The history of Berlin Conference, the division of Africa and The Congo Free State
Started in November 15, 1884, ended in February 26, 1885.
At the Berlin residence of the German Chancellor Otto von Bismarck, located at Reichskanzlerpalais, Wilhemstrasse 77, in November 15, 1884, the foreign ministers of thirteen European nations including Turkey and the United States established ground rules for the future exploitation of Africa and the Africans. No African nation was represented nor any African King or personality was invited at the conference, even though the conference was about Africa.
The Congo Free State, conceived as a “neutral” zone to be run by an international association in the interest of bringing science, civilization, and Christianity to the indigenous people, received the Berlin Conference’s blessings. Belgium’s King Leopold II, a man who exploited Congo’s resources and contributed to up to 10 million deaths, soon took control, reaping fabulous personal profits. Belgium extracted rubber, ivory, diamonds, and uranium from the Congo and gave back nothing: no schools, no hospitals, no infrastructure except that which facilitated the export of resources. The uranium used to make the atom bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki came from mines in the Congo.
The European colonial powers shared one objective in their African colonies; exploitation. But in the way they governed their dependencies, they reflected their differences. Some colonial powers were themselves democracies (the United Kingdom and France); others were dictatorships (Portugal, Spain). The British established a system of indirect rule over much of their domain, leaving indigenous power structure in place and making local rulers representatives of the British Crown. This was unthinkable in the Portuguese colonies, where harsh, direct control was the rule. The French sought to create culturally assimilated elites what would represent French ideals in the colonies. In the Belgian Congo, however, King Leopold II, who had financed the expeditions that staked Belgium’s claim in Berlin, embarked on a campaign of ruthless exploitation. His enforcers mobilized almost the entire Congolese populations to gather rubber, kill elephants for their ivory, and build public works to improve export routes. For failing to meet production quotes, entire communities were massacred. Killing and maiming became routine in a colony in which horror was the only common denominator. After the impact of the slave trade, King Leopold’s reign of terror was Africa’s most severe demographic disaster. By the time it ended, after a growing outcry around the world, as many as 10 million Congolese had been murdered. In 1908 the Belgium government administrators, and the Roman Catholic Church each pursued their sometimes competing interest. But no one thought to change the name of the colonial capital: it was Leopoldville until the Belgian Congo achieved independence in 1960.
George Washington Williams – A black American soldier, minister, politician and historian. Shortly before his death he travelled to King Leopold II’s Congo Free State and his open letter to Leopold about the suffering of the region’s inhabitants at the hands of Leopold’s agents, helped to sway European and American public opinion against the regime running the Congo, under which some 10 million people lost their lives.
In this letter, he condemned the brutal and inhuman treatment the Congolese were suffering at the hands of the colonizers. He mentioned the role played by Henry M. Stanley, sent to the Congo by the King, in tricking and mistreating the Africans. Williams reminded the King that the crimes committed were all committed in his name, making him as guilty as the actual culprits. He appealed to the international community of the day to “call and create an International Commission to investigate the charges herein preferred in the name of Humanity”.
Belgian colonialism: 1908 – 1960 and Congo’s Independence
The Belgian government immediately set to work to remedy the worst excesses of the King. Belgian colonial ideology constructed the Congolese people as children who required a benign but firm hand of control. The state would ensure their wellbeing and in turn demanded their loyalty, obedience and hard work. While brutal practices such as massacres and the chopping off of hands of peasants who failed to fulfill their quotas ceased, the exploitative practices of forced labour and compulsory production were only slowly phased out.
Belgian government of the territory was an uneasy mixture of indirect rule through existing chiefdoms, which were substantially remodeled to conform to the exigencies of colonial needs, and ridged and pervasive measures of social control. The attempts to transform traditional rulers into salaried functionaries, and the endless tampering with these structures that followed on this, undermined their legitimacy and hastened their disintegration as valid expressions of indigenous civic life. The curfews, population resettlements and stringent police controls, on the other hand, engendered hostility without creating structures of enduring value.
In line with prevailing European thinking on such matters, the colony had to be made to pay for itself. Social expenditures on health, education and welfare were avoided by delegating responsibility to missionary groups (especially Catholic orders), who were encouraged to set up operations within the territory. Business interests were allowed, and even required, to exercised functions that would elsewhere be performed by the state.
The entire, rather extensive, civil service and the leadership ranks of the security forces were staffed by Europeans. No thought was given to the training of indigenous people to staff these structures at any point in the future, any more than measures taken to draw the Congolese into representation in governing councils or participation in the selection of governing agents.
Congolese docility had existed more in the minds of the colonisers than in those of the colonised. Almost all Congolese shared a history of resistance to Belgian penetration at various places and times. The emergence of the Kimbanguist Church in the 1920s was, as the Belgians themselves quickly appreciated, an act of resistance. Belgian persecution of the movement only embittered Congolese and hardened anti-Belgian attitudes.
The Second World War accelerated the social transformations already underway, urbanisation, proletarianisation and the emergence of an indigenous intelligentsia. These new social groups were neither docile nor obedient; they were easily infected with European concepts such as self-determination, democracy, socialism and nationalism.
Like other colonial powers Belgium awoke too late to the changes that had been unleashed. Reforms promulgated by the government aimed at co-opting and incorporating Congolese into governing structures were inadequate to satisfy emerging aspirations, while paradoxically reaffirming the legitimacy of those aspirations.
The consequence of all this was the emergence in the 1950s of nationalist leaders and groups among the Kongo (the ethnic Alliance of the Kongo People), in Katanga (the regional Confederation of Katanga Associations) and in the formation of the Mouvement National Congolais (led by the charismatic nationalist Patrice Lumumba.
The new nationalist movements expressed themselves in the democratically elected local structures created by Belgian reforms. When Belgian efforts at stemming the nationalist tide in Kinshasa (then Leopoldsville) provoked riots they abruptly executed a u-turn and set the Belgian Congo on a rapid timetable to independence
In Jun 30, 1960 Belgium was forced to give the Congo independence, Joseph Kasavubu was acting as the President and Patrice Lumumba was the Prime Minister of the new nation. In January 17, 1961 Patrice Lumumba, the Prime Minister in the Congo’s first democratically elected government, was seized, tortured, and murdered by a Colonel named Joseph Mobutu. Lumumba was considered the most brilliant of the Congolese and African leaders. In 1965 Mobutu himself seized power and, with the backing of the United States, Belgium and other western countries. Like King Leopold, Mobutu, who re-named the country Zaire, ran the economy for his own personal profit and, like the Belgians before him, left the Congo impoverished. Mobutu ruled as an absolute dictator until his overthrow by Laurent Desiré Kabila in May 1997. Kabila was a youth leader in a party allied to Patrice Lumumba in the 1960s. L.D. Kabila was shot on January 16 and died of his injuries on January 18, 2001). He was succeeded by his son Joseph Kabila who is the head of state until today.
Patrice E. Lumumba
The First Prime Minister of the Congo
On June 30, 1960, Independence Day
Men and women of the Congo,
Victorious fighters for independence, today victorious, I greet you in the name of the Congolese Government. All of you, my friends, who have fought tirelessly at our sides, I ask you to make this June 30, 1960, an illustrious date that you will keep indelibly engraved in your hearts, a date of significance of which you will teach to your children, so that they will make known to their sons and to their grandchildren the glorious history of our fight for liberty.
For this independence of the Congo, even as it is celebrated today with Belgium, a friendly country with whom we deal as equal to equal, no Congolese worthy of the name will ever be able to forget that is was by fighting that it has been won [applause], a day-to-day fight, an ardent and idealistic fight, a fight in which we were spared neither privation nor suffering, and for which we gave our strength and our blood.
We are proud of this struggle, of tears, of fire, and of blood, to the depths of our being, for it was a noble and just struggle, and indispensable to put an end to the humiliating slavery which was imposed upon us by force.
This was our fate for eighty years of a colonial regime; our wounds are too fresh and too painful still for us to drive them from our memory. We have known harassing work, exacted in exchange for salaries which did not permit us to eat enough to drive away hunger, or to clothe ourselves, or to house ourselves decently, or to raise our children as creatures dear to us.
We have known ironies, insults, blows that we endured morning, noon, and evening, because we are Negroes. Who will forget that to a black one said “tu”, certainly not as to a friend, but because the more honorable “vous” was reserved for whites alone?
We have seen our lands seized in the name of allegedly legal laws which in fact recognized only that might is right.
We have seen that the law was not the same for a white and for a black, accommodating for the first, cruel and inhuman for the other.
We have witnessed atrocious sufferings of those condemned for their political opinions or religious beliefs; exiled in their own country, their fate truly worse than death itself.
We have seen that in the towns there were magnificent houses for the whites and crumbling shanties for the blacks, that a black was not admitted in the motion-picture houses, in the restaurants, in the stores of the Europeans; that a black traveled in the holds, at the feet of the whites in their luxury cabins.
Who will ever forget the massacres where so many of our brothers perished, the cells into which those who refused to submit to a regime of oppression and exploitation were thrown [applause]?
All that, my brothers, we have endured.
But we, whom the vote of your elected representatives have given the right to direct our dear country, we who have suffered in our body and in our heart from colonial oppression, we tell you very loud, all that is henceforth ended.
The Republic of the Congo has been proclaimed, and our country is now in the hands of its own children.
Together, my brothers, my sisters, we are going to begin a new struggle, a sublime struggle, which will lead our country to peace, prosperity, and greatness.
Together, we are going to establish social justice and make sure everyone has just remuneration for his labor [applause].
We are going to show the world what the black man can do when he works in freedom, and we are going to make of the Congo the center of the sun’s radiance for all of Africa.
We are going to keep watch over the lands of our country so that they truly profit her children. We are going to restore ancient laws and make new ones which will be just and noble.
We are going to put an end to suppression of free thought and see to it that all our citizens enjoy to the full the fundamental liberties foreseen in the Declaration of the Rights of Man [applause].
We are going to do away with all discrimination of every variety and assure for each and all the position to which human dignity, work, and dedication entitles him.
We are going to rule not by the peace of guns and bayonets but by a peace of the heart and the will [applause].
And for all that, dear fellow countrymen, be sure that we will count not only on our enormous strength and immense riches but on the assistance of numerous foreign countries whose collaboration we will accept if it is offered freely and with no attempt to impose on us an alien culture of no matter what nature [applause].
In this domain, Belgium, at last accepting the flow of history, has not tried to oppose our independence and is ready to give us their aid and their friendship, and a treaty has just been signed between our two countries, equal and independent. On our side, while we stay vigilant, we shall respect our obligations, given freely.
Thus, in the interior and the exterior, the new Congo, our dear Republic that my government will create, will be a rich, free, and prosperous country. But so that we will reach this aim without delay, I ask all of you, legislators and citizens, to help me with all your strength.
I ask all of you to forget your tribal quarrels. They exhaust us. They risk making us despised abroad.
I ask the parliamentary minority to help my Government through a constructive opposition and to limit themselves strictly to legal and democratic channels.
I ask all of you not to shrink before any sacrifice in order to achieve the success of our huge undertaking.
In conclusion, I ask you unconditionally to respect the life and the property of your fellow citizens and of foreigners living in our country. If the conduct of these foreigners leaves something to be desired, our justice will be prompt in expelling them from the territory of the Republic; if, on the contrary, their conduct is good, they must be left in peace, for they also are working for our country’s prosperity.
The Congo’s independence marks a decisive step towards the liberation of the entire African continent [applause].
Sire, Excellencies, Mesdames, Messieurs, my dear fellow countrymen, my brothers of race, my brothers of struggle– this is what I wanted to tell you in the name of the Government on this magnificent day of our complete independence.
Our government, strong, national, popular, will be the health of our country.
I call on all Congolese citizens, men, women and children, to set themselves resolutely to the task of creating a prosperous national economy which will assure our economic independence.
Glory to the fighters for national liberation!
Long live independence and African unity!
Long live the independent and sovereign Congo!
[applause, long and loud]
Key Facts about DR Congo
Location: Central Africa
Total Area: 2,345,000 sq km
Land Area: 2,267,048 sq km
Water: 77,810 sq km
total: 10,730 km
border countries: Angola 2,511 km (of which 225 km is the boundary of Angola’s discontiguous Cabinda Province), Burundi 233 km, Central African Republic 1,577 km, Republic of the Congo 2,410 km, Rwanda 217 km, South Sudan 628 km, Tanzania 459 km, Uganda 765 km, Zambia 1,930 km
tropical; hot and humid in equatorial river basin; cooler and drier in southern highlands; cooler and wetter in eastern highlands; north of Equator – wet season (April to October), dry season (December to February); south of Equator – wet season (November to March), dry season (April to October)
vast central basin is a low-lying plateau; mountains in east
Rwenzori Mountains in the Democratique Republic of the Congo
lowest point: Atlantic Ocean 0 m
highest point: Pic Marguerite on Mont Ngaliema (Mount Stanley) 5,110 m
cobalt, copper, niobium, tantalum, petroleum, natural gas, industrial and gem diamonds, gold, silver, zinc, manganese, tin, uranium, coal, hydropower, timber
arable land: 2.86%
permanent crops: 0.47%
other: 96.67% (2005)
110 sq km (2008)
Total renewable water resources:
1,283 cu km (2001)
Freshwater withdrawal (domestic/industrial/agricultural):
total: 0.36 cu km/yr (53%/17%/31%)
per capita: 6 cu m/yr (2000)
Lac Mobutu in the Democratique Republic of the Congo
periodic droughts in south; Congo River floods (seasonal); in the east, in the Great Rift Valley, there are active volcanoes
volcanism: Nyiragongo (elev. 3,470 m), which erupted in 2002 and is experiencing ongoing activity, poses a major threat to the city of Goma, home to a quarter of a million people; the volcano produces unusually fast-moving lava, known to travel up to 100 km /hr; Nyiragongo has been deemed a “Decade Volcano” by the International Association of Volcanology and Chemistry of the Earth’s Interior, worthy of study due to its explosive history and close proximity to human populations; its neighbor, Nyamuragira, which erupted in 2010, is Africa’s most active volcano; Visoke is the only other historically active volcano
The Congo River tourism destinations
Roman Catholic 50%, Protestant 20%, Kimbanguist 10%, Muslim 10%, other (includes syncretic sects and indigenous beliefs) 10%
Major cities – population:
KINSHASA (capital) 8.401 million; Lubumbashi 1.543 million; Mbuji-Mayi 1.488 million; Kananga 878,000; Kisangani 812,000 (2009)
Agriculture – products:
coffee, sugar, palm oil, rubber, tea, cotton, cocoa, quinine, cassava (tapioca), manioc, bananas, plantains, peanuts, root crops, corn, fruits; wood products
The Democratic Republic of Congo, originated from the “Kingdom of Kongo”, once known as Zaire (today, Democratic Republic of Congo) has been the subject of instability, wars and division since the Berlin Act. Congo is the most riches country in the world due to its natural resources and its estimated to have $24 trillion (equivalent to the combined Gross Domestic Product of Europe and the United States) worth of untapped deposits of raw mineral ores, including the world’s largest reserves of cobalt and other minerals such as copper, diamond, gold, silver, uranium, manganese, tin, zinc, lead, tantalite, germanium, oil etc.
DR Congo's reedfrog
The Congo is the Earth’s second largest river by volume and has the world’s second largest rainforest (18% of the planet’s remaining tropical rainforest).
The Congo Basin represents 70% of the African continent’s plant cover and makes up a large portion of Africa’s biodiversity with over 600 tree species and 10 000 animal species.
The DR Congo has vast agricultural potential; if unleashed, this potential could significantly reduce poverty, hunger, and malnutrition, which affect more than 70% of the African population.
The Congo’s fertile fields and tropical forests cover an area bigger than United Kingdom, Spain, Italy, France, Belgium and Germany combined; and can feed the whole of central and part of southern Africa.
The Congo is home to the mighty and ancient yet intact rainforest on the planet. Covering an area more than twice the size of France (1.3 million square kilometers or 358 million acres), DR Congo’s rainforest is the second largest area of contiguous moist tropical forest left in the world and represent approximately one fifth of the world’s remaining closed canopy tropical forest.
This vast area hosts a wealth of biodiversity, including over 10,000 species of plants, 1,000 species of birds, and 400 species of mammals, and three of the world’s four species of great apes; and provide livelihoods for over 50 million people. Congo’s rainforest also play an important role in both biodiversity protection and global climate stability: 8% of the earth’s carbon that is stored in living forests worldwide is stored in the forests of the DR Congo – that is more than any other country in Africa and makes the Congo the fourth largest forest carbon reservoir of any country in the world.
The DR Congo is rich in rivers with untapped reserves of gas, oil and hydro-electric capacity, and largest diversity of fishes.
Why Congo’s Problem Is Your Problem?
It is very important to understand that the problem of the DR Congo is the problem of the world. Without security and stability in the Congo, mineral such as “Uranium” could easily end up in the hands of irresponsible people or government. This of course will have devastating consequences.
More than 80% of the world’s supply of “Coltan” come from DR Congo, which the UN says is subject to “highly organized and systematic exploitation.” Coltan is a heat resistant powder, metallic tantalum which has unique properties for storing electrical charge (tantalum capacitors) which is used in mobile phones, laptop etc.
There are thousands of people dying, mostly children and women in the Congo. According to the recent UN report and US scientists, an average of 48 women and girls aged 15-49 are raped every hour. The genocide in Congo has left over 8 million deaths, therefore it is in the best interest of humanity that we put an end to the tragic history of “127 years” of pain, slavery, exploitation, wars and on going conflicts.