Great Britain and the Congo
From The Arthur Conan Doyle Encyclopedia
Introduction by Arthur Conan Doyle
Whoever desires to master the Congo question must go to Mr. Morel for Ms facts, for there is no one, official or unofficial, British or foreign, who has devoted to it the same time or thought. For nine years he has given his life to the investigation and the exposure of this huge international scandal. If it has ever been laid bare before the world it is to him above all men that it is due. It has been a weary, thankless task, in which ceaseless calumny has been the main weapon of his opponents. For years he has been depicted in the Continental Press as a man who stood as the spokesman of a clique of Liverpool merchants, or as one who schemed in favour of Protestant missions or of British territorial expansion. But those who know him are aware that the one driving force which has enabled him to remain constant to his purpose has been the hot indignation which he has felt at cruel deeds, and the keen sense of injustice which has been aroused in his generous mind by the iniquitous treatment of the native population of the Congo. Neither Wilberforce nor any of those men whose names we honour as the protagonists in the fight against the slave trade have been actuated by nobler motives or have fought harder for the faith that was in them.
How great the scandal has been against which he has contended will be appreciated by those who read this volume. But for others who would have a fuller view of the inner workings of the Congo State, the same author's King Leopold's Rule in Africa (Heinemann, 1904) should be consulted. The two volumes together form in my opinion the most terrific indictment against a man and against a system which has ever been drawn up. Incidentally they cast a strange light upon the real value of those sonorous words Christianity and civilisation. What are they really worth in practice when all the Christian and civilised nations of the earth can stand round, and either from petty jealousy or from absolute moral indifference can for many years on end see a helpless race, whose safety they have guaranteed, robbed, debauched, mutilated, and murdered without raising a hand or in most cases even a voice to protect them? Be the future what it may, the past history of the Berlin Treaty and its neglect by those who signed it is a shameful and humiliating episode. Is it still to continue ? That is the question which those who read this book must answer.
The student may search history to find any parallel to the crime which has been committed under our eyes on the Congo. There have been great expropriations in the past. There have been terrible and wholesale massacres. But where do you get such a combination of the two as in the Congo ? In all historical expropriations the victors have pushed the vanquished from their lands in order themselves to occupy them. The country has flourished though the owners have changed. But here, for the sake of one scheming mind with a few millionaire subordinates and a handful of shareholders, the vast country has been seized by absentees, and the whole products exported on the plea that the land and everything upon it belongs to those who have never seen it. They have not traded in the Congo. They have sacked it and sell their loot in the Antwerp market. And by what right? By the right, they say, that we gave them in Berlin in 1885. If it is not by that right then it is by no right at all, since no other regulation exists by which their presence in Africa is justified. But did we really give them any such right? Did we permit them to monopolise the soil and all that walked or grew thereon ? We turn to the Act and we read, "No Power... shall be allowed to grant therein either monopoly or privilege of any kind in commercial matters." Could words be clearer than that? And yet for nearly twenty years the nations of the earth have looked on with hardly a protest at this monstrous theft, as gross to-day under Belgian rule as ever it was when the Congo was nominally an independent State. Why should any State ever keep any treaty if this is to pass unchallenged ?
But there is the darker side of the question. There is the incredibly brutal treatment of the natives, which passed for some years because men could not bring themselves to believe that in this age of progress it was possible that such things could actually exist. All the cruelties of Alva in the Lowlands, all the tortures of the Inquisition, all the savagery of the Spanish to the Caribs are as child's play compared with the deeds of the Belgians in the Congo. Let those who think this an exaggerated statement read King Leopold's Rule in Africa and then try to justify their view. What form of outrage and torture is there which lust and brutality could devise which has not been let loose upon these helpless, unarmed people? Consider the huge area over which these deeds have been done, an area as large as Europe without Russia. Yet from every part of it, from the Lado Enclave, from the Katanga, from the Kasai country, from points two thousand miles apart, comes exactly the same tale of systematic bloodshed. "Systematic," that is the horror of it. Brutal men and brutal deeds are common, alas, in all tropical lands. The restraint of them comes from above. But here it is the call to brutality which comes from above ; the urgent call for rubber, more rubber, higher dividends, at any price of native labour and native coercion, driving the local agents on to torture and murder — that is the peculiarity of the Congo Administration. No wonder, then, that for all the thousands and tens of thousands of murders which have been done in that country not one white man has ever yet been executed. Only one European was ever hanged on the Congo, and that was the Englishman Stokes, who was put to death for trying to trade as he had every right to do. Had his murder marked, as it should have done, the downfall of this nightmare State, then what a world of suffering, what years of disgrace, would have been saved.
But when we read of the ill-treatment of these poor people, the horrible beatings, the mutilation of limbs, the butt-endings, the starving in hostage houses — facts which are vouched for by witnesses of several nations and professions, backed by the incorruptible evidence of the Kodak — we again ask by what right are these things done? Is there anywhere any shadow of justification for the hard yoke which these helpless folk endure? Again we turn to the Treaty which regulates the situation. "All the Powers... pledge themselves to watch over the preservation of the native populations and the improvement of their moral and material conditions of existence." And this pledge is headed, "In the name of Almighty God." It still stands. It has never been rescinded. What a story! What possible compensation can Europe ever make to these unhappy wards whom she has abandoned to what a Belgian judge from the Congo has described as the "most relentless and most hateful tyrants that have ever disgraced the name of humanity!" Europe may well cringe with shame before her own record !
The expropriation has been unique. The massacres have been unique. But there is another element which adds a last grotesque touch to this horror. It is the words of piety and philanthropy, the odious sustained hypocrisy which have cloaked these dreadful deeds. This perhaps is the most deadly of all the many evils which has arisen from Leopold's mission to Africa. It has flashed false coin so shamelessly before the world that the value of true coin has been for ever debased. The cynic has been justified. The true man has been put to shame. When again will powers for humanitarian ends be placed in any man's hands after such a world-lesson as that?
The past we cannot change. But how much longer are we to be deaf to the call of duty and humanity? How heavy already is our responsibility can only be appreciated by those who listen to Mr, Morel. Had Governments listened to him in the past the world would have been the better.
ARTHUR CONAN DOYLE.