The Congo

TWO years ago, few would have dreamed that the Belgian Congo would be granted independence in 1960. Indeed, even last year, when the proAfrican minister for the Congo, Van Hemelrijk, resigned, it seemed that the Congo would remain Belgian until 1964. Then, at the beginning of the year, came the promise of complete independence on June 30, enabling the Congo, like Nigeria, the French Cameroons, Mali, and the Italian Somaliland, also to shake off foreign rule in this momentous year for Africa. Three quarters of a century of Belgian rule came to a sudden end.

It was King Leopold II, the German King of Belgium, who secured the Congo for Belgium through his agent, Stanley. The King never set foot in the Congo, and he proved a ruthless absentee landlord. The Conference of Berlin (18841885) gave him the entire country. Belgians do not like to be reminded of the early despotic years of their rule.

Since 1908 the Congo has been a Belgian colony, and a policy unique in the annals of colonization was evolved. The keynote of the policy has been paternalism. Emphasis has been placed on economic development and social services, so that Africans would live in such a material paradise — by African standards — that they would have no interest in the abstractions of politics. The policy was dominer pour servir, and a remarkable success the Belgian government, the companies, and the Church made of it until very recently.

The policy of paternalism reached its peak in the 1950 Ten Year Plan, on which one billion dollars was spent, more than a quarter going to Congolese housing, education, and health. Workers have a guaranteed minimum salary, an eighthour day, annual holidays, free rations and board, family allowances, medical services, pensions, and disability compensation. There are broad provisions for primary education.

This policy might very well have made it possible for the Belgians to retain their hold over the Congo for decades to come had it not been for events in the rest of Africa. It became impossible to isolate the Congo once black African states like the Sudan and Ghana got their independence. When De Gaulle made his offer of independence to the French Congolese in 1958 at Brazzaville, no amount of paternalism could thwart political aspirations in the Belgian Congo.

Moving toward independence

Since World War II, a new social group had appeared in the Congo — the evolues. These were natives who formed a Westernized, Frenchspeaking middle class. They campaigned for equal wages for equal work, for higher education, and against the color bar. In this way the seeds of political consciousness were sown.

In 1956 the magazine Conscience AJricaine published a manifesto agreeing to a thirty-year plan for political emancipation. At the end of 1957 there were local elections in Leopoldville, Elisabethville, and Jadotville. When the victorious M. Kasavubu openly criticized the Belgian regime, a study group was sent to examine the political situation. Congolese intellectuals submitted a petition demanding a program leading to independence, and most of the signatories later formed the Mouvement National Congolais (M.N.C.), of which M. Lumumba became the president.

After a political meeting in Leopoldville in January, 1959, serious rioting occurred. Social as well as political grievances were the cause, paternalism having apparently overlooked the hardships suffered by many in the overcrowded city.

Ten days later came the Brussels declaration on the future of the Congo. King Baudouin said in a broadcast: “Our firm resolution is to lead the Congolese populations, without harmful procrastination but also without undue haste, toward independence.”Events were moving fast.

When the change of the minister for the Congo came in September, it was thought that there would be a slowing down in the advance toward independence, but the new minister, De Schryver, after some initial strong moves to suppress rioting, showed that he did not intend to ignore the warning of the outgoing Van Hemlrijk: “We have before our eyes the failure of the I Dutch policy in Indonesia, which eventually caused a complete break between the two countries.” The Brussels Round Table Conference in January and February of this year named the day for independence,

and the fears of delay proved unfounded.

Party realignment

New parties have been formed, and old parties have been split. The chief subject for debate is regionalism, and the chief protagonists are now M. Kasavubu (“King Kasa“) of L’Association dcs Bakongo j (ABAKO), who wants a federation and a virtually independent republic of the Lower Congo; M. Lumumba of the M.N.C., a national unity party favoring strong government: and M. Bolikango of the Interfederale, an Upper Congo grouping.

Following the elections, these and the many other parties will enjoy the benefits of a constitution drawn up in Brussels at the beginning of 1960. The first Congolese government will consist of at least one member from each of the six provinces, with the leader chosen by King Baudouin. A cabinet will then be formed, which will need the confidence of Parliament. There are two legislative assemblies, the House of Representatives, elected on May 16, and the Senate, elected on June 15. For every 100,000 of the population there is one representative, a total of 137 for the present. The Senate consists of members nominated by the provincial assemblies, fourteen for each province, including at least three tribal leaders.

Parliaments will last three to four years. The provincial assemblies will be responsible for all local matters in accordance with the consensus of both Congolese and Belgian opinion, which favor a large degree of autonomy for the provinces, with defined frontiers and laws adapted to their regional characteristics. Only Congolese men over twenty-one will be allowed to vote. Belgium is thus leaving behind it a system of government suited to the West but not so far successful in any emergent nations except India and Israel, which are very special cases.

The threats to independence

Some conflict between tribalism and modernism seems inevitable; the communal elections of three years ago reflected tribal loyalties rather than a real interest in policy. Tribal loyalties would tend to obscure loyalty to the national state and might even result in the Balkanization of the country. The present frontiers of the Congo did not, after all, exist before the coming of Europeans, and only the politicians who realize the advantages of a united country will seek to maintain the status quo. M. Lumumba said at Accra in 1958: “Down with colonialism! Down with tribalism!” But not all politicians realize the dangers of tribalism.

There are other indications that the present frontiers of the Congo will be called into question. In March a considerable stir was created when Sir Roy Welensky stated in a press interview that there was some possibility that Katanga province, the southernmost province of the Congo, will be associated with, if not included in, the Rhodesian Federation. M. Tshombe, president of Conakat, Katanga’s strongest party, at once declared that the province would never enter any union or federation other than that with the provinces of the Congo or Belgium. Riots and killings ensued.

At about the same time there was another threat to the independence of the Congo. The French government claimed that it had a preferential right to the Congo dating back to 1884, when M. Strauch, president of the International Congo Association. told French Foreign Minister Ferry that France would have the first right to purchase if the association had to sell out.

Belgian Foreign Minister De Wigny has protested strongly against both suggestions on the grounds that Belgium is not disposing of a piece of property and that after working for three quarters of a century for the unity of the Congo it is not now willing to make way for foreign domination.

The economic potential

Intact, the Congo has boundless economic possibilities. An immense country, seventy-seven times the area of Belgium, a quarter that of Europe, with a population of over thirteen million (of whom 100,000 are white), its economic potential is the envy of nearly every other developing country. Yet at present the per capita income is 2100 francs, compared with 44,000 francs in Belgium and 91,000 francs in the United States. One third of the palm oil of the world comes from the Congo; it is the leading world producer of cobalt and industrial diamonds, the fourth producer of copper and tin, the sixth of zinc.

In 1958 and 1959 there was some financial weakening due to the world economic recession and local political turmoil, but the economic tide has now turned. In 1960 Belgium is spending 2.5 billion francs on a subsidy; 6 or 7 billion francs from Belgian and international stock markets are to be plowed into the Congolese economy this year. A Congolese government can hardly afford not to cooperate with Belgium in view of the fact that there are ten million dollars of Belgian money invested in the Congo.

Rapid development is essential not only because of the underdevelopment but because the population is expected to double in the next thirty years. In a vast, underdeveloped country, the expansion of the transport system is of the utmost importance. In the last Ten Year Plan, 20 billion francs was spent on transport, and this figure is increased in the current plan. There are only 5000 kilometers of railways in the country — not bad by African standards but far below what is required.

Foreign capital needed

Economically, the Congo will be dependent upon investment from abroad. Having had very little political training, it will doubtless find tlie first few years of democracy very difficult. Belgium’s policy did not provide for the training of an elite. Before 1958 very few Congolese were allowed to visit Europe, because the Belgian government feared they might bring back with them ideas which would cause political unrest. It was not until 1956 that the first Congolese student graduated from Belgium’s Louvain University and the first Congolese university — Louvanium — was opened in Elisabethville.

Every possible form of foreign en, couragement and assistance will be needed. There will be a treaty of friendship and cooperation with Belgium, and some Belgian officials will remain, as British officials have in Ghana. The civil service will have to be Africanized gradually; in 1959 there were only 500 Congolese civil servants, and these were nearly all clerks.

As most Congolese leaders owe their education to Christian schools, the question of the future of the Church is an interesting one. In the Congo, many Africans feel that native priests have not been given preferment when they deserved it; the Church has also been accused of being patronizing, and it certainly is closely connected in the minds of many people with paternalism. On die other hand, being closer to the natives than is any other foreign group, the Belgian missionaries have tended to be fairly progressive in their outlook and have often come in for criticism from other whites. Africanization of the clergy, especially the higher offices, will have to be speeded up in an independent Congo with four million black Catholics.

The working of the political system will depend on the Congolese themselves. The big mistake made by prejudiced observers of young countries is to think that the systems of government which have been evolved in the West over a long period of trial and error can be immediate and unqualified successes in countries which have for so long been denied self-expression by both colonial domination and the misfortunes of environment. There will inevitably be a period of adaptation, and this may be both long and painful.