The Katanga

From The Arthur Conan Doyle Encyclopedia

The Katanga is a letter written by Arthur Conan Doyle first published in The Times on 17 february 1910.

The Katanga

The Times (17 february 1910)


Sir, — Two successive Foreign Secretaries of State have pronounced the Belgian system of forced labour in the Congo to be indistinguishable from slavery. Yet by the budget of 1910 nearly half the total taxation of the country is to be raised by this means. These natives who are treated in this fashion are our wards whom we are sworn to protect.

In the face of this fact, what is the force of Mr. Campbell's or Lieutenant Learmonth's contention as to the condition of one particular province in that vast country ? What we demand is the fulfillment of a treaty to which we have been a party. Why should any treaty in the future have any binding force, when this one has for 20 years been so notoriously abused ?

It is admitted that the condition of the Congo, and especially of Katanga, has in some respects improved, though the problem is still far from a complete solution. Mr. Vandervelde, the highest, authority in Belgium, has ascribed this improvement entirely to the unselfish efforts of Mr. Morel. In the face of such an opinion Mr. Morel will no doubt continue his philanthropic work without waiting for the approbation of Lieutenant Learmonth.

Speaking generally, I would say that all pro-Belgian testimony from the Congo should be most carefully examined before being accepted, the reason being that there are very strong financial interests which are directly concerned in the defence of the present order, while all who attack it locally do so to their own discomfort and detriment. In writing a small pamphlet upon the subject recently I gave credit to two British apologists who had travelled in the country, as if they were impartial authorities. Since then I have had an opportunity of seeing a letter from the British Consul-General of the Congo which made it clear that they had been sent out by him to the Congo to furnish a report. Their conclusions would certainly have been discounted by the public had this been generally known. Again, the friends of the Congo régime made some capital recently of the report of some British zoologists who travelled in the notorious Kasai country and declared that all was well there. Had the public known that the leader and spokesman of this expedition was an ex-Congo Free State official of Hungarian nationality, they would wish to come into more direct contact with the British zoologists.

Lieutenant Learmonth finishes his letter by saying, "It is time that this agitation against a friendly Power should cease." Can he give any reason why it should cease until the conditions of the Treaty of Berlin (namely, Free Trade and kind treatment of the natives) shall have been fulfilled ? Is it a friendly Power which, in spite of all remonstrance, systematically breaks a treaty which we are pledged to uphold ?

Yours faithfully,

Windlesham, Crowborough, Sussex, Feb. 14.