Congo Free State - Administration
Great care was taken to save appearances and to satisfy European public opinion. There were laws, and excellent laws in the Congo, of which Leopold II was the sovereign. Everywhere European travellers were likely to set foot on Congolese soil these laws were strictly observed, the blacks were protected and were sure to find justice before the tribunals just as well as, say, in Egypt under English rule.
Leopold II was morally responsible for the misrule of his agents and his representatives — he was the sole master of the Congo — and the excuse that he did not know what was going on was an idle one.
In reality, all these laws and arrangements were only on paper. While Leopold pretended — when founding the Congo State — to create a new oasis of civilisation in the vast desert of African savagery and to carry the seeds of regeneration amidst primitive races, he was instrumental in bringing about the misery of millions of these beings.
The King had thrown his private fortune into the vast Congo undertaking and Europe was full of his praise. For Europe, whom the clever Coburg had hoodwinked, had looked upon the basin of the Congo as "a vast international common," and the King of the Belgians was to be the disinterested guardian of the political orphan. He was to be the trustee, inspired only by philanthropic motives.
Had he not taken the initiative in convening the first meeting at Brussels in 1876, when Europe was horror-struck by the woeful tales of atrocities of the slave trade? Had he not summoned philanthropists from all over the world to discuss means and ways how to stamp out that scourge of humanity — slavery? And was he not now spending over $40,000 yearly towards the same noble aim? Indeed, it was an unheard-of spectacle in the annals of history, for while other sovereigns would only give, from their private purses, say a few hundreds or thousands of roubles or marks or even pounds for charitable or philanthropic works, this young monarch was spending millions on the suppression of the slave trade and the civilisation of the negroes.
And the young Coburg smiled in his venerable beard, and convened another antiSlavery Conference at Brussels in 1890. The suppression of the slave trade required enormous sums — his generosity did not suffice—and new sources of income must be found. The world applauded his self-sacrifice — no one as yet dared to doubt his benevolent intentions, his disinterestedness — and the Congo was abandoned to Leopold the Humane. How he must have shrugged his shoulders and smiled contemptuously at the childlike simplicity of Europe!
The powers fell into the trap of the astute Coburg; they granted him permission to levy duties on imports. Leopold then borrowed twenty-five million francs from Belgium, and made his will, by which he bequeathed the Congo State to her. He granted concessions to trading companies to collect rubber, who paid fifty per cent of the profits to the State, i.e. to Leopold. And what usually happens and has happened all over the world whenever tax collection has been farmed out and become a monopoly also occurred in the Congo.
The companies were granted almost feudal rights in the basin of the affluents of the Congo; the negroes were at the mercy of the agents of the companies. Entire races were being sacrificed unscrupulously to the greed of the speculators. Suffice it to say that Europe suddenly began to realise that the philanthropist was making enormous profits in Africa. Europe was indignant. She could not forgive the astute business man on the Belgian throne — who was, after all, a king of yesterday — for having duped everybody.
Europe, too, was not free from blame. It is also interesting to notice how very elastic the European political conscience is, and how its moral indignation in one case would give way to tactful passivity in the other.
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