Belgian Congo
Overview
 
The Belgian Congo was the formal title of present-day Democratic Republic of the Congo
Democratic Republic of the Congo
The Democratic Republic of the Congo is a state located in Central Africa. It is the second largest country in Africa by area and the eleventh largest in the world...

 (DRC) between King Leopold II
Leopold II of Belgium
Leopold II was the second king of the Belgians. Born in Brussels the second son of Leopold I and Louise-Marie of Orléans, he succeeded his father to the throne on 17 December 1865 and remained king until his death.Leopold is chiefly remembered as the founder and sole owner of the Congo Free...

's formal relinquishment of his personal control over the state to Belgium
Belgium
Belgium , officially the Kingdom of Belgium, is a federal state in Western Europe. It is a founding member of the European Union and hosts the EU's headquarters, and those of several other major international organisations such as NATO.Belgium is also a member of, or affiliated to, many...

 on 15 November 1908, and Congolese independence
Congo Crisis
The Congo Crisis was a period of turmoil in the First Republic of the Congo that began with national independence from Belgium and ended with the seizing of power by Joseph Mobutu...

 on 30 June 1960.
Until the latter part of the 19th century, the Europeans had not yet ventured into the Congo. The rainforest
Rainforest
Rainforests are forests characterized by high rainfall, with definitions based on a minimum normal annual rainfall of 1750-2000 mm...

, swamps and malaria
Malaria
Malaria is a mosquito-borne infectious disease of humans and other animals caused by eukaryotic protists of the genus Plasmodium. The disease results from the multiplication of Plasmodium parasites within red blood cells, causing symptoms that typically include fever and headache, in severe cases...

, and other diseases such as sleeping sickness made it a difficult environment for European exploration and exploitation.
Encyclopedia
The Belgian Congo was the formal title of present-day Democratic Republic of the Congo
Democratic Republic of the Congo
The Democratic Republic of the Congo is a state located in Central Africa. It is the second largest country in Africa by area and the eleventh largest in the world...

 (DRC) between King Leopold II
Leopold II of Belgium
Leopold II was the second king of the Belgians. Born in Brussels the second son of Leopold I and Louise-Marie of Orléans, he succeeded his father to the throne on 17 December 1865 and remained king until his death.Leopold is chiefly remembered as the founder and sole owner of the Congo Free...

's formal relinquishment of his personal control over the state to Belgium
Belgium
Belgium , officially the Kingdom of Belgium, is a federal state in Western Europe. It is a founding member of the European Union and hosts the EU's headquarters, and those of several other major international organisations such as NATO.Belgium is also a member of, or affiliated to, many...

 on 15 November 1908, and Congolese independence
Congo Crisis
The Congo Crisis was a period of turmoil in the First Republic of the Congo that began with national independence from Belgium and ended with the seizing of power by Joseph Mobutu...

 on 30 June 1960.

Congo Free State, 1884–1908

Until the latter part of the 19th century, the Europeans had not yet ventured into the Congo. The rainforest
Rainforest
Rainforests are forests characterized by high rainfall, with definitions based on a minimum normal annual rainfall of 1750-2000 mm...

, swamps and malaria
Malaria
Malaria is a mosquito-borne infectious disease of humans and other animals caused by eukaryotic protists of the genus Plasmodium. The disease results from the multiplication of Plasmodium parasites within red blood cells, causing symptoms that typically include fever and headache, in severe cases...

, and other diseases such as sleeping sickness made it a difficult environment for European exploration and exploitation. In 1876, King Léopold II of the Belgians
Leopold II of Belgium
Leopold II was the second king of the Belgians. Born in Brussels the second son of Leopold I and Louise-Marie of Orléans, he succeeded his father to the throne on 17 December 1865 and remained king until his death.Leopold is chiefly remembered as the founder and sole owner of the Congo Free...

 organized the International African Association with the cooperation of the leading African explorers and the support of several European governments for the promotion of African exploration and colonization. After Henry Morton Stanley
Henry Morton Stanley
Sir Henry Morton Stanley, GCB, born John Rowlands , was a Welsh journalist and explorer famous for his exploration of Africa and his search for David Livingstone. Upon finding Livingstone, Stanley allegedly uttered the now-famous greeting, "Dr...

 explored the region, a journey that ended in 1878, Leopold courted the explorer and hired him to help establish Leopold's interests in the region.
Leopold II had been keen to acquire a colony for Belgium even before he ascended to the throne in 1865. He was convinced that the acquisition of a colony would bestow international prestige on his relatively young and small home country and that it might provide a steady source of income. Belgium was not greatly interested in its monarch's dreams of empire-building. Ambitious and stubborn, Léopold II decided to pursue the matter on his own account.

European rivalry in Central Africa led to diplomatic tensions, in particular with regard to the largely unclaimed Congo river basin. In November 1884, Otto von Bismarck
Otto von Bismarck
Otto Eduard Leopold, Prince of Bismarck, Duke of Lauenburg , simply known as Otto von Bismarck, was a Prussian-German statesman whose actions unified Germany, made it a major player in world affairs, and created a balance of power that kept Europe at peace after 1871.As Minister President of...

 convened a 14-nation conference (the Berlin Conference
Berlin Conference
The Berlin Conference of 1884–85 regulated European colonization and trade in Africa during the New Imperialism period, and coincided with Germany's sudden emergence as an imperial power...

) to find a peaceful resolution to the Congo crisis. After three months of negotiation on 5 February 1885, the Berlin Conference reached agreement. While it did not formally approve or disapprove the territorial claims of the European powers in Central Africa, it did agree on a set of rules to ensure a conflict-free partitioning of the region. Key among those were the recognition of the Congo basin as a free-trade zone, and the general acceptance of the principle that any territorial claim needed to be backed up by evidence of actual and durable occupation of that territory. In reality, Leopold II emerged triumphant from the Berlin Conference. In a series of bilateral diplomatic agreements, France was given 666000 km² (257,144 sq mi) on the north bank of the Congo river (modern Republic of the Congo
Republic of the Congo
The Republic of the Congo , sometimes known locally as Congo-Brazzaville, is a state in Central Africa. It is bordered by Gabon, Cameroon, the Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of the Congo , the Angolan exclave province of Cabinda, and the Gulf of Guinea.The region was dominated by...

 and the Central African Republic
Central African Republic
The Central African Republic , is a landlocked country in Central Africa. It borders Chad in the north, Sudan in the north east, South Sudan in the east, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the Republic of the Congo in the south, and Cameroon in the west. The CAR covers a land area of about ,...

), Portugal 909000 km² (350,966.9 sq mi) to the south (part of modern Angola
Angola
Angola, officially the Republic of Angola , is a country in south-central Africa bordered by Namibia on the south, the Democratic Republic of the Congo on the north, and Zambia on the east; its west coast is on the Atlantic Ocean with Luanda as its capital city...

), and Leopold's wholly owned, single-shareholder "philanthropic" organization received the balance: 2344000 km² (905,023.5 sq mi), to be constituted as the Congo Free State
Congo Free State
The Congo Free State was a large area in Central Africa which was privately controlled by Leopold II, King of the Belgians. Its origins lay in Leopold's attracting scientific, and humanitarian backing for a non-governmental organization, the Association internationale africaine...

.

The Congo Free State was a corporate state privately controlled by Leopold II, King of the Belgians
Leopold II of Belgium
Leopold II was the second king of the Belgians. Born in Brussels the second son of Leopold I and Louise-Marie of Orléans, he succeeded his father to the throne on 17 December 1865 and remained king until his death.Leopold is chiefly remembered as the founder and sole owner of the Congo Free...

 through a dummy non-governmental organization, the Association Internationale Africaine. Leopold was the sole shareholder and chairman. The state included the entire area of the present Democratic Republic of the Congo
Democratic Republic of the Congo
The Democratic Republic of the Congo is a state located in Central Africa. It is the second largest country in Africa by area and the eleventh largest in the world...

 and existed from 1885 to 1908, when it was annexed by the government of Belgium.
Initially, the occupation and exploration of the immense territory of the Congo Free State proved a heavy burden on the monarch's purse. Twice, state bankruptcy was avoided by the Belgian state granting Leopold II emergency loans. In the 1890s, the tide turned dramatically. Through the forced exploitation of rubber
Rubber
Natural rubber, also called India rubber or caoutchouc, is an elastomer that was originally derived from latex, a milky colloid produced by some plants. The plants would be ‘tapped’, that is, an incision made into the bark of the tree and the sticky, milk colored latex sap collected and refined...

, copper
Copper
Copper is a chemical element with the symbol Cu and atomic number 29. It is a ductile metal with very high thermal and electrical conductivity. Pure copper is soft and malleable; an exposed surface has a reddish-orange tarnish...

, and other minerals in the upper Lualaba River
Lualaba River
The Lualaba River is the greatest headstream of the Congo River by volume of water. However, by length the Chambeshi River is the farthest headstream. The Lualaba is 1800 km long, running from near Musofi in the vicinity of Lubumbashi in Katanga Province. The whole of its length lies within the...

 basin, together with the global rubber boom, huge surpluses were generated. Leopold II used part of this new wealth for the embellishment of his native country: the Royal Galleries in Ostend
Ostend
Ostend  is a Belgian city and municipality located in the Flemish province of West Flanders. It comprises the boroughs of Mariakerke , Stene and Zandvoorde, and the city of Ostend proper – the largest on the Belgian coast....

, the Palace of the Colonies
Royal Museum for Central Africa
The Royal Museum for Central Africa is an ethnographical and natural history museum in Tervuren, just outside Brussels, Belgium. It was first built to show off King Leopold II's Congo Free State for the 1897 World Exhibition. It focuses mainly on Congo, Belgium's former colony...

 in Tervuren
Tervuren
Tervuren is a municipality in the province of Flemish Brabant, in Flanders, one of the three regions of Belgium. The municipality comprises the villages of Duisburg, Tervuren, Vossem and Moorsel. On January 1, 2006, Tervuren had a total population of 20,636...

, or the triumphal arch in Brussels
Brussels
Brussels , officially the Brussels Region or Brussels-Capital Region , is the capital of Belgium and the de facto capital of the European Union...

 were funded from the profits generated by the Congo. It soon became clear that these profits were generated on the back of brutal mistreatment of the local people and plunder of the Congo's natural resources.
Thus, under Leopold II's administration, the Congo Free State became the site of one of the worst man-made humanitarian disasters of the turn of the 20th century. The report
Casement Report
The Casement Report was a 1904 document by British diplomat Roger Casement detailing abuses in the Congo Free State which was under the private ownership of King Leopold II of Belgium. This report was instrumental in Leopold finally reliquishing his private holdings in Africa...

 of the British Consul Roger Casement
Roger Casement
Roger David Casement —Sir Roger Casement CMG between 1911 and shortly before his execution for treason, when he was stripped of his British honours—was an Irish patriot, poet, revolutionary, and nationalist....

, published in early 1904, was an irrefutable indictment of the "rubber system": "..the drowsy, unsupervised machine of coercion which wore out the people and the land". In the absence of a census (the first was made in 1924), it is difficult to quantify the population loss of the period, but it must have been very high. According to Roger Casement's report, depopulation was caused mainly by four causes: "indiscriminate war", starvation, reduction of births, and tropical diseases. Adam Hochschild
Adam Hochschild
Adam Hochschild is an American author and journalist.-Biography:Hochschild was born in New York City. As a college student, he spent a summer working on an anti-government newspaper in South Africa and subsequently worked briefly as a civil rights worker in Mississippi in 1964...

 argues that roughly 10 million perished. The human suffering inflicted by the rapacious exploitation of the colony was immense.

The European and US press exposed the conditions in the Congo Free State to the public in the early 1900s. In 1904, Leopold II was forced to allow an international parliamentary commission of inquiry entry to the Congo Free State. The report of the commission (1905) confirmed most of the charges formulated by Edmund Morel
E. D. Morel
Edmund Dene Morel, originally Georges Eduard Pierre Achille Morel de Ville was a British journalist, author and socialist politician. In collaboration with Roger Casement, the Congo Reform Association and others, Morel, in newspapers such as his West African Mail, led a campaign against slavery...

 and Roger Casement, but also by Protestant and Catholic missionaries. By 1908, public pressure and diplomatic maneuvers led to the end of Leopold II's rule and to the annexation of the Congo as a colony
Colony
In politics and history, a colony is a territory under the immediate political control of a state. For colonies in antiquity, city-states would often found their own colonies. Some colonies were historically countries, while others were territories without definite statehood from their inception....

 of Belgium, known as the Belgian Congo.

Belgian colony, 1908–1960

On 18 October 1908 Belgian Parliament voted in favor of annexing the Congo as a Belgian colony. This was only after King Leopold II had finally given up any hope to maintain a substantial part of the Congo Free State as separate crown property. The government of the Belgian Congo was arranged by the 1908 Colonial Charter. Executive power rested with the Belgian Minister of Colonial Affairs, assisted by a Colonial Council (Conseil Colonial). Both resided in Brussels. The Belgian Parliament exercised legislative authority over the Belgian Congo. The highest-ranking representative of the colonial administration in the Congo was the Governor-general. From 1886 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, some 300 km further upstream in the interior. Initially, the Belgian Congo was administratively divided into four provinces: Léopoldville (or: Congo-Kasaï), Equateur, Orientale and Katanga, each presided by a vice-Governor-general. An administrative reform in 1932 increased the number of provinces to six, while "demoting" the vice-Governor-generals to provincial Governors.

The territorial service was the true backbone of the colonial administration. Each province was divided into a number of districts (24 in all), and each district into territories (some 120 in all). 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). Nevertheless, the territorial administrator was expected to inspect his territory and to file detailed annual reports with the provincial administration. 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. Public order in the colony was maintained by the "Force Publique", a locally recruited army under Belgian command. It was only in the 1950s that metropolitan troops—i.e. units of the regular Belgian army—were posted in the Belgian Congo (for instance in Kamina).

The colonial state—and in fact any authority exercised by whites in the Congo—was often referred to by the Congolese as "bula matari". Bula Matari, or "break rocks", was one of the names originally given to Stanley, because of the dynamite he used 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.

When the Belgian government took over the administration from King Leopold II in 1908, the situation in the Congo improved in certain respects. The brutal exploitation and arbitrary use of violence, in which some of the concessionary companies had excelled, were curbed. The tragedy of "red rubber" was put to a stop. Article 3 of the new Colonial Charter of 18 October 1908 established that: "Nobody can be forced to work on behalf of and for the profit of companies or privates". In reality, forced labour, in differing forms and degrees, would not disappear entirely until the end of the colonial period.

The transition from the Congo Free State to the Belgian Congo was a break, but it was also marked by a large degree of continuity. The last Governor-general of the Congo Free State, Baron Wahis, remained in office in the Belgian Congo, and the majority of Leopold II's administration with him. Opening up the Congo and its natural and mineral riches for the Belgian economy remained the main motive for colonial expansion, but all the same other priorities, such as healthcare and basic education, slowly gained in importance.

The Belgian Congo was directly involved in the two world wars. During WWI an initial stand-off between the Force Publique and the German colonial army in German East-Africa (Tanganyika) turned into open warfare with a joint Anglo-Belgian invasion of German colonial territory. The Force Publique gained a notable victory when it marched into Tabora
Tabora
Tabora is the capital city of Tanzania's Tabora Region with a population of 127,880 . Tabora region is one of the largest geographical regions of Tanzania.- History :...

 in September 1916. After the war, Belgium was rewarded for the participation of the Force Publique in the East African campaign with a League of Nations mandate over the formerly German colony of Ruanda-Urundi. During WWII, the Belgian Congo was a crucial source of income for the Belgian government in exile in London. The Force Publique again participated in the Allied campaigns in Africa. The Congolese forces under the command of Belgian officers notably fought against the Italian colonial army in Ethiopia.

Colonial economic policy

The economic development of the Congo was the colonizer's top priority. Under Belgian rule two distinct periods of massive investment in the Congo's economic infrastructure stand out: the 1920s and the 1950s.

After WWI, priority was given to mining (copper and cobalt in Katanga, diamond in Kasai, gold in Ituri) as well as to the transport infrastructure (rail lines Matadi-Léopoldville and Elisabethville-Port Francqui). To obtain the necessary capital, the colonial state gave the private companies to a large extent a free hand. This allowed in particular the Belgian Société Générale to build up an economic empire in the colony. Huge profits were generated and for a large part siphoned off to Europe in the form of dividends. The necessary work force was recruited in the interior of the vast colony with the active support of the territorial administration. In many cases this amounted to forced labour, as in many villages minimum quota of "able-bodied workers" to be recruited were enforced. In this way, tens of thousands of workers were transferred from the interior to the sparsely populated copper belt in the South (Katanga) to work in the mines. In agriculture too, the colonial state forced a drastic rationalisation of production. The so-called "vacant lands"—i.e. the land that was not directly used by the local tribes—fell to the state, who redistributed it to European companies, individual white landowners (colons) or the missions. This way an extensive plantation economy developed. Palm oil
Palm oil
Palm oil, coconut oil and palm kernel oil are edible plant oils derived from the fruits of palm trees. Palm oil is extracted from the pulp of the fruit of the oil palm Elaeis guineensis; palm kernel oil is derived from the kernel of the oil palm and coconut oil is derived from the kernel of the...

 production in the Congo increased from 2,500 tons in 1914 to 9,000 tons in 1921 and 230,000 tons in 1957. Cotton
Cotton
Cotton is a soft, fluffy staple fiber that grows in a boll, or protective capsule, around the seeds of cotton plants of the genus Gossypium. The fiber is almost pure cellulose. The botanical purpose of cotton fiber is to aid in seed dispersal....

 production increased from 23,000 tons in 1932 to 127,000 in 1939.
After WWI the system of mandatory cultivation was introduced: Congolese peasants were forced to grow certain cash crops (cotton, coffee, groundnuts) destined for the European market. Territorial administrators and state agronomists had the task to supervise and if necessary sanction those peasants who evaded the hated mandatory cultivation.

The mobilization of the African work force in the capitalist colonial economy played a crucial role in spreading the use of money in the Belgian Congo. The basic idea was that the development of the Congo had to be borne not by the Belgian taxpayers but by the Congolese themselves. The colonial state needed to be able to levy taxes in money on the Congolese, so it was important that they could earn money by selling their produce or their labour within the framework of the colonial economy.
The economic boom of the 1920s turned the Belgian Congo into one of the leading copper ore producers worldwide. In 1926 alone, the Union Miniére du Haut Katanga exported more than 80,000 tons of copper ore, a large part of which was processed in Hoboken in Belgium. In 1928, King Albert I visited the Congo to inaugurate the so-called 'voie national' that linked the Katanga mining region via rail (up to Port Francqui) and river transport (from Port Francqui to Léopoldville) to the Atlantic port of Matadi.
During the great depression
Great Depression
The Great Depression was a severe worldwide economic depression in the decade preceding World War II. The timing of the Great Depression varied across nations, but in most countries it started in about 1929 and lasted until the late 1930s or early 1940s...

 of the 1930s, the export-based Belgian Congo economy was severely hit by the world crisis, because of the drop of international demand of raw materials and agricultural products (for example, the price of peanut
Peanut
The peanut, or groundnut , is a species in the legume or "bean" family , so it is not a nut. The peanut was probably first cultivated in the valleys of Peru. It is an annual herbaceous plant growing tall...

s fell from 1.25 francs to 25 cents). In some areas, as in the Katanga
Katanga Province
Katanga Province is one of the provinces of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Between 1971 and 1997, its official name was Shaba Province. Under the new constitution, the province was to be replaced by four smaller provinces by February 2009; this did not actually take place.Katanga's regional...

 mining region, employment declined 70% and in the whole country the exploitation of forced labour was diminished while many forced labourers returned to their villages.

After the occupation of Belgium by the Germans in May 1940, the Congo declared itself loyal to the Belgian government in exile in London to continue the war on the Allied side. During WWII, production increased drastically. After Malaysia fell to the Japanese, the Belgian Congo became a strategic supplier of rubber to the Allies. The Belgian Congo was one of the major exporters of uranium
Uranium
Uranium is a silvery-white metallic chemical element in the actinide series of the periodic table, with atomic number 92. It is assigned the chemical symbol U. A uranium atom has 92 protons and 92 electrons, of which 6 are valence electrons...

 to the US during WWII (and the Cold War
Cold War
The Cold War was the continuing state from roughly 1946 to 1991 of political conflict, military tension, proxy wars, and economic competition between the Communist World—primarily the Soviet Union and its satellite states and allies—and the powers of the Western world, primarily the United States...

), particularly from the Shinkolobwe
Shinkolobwe
Shinkolobwe is the name of a town and a mine in the Katanga province of the Democratic Republic of the Congo , located near the larger town of Likasi and about 120 miles northwest of Lubumbashi. The former mine was located in the centre of a 400 kilometre long belt of uranified minerals, stretching...

 mine. The colony provided the uranium used in the atom bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945.
After WWII, the colonial state took on a much more active role in the economic and social development of the Belgian Congo. An ambitious ten-year plan was launched in 1949. It put a lot of emphasis on house building, energy supply and health care infrastructure. The ten-year plan ushered in a decade of strong economic growth, from which, for the first time, the Congolese began to benefit on a substantial scale. In 1953, the Congolese were granted the right to buy and sell private property in their own name. In the 1950s, a Congolese middle class, modest at first, but steadily growing, emerged in the main cities (Léopoldville, Elisabethville
Lubumbashi
Lubumbashi is the second largest city in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, second only to the nation's capital Kinshasa, and the hub of the southeastern part of the country. The copper-mining city serves as the capital of the relatively prosperous Katanga Province, lying near the Zambian border...

, Stanleyville, Luluabourg).

Civilising mission

A key argument that was often invoked as a justification for colonialism in Africa was that of the so-called 'civilising mission' of the European nations. This was no different with respect to the Belgian Congo. As elsewhere, this self-declared 'civilising mission' went hand in hand with the goal of economic exploitation and development. Conversion to Catholicism, basic western-style education and improved health care were objectives in their own right, but at the same time helped to integrate what was regarded a "primitive society" into the western capitalist model, in which workers who were disciplined and healthy, and who had learned to read and write could be efficiently (and cheaply) put to work.

The development of education and health care in the Belgian Congo was impressive. 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. Even in 1948, 99.6% of educational facilities were controlled by Christian missions. Indigenous schooling was mainly religious and vocational. Children received basic education such as learning how to read, write and some mathematics. The Belgian Congo was one of the few African colonies in which local languages (Kikongo, Lingala, Tshiluba
Tshiluba language
Luba-Kasai is a Bantu language spoken in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where it is a national language, along with Lingala, Swahili, and Kikongo. It is one of two major Congolese languages called "Luba"...

 and Swahili
Swahili language
Swahili or Kiswahili is a Bantu language spoken by various ethnic groups that inhabit several large stretches of the Mozambique Channel coastline from northern Kenya to northern Mozambique, including the Comoro Islands. It is also spoken by ethnic minority groups in Somalia...

) were taught at primary school. Even so, language policies and colonial domination often went hand in hand, as evidenced by the preference given to Lingala—a semi-artificial language spread through its common use in the Force Publique—over more local (but also more ancient) indigenous languages such as Lomongo and others.
In 1940 the schooling rates of children between 6 and 14 years old was 12%, reaching 37% in 1954, one of the highest rates in the whole of black Africa. Secondary and higher education for the indigenous population were not developed until relatively late in the colonial period. Black children, in small numbers, began to be admitted to European secondary schools from 1950 onward. The first university in the Belgian Congo, the Catholic University of Lovanium
University of Lovanium
The University of Lovanium was a Catholic Jesuit university in Leopoldville/Leopoldstad in Belgian Congo.-History:The university was established in 1954 at Kimwenza.Its name was derived from the old name, Lovanium, for Leuven in Belgium...

, near Léopoldville, opened its doors to black and white students in 1954. In 1956 a state university was founded in Elisabethville.

Health care too was largely supported by the missions, although the colonial state took an increasing interest. Endemic diseases, such as sleeping sickness, were all but eliminated through large-scale and persistent campaigns. The health care infrastructure expanded steadily throughout the colonial period, with a comparatively high availability of hospital beds relative to the population and with dispensaries set up in the most remote regions.
There was a kind of "implicit apartheid", as there were curfews for Congolese city-dwellers 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
Racial segregation
Racial segregation is the separation of humans into racial groups in daily life. It may apply to activities such as eating in a restaurant, drinking from a water fountain, using a public toilet, attending school, going to the movies, or in the rental or purchase of a home...

 in most areas. For example, the city centres
Inner city
The inner city is the central area of a major city or metropolis. In the United States, Canada, United Kingdom and Ireland, the term is often applied to the lower-income residential districts in the city centre and nearby areas...

 were reserved to white population only, while the blacks were organized in «cités indigènes» (ironically called 'le belge'). Hospitals, department stores and other facilities were often reserved for either whites or blacks. In the police, the blacks could not pass the rank of non-commissioned officer. The blacks in the cities could not leave their houses from 9 pm to 4 am. This type of segregation began to disappear gradually only in the 1950s.

The popular comic book Tintin in the Congo
Tintin in the Congo
Tintin in the Congo is the second title in the comicbook series The Adventures of Tintin, written and drawn by Belgian cartoonist Hergé. Originally serialised in the Belgian children's newspaper supplement, Le Petit Vingtième between June 1930 and July 1931, it was first published in book form...

, first published in 1931, provides a good insight in the paternalistic or, as seen by some, racist views about 'primitive' Africa that prevailed at the time in Europe.

Because of the close interconnection between economic development and the 'civilising mission', and because in practice state officials, missionaries and the white executives of the private companies always lend each other a helping hand, the image has emerged that the Belgian Congo in reality was governed by a holy trinity of King-Church-Capital (or: the colonial state, the missions and the Société Générale).

The ideology underpinning colonial policy was summed up in a catch-phrase used by Governor-general Pierre Ryckmans
Pierre Ryckmans (Congo)
Pierre Ryckmans was a Belgian civil servant and Governor-general of the Belgian colony of Congo from 1934 to 1946.-Early Life and Family:...

 (1934–46): "Dominer pour servir" ("Dominate to serve"). The colonial government was keen to convey the image of a benevolent and conflict-free administration and of the Belgian Congo as a true model colony. In reality, no or very little attention was paid to the active emancipation of the Congolese. The coloniser alone knew what was good for the Congo. The local population was given no voice in the affairs of the state. It was only in the 1950s that this paternalistic attitude began to change. As from 1953, and even more so after the triumphant visit of King Baudouin to the colony in 1955, Governor-general Léon Pétillon (1952–58) actively favoured the creation of a "Belgian-Congolese community", in which blacks and whites were to be treated as equals. In the 1950s, the most blatant discriminatory measures directed at the Congolese were hastily withdrawn (among these the possibility to inflict corporal punishment by means of the feared "chicotte"—a fine whip of hippopotamus hide). In 1957, the first municipal elections open to black voters took place in a handful of the largest cities—Léopoldville, Elisabethville and Jadotville.

Resistance and voices of dissent

Congolese resistance against colonialism was widespread and took many different forms. Armed resistance occurred sporadically and localized until roughly the end of the Second World War (e.g. revolt of the Pende in 1931, mutiny in Luluabourg 1944). After the end of the Second World War until the late 1950s the so-called 'pax belgica' prevailed. Until the end of colonial rule in 1960, passive forms of resistance and expressions of an anti-colonial sub-culture were manifold (e.g. Kimbanguism, after the prophet Simon Kimbangu
Simon Kimbangu
Simon Kimbangu was a Congolese religious leader noted as the founder of Kimbanguism...

, who was imprisoned by the Belgians).
Apart from active and passive resistance among the Congolese, the colonial regime over time also elicited internal criticism and dissent. Already in the 1920s, certain members of the Colonial Council in Brussels (among them Octave Louwers) voiced criticism regarding the often brutal recruitment methods employed by the major companies in the mining districts. The stagnation of population growth in many districts—in spite of spectacular successes in the fight against endemic diseases such as sleeping sickness—was another cause for concern. Low birth rates in the countryside and the depopulation of certain areas were typically attributed to the disruption of traditional community life as a result of forced labour migration and mandatory cultivation. Many missionaries who were in daily contact with Congolese villagers, took their plight at heart and sometimes intervened on their behalf with the colonial administration (for instance in land property questions).

The missions and certain territorial administrators also played an important role in the study and preservation of Congolese cultural and linguistic traditions and artefacts. One example among many is that of Father Gustaaf Hulstaert (1900–1990) who in 1937 created the periodical 'Aequatoria' devoted to the linguistic, ethnographic and historical study of the Mongo-people of the central Congo basin. The colonial state itself took an interest in the cultural and scientific study of the Congo, particularly after the Second World War through the creation of the Institut pour la Recherche Scientifique en Afrique Centrale (IRSAC, 1948).

Towards independence 1945-1960

In the early 1950s political emancipation of the Congolese elites, let alone of the masses, seemed like a far cry. Nonetheless, it was clear that the Congo could not forever remain immune from the rapid changes that after the Second World War profoundly affected colonialism all over the world. The independence of the British, French and Dutch colonies in Asia
Asia
Asia is the world's largest and most populous continent, located primarily in the eastern and northern hemispheres. It covers 8.7% of the Earth's total surface area and with approximately 3.879 billion people, it hosts 60% of the world's current human population...

 shortly after 1945 had little immediate impact in the Congo, but in the United Nations
United Nations
The United Nations is an international organization whose stated aims are facilitating cooperation in international law, international security, economic development, social progress, human rights, and achievement of world peace...

 pressure on Belgium
Belgium
Belgium , officially the Kingdom of Belgium, is a federal state in Western Europe. It is a founding member of the European Union and hosts the EU's headquarters, and those of several other major international organisations such as NATO.Belgium is also a member of, or affiliated to, many...

 (as on other colonial powers) was stepped up. Belgium had ratified article 73 of the United Nations Charter
United Nations Charter
The Charter of the United Nations is the foundational treaty of the international organization called the United Nations. It was signed at the San Francisco War Memorial and Performing Arts Center in San Francisco, United States, on 26 June 1945, by 50 of the 51 original member countries...

, which advocated self-determination, and both superpowers put pressure on Belgium to reform its Congo policy. However, the Belgian government tried to resist as best it could what it labeled 'interference' with its colonial policy.
All the same, it was clear to the colonial authorities that something needed to be done to ameliorate the situation of the Congolese. Since the 1940s, the colonial government had experimented in a very modest way with granting a limited elite of so-called évolués more civil rights, holding out the eventual prospect of a limited amount of political influence. To this end "deserving" Congolese could apply for a proof of "civil merit", or, one step up, 'immatriculation' (registration), i.e. official evidence of their assimilation with European civilisation. To acquire this status, the applicant had to fulfill strict conditions (monogamous matrimony, evidence of good behaviour, etc.) and submit to stringent controls (including house visits). This policy was a failure. By the mid-1950s, there were at best a few thousand Congolese who had successfully obtained the civil merit diploma or been granted "immatriculation". The supposed benefits attached to it—including equal legal status with the white population—proved often more theory than reality and led to open frustration with the évolués. When Governor-General Pétillon began to speak about granting the native people more civil rights, even suffrage, to create what he termed a "Belgo-Congolese community", his ideas were met with indifference from Brussels and often with open hostility from parts of the Belgians in the Congo, who feared for their privileges.

It became increasingly evident that the Belgian government lacked a strategic long-term vision in relation to the Congo. This was due partly to the fact that 'colonial affairs' did not generate much interest or political debate in Belgium, so long as the colony seemed to be thriving and calm. A notable exception was the young King Baudouin I of the Belgians, who had succeeded his father, Léopold III, under dramatic circumstances in 1951, when Léopold was forced to abdicate because of his wartime role. Baudouin took a lively interest in the Congo. On his first state visit to the Belgian Congo in 1955, he was welcomed enthusiastically by cheering crowds of whites and blacks alike, as captured in André Cauvin
André Cauvin
André Cauvin was a Belgian documentary film director. He directed five films between 1939 and 1955. His 1952 film Bongolo was entered into the 1953 Cannes Film Festival.-Filmography:* Nos soldats d'Afrique...

's documentary film Bwana Kitoko. Foreign observers, such as the international correspondent of The Manchester Guardian, remarked that Belgian paternalism 'seemed to work', and contrasted Belgium's seemingly loyal and enthusiastic colonial subjects with the restless French and British colonies. On the occasion of his visit, King Baudouin openly endorsed the Governor-General's vision of a 'Belgo-Congolese community', but in practice this idea progressed slowly. At the same time, divisive ideological and linguistic issues in Belgium, which heretofore had been successfully kept out of the colony's affairs, now began to make themselves felt in the Congo as well. These included the rise of unionism among workers, the call for public (state) schools to break the missions' monopoly on education, and the call for equal treatment in the colony of the two national languages, French
French language
French is a Romance language spoken as a first language in France, the Romandy region in Switzerland, Wallonia and Brussels in Belgium, Monaco, the regions of Quebec and Acadia in Canada, and by various communities elsewhere. Second-language speakers of French are distributed throughout many parts...

 and Dutch
Dutch language
Dutch is a West Germanic language and the native language of the majority of the population of the Netherlands, Belgium, and Suriname, the three member states of the Dutch Language Union. Most speakers live in the European Union, where it is a first language for about 23 million and a second...

. Until then, French had been promoted as the unique colonial language. The Governor-General feared that such divisive issues would undermine the authority of the colonial government in the eyes of the Congolese, while also diverting attention from the more pressing need for true emancipation
Emancipation
Emancipation means the act of setting an individual or social group free or making equal to citizens in a political society.Emancipation may also refer to:* Emancipation , a champion Australian thoroughbred racehorse foaled in 1979...

.

Political organisation

As a result of the inability of the colonial government to introduce radical and credible changes, the Congolese elites began to take matters more and more in their own hands by organising themselves socially and soon also politically. In fact, it can be argued that the seeds of Congo's post-independence woes were sown in the emergence in the 1950s of two markedly different forms of nationalism among the Congolese elites. The nationalist movement—which the Belgian authorities, to some degree, turned a blind eye to—promoted territorial nationalism
Territorial nationalism
Territorial nationalism assumes that all inhabitants of a particular nation owe allegiance to their country of birth or adoption. A sacred quality is sought in the nation and in the popular memories it evokes...

 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, Kasai
Kasai region
The Kasai region of the Democratic Republic of the Congo is divided administratively into Kasai-Occidental and Kasai-Oriental. It shares its name with the Kasai River....

, and Katanga
Katanga Province
Katanga Province is one of the provinces of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Between 1971 and 1997, its official name was Shaba Province. Under the new constitution, the province was to be replaced by four smaller provinces by February 2009; this did not actually take place.Katanga's regional...

. The first political organisations were of the latter type. ABAKO
ABAKO
ABAKO or Alliance des Bakongo was a cultural and political organization, headed by Joseph Kasa-Vubu, which emerged in the late 1950s as vocal opponent of Belgian colonial rule in what today is the Democratic Republic of the Congo...

, founded in 1950 as the Association culturelle des Bakongo (lower-Congo region) and headed by Joseph Kasa-Vubu
Joseph Kasa-Vubu
Joseph Kasa-Vubu was the first President of the Republic of the Congo, today called Democratic Republic of the Congo....

, was initially a cultural association that soon turned political and from the mid-1950s became a vocal opponent of Belgian colonial rule. Additionally the organization continued to serve as the major ethno-religious organization for the Bakongo and became closely intertwined with the Kimbanguist Church which was extremely popular in the lower Congo.

In 1955, Belgian professor Antoine van Bilsen
Antoine van Bilsen
Anton A. Jozef "Jef" Van Bilsen was a Belgian professor who, in December 1955, proposed a thirty-year plan for creating a self-sufficient independent state out of the Belgian Congo. The timetable called for a gradual change over 30 years, the time he estimated it would take to create an educated...

 published a treatise called Thirty Year Plan for the Political Emancipation of Belgian Africa. The timetable called for the 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 moderate manifesto in a Congolese journal called Conscience Africaine, with their only point of disagreement being the amount of Congolese participation.

In 1957, by way of experiment, the colonial government organised in three urban centres (Léopoldville
Leopoldville
Leopoldville may refer to:* The capital of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, today known as Kinshasa* SS Leopoldville, a troopship sunk in 1944...

, Elisabethville and Jadotville) the first municipal elections in which Congolese were allowed to stand for office and cast their vote. Events in 1957-58 led to a sudden acceleration in the demands for political emancipation. This was in part influenced by developments outside the Congo, notably the independence of Ghana
Ghana
Ghana , officially the Republic of Ghana, is a country located in West Africa. It is bordered by Côte d'Ivoire to the west, Burkina Faso to the north, Togo to the east, and the Gulf of Guinea to the south...

 in 1957 and President De Gaulle's
Charles de Gaulle
Charles André Joseph Marie de Gaulle was a French general and statesman who led the Free French Forces during World War II. He later founded the French Fifth Republic in 1958 and served as its first President from 1959 to 1969....

 August 1958 visit to Brazzaville
Brazzaville
-Transport:The city is home to Maya-Maya Airport and a railway station on the Congo-Ocean Railway. It is also an important river port, with ferries sailing to Kinshasa and to Bangui via Impfondo...

, the capital of the French Congo
French Congo
The French Congo was a French colony which at one time comprised the present-day area of the Republic of the Congo, Gabon, and the Central African Republic...

 on the other side of the River Congo opposite Léopoldville, in which he promised France
France
The French Republic , The French Republic , The French Republic , (commonly known as France , is a unitary semi-presidential republic in Western Europe with several overseas territories and islands located on other continents and in the Indian, Pacific, and Atlantic oceans. Metropolitan France...

's African colonies the free choice between a continued association with France or full independence. The World Exhibition organised in Brussels
Brussels
Brussels , officially the Brussels Region or Brussels-Capital Region , is the capital of Belgium and the de facto capital of the European Union...

 in 1958 (Expo 58) proved another eye-opener for many Congolese leaders, who were allowed to travel to Belgium for the first time. In 1958, the demands for independence radicalised quickly and gained momentum. A key role was played by the Mouvement National Congolais
Mouvement National Congolais
The Mouvement National Congolais is a political party in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.-History:The party was founded in 1958 as a nationalist, pro-independence group in the Belgian Congo...

 (MNC). First set up in 1956, the MNC established itself in October 1958 as a national political party that supported the idea of a unitary and centralised Congolese nation after independence. Its most influential leader was the charismatic Patrice Lumumba
Patrice Lumumba
Patrice Émery Lumumba was a Congolese independence leader and the first legally elected Prime Minister of the Republic of the Congo after he helped win its independence from Belgium in June 1960. Only ten weeks later, Lumumba's government was deposed in a coup during the Congo Crisis...

. In 1959, an internal split was precipitated by Albert Kalonji
Albert Kalonji
Albert Kalonji is a Congolese politician best known for leading the short-lived secessionist state of South Kasai during the Congo Crisis...

 and other MNC leaders who favoured a more moderate political stance (the splinter group was deemed Mouvement National Congolais-Kalonji. Despite the organisational divergence of the party, Lumumba'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.

"Lipanda"

In the winter of 1958-59, while the Belgian government was debating a programme to gradually extend the political emancipation of the Congolese population, it was overtaken by events. On 4 January 1959, a prohibited political manifestation organised in Léopoldville by ABAKO got out of hand. At once, the colonial capital was in the grip of heavy rioting. It took the authorities several days to restore order and by the most conservative count several hundred died. The eruption of violence sent a shockwave through the Congo and Belgium alike. On 13 January, King Baudouin solemnly declared in a radio address that Belgium would work towards the full independence of the Congo "without hesitation, but also without irresponsible rashness". Without committing to a specific date for independence, the government of prime minister Gaston Eyskens had a multi-year transition period in mind during which provincial elections would take place in December 1959, national elections in 1960 or 1961, after which administrative and political responsibilities would be gradually transferred to the Congolese, in a process presumably to be completed towards the mid-1960s. On the ground the reality looked quite different. Increasingly, the colonial administration saw itself confronted with non-cooperation (e.g. refusal to pay taxes). In some regions anarchy threatened. At the same time it was clear that an important portion of the Belgian population in the Congo opposed the idea of independence and felt betrayed by Brussels. In those circumstances, and faced with a radicalisation of Congolese demands, the chances of a gradual and carefully planned transition towards independence dwindled rapidly. In 1959, King Baudouin made another visit to the Belgian Congo. The contrast with his 1955 visit could not have been greater. Upon his arrival in Léopoldville
Leopoldville
Leopoldville may refer to:* The capital of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, today known as Kinshasa* SS Leopoldville, a troopship sunk in 1944...

/Kinshasa he was pelted with rocks by blacks who were angry with the imprisonment of Patrice Lumumba
Patrice Lumumba
Patrice Émery Lumumba was a Congolese independence leader and the first legally elected Prime Minister of the Republic of the Congo after he helped win its independence from Belgium in June 1960. Only ten weeks later, Lumumba's government was deposed in a coup during the Congo Crisis...

, convicted because of incitement against the colonial government. Though Baudouin's reception in other cities was considerably better, the shouts of "Vive le roi !" were often followed by "Indépendance immédiate !" The Belgian government wanted to avoid at all cost being drawn into a futile and potentially very bloody colonial war, as had happened to France in Vietnam
Vietnam
Vietnam – sometimes spelled Viet Nam , officially the Socialist Republic of Vietnam – is the easternmost country on the Indochina Peninsula in Southeast Asia. It is bordered by China to the north, Laos to the northwest, Cambodia to the southwest, and the South China Sea –...

 and Algeria
Algeria
Algeria , officially the People's Democratic Republic of Algeria , also formally referred to as the Democratic and Popular Republic of Algeria, is a country in the Maghreb region of Northwest Africa with Algiers as its capital.In terms of land area, it is the largest country in Africa and the Arab...

 or to the Netherlands
Netherlands
The Netherlands is a constituent country of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, located mainly in North-West Europe and with several islands in the Caribbean. Mainland Netherlands borders the North Sea to the north and west, Belgium to the south, and Germany to the east, and shares maritime borders...

 in Indonesia
Indonesia
Indonesia , officially the Republic of Indonesia , is a country in Southeast Asia and Oceania. Indonesia is an archipelago comprising approximately 13,000 islands. It has 33 provinces with over 238 million people, and is the world's fourth most populous country. Indonesia is a republic, with an...

. For that reason, it was all the more inclined to give in to the demands for immediate independence voiced ever more vocally by the Congolese leaders. It was hoped that somehow, and in spite of the lack of preparations (including the lack of an educated elite: there were only a handful of Congolese holding a university degree at that time), miraculously, things might work out (what came to be known as "le pari congolais"—the Congolese bet).

In January 1960, Congolese political leaders were invited to Brussels to participate in a round-table conference to discuss independence. Patrice Lumumba was discharged from prison for the occasion. The conference agreed surprisingly quickly to grant the Congolese practically all of their demands: a general election to be held in May 1960 and full independence—"Dipenda"—on 30 June 1960. This was in no small measure thanks to the strong united front put up by the Congolese delegation. The political manoeuvering ahead of the elections resulted in the emergence of three political alliances: a coalition of the federalistic nationalists consisting of six separatist parties or organisations, two of which were ABAKO and the MNC - Kalonji, the centralist MNC-Lumumba, and finally that of the strong-man of Katanga, Moïse Tshombe
Moise Tshombe
Moïse Kapenda Tshombe was a Congolese politician.- Biography :He was the son of a successful Congolese businessman and was born in Musumba, Congo. He received his education from an American missionary school and later trained as an accountant...

, conscious of the economic vitality of its area and the business interests of the Mining Union
Union Minière du Haut Katanga
The Union Minière du Haut Katanga was a Belgian mining company, once operating in Katanga, in what is now the Democratic Republic of the Congo...

 (just like Kalonji with respect to the diamond exploitations in Kasaï). The parlementiary elections resulted in a divided political landscape, with both the regionalist factions—chief among them ABAKO—and the nationalist parties such as the MNC, doing well. As time until independence day was running out, a compromise arrangement was forced through, with Kasa-vubu becoming the first president of the Republic of the Congo and Lumumba its first head of government.
As planned, scarcely five months earlier, the hand-over ceremony took place on 30 June 1960. The location was the new residence of the Governor-General of the Belgian Congo in Léopoldville (which had only been recently built – in itself an indication of how unexpectedly independence came to the Congo).
The ceremony was overshadowed by a significant incident: in his speech King Baudouin, rather inappropriately, praised the genius of his forefather King Léopold II
Leopold II of Belgium
Leopold II was the second king of the Belgians. Born in Brussels the second son of Leopold I and Louise-Marie of Orléans, he succeeded his father to the throne on 17 December 1865 and remained king until his death.Leopold is chiefly remembered as the founder and sole owner of the Congo Free...

, founder of the Congo Free State
Congo Free State
The Congo Free State was a large area in Central Africa which was privately controlled by Leopold II, King of the Belgians. Its origins lay in Leopold's attracting scientific, and humanitarian backing for a non-governmental organization, the Association internationale africaine...

, and the blessings of Belgian colonial rule. Prime Minister Lumumba retorted with a vehement indictment of colonial oppression.

Scarcely one week after the handover of sovereignty a rebellion broke out within the Force Publique against its officers, who were still predominantly Belgian. This was the signal for disturbances all over the Congo, mainly instigated by dissatisfied soldiers and radicalised youngsters. In many areas violence specifically targeted European victims. Within weeks, the largest part of the 80,000+ Belgians who were still working and living in the Congo were evacuated in all haste and often under traumatic circumstances by the Belgian Army
Belgian Army
The Land Component is organised using the concept of capacities, whereby units are gathered together according to their function and material. Within this framework, there are five capacities: the command capacity, the combat capacity, the support capacity, the services capacity and the training...

 and later by the United Nations intervention force.

Belgian Congo after 1960

The rebellion that had started in Thyssville
Mbanza-Ngungu
Mbanza-Ngungu, formerly known as Thysville or Thysstad, named after Albert Thys, is a city in Bas-Congo Province in the western part of the Democratic Republic of Congo, lying on a short branch off the Matadi-Kinshasa Railway...

 in the Bas-Congo in July 1960 quickly spread to the rest of the Congo. In September 1960, President Kasa-Vubu declared prime minister Lumumba deposed from his functions and vice versa. The stalemate was ended with the arrest of Lumumba. In January 1961, he was flown to the rich mining province of Katanga
Katanga Province
Katanga Province is one of the provinces of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Between 1971 and 1997, its official name was Shaba Province. Under the new constitution, the province was to be replaced by four smaller provinces by February 2009; this did not actually take place.Katanga's regional...

, which by that time had declared a secession from Léopoldville under the leadership of Moïse Tshombe (with active Belgian support). Patrice Lumumba was brutally murdered (in 2002 Belgium officially apologised for its role in the elimination of Lumumba; the CIA too has been suspected of complicity). A series of rebellions and separatist movements seemed to shatter the dream of a unitary Congolese state at its birth. Although independent, Belgian paratroopers intervened in the Congo on various occasions to protect and evacuate fellow citizens. The United Nations maintained a large peace-keeping operation in the Congo from late 1960 onward. The situation stabilised only in 1964–65, with the re-integration of the Katanga province and the end of the so-called Simba Rebellion
Simba Rebellion
The Simba Rebellion was a 1964 rebellion in the former Republic of the Congo which began as a result of alleged abuses by the Congolese central government...

 in Stanleyville (province Orientale). Shortly after that army colonel
Colonel
Colonel , abbreviated Col or COL, is a military rank of a senior commissioned officer. It or a corresponding rank exists in most armies and in many air forces; the naval equivalent rank is generally "Captain". It is also used in some police forces and other paramilitary rank structures...

 Joseph Désiré Mobutu
Mobutu Sese Seko
Mobutu Sese Seko Nkuku Ngbendu wa Za Banga , commonly known as Mobutu or Mobutu Sese Seko , born Joseph-Désiré Mobutu, was the President of the Democratic Republic of the Congo from 1965 to 1997...

 ended the political impasse by seizing power himself.

Mobutu enjoyed the support of the West, and in particular of the United States
United States
The United States of America is a federal constitutional republic comprising fifty states and a federal district...

, because of his strong anti-communist stance. Initially his rule favoured consolidation and economic development (e.g. by building the Inga-dam that had been planned in the 1950s). In order to distance himself from the previous colonial regime, he launched a campaign of Congolese "authenticity". As a result the colonial place names were abandoned in 1966: Léopoldville became Kinshasa
Kinshasa
Kinshasa is the capital and largest city of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The city is located on the Congo River....

, Elisabethville Lubumbashi
Lubumbashi
Lubumbashi is the second largest city in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, second only to the nation's capital Kinshasa, and the hub of the southeastern part of the country. The copper-mining city serves as the capital of the relatively prosperous Katanga Province, lying near the Zambian border...

, Stanleyville Kisangani
Kisangani
Kisangani is the capital of Orientale Province in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. It is the 3rd largest urbanized city in the country and the largest of the cities that lie in the tropical woodlands of the Congo....

. During this period, the Congo maintained close economic and political ties with Belgium, although these were occasionally overshadowed by the financial issues that had remained unresolved after independence (the so-called "contentieux"), for instance the transfer of shares in the big mining companies that had been held directly by the colonial state. In 1970, on the occasion of the tenth anniversary of independence, King Baudouin paid an official state visit to the Congo.

Mobutu's regime radicalised during the 1970s. The 'Mouvement populaire de la Révolution' (MPR), of which Mobutu was the président-fondateur, firmly established one-party rule. Political repression increased considerably. Mobutu now renamed the Congo into the republic of Zaïre
Zaire
The Republic of Zaire was the name of the present Democratic Republic of the Congo between 27 October 1971 and 17 May 1997. The name of Zaire derives from the , itself an adaptation of the Kongo word nzere or nzadi, or "the river that swallows all rivers".-Self-proclaimed Father of the Nation:In...

. The so-called "zaïrisation" of economic life in the mid-1970s led to an exodus of foreign workers and an unmitigated economic disaster. In the 1980s the Mobutu regime became a byword for mismanagement and corruption. Relations with the former colonial power Belgium went through a series of ups and downs, reflecting a steady decline in the underlying economic, financial and political interests. After the end of the Cold War
Cold War
The Cold War was the continuing state from roughly 1946 to 1991 of political conflict, military tension, proxy wars, and economic competition between the Communist World—primarily the Soviet Union and its satellite states and allies—and the powers of the Western world, primarily the United States...

, Mobutu lost support in the West. As a result, in 1990, he decided to end the one-party system and dramatically announced a return to democracy, but subsequently dragged his feet and played out his opponents against one another to gain time. A bloody intervention of the Zaïrian Army against students on the Lubumbashi University Campus
University of Lubumbashi
The University of Lubumbashi is one of the largest universities in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. It is located in Lubumbashi, the capital city of Katanga province....

 in May 1990 precipitated a break in diplomatic relations between Belgium and Zaïre. Pointedly, Mobutu was not invited to attend the funeral of King Baudouin in 1993, which he considered a grave personal affront. Finally, in 1997 Mobutu was chased from power by a rebel force headed by Laurent-Désiré Kabila
Laurent-Désiré Kabila
Laurent-Désiré Kabila was President of the Democratic Republic of the Congo from May 17, 1997, when he overthrew Mobutu Sese Seko, until his assassination by his bodyguards on January 18, 2001...

, who declared himself president and renamed Zaïre into the Democratic Republic of the Congo
Democratic Republic of the Congo
The Democratic Republic of the Congo is a state located in Central Africa. It is the second largest country in Africa by area and the eleventh largest in the world...

. Assassinated in 2001, Laurent-Désiré Kabila was succeeded by his son Joseph Kabila
Joseph Kabila
Joseph Kabila Kabange is a Congolese politician who has been President of the Democratic Republic of the Congo since January 2001. He took office ten days after the assassination of his father, President Laurent-Désiré Kabila...

, who in 2006 was confirmed as president through the first nation-wide free elections in the Congo since 1960. On 30 June - 2 July 2010, King Albert II of the Belgians
Albert II of Belgium
Albert II is the current reigning King of the Belgians, a constitutional monarch. He is a member of the royal house "of Belgium"; formerly this house was named Saxe-Coburg-Gotha...

 and Yves Leterme
Yves Leterme
Yves Camille Désiré Leterme is a Flemish Belgian politician, a leader of the Christian Democratic and Flemish party , and the 48th Prime Minister of Belgium.Leterme was the Prime Minister of Belgium from March 2008 to December 2008...

, the Belgian Prime Minister, visited Kinshasa to attend the festivities marking the 50th anniversary of Congolese independence from Belgium.

Certain practices and traditions from the colonial period have survived into the independent Congolese state, such as a strong centralising and bureaucratic tendency, or the organisational structure of the education system and the judiciary. The influence of the Congo on Belgium has manifested itself mainly in economic terms: through the activities of the Union Minière (now Umicore), the development of a nonferrous metal industry, and the development of the Antwerp harbour and diamond industry. To this day, Brussels Airlines
Brussels Airlines
Brussels Airlines is a flag carrier airline headquartered in the b.house on the grounds of Brussels Airport and in Diegem, Machelen, Belgium and a subsidiary of Lufthansa. It is the largest airline based in Belgium, operating to over 65 destinations in 20 European countries as well as long-haul...

 (successor of the former Sabena
Sabena
SABENA was the national airline of Belgium from 1923 to 2001, with its base at Brussels National Airport. After its bankruptcy in 2001, the newly formed SN Brussels Airlines took over part of SABENA's assets in February 2002, which then became Brussels Airlines...

) has maintained a strong presence in the DRC. It is estimated that there currently (2010) remain more than 4,000 Belgians resident in the DRC, while the Congolese community in Belgium is at least 16,000 strong. The "Matonge" quarter in Brussels (Porte de Namur) is the traditional meeting point of the Congolese community in Belgium.

In popular culture

The Belgian Congo features prominently or as a backdrop in some great works of Western literature. Among those are:
  • André Gide
    André Gide
    André Paul Guillaume Gide was a French author and winner of the Nobel Prize in literature in 1947. Gide's career ranged from its beginnings in the symbolist movement, to the advent of anticolonialism between the two World Wars.Known for his fiction as well as his autobiographical works, Gide...

     (1927), Voyage au Congo;
  • Evelyn Waugh
    Evelyn Waugh
    Arthur Evelyn St. John Waugh , known as Evelyn Waugh, was an English writer of novels, travel books and biographies. He was also a prolific journalist and reviewer...

     (1931), Remote people;
  • Kathryn Hulme
    Kathryn Hulme
    Kathryn Hulme was an American author and memoirist most noted for her novel The Nun's Story. The book is often, mistakenly, understood to be semi-biographical.-Writing:...

     (1956), The Nun's Story
    The Nun's Story
    The Nun's Story is the title of a 1956 novel by Kathryn Hulme. The book was a Book of the Month selection and reached #1 on the New York Times best-seller list....

     (also 1959 film
    The Nun's Story (film)
    The Nun's Story is a 1959 Warner Brothers film directed by Fred Zinnemann and starring Audrey Hepburn. Based upon the 1956 novel of the same title by Kathryn Hulme, the story tells of the life of Sister Luke , a young Belgian woman who decides to enter a convent and make the many sacrifices...

     by Fred Zinnemann
    Fred Zinnemann
    Fred Zinnemann was an Austrian-American film director. He won four Academy Awards and directed films like High Noon, From Here to Eternity and A Man for All Seasons.-Life and career:...

    , starring Audrey Hepburn
    Audrey Hepburn
    Audrey Hepburn was a British actress and humanitarian. Although modest about her acting ability, Hepburn remains one of the world's most famous actresses of all time, remembered as a film and fashion icon of the twentieth century...

    )
    ;
  • Graham Greene
    Graham Greene
    Henry Graham Greene, OM, CH was an English author, playwright and literary critic. His works explore the ambivalent moral and political issues of the modern world...

     (1959), A burnt-out case
    A Burnt-Out Case
    -Plot summary:The plot concerns Querry, who is the victim of a terrible attack of indifference, he no longer finds meaning in art or pleasure in life. Arriving anonymously at a Congo leper colony overseen by Catholic missionaries, he is diagnosed - by Dr Colin, the resident doctor - as the mental...

    ;
  • Lieve Joris (1987), Terug naar Congo.
  • Barbara Kingsolver
    Barbara Kingsolver
    Barbara Kingsolver is an American novelist, essayist and poet. She was raised in rural Kentucky and lived briefly in the former Republic of Congo in her early childhood. Kingsolver earned degrees in biology at DePauw University and the University of Arizona and worked as a freelance writer before...

     (1998), The Poisonwood Bible
    The Poisonwood Bible
    The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver isa bestselling novel about a missionary family, the Prices, who in 1959 move from Georgia to the village of Kilanga in the Belgian Congo, close to the Kwilu River...



"Colonie belge" - usually depicting a black prisoner being flogged by a black guardian under the watchful eye of a white official — is a recurring theme in Congolese paintings by artists like Tshibumba Kanda-Matulu, C. Mutomobo and others.

In the song "We Didn't Start the Fire" by Billy Joel, Belgian Congo is mention once in the second verse 'belgians in the congo'.

Governors-General

  • Baron Théophile Wahis
    Théophile Wahis
    Baron Théophile Wahis was a Belgian officer and civil servant.Born in Menen, Belgium, he started his career as Sub-Lieutenant and later Lieutenant General in the Belgian army. He participated in the expeditionary army which was sent to Mexico. Later he became Governor-General of Congo Free State...

     (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
    Maurice Lippens (governor)
    Maurice Eugène Auguste, Count Lippens , was governor of Belgian Congo from 30 January 1921 until 24 January 1923....

     (January 1921–January 1923)
  • Martin Joseph Marie René Rutten
    Martin Rutten
    Martin Joseph Marie René Rutten was a Belgian civil servant and governor-general of Belgian Congo from 24 January 1923 until 27 December 1927.-References:* *...

     (January 1923–December 1927)
  • Auguste Constant Tilkens
    Auguste Tilkens
    Auguste Constant Tilkens was a Belgian civil servant and governor-general of Belgian Congo from 27 December 1927 until 14 September 1934.-References:* *...

     (December 1927–September 1934)
  • Pierre Marie Joseph Ryckmans
    Pierre Ryckmans (Congo)
    Pierre Ryckmans was a Belgian civil servant and Governor-general of the Belgian colony of Congo from 1934 to 1946.-Early Life and Family:...

     (September 1934–July 1946)
  • Eugène Jacques Pierre Louis Jungers (July 1946–January 1952)
  • Léon Antoine Marie Pétillon
    Léon Pétillon
    Léon Antoine Marie Pétillon was a Belgian civil servant and governor-general of Belgian Congo from 1 January 1952 until 12 July 1958.-References:* *...

     (January 1952–July 1958)
  • Henri Arthur Adolf Marie Christopher Cornelis
    Henri Cornelis
    Henri Arthur Adolf Marie Christopher Cornelis was a Belgian civil servant and the last governor-general of Belgian Congo from 12 July 1958 until 30 June 1960. He was succeeded on 1 July 1960 by Joseph Kasavubu, the first President of independent Congo. -References:* *...

     (July 1958–June 1960)

See also

  • Force Publique
    Force Publique
    The Force Publique , French for "Public Force", was both a gendarmerie and a military force in what is now the Democratic Republic of the Congo from 1885, , through the period of direct Belgian colonial rule...

  • Free Belgian Forces
    Free Belgian Forces
    The Free Belgian Forces were members of the Belgian armed forces in World War II who continued fighting against the Axis after the surrender of Belgium and its subsequent occupation by the Germans...

  • Heart of Darkness
    Heart of Darkness
    Heart of Darkness is a novella written by Joseph Conrad. Before its 1903 publication, it appeared as a three-part series in Blackwood's Magazine. It was classified by the Modern Library website editors as one of the "100 best novels" and part of the Western canon.The story centres on Charles...

  • Tintin in the Congo
    Tintin in the Congo
    Tintin in the Congo is the second title in the comicbook series The Adventures of Tintin, written and drawn by Belgian cartoonist Hergé. Originally serialised in the Belgian children's newspaper supplement, Le Petit Vingtième between June 1930 and July 1931, it was first published in book form...

  • University of Lovanium
    University of Lovanium
    The University of Lovanium was a Catholic Jesuit university in Leopoldville/Leopoldstad in Belgian Congo.-History:The university was established in 1954 at Kimwenza.Its name was derived from the old name, Lovanium, for Leuven in Belgium...

  • "We Didn't Start the Fire
    We Didn't Start the Fire
    "We Didn't Start the Fire" is a song by Billy Joel. Its lyrics are made up from rapid-fire brief allusions to over a hundred headline events between March 1949 and 1989, when the song was released on his album Storm Front...

    " (song by Billy Joel
    Billy Joel
    William Martin "Billy" Joel is an American musician and pianist, singer-songwriter, and classical composer. Since releasing his first hit song, "Piano Man", in 1973, Joel has become the sixth best-selling recording artist and the third best-selling solo artist in the United States, according to...

    )
  • King Leopold's Ghost
    King Leopold's Ghost
    King Leopold's Ghost is a best-selling popular history book by Adam Hochschild that explores the exploitation of the Congo Free State by King Leopold II of Belgium between 1885 and 1908....

  • Patrice Lumumba
    Patrice Lumumba
    Patrice Émery Lumumba was a Congolese independence leader and the first legally elected Prime Minister of the Republic of the Congo after he helped win its independence from Belgium in June 1960. Only ten weeks later, Lumumba's government was deposed in a coup during the Congo Crisis...

  • Lumumba (film)
    Lumumba (film)
    Lumumba is a 2000 film directed by Raoul Peck centred around Patrice Lumumba in the months before and after the Democratic Republic of the Congo achieved independence from Belgium in June 1960. Raoul Peck's film is a coproduction of France, Belgium, Germany, and Haiti...

    , a biographical film directed by Raoul Peck

External links

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