England and the Congo (18 august 1909)

From The Arthur Conan Doyle Encyclopedia

England and the Congo is a letter written by Arthur Conan Doyle first published in The Times on 18 august 1909.

A second letter with the same title was published in The Times on 28 august 1909.


England and the Congo

The Times (18 august 1909)


Sir, — We live in the presence of the greatest crime which has ever been committed in the history of the world, and yet we who not only could stop it but who are bound by our sworn oath to stop it do nothing. The thing has been going on for 20 years. What are we waiting for? Our guilt of national acquiescence is only second to that of the gang of cosmopolitan scoundrels who have been actively concerned in turning all Central Africa into a huge slave State, with such attendant horrors as even the dark story of the slave trade has never shown. In the slave trade the victim was of market value, and to that extent was protected from death or mutilation. In this case the State is the owner of all, so that if one be dismembered or shot another is always available.

The Congo Free State (the very name is typical of the smug hypocrisy which deceived the Great Powers into allowing the molester to be born) was created by the Berlin Congress of 1883. One of the articles of that treaty, to which "in the name of Almighty God" we and other Powers have bound ourselves, was that we would undertake "to watch over the preservation of the native races, and the amelioration of the moral and material conditions of their existence." Did those solemn words mean anything? Are they compatible with our standing by year after year seeing these same native races done to death, and never raising an effective hand to help them? Three million of them at a moderate computation have already been ameliorated out of this world. How long more are we to wait?

As I write, my study table is covered with photographs of these unhappy people. They bear the marks of the tortures they have endured. Some have their feet lopped off, some their hands. One is a child, surprisingly beautiful and intelligent even by European standards. His arm has been hacked off. Another with his right foot and left hand missing stares before him with a strange, thoughtful puzzled face. These are the people whom "in the name of Almighty God" we guaranteed. Under each of the mutilated frames might, in all truth, be printed "I was guaranteed by you."

The dreadful story is a commonplace now. It is impossible to deny any part of it. Its authenticity comes from many sources, from missionary reports, Swedish, Belgian, and American, as well as British, from official Consular despatches, from the report of the Belgian Commission of 1903, from the memoirs of returned officers, above all from the incorruptible evidence of the kodak. The story, I say, is a commonplace, but it has been a commonplace for at least 14 years for those who chose to read the evidence. When is something going to be done?

Every day that passes fresh crimes are committed. The rubber has been coming faster than ever to Europe this year, and the rubber can only come through the system, and the system can only be enforced by terror. Consul Thesiger, in his report published this year, shows that the screw is ever tightening, that new tribes are being drawn into the slavery, that they are worked in such a fashion that they have no time to plant their crops, and that a great famine is threatened in the future. That is the last official published report of our representative. And we do nothing.

Last year the business was taken over by Belgium. There were hopes that methods would be changed. But they have not been changed. M. Renkin, the Colonial Minister of Belgium, has frankly said that they would not be changed. He has gone out to the Congo to report. But he is himself an ex-concessionaire who has been a fervent defender of the system in the Parliament. As well send Rockefeller to report on the standard Oil abuses! Are we children to be deluded by such devices as these? Do we not know the course which events will take? M. Renkin will return about Christmas. Six more months have been gained for squeezing the country. Then he must not be hurried in his report — six more months for that. Then there is the legislation. Time must be allowed for that. Then legislation must be gradually enforced ; and so on and on through the time-honoured round. And all the time more mutilations, more murders, more extortions, in order that a rich King may he richer and a few companies pay 3C0 per cent. If we wait for any practical result from M. Renkin's visit then we wait, with our eyes open, for at least three more years of this orgie of blood, lust, and greed.

What should be done? The first thing is in a single comprehensive State paper to lay before every civilized Power the evidence which calls for action, and to ask them to convene a European conference for the purpose of taking from Belgium a trust which has been so dreadfully abused, and making such fresh arrangements, either by an international government or by a partition of the State amongst its neighbours, as may give some assurance of just and honest treatment to these unhappy natives. We are told in vague language by Sir Edward Grey that peril lies in the question. Where can that peril lie? Who is going to champion the perpetrators of these horrible deeds? Is it Germany, with her traditions of kindly home life? Is it those who are so justly proud of the public and private life of William the Second who will take up the sword for Leopold? Or is it France, the historical home of chivalry? Or the United States, who abhor cruelty and injustice as much as we de ourselves? Where can this bogey lie? If it existed, it would be our duty a hundred-fold to face it. But does it really exist? Would not a frank and self-denying treatment of the case banish it for ever?

That must be the goal of the future — that the Congo passes into more worthy hands. But what about the past? Is there to be no redress for these poor victims? Three millions of them are beyond redress. But what of the butchers and what of their surviving victims? Is there no possible international Court before which these men who have betrayed religion and civilization can he arraigned? The public conscience cannot be at rest until every one of them, from the schemer at Brussels to the red-handed agent at the spot, has had his deserts. And this same tribunal could surely out of the gorged money bags of the concessionaires force a pension for the thousands and thousands who have been maimed by their representatives and through their deliberate system. Only then, when the victims have been avenged, the survivors compensated, and the land placed under safe permanent rule, can the conscience of Europe be at rest.

Yours faithfully,

Windlesham, Crowborough, Sussex.