The Congo Question (4 october 1909)

From The Arthur Conan Doyle Encyclopedia

The Congo Question is a letter written by Arthur Conan Doyle first published in The Times on 4 october 1909.

A second and third letter on the same topic were published on 10 and 15 november 1909.


The Congo Question

The Times (4 october 1909)


Sir, — Some week, ago you kindly published a letter from me, in which I expressed my opinion that the story of the Congo constituted the greatest crime of which we have any record in history, and my hope that our Government would at last fulfil those solemn pledges to the natives which are incorporated in that Treaty of Berlin by which the vile Congo State was originally created. I remarked in this letter that M. Renkin, the Belgian Colonial Minister, would soon return from his tour of inspection, and that the result of that tour would be certain vague premises of reform which would prolong the present situation from year to year until either the rubber or the natives were exhausted. The trick has been done again and again in Congo history, but there seems to be no limit to the credulity, or rather, perhaps, to the indifference of the Powers.

On this occasion, however, there has been an effrontery in the remarks of the returning official, as reported in the Press, which transcends any of the efforts of his predecessors. It us to be remembered that M. Renkin is himself an ex-director of one of those Congo concessionaire companies which are red to the elbow in the of the natives. A recent British Consular report has shown that this very company by the aid of the chicotte and of the hostage house enforces 240 days in the year of forced labour upon its slaves, for which it pays them 6s. 4d. in trade goods per annum. The food of a bought slave would cost many times that sum, so that it may truly be said that the new Belgian slavery is the cheapest to the owner as well as the most cruel to the victim that has ever been devised.

This being M. Renkin's record, no very helpful report could be expected from him. But his actual statements as reported since his return are incredibly perverse. They bear no relations at all to the actual facts of the situation. He says without qualification that there have been no outrages upon the natives. Putting aside missionary reports, Consular reports, Belgian judicial reports, travelers' reports, all confirmed and reconfirmed, there is the terrible evidence of the Commission appointed by King Leopold himself in 1905 to show how shameless is such an assertion. It is only in a country which is kept in the dark by a venal Press that such a statement could be taken seriously. But perhaps M. Renkin means, as Mr. Belloc appears to do by his recent question in parliament, that the more obvious brutalities, the hand-loppings and shootings, are more or less in abeyance. Ir Mr. Belloc were deprived of all means of earning a living for himself, if he were set to forced labour for the benefit of another, and cut to the bone with hippopotamus-hide whips to urge him onwards while those whom he loved were shut up in a noisome prison in the power of licentious soldiers, so as to ensure that he did not run away from his servitude, he would find that there were other forms of cruelty besides the bullet and the knife. This, exactly as I describe it, is the normal daily existence of millions of the Congo natives, and I appeal to ex-Consul Casement, to Consul Thesiger, and to Vice-Consul Armstrong, Mitchell, and Beak whether it I not so. And then in the face of this horror we read M. Renkin's twaddle about teaching the native intensive method of agriculture, and gradually introducing free trade - a thing which was secured by treaty 24 years ago. But surety this marks the limit. The Government has been awaiting M. Renkin's return and M. Renkin's message. We have now had his message. Is this scandal to drag on for ever, or has the time come when once for all we shall put down our foot and say that we will be true to our pledged word, and that this organised crime must at last come to an end ?

Yours faithfully,

Windlesham, Crowborough, Oct. 2.