been sadly forgotten in the Congo, where the missions have themselves, as I understand, done most excellent work, but where the power of the Church has never been invoked against the constant barbarities of the State. In extenuation, it may be stated that the chief Catholic establishments are down the river and far from the rubber zones. It is important, however, to collect under a separate heading such testimony as exists, for an unworthy attempt has been made to represent the matter as a contest between rival creeds, whereas it is really a contest between humanity and civilization on one side and cruel greed upon the other.

The organization of the Catholic Church is more disciplined, and admits of less individualism than that of those religious bodies which supplied the valiant champions of right in the Congo. The simple priests were doubtless as horrified as others, within the limit of their knowledge, but the means of expression were denied them. M. Colfs, himself a Catholic, said in the Belgian Chamber: Our missionaries have less liberty than foreign missionaries. They are expected to keep silence There is a gag. This gag is placed in the mouth of Belgian missionaries.

Signor Santini, the Catholic and Royalist Deputy for Rome, has been one of the leaders in the anti-Congo movement, and has done excellent work in Italy. From his own sources of information he confirms and amplifies all that the English and Americans have asserted. Speaking in the Italian Parliament on February 4th, 1907, Signor Santini said:

I am proud to have been the first to bring the question of the Congo before this House. If at the present day we are spared the shame of seeing again officers of our Army, valorous and perfectly stainless, serving under and at the orders of an association of sweaters, slave-holders and barbarians, it is legitimate for me to declare that I have, if only modestly, at least efficaciously, co-operated in this result.

There is no conflict of creeds in such an utterance as that.

Catholic papers have occasionally spoken out bravely upon the subject.

Le Patriote, of Brussels (Royalist and Catholic), in its issue of February 28th, 1907, has an indignant editorial:

The rebellion in the A.B.I.R. territory extends. The Government itself forces the rubber, and delivers it on the Antwerp quay to the brokers of the A.B.I.R Nothing is altered on the Congo. The same abominable measures are adopted; the same outrages take place The Government is adopting the same measures as in the Mongalla, flooding the A.B.I.R.

territory with soldiers to utterly smash the people, whom it thinks will then work, and the rubber output be increased The memory of these deeds will remain graven in the memory of men, and in the memory of Divine vengeance. Sooner or later the executioners will have to render an account to God and to history.

There is one order of the Catholic Church which has always had a most noble record in its treatment of native races. These are the Jesuits. No one who has read the History of Paraguay, or studied the records of the Missions to the Red Indians of the eighteenth century, can forget the picture of unselfish devotion which they exhibit. Father Vermeersch, a worthy successor of such predecessors, has published a book, La Question Congolaise, in which he finds nothing incompatible between his position as a Catholic and his exposure of the abuses of the Congo.

In all points the position of Father Vermeersch and of the English Reformers appears to be identical.

On the rightful possession of the land by the natives he writes in terms which might be a paragraph from Mr. Morel:

On the Congo the land cannot be supposedly vacant. Presumption is in favour of occupation, of a full occupation. By this is meant that it is not sufficient to recognize to the natives rights of tenure over the land they actually cultivate, or certain rights of usage wood-cutting, hunting, fishing on the remainder of the territory; but these rights of usage, which are much more important than with us, appear to imply a full animus domini, and to signify a complete appropriation, which is carried out amongst us in different fashion. It is not, in effect, indispensable in natural law that I should exhaust the utility of an article or of land in order to be able to claim it as my own; it suffices that I should make use of it in a positive manner, but of my own will, personally, and that I should have the will to forbid any stranger to use it without my consent. Hence effective occupation is joined to intention, and all the constituent elements to a valid title of property exist. Let us suppose, moreover, that some great Belgian landowner wishes to convert portions of his property into sporting land that land, nevertheless, remains in his entire possession. Amongst the Congo natives, no doubt, occupation is usually collective; but such occupation is as worthy of respect as no matter what individual appropriation.

He continues:

To whom does the rubber belong which grows upon the land occupied by the Congo natives? To the natives, and to no one else, without their consent and just compensation.


To sum up, we recognize it with much regret, the States appropriation of so-called vacant land on the Congo confronts us with AN IMMENSE EXPROPRIATION.

He makes a bold attack upon King Leopolds own preserve:

Humanity, whose cause we plead, Christian rights, whose principles we endeavour to inculcate, compel us to touch briefly upon a curious and mysterious creation which is peculiar to the Congo State the Domaine de la Couronne.

What are the revenues of this mysterious civil personality? Estimates, more or less conjectural in nature, elaborated by M. Cattier appear to establish the profits from the exploitation of rubber alone, at eight to nine millions of francs per annum. M. le Comte de Smet de Naeyer reduces this figure to four or five millions. Short of positive data one can only deal in conjectures. But we regret still more that an impenetrable veil hides from sight all that takes place in the territory of this Domaine. It is eight or ten times the size of belgium, and throughout this vast extent of territory there is neither missionary nor magistrate.

Only one missionary at that date had entered this dark land, and his exclamation was: The Bulgarian atrocities are childs play to what has taken place here.

Father Vermeersch then proceeds to deal with the Congo balance-sheets. His criticism is most destructive. He shows at considerable length, and with a fine grasp of his subject, that there is really no connection at all between the so-called estimate and the actual budget. In the course of the States development there is an excess running to millions of pounds which has never been accounted for. In this Father Vermeersch is in agreement with the equally elaborate calculations of Professor Cattier, of Brussels.

He puts the economical case in a nutshell thus:

X , District Commissioner, commits every day dozens of offences against individual liberty. What can be done? These violations of the law are necessitated by a great enterprise which must have workmen. In such cases the intervention of the magistrate would be a ruinous imprudence, calculated to bring trouble into the region.

But the law?

Oh, law in the Congo is not applicable!

But if you offered a decent remuneration, would you not get free labour?

That is precisely what the State will not listen to. It maintains that the enterprise must be carried out for nothing!

And disposes once again of the forty hours a month fiction:

It is impossible for the State to obtain the amount of rubber it sells annually, by labour limited to forty hours a month, especially when it is borne in mind that a number of these hours are absorbed in other corv?es. Of two things one, therefore. Either the surplus is furnished freely; and if so, how can coercion be logically argued? Or this supplementary labour is forced; and if so, the law of forty hours is shown to be merely a fraud.

He shows the root causes of the evil:

So long as an inflexible will fixes in advance the quantity of rubber to be obtained; so long as instructions are given in this form: Increase by five tons your rubber output per month (instance given by Father Cus and van Hencxthoven in their report), we cannot await with confidence a serious improvement, which is the desire of all

The Governor-General dismisses and appoints magistrates at his will, suspends the execution of penalties; even sends back, if need be, gentlemen of the gown to Europe. Who does not realize the grave inconvenience of this dependence? That is not all. No proceedings can be attempted against a European without the authority of the Governor-General.

And, finally, his reasons for writing his book:

The contemplation of an immeasurable misery has caused us to publish this book. The gravity of the evil, its roots causes, had long escaped us. When we knew them we could not retain within ourselves the compassion with which we were imbued, and we resolved to tell the citizens of a generous country, appealing to their religion, to their patriotism, to their hearts.

Surely after such evidence from such a source there must be some heart-searchings among those higher members of the Catholic hierarchy, including both Cardinals and Bishops, who have done what they could to cripple the efforts of the reformers. Misinformed through their own want of care in searching for the truth, they have stood before the whole world as the defenders of that which will be described by the historian as the greatest crime in history.


I shall now append some extracts from the reports of several British Vice-Consuls and Consuls sent in during the last few years. These bear less upon outrages, which have admittedly greatly decreased, but mainly upon the general condition of the people, which is one of deplorable poverty and misery a slavery without that care which the owner was bound to exercise over the health and strength of the slave. I shall give without comment some extracts from the reports of Vice-Consul Mitchell, which date from July, 1906:

Most of the primitive bridges over the numerous creeks and marshes had rotted away, and we had some difficulty in crossing on fallen trees or a few thin sticks. This was the case all the way to Banalya, and I may here state that this condition of the roads, even of the most frequented, is universal in this province. The reason is that the local authorities have neither men, means, nor time at their disposal for the making of decent roads. The parsimony of the State in this respect is the more remarkable in the Domaine Priv?, whence large amounts are derived, and where next to nothing is expended.

So long as the policy of the State Government is to extract all it can from the country, while using only local materials, and spending the least possible amount on development and improvements, no increase in the general well-being can be expected

At all the posts on the north (right) bank, between Yambuya and Basoko, I found the European agents absent in the interior, and at Basoko itself only the doctor was left in charge, all the rest of the staff being away en exp?dition, that is, on punitive expeditions.

I stayed at Basoko for five days, partly at Dr. Grossules request, and partly in the endeavour to learn something of the operations going on in the interior. Three canoe-loads of prisoners arrived, all heavily loaded with chains. But all I could learn was that they were sent in by Lieutenant Baron von Otter, who had been sent to the promontory lying between the mouth of the Aruwimi and the Congo to enforce the Labour Ordinances.

In all the Basenji villages through which I have passed on my two journeys, the natives assert that it takes them three weeks every month to find and make their tale of rubber, besides taking it once every three months to the State post, from four to six days distant.

This country is taxed to the utmost, not one penny of the proceeds of which is spent on the roads. This condition of the most important highway in the province is nothing less than disgraceful, and yet this is the road of which the authorities are really proud.

Thus, with the exception of a trivial payment for some things, the Government carries on the work of the country at no expense beyond the wages and the European rations of the white agents, and these are excessively few in number. It is true there are the Force Publique and some travailleurs. These are recruited by conscription and receive pay and rations, but it is at the lowest possible rate

Coming to the Basenji, the following particulars of a village in the forest will show their liabilities. This village has fourteen adult males; its neighbour, which works with it, the chiefs being brothers, has nine. Each man has to take to the State post a large basket, holding about twenty-five pounds of rubber, once every month and a half. To get this rubber, though they find it only one days journey distant, takes them thirty days. It then takes them five days to carry it to the State post, and three days to return. Thus they spend thirty-eight days out of forty-five in the compulsory service of the State. For the basket of rubber they receive 1 kilog. of salt, nominally worth 1 fr. The chief receives 1 kilog. of salt for the whole. If the rubber is deficient in quality or quantity, the man is liable to be whipped and imprisoned without trial. As it is supposed to be the equivalent of the forty hours monthly labour, I fail to see by what right the man can be held responsible for the quality, even if he wilfully adulterates it with other substances.

The people are all disheartened, and are unanimously of the opinion that they were better off under the Arabs, whose rule was intermittent, and from whom they could run away

I must say that during more than nineteen years experience in Northern and Central Africa, I have never seen such a miserably poor lot as the Basenji in this State

It is perfectly clear that the Inspectors, however conscientious, hard-working, and faithful they may be, cannot remedy the excessive impositions on the natives under the present system

The grant of land and seed to the natives is of absolutely no use to them till they are left time to use them

To say that the State cannot afford the expense is absurd. The Congo is taxed unmercifully, and I do not suppose any country has less money spent upon it. The taxpayer gets literally nothing in return for the life of practical slavery he has to spend in the support of the Government.

If trade and navigation were really free, and guarded by proper police, German trade through Ujiji, which already exists to some extent, might be greatly developed, as well as that with the British colonies and Zanzibar.

The operations of the Dutch traders, who up to a few months ago had quite a considerable fleet of steamers on the Upper Congo and its affluents, and of the French at Brazzaville, and of the Portuguese, would also benefit greatly.

All these have practically disappeared from the Upper Congo.

Here, as elsewhere, the natives appeared to me to be so heavily taxed as to be depressed and to regard themselves as practically enslaved by the Bula Matadi. The incessant call for rubber, food and labour, leaves them no respite nor peace of mind.

The following are extracts from Vice-Consul Armstrongs report, dated October, 1906:

As the result of my journey through this portion of the country, I am forced to the conclusion that the condition of the people in the A.B.I.R. territory is deplorable, and although those living in the vicinity of the mission stations are, comparatively speaking, safe from ill-treatment by the rubber agents and their armed sentries, those in other parts are subjected to the gravest abuses.

There is no free labour, the natives being forced to work at a totally inadequate wage. In visiting the various rubber-working towns, one would expect to see some signs of European commodities that had been given in exchange for the millions of pounds worth of rubber that has been extracted from them, but the native residents possess actually nothing at all.

Their conditions of living are deplorable, and the filth and squalor of their villages is only too apparent. The people live in a state of uncertainty as to the advent of police officers and soldiers, who invariably chase them from their abodes and destroy their huts, and for this reason it is impossible for them to better their condition of living by the construction of suitable dwellings.

No change of system to be looked for

No change in the existing system can be looked for until a more reasonable method of taxation is adopted. The present system permits the rubber agents to extract the largest possible quantity of rubber from the native at the lowest possible wage, and allows the employment of armed sentries to enforce this deplorable system.

In these despatches Vice-Consul Armstrong gives evidence of a plot against the sturdy Mr. Stannard upon the part of the infamous A.B.I.R. Company. Their idea, no doubt, was to break down his health and embitter his existence by successive law-suits. In May of 1906, the natives of a village called Lokongi rose up against his murderous sentries and burned their houses. A charge was at once made against Mr. Stannard of having instigated them to this very natural and commendable action. Natives had been suborned or terrified into giving evidence against him, and it might have gone ill with him had it not been for the prompt action of the Consul. He set off for the village, accompanied by Mr. Stannard and the A.B.I.R. director. The natives were assembled and asked to speak the truth. They said, without hesitation, that Mr. Stannard had had nothing to do with the matter, but that the representatives of the company had threatened to torture them unless they said that he had. The A.B.I.R. director held his peace before these revelations and had no explanation to offer. Consul Armstrong then pointed out to the Public Prosecutor in good, straight terms, which his official superiors might well imitate, that the matter had gone far enough, that English patience was almost exhausted, and that Mr. Stannard should be baited no longer. The case was dropped.

I shall pass straight on now to the most recent reports received from the Congo, to show that there is no difference at all in the general condition, so far as it is reported by the impartial men at the spot, save that the actual killings and maimings have decreased. The great oppression and misery of the people seem to grow rather than abate. The following extracts are from Consul Thesigers report of his experiences in the Kasai Companys district. This company, it may be worth remarking, has paid the enormous dividend of seven hundred per cent. The first paragraph may be commended to the consideration of those British or American travellers who, on the strength of a flying visit, venture to contradict the experience of those white men who spend their lives in the country:

Although from the evidence of State officials it has been proved that individual cases of abuses are not infrequent even at these posts, the chance traveller will certainly see nothing of them, and when he judges of the condition of the country by what he actually sees at these stations, his opinions may be perfectly honest, but they are absolutely worthless. It is as though some well-meaning person, who had heard that a certain fashionable firm was making a fortune by sweated labour, were to venture to deny the facts because a cursory visit to the West End establishment showed that the salesmen behind the counter were well-dressed and well-nourished, ignoring altogether the festering misery of the sweaters dens in which every article sold over that counter was made up.

After showing that the Kasai Company, in their haste for wealth (and, perhaps, in their foresight, as knowing that their occupancy may be brought to an end), are cutting down the rubber vines instead of tapping them (illegal, of course, but what does that matter where Belgian Concessionnaires are in question), goes on to show the pressure on the people:

The work is compulsory; it is also incessant. The vines have to be sought out in the forest, cut down and disentangled from the high-growing branches, divided into lengths, and carried home. This operation has to be continually repeated, as no man can carry a larger quantity of the heavy vine lengths than will keep him occupied for two or three days. Accidents are frequent, especially among the Bakuba, who are large-built men, hunters and agriculturists by nature, and unaccustomed to tree climbing. Large as the Bakuba villages still are, the population is diminishing. Here there is no sleeping sickness to account for the decrease, there have been no epidemics of late years; exposure, overwork, and shortage of proper food alone are responsible for it. The Bakuba district was formerly one of the richest food-producing regions in the country, maize and millet being the staple crops, together with manioc and other plants. So much so was this the case that the mission at Luebo used to send there to buy maize. Under the present r?gime the villagers are not allowed to waste in cultivating, hunting or fishing time which should be occupied in making rubber.

In a few villages they were cultivating by stealth small patches in the forest, where they were supposed to be out cutting the rubber vines; but everywhere else it was the same story: the capitas would not allow them time to clear new ground for cultivation, or permit them to hunt or fish; if they tried to do so their nets and implements were destroyed. The majority of the capitas, when questioned, acknowledged quite frankly that they had orders to that effect. These villages are living on the produce of the old manioc fields, and are buying food from the Bakette. Under these circumstances it is not surprising that the population is diminishing. As one woman expressed it: The men go out hungry into the forest; when they come back they get sick and die. The village of Ibunge, where formerly the largest market of the district was held weekly, now consists of a collection of hovels, eight of which are habitable, and the market is all but dead.

So the capitas are at their old work the same as ever. The Congo idea of reforming them has always been to change their name so by calling a burglar a policeman a great reformation is effected.

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