SCRAMBLE FOR KATANGA
by Christine Meuris
How civilisation was brought to Katanga - a once most inacessible region in Africa - now called Shaba - a province of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (ex-Zaire)- subject to policies of isolation under Mobutu.
*A review tracing circumstances in which the Independent State of the Congo was created and how countries joined the race for Katanga (because of a gold/copper rush) at the end of last century. How Katanga was claimed by one of Leopold II’s expedition and why one sent by Cecil Rhodes failed. Stories as recorded in explorers’ diaries.
*The significance of Katanga as the economic pillar of the Congo/ex-Zaire and its relevance in arguments in relation to colonialism in the Congo is explained in introduction.
*The author tells us how the British and Belgians came to an agreement as regards their interests in industriel (mining) exploitation in Katanga and traces the creation of the Union Miniere du Haut Katanga - a merger of both countries’ interests (with background on the Rhodesian Tanganyika Concessions Ltd and its connection with Cecil Rhodes’ ‘Chartered’).
*The author discusses issues in relation to criticism of Leopold II’s regime for the 1890s and early 1900s, as well as opposes critics of Belgian colonialism in the Congo (which seem to ignore the part played by British companies in it).
*Arguments against A. Hochschild’s views in ‘King Leopold’s Ghost’, published by Macmillan in 1999:
Hochschild has attempted to defame Leopold II, the king of Belgium, with contentions such as ‘his armies outran and enslaved the indigenous population of the Independent State’ (which became the Congo). Hochschild has resurrected the allegations made by the ‘Morel conspiracy’ which fueled criticism of Belgian colonialism in the early 1900s and which forced the king to choose a particular course of action.
* Sources: some of which were published in Katanga in French in 1956-58 as well as academic.
* it was Arab slave hunters who were responsible for the brutal reality of slavery in the Congo;
* that Belgians were engaged in a war against them for many years to free the natives;
* that territories were claimed by establishing outposts (by expeditions of explorers not by armies
outrunning the indigenous population);
*that amunition and troops were needed for the protection of prospecting expeditions which were attacked by some natives whereas others welcomed them.
*a tax in the form of labour (rubber tax) was misconstrued as slavery;
* famine, diseases, pre-existent poor conditions, and an epidemy of smallpox in 1890-91, may have been due to the loss of lives blamed on colonialism for that same period of time;
* the allegation of an holocaust of 10 million is an invention especially since natives did not know how populated central Africa was in the 1890s, there was no census till 1905 and hardly any records.
*Colonialism brought civilisation and economic development saved the natives from apalling conditions.
* In general it is food for thought: how civilisation was brought into a virgin land for the purpose of mining exploitations (in the Southern region). Of interest to geologists/Third World Development.
* This exposé includes the suppressed History of the U.M.H.K. in Katanga, (including its activities during World wars). There is photographic evidence of its achievements and social services to the native population in the 1950s.
About the author:
C. Meuris (maiden name), MA in Translation with language technology. BA (Hons) in Rel. Studies and History, Researcher in the origins of Civilization (MPhil: biography of L.A. Waddell), University of Wales, Swansea..firstname.lastname@example.org. Acted as literary agent (as C. Sandie, author of The Secrets of the Fifth Kingdom) for the French author Jimmy Guieu (d.2.1.00) for various publishing projects. Born in Jadotville, lived in Kolwézi whilst her father (Léon Meuris) was working as a civil engineer for the UMHK. After retirement, the latter worked for the Belgian Ministry of Transport. It was his plans which were chosen for the underground of Brussels whilst he worked for the S.T.I.B.
* Une étude des circonstances dans lesquelles la civilisation fur créée au Katanga, une région des plus inaccesibles en Afrique, dans le contexte de la colonisation du Congo, des premières explorations et une course à laquelle plusieurs pays ont pris part dans le but d'acquérir des territoires pour l'exploitation minière.
L'industrie minière du Katanga a fourni au Congo la plus grande partie de ses revenus économiques, mais sous Mobutu, il fut soumis à une politique d'isolement.
* Cette étude comprend aussi une revue du développement, du point de vue politique, pour la période des années 60 et un sommaire pour la période de Mobutu et Kabila.
* L'auteur (née à Jadotville), et qui a vécu dans la province du Katanga durant plusieurs années, retrace la création de l'Union Minière du Haut Katanga' (cette compagnie fut créée par le roi Léopold II qui avit passé un accord avec la Rhodesian Tanganyika Concessions Ltd de Cecil Rhodes')
Elle parle de son importance du fait que la plus grande partie de l'économie du Congo en dépendi;
* Comprend des arguments contre les critiques du colonialisme belge et discute ses bénéfices.
Les sources littéraires utilisées sont académiques, et prends aussi ses sources dans les livres publiés en Français au Katanga durant les années 50 et 60.
Content of the Book
SCRAMBLE FOR KATANGA
- An economy mostly based on Mineral Resources.
- Early Explorations and native mining in Ancient Katanga.
- The Independent State.
- Expeditions and Geological Surveys.
- Cecil Rhodes’ Expeditions
- Deals between the ‘Comité Special du Katanga’ and the ‘Tanganyika Concessions Ltd’.
- The Creation of Katanga’s Railway Co, the C.F.K., and the U.M.H.K.
- Debate about Leopold II’s Intentions (the case of ‘King Leopold II’s Ghost’ by A. Hochschild).
- The Case of a text by a Zairian historian.
- Epidemy and Famine in 1890 recorded in Explorers’ diaries.
- Evidence of Salaries
- Scholars’ Praise of Belgian Colonisation
- World Wars difficulties and U.M.H.K.’s achievements
- Programme of Investments 1946-65
- A Scholar’s Opinion
- Political Background to Exodus of Europeans from the Congo
- Political Background in the 1960s.
- 1963-84 in Katanga
- How M. Tshombe was condemned
- Irony and Hope
- Appendix I, II, III, and IV.
SCRAMBLE FOR KATANGA
by C. Meuris
The Democratic Republic of Congo’s change of name
The Democratic Republic of Congo is viewed today as one of the most dangerous and politically unstable regions on Earth. Until 1997, it was known as Zaïre and had been governed by Marshal Mobutu Sese Seko for 35 years. The day the news came that the 66-year-old dictator had left the capital, Kinshasa, Zaïre, will remain in the memory of ex-colonials who had watched the country suffer for three-and-a-half decades under a regime so corrupt that it had become the poorest country in the world whilst the West and America turned a blind eye. That day was the 17th May 1997 and Zaïrean opposition supporters to the dictatorial regime seemed overjoyed when the news came. They had some hope that a new government would restore the country’s economy and put an end to a poverty and suffering which had been far more severe than anything else experienced before the Congo had become independent in 1960. Indeed, to create his own personality cult in a fantasy world of his own, Mobutu had siphoned about £200 million every year from Zaïre’s mineral resources and lined his pockets at his citizens’ expenses. Zaire’s president - Mobutu - who had never been elected, contended the only legal political party was his own. In truth, Zaire had never regained political stability under his dictatorship.
In 1997, Laurent Desiré Kabila conquered Zaïre’s territories, with the help of a Ugandan and Rwandan army, but no democracy came out of it, despite the name. Kabila plunged the country back into war. He sought support from Angola, Zimbabwe and Namibia to fight against the forces which had helped him to gain power in the first place. He was assassinated in January 2001 and his son Joseph is now ruling the DRC.
Zaïre was itself a presidential republic born with a change of name from the ‘Democratic Republic of the Congo’ in October 1971- and the latter was a previous change of name from the ex-Belgian Congo!
Shaba was featured in the news when Kolwezi was the stage of a general massacre by invading troops from Angolan MPLA in 1977. Kinshasa did not loose any time in accusing the members of the National Front for the Liberation of the Congo who took part, to be former ‘Katangans’. The attack was pushed back by French support and Moroccan contingents. France and Belgium intervened once more at Kolwezi in 1978.
An economy mostly based on Mineral Resources in forgotten Katanga
For some reason, however, while many issues were discussed every time the political situation made the news, no reporter instructed the public as to the fact that the mining industry acted as an economic pillar for the entirety of Zaïre. In fact, throughout its colonial history, the Congo depended upon this industry for the largest part of its entire economy; by comparison rubber exploitation only represented about 2% of the overall resources in 1958. Perhaps information was not easily available due to Mobutu’s policies of secrecy and isolation as regards the Shaba province of Zaïre (former Katanga, province of the ex-Belgian Congo) where mineral resources existed. The explanation for such a policy of isolation could have been the fear that the province would attempt to secede from the Congolese Central Government once again as it had in the early sixties, the result of which would be the loss of a principal monetary resource. The province of Katanga which was renamed ‘Shaba’ when the country became ‘Zaïre’, has virtually become forgotten.
The Democratic Republic of Congo is land-locked, and Shaba (Katanga), which was last to be discovered, explored and exploited, is almost cut off from the rest of the world like a lost Shangri-La. TV teams never seem to reach it as they only used to penetrate the country’s northern frontiers to film gorillas when it was called Zaïre. Shaba has also been a lost province from a European point of view, because of the presence of Communist rebel forces since the last UN troops left the country in 1964 and until Kabila’s recent repossession.
The London Embassy provided information as to the fact that the Shaba Province had Lubumbashi (which used to be called Elisabethville) as its capital; that it was served by an international airport; that other principal towns were Likasi (Jadotville), Kolwezi and Kalemie. The embassy had a few pages of general information concerning Zaïre with four lines only concerning the Shaba region. They also provided a list of hotels according to which there were two in Kolwezi, the Air Hotel and ‘La Bonne Auberge’. There were seven in Lubumbashi: Hotel du Globe, Hotel Wagenia, Hotel du Shaba, Park Hotel, Guest House Kabwebu, Hotel Karavia and Hotel Ancion. There was one ine Kalemie but apparently none in Likasi.
There is little or no access in Universities and public libraries to data on the Congo, Katanga and the history of the ‘Union Minière du Haut-Katanga’. The importance of the latter is not understood either. The ‘outside world’ seems to have forgotten that the Congo, which was virgin at the end of the last century, underwent extraordinar development from the hey day of the colonising movement to the time of its prosperity thanks to a mining industry, the operations of which were considerable and reached a capital of “5 milliards” (of francs) in 1954 (5 million of francs or £500 million). This entreprise in question, the Union Minière du Haut Katanga - U.M.H.K., had to borrow a vast amount of capital during the first 35 years of its existence, but from 1937, was able to develop from its own monetary reserves.
Civilization was brought to a region which was explored for the purpose of mining exploitations. The colonisation of the congo was certainly as phenomenal to the 19th century man as the concept of the colonisation of another planet is to us in 2001, because civilization was brought to previously unexplored and inaccessible regions. Unfortunately ways of communication have now been reclaimed by nature - and it has been alleged that Mobutu preferred not keeping any road so it would be more difficult for rebel armies to reach him. About 85 per cent of the 85,000-mile road network left by Belgium have now returned to bush. The infrastructure of the country simply desintegrated under Mobutu. As a result, mobile medical teams try in vain to reach remote areas by going on foot where roads are impassable, to go and treat cases of Sleeping Sickness which, it is reported, is now claiming more victims than AIDS. It is estimated that the Democratic Republic of Congo has 70% of all cases of Sleeping Sickness (Human African Trypanosomiasis or HAT) in Africa. The disease, which was almost eradicated in the 1960s, starts with the bite of an infected tsetse fly, causes terrible exhaustion, terrifying hallucinations, and a painful death as the parasite (a trypanosome) attacks the brain. In the second stage of the disease, victims need to be restraint for their own safety as they grow extremely violent as a result of severe disruption of the sleep/wake cycle. When drugs are available, treatments can be painful. The colonials’ programme of screening and treatment has been undone by internal strife and civil war.
The 1950s were an after-war golden age for Europeans and Africans in the province of Katanga the evidence for which should be contrasted to the picture sometimes drawn in the press about Colonialism in the Congo. Not many people are aware in Britain that such a prosperity ever existed. In production terms, Katanga for instance contributed 7.5% of the total production of copper in the world, was the fourth most important provider of this metal, and achieved 75% (60% in 1958) of world production of cobalt in the fifties.
In a book entitled ‘Belgian Administration in the Congo’, a scholar by the name of Georges Brausch concluded that Belgians deserve high praise. He attributes abundance to the Congo in the fifties to a program of investment by what he calls ‘the Belgian administration’ with a reserve of £150 million, but unfortunately omits to explain that the administration in question was that of the Union Minière du Haut Katanga, a merger of British and Belgian companies. Apart from investments on roads, communication, power, water supplies, he says that £79 million was spent on social development, town planning and housing. The result, in his opinion, was economic prosperity in which the African worker and the rural population participated. One quarter of the population was wage earner. Africans shared in the national income and consumption increased.
The making of civilization in the Congo was more dependent upon this company than the Western world realises and the conditions it generated could very well have played an important part in the mysterious ‘nostalgia’ which colonials experienced after they left the country or retired.
Before Kabila’s troops repossessed Zaire, the country’s minerals were produced by Gécamines Exploitation and marketed by Gécamines Commerciale since the UMHK was “nationalised” by Mobutu and renamed. In other words, “Gecamines Commerciale” is the new name - the company having become State-owned. Minerals have still been marketed by means of a network of agencies situated in the Federal Republic of Germany, Argentina, Brazil, China, Eastern Europe, Spain, France, Greece, Hong-Kong, Italy, India, Japan, Mexico, the Netherlands, Sweden, Switzerland and the U.S.A. Gécamines was still a leading employer in the country under Mobutu, as the U.M.H.K. was in its hey-day. According to a leaflet provided by the London embassy, the main objective of Gécamines Commerciale is now the marketing of the minerals produced by Gécamines Exploitation. The Company markets its products by means of a network of agencies situated in a number of countries.
However, the Belgian headquarters of the company which was cut off when its offices, factories (‘usines’), mines and equipment became State owned, continued in business. It has truely regenerated its tail like a salamander as Union Minière S.A. (Brussels) (refer to their website to find out about their exploitations and expansion worldwide since the 1970s).
Mining exploitation has always dominated the country and its economy has always rested upon mineral resources, despite there being other resources particularly in the Northern regions of the Congo/Zaire. The wealth and stability of Zaire (now unstably ‘the Democratic Republic of the Congo’) was dependent upon this company at all time since “Independence Day” - in this case, the 30th June, 1960, not Spielberg’s.
According to Jacques Depelchin, the author of “>From the Congo Free State to Zaire 1885-1974” published by the University of Lubumbashi in the Province of Shaba (formerly Katanga), in the pre-Independence period, the giant U.M.H.K. was:
‘in a class of its own because it was the only institution which operated in the Congo without having to worry whether political development could affect its decision’.
He contended ‘the management saw themselves as a State within a State’. The ‘State within a State’ was a power of its own despite the fact that it had administration quarters in Brussels (it also had headquarters in Lubumbashi as said before).
Early Explorations and native mining in Ancient Katanga
Belgium was not the only country to attempt to colonise the Congo. Indeed, the American of Welsh origin, Henry Morton Stanley (1841-1904) had already led an Anglo-American expedition from Lake Victoria down the Lualaba and upto the sea before he was recruited by King Leopold II. The B.C.K.’s commemorative book also states that a first ‘English’ expedition in the nineteenth century convinced everyone that the south region was inacessible.
The Western world has only known most of Africa for just over a hundred years. In the 1800s, although the mouths of the Congo and Niger rivers had been known for 300 years, the routes of these great rivers were undiscovered.
Munster’s woodcup map of Africa (1540) was a copy of Ptolemy’s map of the 2nd century with additions from Arab and Portuguese sources which showed the source of the Nile in a much farther southern position and its tributaries flowing in the wrong direction. There were several expeditions to look for the source of the Nile (1850-70s), those of Richard Burton, James Grant and J.H. Speke.
In 1871, the Protestant missionary David Livingstone, weakened with malaria, had reached an important river which the indigenous population called ‘Lualaba’ and which they said flowed northbound. Livingstone thought he had discovered the source of the Nile, but his river was in fact the Congo River.
Stanley was sent to Central Africa by the New York Herald to search for Livingstone whom it was believed had disappeared in the region of Lake Tanganyika. He became famous when he found him at Ujiji in 1871. Following this, he went on a number of expeditions in the Congo to explore the region from Maniema to Stanley-Pool (which became Leopoldville/Kinshasa), and in 1875 started going down the mysterious river. He continued with his journey down the Lualaba until he reached the Atlantic ocean on the Congo river. It then became clear to everyone that the only way to penetrate the Congo was to pass from the Eastern lakes and follow the river as it flows towards the coast (towards the West side of Africa). Stanley attracted Europe’s attention upon the unexplored country by a letter he wrote in 1875 to the Daily Telegraph.
The expedition under Stanley sent by Leopold II led to the foundation of a number of outposts that assured territorial occupations. The majority of them were situated in the lower Congo around Leopoldville (Kinshasa) and Stanley Falls. From there, they claimed more territories. The Congo River was not navigable by steamers after Stanleypool. Stanley had realised that it was imperative to build a railway line especially to supplement the steamer where the river was not navigable due to rapids or falls. It still took explorers months to reach the Southern plateau via the lakes route until a railway line was constructed in Kivu and the Tanganyka regions in the 1900s. During this period explorers were animated with a great spirit of adventure. A network of mission stations, stores, schools and sub-stations were established with a corresponding network of administrative, police, and military posts.
It was Stanley who - after the death of Livingstone (1873) brought to the civilized world the discovery that the Nile flowed from Lake Victoria to Lake Albert before continuing North into the Sudan.
French, Belgian, British and German explorers had been keen to solve the mystery of the Blue and White Niles and especially to find the source of the latter which Africans situated in the “Mountains of the Moon”.
The region which became the Belgian Congo and later, Zaire, (and recently, the Republic of the Congo, was and is land-locked with the Congo/Zaire river’s estuary providing an access to the Atlantic region. The problem was for explorers the great distance of some regions from the Atlantic coast.
Thanks to the invention of the steam engine in the 19th century, the exploration of the Congo was facilitated by the use of steamers on the Congo River upto the point where it was navigable. As to South-eastern and south-western regions, a solution for access was found in the construction of a Railway network which was linked in the South to the Rhodesian line. The original machinery necessary to mineral exploitation was at first brought in from South Africa. Cattle-pulled caravans crossed rivers infested with crocodiles to bring rails and wagons to Katanga from Benguela, on the coast of Angola for the first mining exploitations.
The earliest mention concerning mineral deposits of copper in the region of Katanga was made by a Dr. Francesco Joe Maria de Lacerdas, in a report dated 22nd March 1798. This was a Portuguese explorer who had become governor of Rios de Sena in mozambique. In his report, de Lacerdas contended that two years before (in 1796) a merchant had visited the great chief Cazembe who possessed copper and gold mines in the south of lake Moero and who was at war with a chief the land of whom was rich in ‘latao’ (yellow copper). A few years later, in 1806, two Portuguese also related that green stones existed in the land called ‘Catanga’ saying:
We have seen sone at the top of some hills; those stones which looked green and from which copper was extracted; it is in the middle of that region that bars (of copper) are fabricated.
This was recorded in ‘Mémoires de l’Institut Royal Colonial Belge’ (1953) by A. Verbeken and M. Walraet: La première traversée du Katanga en 1806. (the first crossing of Katanga in 1806). In 1858, Richard Francis Burton and John Hanning Speke discovered Lake Tanganyika and also heard of copper in ‘Katata’ or Katanga at fifteen days of walk from Ousenda which is the capital of the great Cazembe Chief. Speke was the first to cross the lake. In May 1858, he stayed with an Arab merchant of the name of Hamed-Ben-Soulayyam who had a stock of slaves and ivory in an island close to the spot where ‘Albertville’ (a town on Lake Tanganyika) would later be built. The British captain would have liked to continue to the land of Cazembe with the Arab to get more information on the copper mines of Katata, but Burton was waiting for him in Ujiji. David Livingstone also, was impatient to reach Katanga and when he died south of Lake Bangwelo, he asked “How many days are we from Luapula?” They had met many Arab caravans of slaves originating from the inaccessible land. The pitiful slaves sometimes fell under the weight of the minerals or ivory and many were abandonned for dead along those trails. A Drawing by David Livingstone, dated 1886, of such a caravan, exists.
In 1854, as he was coming from ‘Zambeze’ - going towards ‘Loanda’ - and near Lake Dilolo, Dr. Livingstone had seen some of those crosses of Saint-André which were offered in payment. He had also seen long caravans of slaves carrying copper ornaments from the land of Cazembe and that of katanga. One of them was transporting ivory, malachite and copper rings to the Ivory coast. He had been told that the malachite originated from important veins of minerals on a hill situated near the village of Katanga. In 1867, Dr. Livingstone wrote from Cazembe to Lord Clarendon at the Foreign Office:
About a month away from here, towards the west, the people of Katanga make, by fusion of the copper mineral (malachite), large lingots of this mineral....
He added that gold was also found in Katanga and that samples of it had been offered to the Sultan of Zanzibar.
In 1874, the Royal Navy Lieutenant Verney Lovett Cameron who was crossing Central Africa from East to West saw slaves being sold for a large quantity of copper which originated from mines in the South. He wrote that this metal was in the form of ‘bannda’ or cross of Saint-André.
Centuries before Europeans explored Katanga, sorcerers called in the local language ‘eaters of copper’ already recognised the green flame of their rudimentary ovens lit according to a tradition. They intoned magical words and dansed as the emerald malachite was melting. Such traditions were continued by invaders called ‘Bayeke’ who came from ‘Tabora’ in the middle of the 19th century to occupy Katanga. They perfected the method and adapted the rituals to their own concepts. They formed a corporation similar to those professional ones in the Middle Ages in Europe which were organised with different status, privileges, and duties to the masters.
The beginning of the campaign was announced each year in the month of May by these early metallurgists. Women prepared food, tools were inspected and prepared as well as baskets which would be the recipients of the precious mineral. Bellows made of antelope skins were used to activate the fires and before the operations, the chiefs and sorcerers made invocations to the spirits of their ancestors in the mines. They travelled to the hills and built a camp along a river close to the deposits. Women and children collected the pieces of malachite on the surface of the ground whilst men digged trenches and wells upto 30 meters deep. This labour lasted months. The malachite was transported to the camps and upto 30 ovens may have been prepared (these were approcimately 2 meters high and made of clay and mud). Each oven was supervised by a metallurgic master who had been privileged to have been initiated in the ways of the tradition. Forty to fifty kilos of malachite was then poured on top of the burning coal and this produced a sudden surged of thick smoke. Before the metal melted, the flame became green under the night sky lit by tropical stars whilst the incessant chanting probably woke up the spiritis of the mountain. When the metal in fusion started running in the canals prepared at the bottom of the ovens, the workers or eaters of copper exclaimed their joy with clamour because it was to them almost a supernatural occurrence - the magical formula had worked! The metal in fusion ran into prepared recipients. The metal blocks were collected and the camp abandonned. Back in their villages, the copper eaters proceeded to refine the metal in smaller ovens regarded as characteristic of the region. The malachite was placed on top of burning coal, melted and was collected in the prepared shape of Saint-André also called ‘croisette du Katanga’ of which the intersecting parts measured approximately 25 cms. In these ancient days, such crosses were used as monetary exchange. The metal in fusion was also transformed into ingots, hoe, copper wires, rifle bullets and ornaments.
Following the very first explorations, in 1876, the King of Belgium, Leopold II, organised an international geographical Conference at the Royal Palace of Brussels to coordinate the explorers’ efforts and to establish the headquarters for the colonising movement which he dreamed of creating. He founded the International African Association (A.I.A.: Association Internationale Africaine). Delegates of various countries attended and each one organised what they called a ‘national Committee’ of exploration for their own country. The object of such collaborating committees was to raise money for programmes of explorations in Central Africa. The Belgian national committee was the first to be organised.
A first Belgian expedition arrived by ship in Zanzibar on the 12th December 1878, but their leader, Captain Crespel, died. Capt. Cambier then replaced him and with great difficulties, founded the first Belgian camp at Karema on the western border of Lake Tanganijka on the 12th April 1879. He claimed to have established a first ‘outpost’ in Africa, but the race for Katanga had not even started. Henry Stanley also began the exploration of the Congo’s basin under mandate from the Belgian King, in 1879. By 1881, forty centres had been established along the Congo River in the Northern region by explorers who were for the most part Belgian officers. Another Belgian, Captain Popelin also died at Lake Tanganika in May 1881.
The first belgian outpost to have been founded on Katanga’s territories, was that of Lt. Storms (a Belgian), at Pala, Lake Tanganika. It is at Pala, and with the help of Lieutenant Storms that an European expedition was organised to penetrate Katanga (although it was sent to Africa by a German national Committee of the A.I.A). Leopold II had contributed a large sum of money towards this expedition. Headed by a Dr. Paul Reichard, this expedition was the first to arrive in Bunkeya (the capital of Msiri, the king of Garenganze or Katanga) on the 20th January 1884. Dr. Reichard’s colleague, Dr. Bohm, however, died near lake Upemba and all of his notes were lost. Shaken, Reichard visited two ancient mines at Djola and Kamare, but had to fight for his life as Msiri suddenly became hostile. He managed to reach Pala on the 30th November 1884, but in a state of exhaustion. The Royal Geographical Society in London commented that the scientific results of this expedition were disappointing in view of its cost.
In November 1884, Roberto Ivens, a Portuguese officer, reached Msiri by crossing present Angola (his colleague, Hermenegildo de Brito-Capello had remained in Tenke). In so doing he observed the natives exploiting mineral resources at Kalabi, north of Jadotville. The mine had been abandonned after a roof had caved in on workers. The indigenous miners had concluded that their ancestors’ spirits objected to their mining in that spot. As a result when the Portuguese informed Msiri of his intention to continue north towards lake Tanganika, Luapula and Cazembe, Msiri, the king of Katanga objected. Ivens and his colleague Capello, however, came back with a lot of information on a region which appeared full of mysteries, and they confirmed that the natives mined malachite.
The following person to arrive in Bunkeya was more humble and without escort: the famous Protestant missionary Frederick Stanley Arnot (February 1886). Msiri welcomed him and for some unknown reason, gave him the permission to settle down on a nearby hill. Two other missionaries joined him later: Swan and Faulkner. Back in England, Arnot published a book entitled ‘Garenganze or Seven Years Pioneer Mission Work in Central Africa’ in which he discussed the existence of copper deposits. R.J. Thompson, an Irish editor, Frederick Lane a Scotland Yard ex-employee, and Daniel Crawford, arrived at the Mission in Bunkeya on the 11th November 1890 where they met with (beside Swan and Faulkner) an other British person: Alfred Sharpe. Both these expeditions were British and sent by Cecil Rhodes , the ‘Napoleon of the Cape’ who was at the height of his power as prime minister of South Africa, and owner of ‘the Chartered’ (the British South Africa Company), a definite asset to help him realise his goal of conquest. Having arrived in Bunkeya was not the end of their mission. But a week later, on the 18th November 1890, the geologist Joseph Thompson had to abandon an attempt to push further than
Luembe due to an epidemy of smallpox in the region. Alfred Sharpe, who had arrived in Bunkeya on the 8th November 1890, was supposed to get Msiri to sign away his territories to the Chartered, but was unsuccessful and forced to go away leaving the document, unsigned, with the missionaries.
The Independent State
The creation of the Independent State of the Congo can be first credited to the efforts of the Belgian King Leopold II and his explorers, scientists, army men and collaborators who all contributed to the country’s colonial expansion in the 19th century.
At the time, the people of Belgium did not seem interested in any entreprise of colonisation, nor did they want any involvement with the affairs of its King. Leopold II entered into negotiations with the U.S. and European powers to obtain recognition of the ‘African International Association’ as an Independent State. This was ratified in Berlin in 1885 but the United States and France had already recognised it in 1883-1884. The Independent State had been created and Leopold II was its sovereign head from the 1st July 1885. By 1888 political frontiers had been established on a map produced by A.J. Wauters. The entreprise was particularly supported by the United States at this stage. As regards financing the entreprise, because Belgium was still not prepared to risk money in the development of the State, King Leopold had invested the entirety of his fortune into it: one million of twenty francs coins. The only financial resource possible at first was from the exploitation of rubber.
In “The Congo Free State and the Belgian Congo Before 1941” , Jean Stengers emphasises that the Congo’s origins are to be found entirely in the will of a man: Leopold II, king of Belgium, and that there was no Belgian Congo before it was annexed by Belgium and became a Belgian colony in 1908. Until then, he says, Leopold II was an absolute monarch in the Congo and his Belgian ministers had no power to interfere with governmental matters, but this was not viewed as bad in the 19th century when the concept of private entreprise was a common economic belief. The Independent State had taken possession of unoccupied land and products such as rubber had been declared the State’s domain.
Expeditions and Geological Surveys
Press conferences in England had apparently argued that
(1) no agreement had been made between England and the Independant State of the Congo as regards south-eastern frontiers of the new state, (2) that the Independent State had not established any proper occupation of Katanga, (3) that British missionaries were already present in Katanga and (4) that a British expedition had joined them.
On the 17th May 1888, King Leopold II would have declared to Capt. A. Thys that, according to English newspapers, any part of the Independent State which was unoccupied could be seized by any country. It was, therefore, imperative to hastily send expeditions to both the northern and southern territories of the State. Upto this time, national committees representing their respective countries had collaborated to send expeditions to Katanga under the banner of the Association which had become an Independent State. Due to the pressure exercised by English opinion, national committees entered a phase of competition as they feared a force ‘other’ than the Independent State and its international teams would attempt to take possession of territories.
Due to financial difficulties, Leopold II sought the assistance of Capt. Albert Thys, a business man who had founded the C.C.C.I (the ‘Compagnie du Congo pour le Commerce et l’Industrie’) and its subsidiary, the ‘Compagnie du Chemin de Fer du Congo’(a Congo’s railway company) to start building a first line between the port of Matadi and Stanley-pool for the export of ivory and rubber (in the North-western region of the Congo). The object was to raise the necessary funds to carry out scientific explorations and go into immediate action to acquire southern territories (Katanga). The C.C.C.I. organised an expedition which was headed by Alexandre Delcommune, who already was an experienced explorer.
By that time, military action had been taken in the Northern province against Arab slave-hunters who were actually present on a large extent of the territories. Camps had been set up at Basoko (Aruwimi), Lusambo (Sankuru), expeditions were exploring Ubangi and Lomani and the Arabs were expelled from Stanley-Falls. All this had the effect of delaying the occupation of Katanga.
By 1890, just as the Independent State was facing its worst difficulties when money had to be found for a first railway in the north of the Congo, Cecil Rhodes manifested his desire to take Katanga. Realising that he could loose it, Leopold II despatched secret instructions to Paul Le Marinel, who was positioned at the ‘outpost’ of Lusambo. Those consisted in rushing towards Katanga and also approaching Msiri, the king of Katanga whose ‘palace’ was in Bunkeya. Their missions would, in addition, be to prospect territories, and produce a geological survey to reveal where mining exploitations would be possible.
Cecil Rhodes’ Expeditions
The Cape Province’s Prime Minister was a tycoon. His British South Africa Company is often referred to as ‘the Chartered’. One of the ambitions of this prodigious businessman was to unite all of South Africa upto the north of the Zambezi river and build a railway which would link the Cape to Cairo. He wanted Katanga where he knew gold and copper deposits were abundant. In England, newspapers picked up the story of his joining the rush and contended that the expedition sent by Leopold II had not achieved a proper occupation of Katanga and that virgin territories should belong to the first occupant.
Cecil Rhodes had also sent two expeditions to Msiri in Katanga in order to ask him to hand over his rights of sovereignty to the Chartered. A Scottish geologist, Joseph Thompson, was in charge of the first one. He reached the spot where the town of Elisabethville (southern most town of Katanga) would be built later, but found the entire region decimated by an epidemy of smallpox! Villages were deserted, the porters contracted the disease, the expedition ran out of food. On the 18th November 1890, Joseph Thomson gave up.
Rhodes’ second expedition was entrusted to Alfred Sharpe who arrived at the British Mission in Bunkeya on the 8th November 1890, where he was welcomed by missionaries of the European expedition and invited to dinner. However, Sharpe neglected to bring presents which Msiri would have appreciated. Furthermore, the latter had heard an ancient African prophecy which warned against strangers penetrating the land from the east, and refused to sign a treaty. The Journalist Owen Letcher reported that Sharpe left the mission ‘frustrated and defeated’, with the intention to come back with sumptuous presents and this time to make his approach from the South.
With the agreement of the Independent State and of an English group, the C.C.C.I. also created a new subsidiary: the Compagnie du Katanga on the 15th April 1891. The latter sent two more expeditions to Katanga, the first being that of Lucien Bia, who already had considerable experience in the capacity of explorer, and the other, was commanded by the intrepid Capitaine William Grant Stairs who had accompanied Stanley in his expedition to rescue Edmin-Pacha. Its goals were to explore the Southern province (Haut-Congo), to study its potential for colonisation, agriculture and mining exploitation, and to establish means of transport and communication, develop agriculture and a mining industry in the region. The respective expeditions, referred to as ‘Stairs-Bodson’ and ‘Bia-Francqui’, were those which acquired the main indigenous leaders’ cooperation and achieved political occupation of the territories
On the 24th April 1891, Leopold II wrote to Thys a note to encourage him to remain strong and persevere. Paul Le Marinel had left camp on the 23 December 1890 with three Belgian colleagues: Capt. Descamps, Lt. Legat and Sgt.Verdick. His caravan comprised a hundred and fifty porters and a hundred and eighty soldiers. They were separated from Bunkeya by one thousand and three hundred kms. When they arrived there on the 18th April 1891, Msiri was not overjoyed to see them but received the expedition without hostility. Le Marinel had to return to Lusambo after his amunitions exploded during the night. He was however not empty handed, having secured a treaty from Msiri, a letter witnessed by the English missionary Swan, written in English and addressed to the governor in Boma (in the North of the State). The letter was to the effect that Msiri had been told about the Independent State and was happy to have settlers in his country. Legat and Verdick remained on the Lofoi with about fifty soldiers.
The ‘Compagnie du Katanga’ took over the administrative aspect of Delcommune’s expedition organised by the C.C.C.I. whilst Delcommune himself was uncontactable in Africa. The Bia expedition boarded a ship in Antwerp on the 18th May, 1891, as Delcommune started walking down to Katanga with four Europeans. After having been attacked near Lake Kisale, he arrived in Bunkeya on the 6th October 1891 where he met Msiri without much results. They stayed for a while with two chiefs, ‘Katanga’ and ‘Tenke’ who had rebelled against Msiri’s cruel rule, and started walking towards the Lualaba on the 20th December 1891.
The expedition was starved out due to the ravages of a smallpox epidemy and a famine which was taking its toll upon the indigenous population. There were problems with dysentry and every day bodies had to be buried. Out of the 650 men the expedition counted, only 270 survived. For two months Delcommune had ‘canoes’ dugged-out to go down the Lualaba. Their difficult descent along the river went on for forty five days until they discovered the rapids of Zilo which are surrounded by mountains and valleys. [A dam 70 m high was built on the Lualaba near Zilo to harness hydroelectric power. The ‘Centrale Delcommune’ situated 20 kms away from Kolwezi on the Lualaba was started in 1949 and put in service in 1953.]
In April 1892 they were not able to cross the rapids of Zilo, so they decided to return to Bunkeya and the Lofoi outpost. In the meantime, Capt. Stairs who had started from Dar-es-Salam and followed the slave route across Lake Tanganika had reached Bunkeya on the 14th December 1891 where a disaster occurred.
This British officer took upon himself to tell Msiri off for his atrocities and it was the next day that a Belgian officer paniqued when he found himself surrounded by warriors and shot Msiri. The latter died the following day (the 20th Decmeber 1891). Famine and disease also struck the Stairs camp but on the 30th January 1892, a caravan arrived from the West: it was Commandant Bia, accompanied by four explorers: Lt. Emile Francqui, Dr. J. Amerlinck, Lt. E. Descheid and a young doctor interested in Geology: Jules Cornet. Bia took over Stairs’ mission as the latter retreated for health reasons at the time the famine, smallpox and dysentry were still on the rampage in the indigenous population. A photograph exists of Capt. L. Bia in Leopoldville in 1888.
Despite the most difficult conditions, Cornet completed the first scientific study of the country and discovered the importance of its mineral resources.
The political occupation of the Congo had been ongoing at the same time and local chiefs had submitted themselves to the State which conceded to the ‘Compagnie du Katanga’ vast regions of the country on the 12th march 1891. The young geologist’s discoveries were published after he gave his report to King Leopold II in April 1893. The four expeditions dispatched between 1891 and 1893 were instrumental in securing Belgian territories.
Twenty years later, Jules Cornet wrote in an article :
‘there (in Elisabethville) where we were tortured by hunger, stand today the town’s hotels, restaurants, shops full of things that can be eaten.... Nineteen years ago, who would have dared thinking such progress would have been accomplished today?’.
As Stairs left Bunkeya on the 4th February 1892, all were sick and affected by the famine.
Deals between the ‘Comité Special du Katanga’
and the ‘Tanganyika Concessions Ltd’.
Cecil Rhodes did not give up his wonderful dream of a Cape to Cairo railway, though the progress of his Railway was very slow - it had only reached Bulawayo in 1898. He knew a man born in Aberdeen who had emigrated to South Africa in 1881, and who had directed the Bulftfontein Diamond mine: Robert Williams. He had offered him a position in Johannesburg, then sent him on a prospecting mission in Northern Rhodesia in the capacity of manager of the Zambesia Exploring Company. In 1898, Rhodes made a deal with Williams. His Chartered gave the Zambesia mining concessions south of Lake Tanganika. The Zambesia decided to spend £20,000 in prospections, for a steamer and to build a port at its southern extremity, one which Rhodes hoped would the terminus for his Cairo railway. As capitals were needed, the Tanganyika Concessions Limited (T.C.L.) was founded in London on the 20th January 1899 with a capital of £100,000 (with Sir Tyndale White as its President and Robert Williams as its ‘administrateur-directeur’). Its first objective was to undertake prospections. The man chosen for this new mission was George Grey who left Bulawayo on the 5th April 1899 with four colleagues. On the 6th September 1899, Grey made 90 ‘claims’ in Northern Rhodesia. He also discovered an ancient mine abandonned by natives in Kipushi on the Independent State’s territories and gold in water streams. From that time, Robert Williams became convinced that there was gold in Katanga and entered into negotiations with the Belgians.
Some time before that, in 1893, as survivors of the Belgian expeditions had returned home, festivities were organised in Brussels, but they were tainted with news that a war had to be declared against ‘rebelled’ Arabs in 1892, and this war in fact lasted until 1894.
The activities of the Compagnie du Katanga had been hindered starting with the massacre by Arabs of the Hodister expedition (May 1892). During this period, Katanga was isolated. There also was a rebellion of soldiers in the Dhanis expedition to the Nile which apparently lasted many years (from 1897).
From a political point of view, the Independent State was not active any more, the ‘Compagnie du Katanga’ had taken over. The Company had also acquired from the State, the monopoly of one third of its territories which were situated in the southern region referred to as ‘Haut-Congo’ by reason of its higher altitude. This was a concession for a period of 99 years. The original method devised to determine which territories remained with the State was viewed as too complicated and was abandonned. Then, just as the news came that gold was discovered in Katanga, and that Robert Williams was visiting Brussels, it was decided that all the territories belonging to the State and the Compagnie du Katanga would be under the same management for which another organisation was created on the 19th June 1900: The Comité Special du Katanga (C.S.K.).
On the 8th December 1900, the C.S.K. made agreements with Robert Williams, and gave him charge of prospections in Katanga for a period of five years. The deal was to exploit deposits in cooperation for a period of thirty years, using the C.S.K.’s and T.C.L.’s (basically Belgian and British) capitals and sharing benefits between the C.S.K. and the Tanganyika Concessions Ltd., agreements which were altered again in 1905.
The Tanganyika Concessions Ltd’s operations were entrusted in Katanga to George Grey who completed a phase of prospection by the end of 1901 and carried on exploitations between 1902 and 1906. After a number of discoveries, by November 1901, some natives showed a certain Holland a mine in Kambove which had been discovered previously by Jules Cornet in 1892 - one of the richest copper deposits in the world. It is in Kambove that Holland set up a headquarters and Grey undertook his prospections.
In the meantime, the Comité Special du Katanga and the Williams group had come to new agreements. Robert Williams had been authorised to transfer to the Tanganyika Concessions Ltd all the rights granted to him on the 8th December 1900. The period of 30 years for the exploitation of the mines had been extended to one of 99 years. Then the C.S.K. authorised the T.C.L. to undertake prospections on the territories situated on the west of the Lualaba river. The latter did not progress very far because this was the area which was still being devastated by a famine. Some chiefs among the indigenous population under the influence of rebelling Batetela refugees refused to deliver food, porters and workers. Some prospectors encountered hostility and on the 15th November 1902, M. Holland called for help from the Belgian army because a certain Capt. N.S. Hook and his expedition were attacked and retained by Batetela natives. The latter was however freed by Lt. M. Brohez and 25 soldiers.
The Creation of Katanga’s Railway Company, the CFK
(La Compagnie du Chemin de Fer du Katanga) and the U.M.H.K.
This is Katanga’s own Railway Company which was created on the 11th March 1902 with 1,000,000 francs, a capital of 600,000 frs from the State and 400,000 frs from the Williams group. There were difficulties between Robert Williams and the Chartered because of Cecil Rhodes’ death in 1902. He decided that the most economical route for a railway was along an ancient caravan route across present Angola, referred to as the Benguela line. The Rhodesian railway reached Broken-Hill in 1906.
Robert Williams was of the opinion that the export of copper would be more economical along his Benguela Railway or the Rhodesia Railway forking at Bulawayo for Beira in Mozambique, than on the hypothetical railway to Cairo. King Leopold II however also wanted a proper Congolese railway of his own to link Katanga and Matadi/Leopoldville. Robert Williams called it ‘the political railway of His majesty’. A solution was found by king Leopold II by associating to his projects the man who was in charge of the construction of a railway between Peking and Hankow in China: Jean Jadot (born 1862), who later became President of the Union Minière (1913-32) at the same time as being ‘gouverneur of the Société Générale de Belgique’. Sir Robert Williams (1860-1938) became Vice-President of the U.M.H.K. and President of the Tanganyika Concessions Ltd, and directed prospections in Katanga. Jadot and Williams represented Belgian and British interests in Katanga.
The Union Minière du Haut Katanga was created for the object of the practical exercise of the mining rights (mining operations) and other rights granted to it by the Comité Spécial du Katanga, following the agreement made on the 19th June 1900 between the Independent State of the Congo and the Compagnie du Katanga, and this for the exploitation of mineral resources in Katanga. However, its activities did not stop there as it assigned itself economic and humanitarian tasks which contributed to the birth of civilization in the Congo.
Note on the Creation of the ‘Three Sister Companies’ in 1906
As regards private entreprises, in “Scramble for Africa 1876-1912” Thomas Pakenham takes up the creation of the U.M.H.K.’s historical background stating that in 1906, Leopold II announced he was ‘throwing the Congo open to the monopoly of four great International companies’: (1) the Union Minière, a merger of British and Belgian interests (U.M.H.K.); (2) a Franco-Belgian railway and Mining company (the B.C.K.); (3) a Mining-timber company owned by American businessmen, (4) an American Congolese company formed by American millionaires.
However, according to the Report published by the U.M.H.K., and the B.C.K. (written in French) for their 50th Anniversary in 1956, only three companies were actually formed : the American millionaires’ company was not mentioned.
The Comité Spécial du Katanga itself undertook prospection work. To that end it signed a series of joint prospection contracts with Mr. R. Williams, the General Manager of the Tanganyka Concessions Ltd (the Chartered of Cecil Rhodes). It was the need to mine lodes discovered by the latter that led to the creation of the U.M.H.K. The Union Minière was created by Leopold II in 1906 with a capital of 10 million francs, with headquarters in Elisabethville (Lubumbashi) and administration in Brussels. What happened between 1890 and 1906 will be returned to in the process of an argument against the criticism directed at Leopold II and colonialism in general.
How the U.M.H.K. was finally created
Cecil Rhodes, a shrewd businessman, as well as idealist, often said that the soil and stones cleared from the excavation of the mines should be used as ballast to grade Railway tracks. In 1898, Robert Williams, who had been a Lieutenant under Cecil Rhodes and who had previously been promoted to a managing position at the mines of Johannesburg, was sent to Northern Rhodesia to direct the Zambesia Exploring Company. A prospection in south Katanga had been unsucessful and returned in 1895; but in 1898, Cecil Rhodes insisted that they had to come up with some results as the Chartered had accorded the Zambesia large mining concessions south of Lake Tanganyika. The project was to explore the lake on a steamer and build a port in a southern position on the lake.
The Tanganyika Concessions Ltd (T.C.L.) was formed in London with a capital of £100,000 on the 20th January 1899 - its President being Sir Tyndale White and its first Manager, Robert Williams. George Grey was nominated to command the extensive mission of prospection for this new company. G. Grey left Bulawayo on the 5th April, 1899, with four Europeans, a geologist (J.M. Justice), a prospector, (P. MacDonald), the head of the caravan and interpreter (F.H. Crewe) and M.G. Farquhar who had a passion for hunting. They had but a few porters but 67 donkeys, seven horses, 2 mules, and 8 cattles for 3 chariots similar to those the Boers used in their treks. They found copper deposits on the 8th August 1899 in Northern Rhodesia. On the 23rd they examined ancient indigenous mines on the territories of the Independent State of the Congo at Kipushi, which were later exploited by the U.M.H.K. In September, they made 90 claims in Northern Rhodesia. They found traces of gold in water streams the source of which were in the Congolese territories. They reported to Robert Williams who was in Bulawayo, in November 1899, and convinced him that large deposits of gold existed in Katanga. In those days, people had irresistible fascination for the mineral and by the end of 1899, the British engineer was prospecting in Katangese territories. He then visited King Leopold II in Brussels to request his permission to carry out such prospections.
The news concerning British prospections and rumors about the discovery of gold in Katanga, as well as Robert Williams’ arrival in Brussels, created an electric atmosphere conducive to cooperation between the State and the ‘Compagnie du Katanga’. Consequently, on the 19th June 1900, it was decided to create an organisation which would manage the lot under one roof so to speak: the Comité Spécial du Katanga (C.S.K) which proceeded with the organisation of Katanga and hastened to determine the frontiers which were to be respected and to identify the region’s mineral wealth according to Cornet’s maps. Two thirds of the profits deriving from C.S.K.’s operations went to the King, one third to the Compagnie du Katanga.
As intended, the Comité Spécial du Katanga gave the Tanganyika Concessions Ltd rights of prospection in South Katanga and Robert Williams was asked to undertake mining prospection for five years in Katanga. He was able to spend £3,000 yearly on the project. This was the beginning of a collaboration between businessmen and Belgian as well as British engineers.
The T.C.L. operations directed by G. Grey had two phases: a preliminary survey which ended in 1901; and the beginning of exploitations from 1902 to 1906.
J.M. Holland who was in charge of the second expedition met George Grey near Kambove on the 25th August 1901. On the 18th November 1901, he wrote a letter to Grey from Kazembe on the Lualaba, informing him he had located a copper mine on the road from Kazembe to Bihe, and another one: these became the mines of Musonoi and Kolwezi later. The indigenous people complied to show him the mine which had originally been discovered by Cornet in Kambove in 1892 and which they had been hiding. It looked as though the mine could be the richest in copper deposits in the world! At the bottom of the hill, he found the gold which J. Cornet had refused to show him in 1892.
At the end of 1901, Holland had established some quarters for Grey before leaving for the heart of Katanga. (A photograph exists of Tanganyika Concessions Ltd starting work in Kambove - 1902). On the 15th November 1902, Holland made a request for Belgian military assistance as N.S. Hook was being attacked in the west of Zilo. Brohez came to his rescue with 25 soldiers. Gold was found in Kolwezi and attempts at fusion of the copper made Kolwezi the centre of all activities (A photograph exists of this first attempt in 1908).
George Grey had managed to make his home charming in Kambove, where he kept a library rich in classical books, biographies and tales of travel. Making his own garden was his past-time. He planted seeds, grew vegetables, orange and lemon trees. Looking after his men’s health he instructed them to take a daily dose of quinine and to use mosquito nets. He used a bike on bush footpaths, leaving before dawn to reach various mines or areas of exploitation. At night (which falls by 7 pm in Africa), he fell asleep whether there were lions about or not, so it is perhaps not surprising he died after having been attacked by a lion (though in Kenya) in January 1911. G. Grey defended his Belgian colleagues who were accused unfairly of bad treatment to the indigenous population, by sending a letter which was published in the Morning Post (England) on the 20th January 1903 (see Appendix II).
In 1901 the building of tracks from the Cape had not got any further than Bulawayo. It was 1,000 kms from Kambove! Goods and machinery were still being brought by porters (Refer to the Map of Katanga in 1902 if made available on the webpage). The journey from Belgium usually took at least three months. On the 11th March, 1902, King Leopold II created a Railway Company for Katanga: the C.F.K. with a capital of 1 million of Belgian francs of which 400,000 frs. came from the Williams Group. However, the fact that Cecil Rhodes died on the 26th May 1902 caused difficulties to Williams and the Chartered as they had to finance the continuation of their Railway line upto the North. R. Williams studied the most economical alternative and decided to use the ancient caravan route. He made arrangements with the Portugese Government to construct the Railway of Benguela in November 1902, the Company of which was founded on the 23rd may 1903. In the meantime, King Leopold II was seeking to make Katanga the nexus of all the railways of Africa.
The construction of a Railway from the Cape to Cairo had appeared as a threat for a while, but the decision to alter the original plans for the South African Railways, in fact, saved the situation, as this permitted agreements to be made to send the material necessary to the exploitations by rail from the Cape to the recently established Elisabethville. The capital now called Lubumbashi was born, as a matter of fact, as a result of the necessity for an administrative centre.
This collaboration between Belgian and British nationals culminated with the creation of the Union Minière du Haut Katanga in 1906. Jean Jadot (1862-1932) who - as an engineer, had built the Peking-Hankow Railway - and who was at the time Director of the ‘Société Générale de Belgique’, was appointed ‘Président’ (in French) of the U.M.H.K. and the person who was appointed as ‘Vice-Président’ of the U.M.H.K. was no other than Sir Robert Williams (1860-1938) who directed the prospection of mineral resources in Katanga.
The Société Générale was a gigantic company formed in 1822. According to Smith Hempstone, its American equivalent would have been a combine of the Bank of America, U.S. Steel, General Motors, T.W.A. and the B&O Railroad & Mutual Life Insturance Corporation of New York!
King Leopold II who was tired and worried because Belgium was divided over the question of the so-called ‘brutal exploitation of the native population’ in his name, decided to spend time on his yacht ‘Alberta’ anchored in the beautiful bay of Villefranche in the Midi. There, he worked with his Secretary, Count Edmond Carton de Wiart, on the publication of some material and the instructions to be passed on to his General Secretaries in the Congo.
The Count wrote that the year 1906 was full of trouble for the Head of the Independent State of the Congo. Over the previous twenty years, he had set up its administration and organised it from an economic and military point of view. Upto that time, he had solved many internal problems, but now, certain countries were requesting to have the Act of Berlin revised. Yet Central Africa had already been transformed after a quarter of a century of efforts and, although the Belgians benefited from certain privileges, the door was now opened to citizens of all countries to settle there and start a business. Like a modern King Arthur, Leopold II had pursued his dream to bring about civilization in the Congo and to enrich it - but now he was disappointed and worried. When criticism was at its highest, he wrote a note which was kept at the Royal Museum of the Belgian Congo in which he refuted all calomnies and defended his cause. According to his contemporaries, the King was sensitive to the material, moral and social needs of the indigenous population. He had been negotiating for some time with Robert Williams and H. Droogmans, the Président of the Comite Spécial du Katanga. R. Williams wanted copper to be exported by the Benguela Railway or the Rhodesian one, but the King also wanted a National network to link Katanga to Leopoldville (his ‘political line’).
At the end of their negotiations on his yatch, the name ‘Union Minière’ remained. King Leopold II conceived the three companies: the U.M.H.K., Forminière, and the B.C.K. Each company published a study of its foundation and history for the commemoration of its 50th Anniversary (1906-56) . The sister companies were of course of great importance to the Belgian Congo as a whole. The U.M.H.K.’s constitution was signed at the Palace of Laeken (Brussels) on the 28th October 1906, that of the B.C.K. on the 31st and Forminière’s on the 6th November 1906.
A New York Banker, Mr. Perpont Morgan took an interest in the King’s entreprise as he realised the extraordinar potential offered by the exploitation of such virgin territories. A man by the name of Thomas F. Ryan, also gave his entire fortune to provide the King with funds. The latter greatly respected these men as well as Robert Williams who was full of enthusiasm and a believer in the ‘African potential’, and for Jean Jadot who was a loyal and devoted adviser.
The Congo passed into Belgian hands as a colony in 1908 and Katanga was firmly occupied from that time. The Union Minière received from Sir Robert Williams permission to exploit all copper deposits situated in an area of 20,000 square kms upto the 11th march 1990 as well as tin deposits in the same area covering a surface of 14,000 square kms. Along with copper deposits, there also were other metals such as zinc, cobalt, silver, cadmium, germanium and precious metals. Other substances useful to the treatment of those minerals were also extracted and permission was given to the Union Minière to build damns and use water falls as power sources. Uranium and radium discovered by the Union Minière were also exploited from 1922.
King Leopold II could not have predicted that a few decades later these companies would cause a prodigious financial boom. It was however after the Second World War that this happened and that the country’s increase in material prosperity became visible in urban and industrial centres as well as in remote corners of the equatorial forest. By that time the autochton population or ‘Congolese’ people were able to ascend the social scale in the measure of their professional abilities and merits according to the Belgian practice at home. During the Second World War, the Congo played an important part for the United Nations. It already possessed 4,600 kms of railways, an impressive road network, many airports and 14,000 kms of waterways. Its troops fought side by side with British forces in various campaigns. Its mines and metallurgical factories also provided raw material to the United States, and the United Kingdom’s war industries. However, the various difficulties the Union Minière du Haut Katanga encountered during the first ten years of its existence were much worse than most pessimistic forecasts had permitted to expect, due to the 1914-18 World War.
Uranium and radium discovered by the Union Minière were also exploited from 1922.
Debate about Leopold II’s intentions
Belgian colonialism has been under attack and Leopold II’s name defamed by slanders since the 1900s. It is thought that criticism will, however, appear unjustified to the reader after gaining a greater appreciation of difficulties encountered at the beginning of the colonisation of Central Africa. In a letter written by Leopold II’s secretary (in Appendix), the reader will also find explanations as to the reasons the Belgian king did not defend himself more vehemently. Critics in the media continue to give people the impression that Belgians generally subjugated Africans during the entirety of their presence in the Congo, yet under the Belgian ‘system of colonial administration’ in the Congo, Africans shared in economic and social progress. Unfortunately, it seems as though journalists and authors sometimes borrow from anti-European politicians without having heard the full story. For instance, according to Christopher Hudson’s book review published in the Daily Mail on the 17th April, 1999, a certain Hochschild expounded in ‘King Leopold’s Ghost’, that Leopold II, the king of the Belgians, “set up one of the most efficient slave-labour system in history” and “instituted a reign of terror of Holocaust proportions”, in order to “maximise profits on ivory and rubber production”. Hochschild was referring to a so-called bloodshed in the 1890s. He acknowledged that after Leopold II signed over his empire to the Belgian government, Belgian administrators “stopped the bloodshed” but accused them to have “continued the forced labour”. We shall see that accusations of this kind are largely based upon misinterpretations.
It has also been forgotten that mineral resources exploited in Katanga contributed metallurgical supply to the Allies’ war industry (800,000 tons of copper) at a low price without which the latter would probably have been unable to win the Second World War.
To summarise Adam Hochschild’s “King Leopold’s Ghost” published by Macmillan, 1999, Christopher Hudson states the book:
“tells the fascinating story of how through a series of brilliantly cunning manoeuvres, Leopold made himself omnipotent ruler of the Congo”.
Christopher Hudson reported the fact that Hochschild compared Leopold II to Hitler for wanting ‘more space’, that he accused him of propaganda, that he ‘managed to delude people’ about his intentions with lies, and that his mercenaries began bribing local chieftains “to sign over their lands and trading rights in perpetuity”. It would appear that Hochschild’s view of the historical Leopold II are based on what was referred to as the ‘Morel’s conspiracy’ which according to Belgian opinion in the 1900s, ‘pretended to be humanitarian, but distorted facts and was interested in Leopold’s State’s ruin.’
As regards ‘bribing chieftains’, the author of ‘King Leopold’s Ghost’ conveniently omitted to mention that Cecil Rhodes also made an attempt to claim Katanga by sending expeditions to Msiri, the king of Garenganze, hoping he would sign a treaty that would give rights of exploitation to the Chartered. But Le Marinel was more successful in his mission to make a deal with the ‘king’ of Katanga. The use of this method was widely accepted at the end of last century. In other words, ‘Belgian colonialism’ was tainted for something which other nations also practiced.
Hochschild also wrote:
‘he (Leopold II) managed to delude people that he wasn’t colonising the Congo so much as protecting it, and sinking his personal fortune into a humanitarian crusade to benefit the local tribespeople’.
Queen Victoria, however, praised Leopold’s endeavours and recognised the Association’s flag as she did one of a friendly government. Count E. Carton de Wiart, the King’s personal Secretary, explained in a letter that this kind of criticism compelled the king to create sister companies including the ‘Union Minière du Haut Katanga’. The letter was included in the company’s report for its 1906-1956 anniversary published by Editions L.Cuypers, Brussels. Having explained the difficulties the king of Belgium had to deal with prior to 1906, Count Carton de Wiart mentions he suggested to Leopold II that they should study the situation in parallel to other African colonies and defend themselves as regards the accusation of abuse. Leopold II did not consider this necessary and even morally objected to the idea, contending that since they had done nothing wrong that to retaliate with more criticism would be demeaning. He felt it was right to deny slanders but was not prepared to enter into a battle. His reply has also been preserved in the Royal Museum of the Belgian Congo in Brussels. Carton de Wiart contended Leopold II did not try and mislead people about his intentions, but genuinely believed that civilization would bring benefits to the natives who had been discovered in appalling conditions. The first task the State had to undertake was to free them from the threat of Arab slavery. Two main dealers by the name of Tippo-Tip and Rumaliza indeed regularly raided the indigenous population, and massacred those who resisted. Following various difficult ‘campaigns’ Belgian troops under Dhanis, Chaltin, Ponthier and Jacques, were successful in 1893, but the war officially declared against rebelled Arabs in 1892, lasted till 1894 and isolated Katanga .
Soon after, Catholic and Protestant missionaries arrived and schools were built for the education of the native population. Medical personnel was brought in to deal with the serious tropical diseases which affected it, for instance, the sleeping sickness due to the tse-tse fly, the typhoid fever, as well as reduce the high infantile mortality rate present in the population. At the same time, the State had opened the country to commercial entreprises (mainly exploitation of rubber and ivory) and industries, and the construction of a very first railway line was undertaken in 1890 in the north west of the country (this was before prospection was completed in the south).
King Leopold II expected other countries to participate in the entreprise and there was enough potential for all even if the Belgians had been the first to settle there. But according to Christopher Hudson a particular grievance of Hochschild is that Leopold’s promises did not materialise:
“...The free trade he (Leopold II) promised the French and Americans to win their recognition of his territory did not materialise....”
However, as previous chapters have already demonstrated, associations with American and British companies were made and many subsidaries were formed.
Count de Wiart alluded to the ‘anticongolese campaign’ - this is a reference to debates and differences of opinions at home which made the news and were also reported in other countries including those where criticism about colonialism in the Independent State had originated.
Leopold II realised that the Chartered of Cecil Rhodes was acting as a political screen for the British government : i.e. the Chartered also used a tax in the form of labour to encourage natives to work because of the difficulty to get a labour force, but were not accused of slavery. So, the Belgian king also created a Chartered: La Compagnie du Katanga in 1891, and the Independent State ceased to be politically active (the company was a political substitute and from a commercial point of view, it had to explore the region, study the possibility of mining exploitation and of establishing means of transport and communication: railways). A subsidiary, the Comité Spécial du Katanga (C.S.K.) was created in 1900 which signed a series of joint prospection contracts with Robert Williams, the General Manager of the Tanganyika Concessions Ltd, a subsidiary of the Chartered of Cecil Rhodes. So technically speaking, there was no such thing as an Independent State and a Leopoldine regime after 1891.
It was because of the division in public opinion and of antagonism from abroad generated by Morel’s conspiracy that Leopold II also took the initiave to form three companies in 1906. It is to be noted that these also sprang from associations with American, French and British groups.
It is normally not understood that from the moment of the inception of the three sister companies (1906), the King did not even continue as head of the entreprise despite the fortune he had invested in it. Count de Wiart attempted to make this clear by a comparison with what normally happens in business:
“The organisation thus created, its real founder, the King, retired from the project and only the investors remained, and the State received substantial financial returns, if there were any, without having had to find any capital outlay.”
It is not at this stage that Belgium acquired the colony: this happened in 1908. The fact that the Congo became Belgian should have caused grievances abroad because various foreign fortunes had been invested in the entreprise and suddenly, the State had become formerly ‘Belgian’! However, it does not seem as though this affected the various business deals. Later in pre-independence days (pre-1960) the management of the U.M.H.K. seems to have operated as a ‘State within the State of the Congo’ - as J. Depelchin has noted - and this was because the economy of the Congo depended upon the company’s decisions, so the fact that the Congo had become Belgian does not seem to be very significant.
To continue the case of ‘King Leopold’s Ghost’ by Adam Hochschild, according to Christopher Hudson (in a review published in the Daily Mail), the author A. Hochschild contended an army was sent to subjugate Congolese tribes under Leopold II’s orders. C. Hudson quoted:
Gradually the myriad tribal lands became a single state....
On the pretext of fighting local slave-traders, Leopold won funding from the Belgian Parliament to set up one of the most efficient slave-labour systems in history. This is a horrifying saga. One tribe after another was overrun by Leopold’s brutal soldiery, known as the Force Publique.....
To maximise profits on ivory and rubber production, they instituted a reign of terror of Holocaust proportions in which nearly 10 million Africans died.
In reality, territories were not claimed by ‘outrunning tribes’ but by establishing outposts, and this was accomplished by explorers and prospection expeditions, not by armies. The majority of ‘outposts’ were at first situated in the lower Congo around Leopoldville and Stanley Falls. A network of mission stations, stores, schools and sub-stations were established with a corresponding network of administrative military outposts.
C. Hudson furthermore quoted Hochschild:
‘a British shipping official in Antwerp, noticed ... ships coming in loaded with ivory and rubber, but returning to the Congo ... with troops, guns and ammunition’.
‘Morel realised that only fraud and slavery on a vast scale could produce such a discrepancy’.
Morel appears to have been ignorant of the fact that Belgium had officially declared war to the Arabs in Brussels, to eradicate slavery in the Independent State. The war lasted between 1892 and 1894 but it was only by 1907 that the ‘army’ finally expulsed the last slave hunters from Katanga. This would explain why ships returned to the Congo with troops, guns and amunition. They were necessary for the war against slave hunters present on the actual territories. They had been ravaged by Rumaliza, an Arab leader whose name meant ‘the one who destroys all’. In Belgium school children learn (or used to learn) about the anti-slavery campaigns, and remember the names attached to it: Dhanis, Gillain, Ponthier, Henry, Lothaire, Chaltin, Jacques de Dixmude - the latter was a soldier in the 1914 word war and is also remembered as a pioneer of the African railway and for the expeditions he led from 1903.
Furthermore, did Morel know that the equatorial forest and the south-west area of the Congo was inhabited by cannibals? In the North the Bambala were peaceful people: i.e. ‘they only ate human flesh on special occasions’! The Bankutu, however, were treacherous and ferocious cannibals! Bayanzis were cannibals but not the Bapende. The Badingas were very hostile to whites and Dilondas, chief of the Bapende said that the Bakongos were extremely dangerous. Apart from these, other native people were described as proud, jealous of their traditions, with an interesting political organisation and an art only surpassed by Egyptian dynasties. Some tribes had a particularly unpredictable behaviour which was disconcerting. They were avoided for the most part, not outrun by armies, as outposts were established in unoccupied regions, but expeditions had to be accompanied by military escorts for safety due to attacks by natives. For instance, Odon Jadot’s expedition in 1913 to Pangu (Kasai) comprised three Europeans, including a military chief, one hundred porters and twenty five soldiers.
Morel probably ignored that the Bakubas thought of themselves as warlords and had domestic slaves from other races, including Balubas who had been ousted from their region of origin by Arab dealers. These Balubas had become nomads and had sought refuge among the Bakubas. This mitigated form of slavery was however in breech of the State’s regulations. The result of colonisation for these Balubas was that they were able to leave their Bakuba masters to work for a white employer. Bakubas were dumbfounded and Lukengo, their king, groaned. The latter were not prepared psychologically to cooperate with Europeans but Balubas proved better auxilaries and in so doing became more refined or elevated in character than those who had been their superiors.
What do scholars say about the situation in the late 19th century? First of all, they say that for the most part, the State explorers (not armies!) had taken possession of unoccupied land, and that products such as rubber were declared the State’s domain. So, for instance, according to J. Stengers , ‘explorers’ had to deal with some amount of repression due to native revolts, which mostly occurred when harvesting of wild rubber was demanded of the natives in the form of a tax in labour. Stengers explains that the tax in question was a means of constraint to intensify production without guidance in view of the fact that laws had not been defined in Belgium until after 1903. However, from 1906 the State limited more and more strictly the recourse to coercive methods and eliminated abuses. The latter were, furthermore, not generalised to all of the zones in the basin rich in wild rubber and labour services were obtained with a minimum of pressure. Wherever the domanial regime was applied, the lot of the workers depended on what the European officials were like as individuals but the system brought pressure upon them. Disagreement with coercive methods in relation to the rubber industry led to a general condemnation of colonialism in the Congo.
In contrast, A. Hochschild stated that the image retained was one of
‘the most efficient slave-labour system in history’ and ‘one of a gigantic slave plantation’
Yet there were only a few plantations in the Northern and Eastern provinces.
The British consul in the Congo Free State, Roger Casement, also provided a report dated 15th April 1903, which accused ‘regular troops to intimidate communities which did not deliver a quota of rubber’ and which ‘hacked off the hands of dead victims’:
‘Uprisings were put down savagely and the African troops, themselves enslaved by Leopold’s officers, were under orders to cut off the right hand of those they shot, as proof that they hadn’t been wasting valuable bullets.’
The story was then enlarged to state that troops ‘attacked communities’. Casement would also have contended Leopold II was cruel because he did this and stated he was ‘using the Congo as a personal estate’ and that
‘funds raised by cruelties were used for buildings in Belgium, a modest nation which detested his architectural taste as much as his inhumanity’ .
As to the native custom referred to as ‘the cut off hand’, it may be of ancient Egyptian origin. It appears to have been a military ritual to claim a bounty. Such gruesome details have emerged from hieroglyph records recently deciphered. According to these, soldiers of Pharaohs had to produce the hand of a slain victim.(Refer to the TV Programme broadcasted on channel 28 (Cable TV) on June 2 (9.25 am, 3.30 pm, & 9.20 pm).
Congolese officers may have taken the initiative of bringing back hands cut from the dead for the purpose of proving they had made good use of cartridges issued to them.
Another scholar, Thomas Pakenham mentions in Scramble for Africa that ‘Msiri was cruel with his own subjects’ and was ‘in the habit of cutting off a hand, a foot, or an ear for trivial reasons’. The Arabs also apparently use the method of ‘cutting off a hand’ to enforce the law. This custom appears to have been established among the natives in the Congo. Yet the ‘cut off hand’ mutilation became the symbol of Leopold’s regime in the 1900s.
In the real world of Leopold II’s regime, Arab slave hunters were responsible for devastation of villages, not the ‘force publique’. Belgian officers fought a long and hard campaign in the north of Katanga and in Maniema against them. They did not attack tribes but Arab slave traders, some of whom traded human flesh. Hundred of their men perished in the struggle for freedom of the indigenous population from slavery.
A photograph of a scene of slavery from Amistad, a film by Spielberg served as illustration for the book review by Christopher Hudson. A. Hochschild’s findings appear to originate from Morel and his contentions amount to a transplantation of American history and slavery into the Congo. Facts seem to have been aggravated to the extent they have acquired the dimensions of ‘a reign of terror of holocaust proportions in which nearly 10 million Africans died’. However, a first census carried out in 1905 revealed a population of 1500 Belgians in the immense territories of the ‘Independent State’ and only a few dozens in Katanga . It was not even possible then to work out a figure for the natives, never mind get an idea of what it was in 1890, fifteen years before. The impoverished society of pre-colonial Africa was scattered and little in number in the first place. The 10 million is a fanciful figure.
Thomas Pakenham is of the opinion there was a conspiracy to make the world believe that concession companies were corrupt after a commision was set up to investigate alleged abuses in the Congo in a report published in 1905. The origin of this conspiracy was apparently this same Morel, who told the horrors of Leopold’s regime as consisting of ‘villages in ruin, mutilated corpses, severed hands’. This is also the origin of public opinion in relation to the Belgian colonial character which caused so much trouble to Leopold II. It is because of these allegations that Leopold II’s colonialism was accounted as one of the worst of African history. Thomas Pakenham states Morel was:
“a man with a mission who believed he had stumbled upon a secret society of murderers with a king for a cronyman.”
Morel founded the American Congo Reformation Association, and alleged that Leopold’s regime was guilty of cruelties ... that ‘hands were severed’, but his criticism was targeting the concession companies. Packenham stated that it was as a result of:
“an excoriating report on the Congo atrocities by the British consul, Roger Casement,”
that: “opinion began to tilt against Leopold.”
The case of a text by a Zairian ‘Historian’
In a book available in the children section of public libraries in England, a Zairian historian alleges that ‘10,000,000 Zairians died of overwork, bad food and poor living conditions between 1880 and 1910’ and states it was ‘the construction of a railway in the 1890s between Matadi and Kinshasa’ (Leopoldville) which particularly ‘cost hundreds of thousands of lives’.
The same figure was quoted by Hochschild, but here the loss of lives is not attributed to Leopold’s soldiery but to overwork in terms which can lead to misinterpretation, i.e. to the belief that natives were forced into slave-labour for the construction of a railway, or that their bad living conditions between 1880 and 1910 were due to the colonisation of the Congo. “One black for every sleeper laid” is a saying this Zairian historian reports Zairians apparently repeated, and one which the Western public tends to interpret as ‘slave labour’. However, the photograph of a railway in construction which reached Elisabethville in the south of Katanga in 1910 showed that no more than about one hundred workers may have been employed at any one time. It would have taken a few centuries to loose hundreds of thousands of lives.
As regards the building of a Railway in 1890, the distance between Matadi and Leopoldville is 380 kms, but it is very small on the map next to where the Congo river throws itself into the Atlantic ocean. Although the characteristics of this line were very hard from a technical point of view, it was an extremely short one by comparison to the vast distances involved in the others. The line was constructed where the Congo river was not navigable due to rapids and falls.
It was Stanley who went back to Europe in 1884 with a project for this railway. It was in fact an English ‘consortium’ which endeavoured to undertake the project and Capt. Thys who approached the C.C.C.I. (Compagnie du Congo pour le Commerce et l’Industrie) to intervene. It was in March 1887 that the C.C.C.I. obtained permission to make a study for a railway between the Port of Matadi and Leopoldville to be running on the left side of the river. The C.C.C.I. created a subsidiary company on the 31 July 1889 to undertake its construction. Work was started on the 15th march 1890 and the railway was completed in March 1898. This was the first line actually built in Central Africa and it permitted the launching of the Congolese economy. The B.C.K. made a statement in its 1956’s report as to there being a difficulty to recruit a labour force for the building of the Matadi-Leopoldville line. One does not ‘recruit’ slaves.
This first railway in Katanga was realised four years after the creation of the Union Minière for industrial purposes and was completed in October 1910. The Union Minière recruited workers in Northern Rhodesia for a labour force in this region. Odon Jadot mentioned in a letter in August 1922 that seventy workers were supervised by one European and worked nine hours per day, in the tropical forest to the building of a railway.
The truth of the matter is that villages were in ruin because of famine or an epidemy in the 1890s which caused a famine, at least in the Southern region.
An Epidemy and Famine in 1890 recorded in Explorers’ diaries
The Zairian historian mentioned above contends that it was between 1880 and 1910 and in the 1890s particularly that the deaths (10,000,000!) occurred.
Before the arrival of Europeans, it is well known that the autochton population of the Congo subsisted in unhygienic conditions, were affected with various diseases, and had but primitive tools to work the soil to grow food. As a result they were indeed in ‘poor living conditions’ and starved, but it would have been impossible for the settlers to provide the benefits of civilisation overnight. There were a number of difficulties and Thomas Pakenham, for instance - in Scramble for Africa, has excused the early regime by pointing out that Leopold needed to raise a mountain of cash before even schools could be provided.
An important loss of life in the indigenous population including their porters in and around 1890 was actually recorded in early explorers’ diaries. There was a mention that bodies had to be buried every day, but this was in no way due to Leopold’s cruel soldiery, nor ‘slave labour’, but a smallpox epidemy in addition to a famine in 1890-91, which has already been referred to:
A Scottish geologist, Joseph Thompson...... reached Elisabethville, but found the entire region decimated by a smallpox epidemy!
The epidemic disaster devastated the southern part of the country at the time Europeans were only just beginning their task of exploration, but there is very little record of this happening since only the explorers themselves were witness to it, and before them, there was absolutely no civilisation in existence in the Congo.
Famines probably caused a high rate of mortality without even any help from any epidemy. Indeed, conditions were so severe that even in 1903, Jacques de Dixmude, an explorer, wrote that the men he sent to get food only came back with a handful of sorgho or potatoes and that they could not have obtained more if they had paid twice as much for it. Not many natives worked the land to produce food, the soil was too poor. He requested measures for an agriculture and breeding of animals. He expressed his concern about asking his men to work if there was no food. Where some natives actually cultivated the land they only did so for their needs. A railway was going to provide the solution. It now becomes clear that a high mortality was present in the Congo before the exploration era and that it was thanks to economic development and the colonisation of the Congo that the problem was eradicated
In the U.M.H.K.’s 50th Anniversary report, it is stated that the Delcommune expedition, organised by ‘La Compagnie du Katanga’ was also affected by a famine. They arrived in Bunkeya on the 6th October 1891 and attempted to see the old crafty Msiri:
Europeans were shocked on seeing a few dozen human heads, some decomposed, some fresh... mounted one on top of the other in good sight next to the royal throne (it is a common practice among primitive tribes). After about twenty days of rest, the Belgian caravan continued to the post of Lofoi...Then after having stayed with old chiefs ‘Katanga’ and ‘Tenke’, who were rebelling against the cruel Msiri, Delcommune arrived at the Lualaba river on the 20th December 1891....near Mushima. To get there, the expedition had to cross regions which were decimated by a terrible famine and Delcommune noted in his diary: ‘Our expedition, which comprised 650 men... was left with only 270.’
Joseph Thompson’s expedition had given up in November 1890 due to an epidemy of smallpox and famine not very far from the Lualaba, and in the case of Delcommune, this was more than a year later.
Delcommune had canoes dugged out to go down the Lualaba (this took them two months)... on the 11th April 1892, they met with obstacles : the impressive Zilo falls ‘surrounded by a veritable chaos of mountains and valleys’.
In the meantime, Stairs’ expedition (Captain Stairs was British) had crossed Lake Tanganika following the Arab slave route. It had arrived at Bunkeya on the 14th December 1891. His interview with Msiri had been stormy. He had told him vehemently off for his cruelty.
The following day, Stairs instructed Capitaine Bodson and Marquis de Bonchamps to go and fetch Msiri at the village where he was in hiding. Bodson felt threatened when he was surrounded by Msiri’s warriers. He took his revolver and shot Msiri who died the next day on the 20th December 1891. He was the last of the Musbidi’s Empire ....
Stairs noted from Bunkeya that a famine was decimating the entire population of Katanga. He stated (translated from the French version):
“This famine is such that it would not be possible to purchase any food even for the price of a treasure: there is none left. There is no wood either, and the water is disgusting. Moreover, the English missionaries are being terrorised by Msiri....”
The famine had reached Bunkeya..... Stairs collapsed with ‘the’ bilious hematuric fever at the same time as the famine was getting worse. The diary stated ‘the whole situation for the expedition has become extremely alarming....’ but on the 30th January 1892, Bia’s caravan arrived from the West with Emile Francqui, Jules Amerlinck (a doctor) and Jules Cornet... On the 4th February 1892, Stairs left Bunkeya in a state of exhaustion, and handed over his mission over to Bia. He died before boarding the ship which was going to take him home to England. Francqui also noted in his diary that in Bunkeya, natives were hanging around their camp and begging for food, that they were emaciated, had dysentery and that every morning they found dead bodies, and the number they had to bury increased day by day.
In turn, Bia’s expedition had to leave Bunkeya because the situation was unbearable. They made camp at Kipuna on the Lufira river, 40 kms to the west of Bunkeya. Bia also fell ill and had to be transported to Tenke. On the 10 September 1892, Cornet and Dr. Amerlinck who were prospecting near Lubumbashi received a missive asking them to return urgently to Tenke. When they reached it, they found out that Bia had given up the ghost on the 30th August 1892.
It was, however, this expedition of explorers including Jules Cornet, the geologist, which discovered the importance of Katanga’s mineral resources. The results of Jules Cornet’s research were published in 1894 and 1897. This was recorded in the U.M.H.K.’s 50th Anniversary Report 1906-56, edited by Cuypers and published in Brussels, in 1956, and in the Compagnie du Chemin de Fer du Bas-Congo au Katanga’s own report . This data is also corroborated by Pakenham who mentions the famine and disease which also struck Stairs’ camp in 1891.
Evidence of salaries
The B.C.K.’s report, published in 1956, comments that when Odon Jadot arrived in Boma, the General Governor told him there would be obstacles in his path and he would encounter hostiliy on the part of some natives, and that there would be difficulties as regards getting a labour force for a railway line north of the 5th parallel. On the 13th February 1913, he wrote a letter to Brussels in which he explained that he had a hundred porters and that he would offer a few of them an extraordinar salary to convince them to take him to the left side of Kasai, where they did not normally want to go. He had to request a military escort to pass through hostile regions, not because they were hostile to Europeans, but because of tribal wars between the natives themselves!
The Chartered’s method of coercion
More comes to light in the B.C.K.’s report where it is explained that Cecil Rhodes’ company in the south (the Chartered) used exactly the same method of coercion to motivate the indigenous population to provide a labour-force which was so difficult to find. But the company, being commercial in the first place, and not ‘sovereign’, did not attract public criticism. However, there is no question of slavery for the Chartered either, the B.C.K. reports that ‘the Chartered’s salaries to the natives had to be reduced between 1898 and 1899’, but that the indigenous worked as little as possible, ‘just enough to earn a minimum wage in order to contribute to a tax which permitted him to use a hut’. After that, he went home, happy. (The same situation in Leopold II’s territories referred to as the rubber tax, gave rise to criticism of enforced labour which is now enlarged by Hochschild as the ‘most efficient system of slavery’!).
The report states that the Chartered intended to increase this tax in order to force the natives to work longer hours in the mines. The Chartered also had to deal with indigenous rebellions in which 160 officers lost their lives and with 140 casualties. It also fought against Arab slave hunters at Lake Moero and Tanganika.
They needed money and this is when Cecil Rhodes attempted to acquire Katanga (but remember, Msiri refused to make a deal with British prospectors). The “Morning Post” implied that the Chartered had made deals with Msiri. English newspapers claimed that the Independent State did not occupy Katanga and that it had no right to it. The French newspaper “Le Siècle” complained (on the 16th April 1891) that such contentions were a joke, that the frontiers had been decided six years before in Berlin. So, King Leopold II opposed the Chartered by creating another Chartered: La Compagnie du Katanga, in 1891. Leopold realised that the Chartered of Cecil Rhodes acted as a political screen which avoided diplomatic difficulties for England’s imperial government although it was controled by the latter.
The territories of the British South Africa Company (the Chartered) were twice as large as France and known as Rhodesia, the private property of Cecil Rhodes who was referred to as the ‘Napoleon of the Cape’ whereas Leopold II was compared to a ‘Giant’. England wanted Katanga because it had hoped to build a railway between the Cape and Cairo. In 1897 this had become a reality upto Bulawayo. For a while Leopold II feared the advance of Cecil Rhodes’ railway because of the tension brought about by the race for Katanga, disagreements and anti-colonial criticism. But later, thanks to Robert Williams - states the B.C.K.’s report - the two parties arrived at a perfect agreement the result of which was the creation of the B.C.K. itself (1906), the object of which was the building of railway networks for commercial export and Katanga became the cross roads of these as well as a gateway towards Rhodesia.
Scholars’ praise of Belgian Colonialism
L.H. Gann and Duignan also conclude in The Rulers of Belgian Africa that European colonials played a progressive role rather than a repressive one and speak of the Belgians’ enlightened economy as ‘it transformed the previously impoverished society of pre-colonial Africa.’
However, strangely enough, Leopoldine colonialism came to be accounted as one of the worst of modern African history - as if a kind of anti-European conspiracy was at work. These theories about colonialism prevailed whilst the country suffered political instability and the outside world “feted and financed the Zairean leader Mobutu”!
It was also the policy of Mobutu’s followers to claim that Leopold’s system led to many abuses. It was already given as an excuse for wanting Independence in the first place, and alienating the country from Europeans in the sixties.
Gann and Duignan said that the Congo was not properly administered until after 1908 when the administration became less military, more civilian in composition, and more bureaucratic. Only by 1920 was the government able to protect personal safety of its subjects and mining became the economic mainstay.
The critics of colonisation which Gann and Duignan trace from the sphere of international politics, may have been used to justify anti-European policies during the last three decades. The sources of this sphere seems to have been Morel and an enquiry incorporated in the Casement report. According to J. Stengers, Belgians were already suspicious of humanitarianism in the early 1900s and Morel regarded as an agent of a group interested in the State’s ruin. Stengers states that a report by an International Commission of Enquiry sent to the Congo in 1905 was, however, taken more seriously and after the various phases discussed above, resulted in its annexation in 1908. The domanial regime was substituted by a colonial regime of classical character.
Hochschild of course manipulated the same data to make it look more dramatic:
“a Commission of Inquiry which Leopold dispatched to the Congo was so horrified by the evidence that it admitted the truth” and “the Belgian administrators stopped the bloodshed, but continued the forced labour”.
In “Political Economy of Third World Intervention” David Gibbs (published by the University of Chicago) also studied the aspect of the Belgian Congo’s International suspicion and found that Morel and his Congo Reform Association ‘agitated opinion’ and ‘the Belgians were tainted by past criticism’.
D. Gibbs said that in reality, the pressure of the conspiracy may have played a part in making the ‘Belgian management’ more determined to work towards the realisation of a society that would be happy and would enjoy a certain abundance - conditions which could be realised for both interacting cultures (European and native).
World Wars Difficulties and U.M.H.K.’s Achievements
During the 1914-18 War, Belgium was occupied by German troops. The country was brought to a standstill and a blockade prevented the normal supply of food imported from other countries. Prices rocketed and the population soon starved.
In September 1914, high officials took the initiative of forming a Central Committee on Aid and Food Supply which soon became a National ‘Comité’ and which saved the Belgian population as well as that of Northern France from a famine and all of its consequences.
On the board of this great humanitarian mission were Jean Jadot - the ‘Président’ of the Administrative Council of the Union Minière - as ‘Vice-Président’ of this National Committee, and Emile Francqui - the Administrator of the Union Minière who presided over the executive Committee of this humanitarian entreprise, and also Mr. Van Bree, an engineer who was on the U.M.H.K.’s Council Board.
The Headquarters of the Union Minière were transferred to London as soon as Belgian territories became occuppied. The different departments of the Company were reconstituted in the offices of the T.C.L. (The Tanganyika Concessions Limited), at Friars House, New Broad Street, near Liverpool Station, with about 30 persons who continued to direct the mining operations from their place of exile. Among them was Sir Edmond Carton de Wiart, King Leopold II’s Secretary and Chairman of the ‘Société Générale de Belgique’. As it was representing the Belgian Government in London, and acted as a Belgian Delegation to the Commission for Relief in Belgium created and presided over by Herbert C. Hoover, the Count’s patriotic mission had an important part to play. The T.C.L. acted as an agency for the Company to order equipment from England and the United States, for its expeditions, technical surveys, sales in free countries, its financial management and its recruitment of personnel for Africa. Recruitment had become impossible in Belgium, so personnel was sought in Rhodesia, South Africa and the United States.
During this War, the Belgian Congo joined the East African campaign and its mining products were used in the Allies’ factories to build armament. During this time, the Union Minière contributed 85,000 tons of copper to production. But at the end of the war, Belgium had contracted a debt of $847 million with the United States. During the great Depression and Recession (1930-39), the first economic crisis for the financial world, industry found itself at a standstill, and the multitude starving despite the over-production of food and full granaries. Suddenly, there was no buyer for copper.
The world, however, resurrected slowly from this chaos but still suffered from the dollar’s devaluation in 1933 and the French franc in 1936, 37 and 38. This was followed by a short period of activity in Katanga until Hitler became Fuhrer and the first German troops invaded Austria in 1938.
Thanks to the amazing foresight of some of the U.M.H.K. authorities as regards the drama which was about to unfold, the operations were intensified in Katanga to increase productivity. During the Second World War, the Union Minière did its best to provide the Allies with the greatest quantity possible of minerals and ‘strategic metals’. Chiefs of State and authorities have duly acknowledged the Belgian Congo’s great and essential contribution to the final victory, but present critics of Belgian colonialism seem to ignore the fact. Between 1940 and 44, Katanga provided 800,000 tons of copper to the Allied forces, ten times as much as during the first World War. Whilst Belgium was under occupation by German invaders, all copper produced in Katanga was reserved for the British Government and was sold to them at a lower price than those current at the time in the United States. This was of great assistance to Britain which was making every effort to build up its armament. Its success depended to a large extent upon the copper it could use. The production of cobalt was also adequate to the needs of the United States and that of the British War Industry. Uranium was delivered to an Organisation representing the Allied Governments at low prices in view of the humanitarian nature of the mission. President Eisenhower also acknowledged this service rendered by stating it constituted an eminent contribution to the defense of the free world.
After the Second World War, Belgium recovered faster than its European neighbours. This was mainly due to the Union Minière’s sales to the United States which amounted yearly to an average of $65 millions paid in dollars or sterling. Consequently, at the time of liberation of the country, Belgium owed no debt whatsoever to the two great powers: Britain and the United States.
During the war, the European personnel worked in a tense atmosphere of anxiety and worry about relatives in Europe and this was aggravated by military operations and a prolonged stay in a tropical climate. The health of the personnel was affected and medical services worked relentlessly. The Union Minière therefore set up a ‘climatic resort’ situated at an altitude of 1,600 m, on the high plateau of Biano for its personnel and their families. Shifts were also organised for holidays on South African beaches.
The Union Minière contributed to Relief organised during the War and its personnel paid near 12 millions of francs to such funds to the benefits of Europeans. In Belgium, the Company’s directors were constantly preoccupied with supporting the moral resistance of the Country and preventing its personnel from being deported to enforced labour by the Nazis. All European personnel was kept in service or enrolled with Welfare Organisations, such as the Red Cross. The Union Minière supported the Red Cross and Colonial Aid to Belgian hospitals which secretly supplied resistance groups and helped families and children of prisoners or of men who had been executed. This humanitarian relief became so obvious that the intelligence and heart of the ‘Résistance’, the President of the Union Minière, Mr. A. Galopin, who was also Governor of the ‘Société Générale de Belgique’, was assassinated by German collaborators on the 28th February 1944.
When Belgium was invaded, the Union Minière secured its administration in the United States and in the Belgian Congo. Mr. Sengier, who was in charge of the great financial and commercial matters and of relations with the Allies and the Belgian Government, resided in New York with a few assistants. One day, in 1942, he received the visit of an American Army Colonel, assigned by the Manhattan Project, the Organisation created by the American Government for Nuclear Research.
- “Could you help the U.S. to acquire Uranium from the Congo?” the Colonel asked. “It is absolutely imperative that they do in relation to the Allies’ objectives...”
- “When do you need it?” Sengier enquired.
- “If at all possible, I would say tomorrow” said the Colonel.
- “Not only is it possible” replied Sengier “You can have thousands of tons of uranium immediately! I have been expecting this for the last twelve months!”
The story goes that a few years previously, at the beginning of 1939, Mr. Sengier had been secretly informed by a British scientist that Germany was involved in research in the field of nuclear fission. He was told about their project of building an atomic bomb and that it was imperative to prevent the Germans to get their hands on precious unranium. Tons of uranium had therefore been dispatched from Katanga to the United States. For this amazing foresight, Mr. Sengier was awarded the Medal of Merit in 1946, the highest American distinction - and it was the first time it was granted to a foreigner. Mr. Sengier also received acknowledgment for his service when a new mineral discovered in Katanga was upon the suggestion of a Professor at the University of Columbia (Paul F. Kerr), called ‘Sengerite’ in 1949.
On the 8th June 1945, the first atomic bomb was exploded over Hiroshima, as a means of assuring peace during the Second World War. The Union Minière du Haut Katanga, however, in the name of the Congo, had done its duty in respect of the Allies and the Western world. It had served Belgium well in the process.
Programme of Investments 1946-65
The Metropolitan offices of the Union Minière employed more than 500 persons during the 50s.
The products of the mining union were sold through the media of the Société Générale des Minerais which specialised in the commerce of metals in Belgium. Most of the deposits were situated in Kipushi, Kolwezi, Musonoi, Ruwe, Lukuni, Luiswishi, Kiswishi, Etoile-Ruashi, and Shinkolobwe.The minerals were treated at the ‘Concentrateurs’ of Kipushi or Kolwezi. The refined material was then sent to factories in Lubumbashi or Jadotville.
During the early 1950s the Company recruited about 1,800 European employees referred to in French as ‘agents’ of different professions but in most cases, the Europeans’ duties were to direct the work executed by qualified Congolese. The figure increased to 30,000 in the sixties. The general conditions of employment were set out on a contract six pages long which gave in details:
1. the duties and obligations of staff;
2. the length of employment;
3. the salary which was paid monthly but calculated by the hour and which permitted the ‘agent’ to work 48 hours per week. It also included a monthly payment calculated according to an index-number in Leopoldville;
4. the conditions of travel for the agent and his family and the conditions of their stay in Katanga. The agent had to work for six months before the company would provide for the agent’s wife and children’s journey to the point of destination. Before departure they received their tickets and spending money for every day of the journey. The choice was theirs, whether by air or sea, unless it had been specifically requested they travelled by air. The agent was allocated a second class train ticket in europe, a first class cabin on a cruise liner of the Belgian Maritime Company and a first class ticket on African Railways.
5. The Company made available to the ‘agent’ and his family a house (villa) which was of a high standard in hygiene and construction. (If photographs of houses are available, their architecture is worth noting). The houses were periodically desinfected with D.T.T. to kill insects and repell them for long periods. They were provided with electricity, running cold and hot water and with the proper modern sanitary facilities (‘fosses septiques’ and toilets). These houses were of a particularly pleasant design all of a similar style but differed from each other. Metallic mesh was fitted to windows which reduced insects and mosquitoes intrusion.
The Company also provided money to the employee so he could purchase furniture on arrival. The ‘agent’ did not pay any rent for these housing facilities; water and electricity was free. All medical cares were given to the employee and his family totally free and the Company promised to pay the ‘agent’ a remuneration in case of accident or professional diseases. All situations such as incapacity in the course of work were foreseen in the contract and accounted for. The contract also included disciplinary sanctions suspension of functions and various situations in which the contract would have to be cancelled. It also covered holidays at the end of the contract. The holiday could be equal to one 12th of the total duration of service and could be doubled if the Company desired to renew the contract. The sum of money allocated for such holidays was as generous as also was the salary itself.
Policies and welfare achievements
The 1950s appear to have been an after-war golden age for Europeans and Africans alike in the province of Katanga, one which is beginning to shine in contrast to some aspects of European economic decline today, to say nothing of the situation in Zaire during Mobutu’s dictatorship (or the Republic of the Congo in the new millennium).
The Union Miniere’s policy was that a stable economy could only be manifested if equal objectives of a social, medical, housing, and educational nature were pursued. The Union Minière was aware that its social achievements had surpassed its industrial mission. From about 1926, the U.M.H.K. became a ‘paternalist’ organisation in the sense that it cared for its personnel, especially native employees who were not accustomed to money and wages. By the mid-sixties, however, these conditions had begun to disappear as policies were adapted and transformed more and more according to the blueprint of practice in European industries.
The Katanga of the fifties was prosperous and compared to a ‘celestial’ State. One spoke of the Katangese birth miracle. During the 1946-55 period, many embassadors, ministers, scientists, businessmen, journalists, cinematographers, economists and technicians, visited the Congo. They were witness to the great achievements realised in the Belgian Congo and Katanga. Smith Hempstone, a Daily News Correspondent in Chicago in 1962, stated in “Katanga Report” that to achieve the same, the U.S. would have had to build free housing for 12 million people. The result, he said, was economic prosperity in which the African worker and the rural population participated. One quarter of the population was wage earner (other natives still lived in their villages cultivating land or were supported in some way). Africans shared in the national income till 1958 or so. Consumption increased. The average indigenous Congolese, however, did not realise that his living standard was higher than it was in neighbouring countries. An African middle class emerged as a result of European promotion. They were encouraged, according to G. Brausch , to become property owners - and in that respect, in my opinion, were more successful than American Indians in adapting to a new culture, because Africans achieved self-sufficiency whereas Indians would generally not. Poverty was being conquered in the Congo as one fifth of the overall population moved towards towns where there were opportunities for work in factories, manufactures, and administrative centres. The government and companies had set up technical and professional schools, as well as craft and agricultural ones. Congolese were able to ascend the social scale in the measure of their professional abilities according to the system of Belgian origin.
Expansion resulted from a vast programme benefitting from the investment of millions of francs in mining equipment, new factories, their extension and the building of dams and of hydro-electric stations, the setting up of a network of electric lines, laboratories, offices, as well as roads, streets and housing for the workers and for welfare purposes.
An impressive programme was also put into operation which involved a lot of research, work and investment to provide the Union Minière with hydro-electric stations which would not be slowed down during the dry season when there was less water available.
The Francqui Station which used the waters of the Lufira River at the ‘Cornet’ falls was modernised four times after 1930. Almost all the electricity used by the U.M.H.K. was provided by this ‘Centrale’ in Madingusha. The activities of the Union Minière caused the creation of 2,600 firms in Katanga by 1954. Auxilary organisations permitted the U.M. to devote itself entirely to its mining and metallurgical activities. Among the companies which supplemented the main industry for the production of electricity were SOGEFOR and SOGELEC. ‘La Centrale Francqui’ used the waterfalls of the Lufira river discovered by Cornet, the geologist, during the Bia-Francqui expedition. The height of these water falls situated 60 kms from Likasi (Jadotville) is 115 meters. A 500 m long and 12m high dam was constructed to create a lake of 45,000 hectares of a capacity of 1,250 million of cubic m. It provided from a minimum of 237 millions of kWh to 484 millions of kWh per year.
In 1945, a second station was built 10 kms away: Bia (so-called in memory of Capitaine Bia who died in 1893). It was put in operation in 1950 at the Kuoni falls on the Lufira and had an average capacity of 200 millions of kWh. This was still not enough so work was started on the Delcommune Station in 1948 at the rapids of Zilo on the Lualaba. This work of art was particularly spectacular and could have been central to tourist development. Its total height was of 72.50 metres and its length 162 m. It accumulated water to a maximum of 20,000 hectares and 1,800 millions of cubic meters. The electric current produced had a 6,600 voltage but was intensified to 110,000 volts by four transformers of 33,000 kVA. It produced 550 millions of kWh by 1954.
A fourth and more powerful station was built in 53-54 which started functioning in 1956: Le Marinel (so-called in memory of the Commandant of the first Belgian expedition which reached the heart of Katanga in 1891). The dam was 68 m high and 180 long. It produced an average of 1,430 millions of kWh per year. The construction of a road for access to the area was a problem because of the scarped nature of the terrain. The Delcommune dam created an artificial lake (3.4 square km) which required a deviation of the existing road from Kolwezi to jadotville. A network of railways was electrified due to this development and most homes were provided with electricity well before the 1950s. The plant in Jadotville constituted the most important industrial group in the Belgian Congo. The network of railways linking the factories and plant in Jadotville was 40 kms long and was electrified.
Later, Katanga was even able to export electricity to Northern Rhodesia by a network linking Le Marinel to Rhodesia! This represented the first interconnection of this kind at an international level on the African continent. The Union Minière du Haut Katanga continued to produce uranium for Belgian Allies after the Second World War for the use of nuclear energy as a deterrent, and collaborated to the creation of a Syndicate for the study of Nuclear Energy (the S.E.E.N.). The Organisation of the United Nations met in Geneva on the 8th August 1955 to open the way to international collaboration in matters of research int he peaceful use of atomic energy. It was attended by U.M. delegates.
Other auxilary organisation wre SOGECHIM (a Chemical Company), COFOKA (Builders), Minoteries du Katanga (for the approvisioning and import of food), Charbonnages de la Luena (providing coal), AFRIDEX (explosives), S.M.J. (Makers of Metallurgical ciment), METALKAT (Metallurgical Company creating zinc concentrates).
A Scholar’s Opinion
According to G. Brausch also, there was no official racism on the part of the Europeans, in the Congo. To compare the attitudes to the American situation (of settlers on the new continent in relation to American Indians), intermarriage was not prohibited by law, for instance. Trade Unions did not reserve jobs for Europeans but the latter were constantly recruited for posts which the natives were not capable of holding in view of the fact they were not able to obtain Belgian qualifications - yet - in the fifties. The cause, as identified by Brausch, was that restrictions of level requirements prevented Congolese admission to Universities - but the same rules restricted not so bright Belgians in the same way. Yet there is evidence that Congolese were educated and received training.
There was no concentration of land in whites’ hands at the expense of the indigenous population as there was at the expense of Indians in the USA. Laws were only discriminatory to satisfy the African Institutions’ requests. Segregation was natural or voluntary because the natives preferred their own way of life or social groups. Ordinances allowed them to receive alcohol beverages in whites’ cafés but they found them more expensive and the novelty wore off. Georges Brausch analysed the Belgian system of colonial administration in Africa during Belgian rule, and the extent to which Africans shared in economic and social progress. He concluded that Belgians deserve high praise and attributes abundance in the Congo in the fifties due to a program of investment by what he calls the Belgian administration (in reality the U.M.H.K.’s management) with its reserve of £150 million. Apart from investments on roads, communication, power, water supplies, he said £79 million was spent on social development: town planning and housing.
From the start - as Brausch notes - directors’ policies were that “high productivity depends on material and social services for the well-being of workers”. They did not wait for legislation to make a social security system part of Industry. My view is that the U.M.H.K. responded to its responsibility of taking charge of matters usually incumbent to Government and State - and it is the reason it became a State within a State. It took charge, for instance, of the completion of the country’s infrastructure and created a medical service devised before employers were bound by law to provide free medical care.
According to G. Brausch , the increase in social welfare with housing, medical care, social assistance, education, protection of labour, was the all-important feature of this colonial rule. He concluded that this society was not exploitative at all in character. Yet, the policy of the State within a State was criticised for being paternalist (the term was first used in this context with a different meaning from that applied to slavery in American history, but this is probably usually ignored). In this case, paternalism had the meaning of “over-protectiveness”. Brausch said it irritated champions of social freedom. With “departernalisation” (and later, nationalisation when the country became Zaire), however, the employee had to provide half of the contributions towards his old age pension. The system prepared Africans for future exercise of democratic responsibilities from 1946, but trade unions were not successful because Bantu people viewed their employer as a father figure. This was due to the fact that there was no concept of wages in the Congo before colonisation - and just as North American Indians were found to be unable to understand the ‘logic’ of the concept of land ownership, Bantu people could not grasp that of wages.
The Union Minière’s Opinion
A Union Minière commentator stated in 1956 that it is no exageration to say that the company was responsible for the progressive moulding of a new type of African man, one who was able to adapt Bantu tradition to the requirements of their new found industrial life. He contended that this was in no way unique but common to all people who had left off the path of survival (in the bush) to develop into a technical civilisation. The anonymous writer also claimed that the Union Minière du Haut Katanga was aware it had responsibilities as regard social development in the context of its industrial mission. He said he believed that the Company’s achievements in Katanga showed what Africans were capable of achieving. He said that at the time policies were paternalists (c. 1926), the native population was actually looked after by the company by the provision of accommodation, food, clothes, and that they were provided with medical care, schools, and even entertainment. However, this paternalism made way for conditions which differed little from those in industrial centres in Europe. All the same, the Union Minière continued to assume responsibility for thousands of native people despite the fact that it should have been incumbent upon public/state authorities to do so (this is supported by photographic evidence).
The U.M.H.K. had objectives of a social, medical and educational nature as well as other projects for the development of the indigenous population of the entire Congo. In 1957, the overall population in the Congo averaged five inhabitants per square km which was little compared to European countries. There was 12 millions inhabitants in the Congo and only two inhabitants per square km in Katanga. One sixth of the overall population migrated towards the towns as people were attracted the prospect of work in factories, manufactures and administrative centres. Primary education was offered to them and as there was a lack of specialised workers in Industry, in cooperation with the Government, Companies set up technical and professional training schools. ‘Artisanales’ (Crafts) and ‘Agricoles’ (Agriculture) schools aimed to improve the living standard in rural areas and the professional schools opened in industrial as well as urban locations ensured the good qualification of workers and technicians after courses which lasted from two to six years.
In order to protect the African individual, a Social Legislation was also elaborated. Such professional organisations served as intermediaries between the employers and the indigenous personnel to represent the latter’s point of view. These syndicates also played a part in teaching the personnel innovations and in preparing an elite among them to the responsibilities they would inevitably have to face due to the constant progress of the working class. Such professional organisations were criticised in Europe as ‘paternalist’ but there was nothing illogical about their methods.
In a treatise on Congolese customs, a Belgian psychologist, Mr. A. Sohier, explained that in the case of the Bantu tribes, they held a paternalist concept of the authorities. He meant that Bantus could not understand their position in relation to their employer due to the fact they perceived the employer as a father figure. At the same time, they did not regard Europeans as ‘masters’ because they knew they were not ‘slaves’. The worker who offered his devoted service was puzzled and disorientated by the introduction of ‘wages’. Sohier contended it had a profound effect upon the autochton society and even modified women’s and children’s lifestyle. This was a problem where the administrations and private employers were concerned.
The large organisations ensured their workers and their families against diseases, and by the means of professional legislations ensured families received education, medical care, housing benefits and adequate food. U.M. managers also endeavoured to keep their manpower in an environment which was favorable to their expansion in the modern world. They were covered by legal insurances in case of accidents, professional diseases as well as received child benefits, and provisions were made for old age pensions.
Houses were built for the personnel which respected the rules of hygiene as well as medical centres and hospital equipped in the most modern way. The companies looked after the welfare of a vast number of African employees, their lodgings, as well as fed them due to their inability to organise their own familial budgets. They received medical treatment including vaccination. Hospitals had been built according to modern requirements of the sixties with a superior standard of hygiene. Particular care was given to birth-related problems where the indigenous population was concerned and this produced a reduction in the rate of infantile mortality.
The O.P.E.N. was an organisation for the protection of indigenous children with a programme to educate pregnant women to look after their health and that of their children. Under the direction of doctors, nurses and nuns (the management of various hospitals was given from about 1926 to religious orders which devoted themselves relentlessly to the well-being of the population), OPEN organised antinatal consultation, supervised labours and frunished nappies and clothes to the indigenous women. Consultations were available for infants at which the baby was washed, weighed and examined by a doctor. Nurses taught the mothers how to bathe babies, clothe and generally care for them and most came everyday.
Young girls attending a housekeeping school also provided help and thereby received training. Milk was distributed every day for the infants as well as food preparations. Children of 3 to 5 years old could be seen once or twice a week by doctors. Whilst they attended school, children were checked medically and a doctor’s advise was sought to decide what kind of work they should pursue at the age of 16 or 17. The activities of the medical department surpassed those of the mining industry and on a total of 700,000 days of hospitalisation given to persons in 1957, 230,000 were to individuals who were not part of the Company’s personnel. It would also take another book to give proper credit to the nuns, priests and members of various religious orders for their missionary work, as well as their assistance in the medical and educational sectors. Education for European children was provided at Institutions which were either ‘free’ (as State) or religious.
Quarters were built for an indigenous family at the back of houses reserved for European employees to employ a cook or general housekeeping assistant. Houses were built with a garage and a garden of generous size with shrubs or a variety of pine trees dividing gardens and properties. It was a subsidiary of the Union Miniere, ‘La Fonciere’ (COFOKA) which realised important constructions, among which a hotel in Kolwezi, a guest-house for Sabena. SOGELEC built entertainment halls, schools, social offices, hospitals and entire towns for the indigenous population called ‘cités’.
Apart from main Governmental legislations and the part private employers have played in improving living standards in the Congo, other great philanthropical endeavours improved conditions in a general manner. One of these Welfare Organisations was the F.B.I. - Fonds du Bien Etre Indigène - which provided funds for the material and moral development of the indigenous population. The U.M.H.K. also built roads where they were needed, wells, water reserves, or medical centres and also established social services. The Congolese also received assistance from FOREAMI (Queen Elizabeth’s Funds for Medical Assistance), FOMULAC (Medical Foundation of Louvain in the Congo), CEMUBAC (Medical Centre of the Université Libre de Bruxelles in the Congo), F.W. Ki (Social Fund in Kivu), and the Red Cross in the Congo.
The management was aware that stability of the Economy could not be obtained without a social programme of this sort. Life became pleasant in Katanga with cinemas, conferences, theatrical shows, clubs and sportive activities and competitions organised by a ‘Federum’. European families found stability for their children with the possibility of an education as good as that found in Europe and grants were even provided by the U.M.H.K. for children of merit to permit their higher education in Belgium. G. Brausch reported that Europeans were criticised for not giving the native population more educational opportunities, but he contended that although Europeans had plans to make the natives equal in culture, the indigenous population failed to grasp the necessity of academic qualifications to attain wealth.
The opening of the Congo’s frontier created for a while a happier society in the fifties and the sixties. The U.F.C. (l’Union des Femmes Coloniales - a Union of Colonial Women), a charitable organisation, organised ‘kermesses’ (fairs) with a fancy dress theme to raise money for Congolese orphaned or destitute children, and particularly to build managed homes for the latter and employ staff. Scouts, lutins and guides assisted in the organisation of such events which required ‘stands’, bands, swings, food and drinks, as well as shows and which attracted families eager for entertainment. For many people, family life revolved in the fifties around religious activities such as Catholic midnight masses, processions and celebrations such those of first communion and confirmation, and the end of academic year school celebrations with giving of ‘prizes’ to all children.
However, seeds of disatisfaction and rebellion, the very origin of which was the Morel conspiracy, had stirred up in Congolese against Europeans, suggesting the native population had a right to wealth and should seize it from Europeans. It was this suggestion which led to acts of violence.
Political background to the Exodus of Europeans from the Congo
It was General de Gaulle who first gave the Congolese the idea of demanding their independence when he declared to a crowd on a visit in Brazzaville in August 1958 that France was prepared to give it to its colonies. After a mutiny on the 4th January 1959, in Leopoldville (Kinshasa), Belgian politicians were forced to consider the matter. The Mwaant Yav, chief of the Lunda Empire, reacted and declared his opinion as to the fact the Congo should be united under a Federal regime. Kasavubu’s party had been responsible for the 1959 mutiny. His ideal was that of a united Congo. Three months later, Comakat, Mr. Moise Tshombe’s party (A Confederation of Tribal Associations in Katanga) also pleaded in favour of a federal government and a decentralisation so as to prepare the future federal states before the Independence Day. The party believed in a cooperation of the Congolese provinces with Belgium. They wanted independence as long as the province of Katanga was ruled by Katangese. They wanted to work with the Europeans. Belgians and Congolese met around the Round Table in Brussels, Belgium to discuss the conditions and means to give the Congo its Independence. Comakat indicated there that Mr. Tshombe’s party would choose secession. However, at the end of the discussion, the latter was made to feel that centralisation would not be excessive.
Patrice Lumumba, the leader of the M.N.C. (National Congolese Movement) accused Tshombe to be a White men’s instrument which he denied. He proclaimed to be the Defender of the Confederation of the Congo. Katanga wanted to declare its independence on the 15th June 1960 as there were fears this couldn’t be done after the Congo was proclaimed independent on the 30th June 1960. But Tshombe was asked not to declare it. He replied that if he respected this rule, he couldn’t be forced to agree with the other parties and he promised the Balubas and Tshokwes that they would have their say in the Katangese Government. However, some provincial elections in Katanga which had taken place previously and in which Mr. Tshombe’s party had scored 25 seats and Mr. Sendwe (Balubakat) 23 on the total of 60 were not satisfactory from the Balubakat’s point of view. Being bad loosers, they claimed they had been falsified.
On the 17th June, the Provincial Government of Katanga was formed and Mr. Tshombe was made President. However, the Balubakat informed the Province that it would form its own government! The following day, Moise Tshombe was in Leopoldville where Patrice Lumumba was forming the Central Government. It was done during the night of the 23rd June, but it did not give Comakat its promised representation. Jason Sendwe was moreover designated as State ‘Commissaire’ for Katanga which was a provocation since his party was endeavouring to form an illegal government in the North East of Katanga!
The colonial administration in Kinshasa learned of a plot to proclaim Katanga’s secession, when a Belgian subject who had apparently sat at the Round Table in Brussels and arrived in Elisabethville (Katanga) on the 23rd June - was arrested (on the 25th June) and found to be in possession of documents signed by Mr. Tshombe and his Minister Mr. Munongo. The letter which had the letterhead ‘Katangese Government’ and was signed by the above personalities, designated this person as special envoy to the Organisation of the United Nations. He was charged with the mission to also announce to the Belgian King in Brussels (King Baudouin Ier) the decision to proclaim Katanga independent on the 28th June 1960. The Katangese Government apparently intended to request Belgium, the U.S., Britain, Portugal and other countries, to recognise Katanga’ secession from the Congo. It was suggested that Tshombe and Munongo feared that after the 30th June, Congolese troops woudld be sent down to the Province in retaliation.
Europeans received a warning and were allowed at short notice to make plans to leave the region or send their wives and children back to Belgium or their own respective countries before the 30th June 1960. Belgium entered into negotiations with the President and asked the Katangese Government to abandon its project of secession, but it was attempted again the day before Independence Day. Consular delegates were invited to attend a meeting in Elisabethville, at the venue of which a proclamation of ‘Independence’ (secession of Katanga from the Congo) was circulated to each member of the Assembly. However, Scholler, upon contacting Mr. Tshombe, a certain Mr. Scholler (a Governor), found out the meeting had been initiated by Mr. Munongo and that Mr. Tshombe had not been informed that it was taking place. The documents which had been distributed were therefore withdrawn and the proclamation was never read!
On the 29th June, King Baudouin Ier landed in Leopoldville and on the 30th June, all of the Congo celebrated its Independence. Not long after, on the 5th July, a mutiny broke out at the military camp of Thysville in the Bakongo when Moise Tshombe was in Leopoldville. On the 6th July, the U.M.H.K. devised routes of evacuation for Europeans for Europe via Rhodesia. On the 9th July, Munongo made an appeal to the population to remain calm and presided over a meeting of the Katangese Cabinet to send the police force to certain areas of the territories. But it was too late, a mutiny in Kongolo and other upraisals in Kabalo, forced the European population into a massive exodus.
Political Developments in the sixties in Katanga
As Jacques Burlion has recorded it in his book “Moise Tshombé Abandonné” the College St. Francois de Sales was transformed into a fortress on that night of the 9th July 1960. On the 10th July, five Europeans were found dead including the Italian Vice-Consul.
It was on the 11th July 1960 that Moise Tshombe proclaimed Katanga independent. He stipulated that the promises of the Congolese Government had not been kept, and that the Central Government’s methods of division and attacks were part of a plot to cause the desintegration of the administrative and military organisation of the Province, so that Europeans would depart and Communist personnel could take their place. The Belgian army proceeded to disarm certain members in the public force and provided protection to Europeans but the Belgian Government still refused to recognise the Katangese Secession officially.
On the 13th July, however, General Cumong gave Tshombe Belgian assistance and appointed Major Crèvecoeur as the new commandant of the Katangese army. This was the origin of rumours and criticism that Katangese wanted to allow europeans to rule over them. They were based on the principle that it was a bad thing to receive European assistance which seems to have slowly been endoctrinated into the indigenous population although the latter had no desire to return to the state the first explorers had found them in. The beliefs were aggravated by allegations of exploitation and the conspiracy’s arguments.
Some natives allowed themselves to become envious and resentful towards Belgian occupants until the problem acquired the proportion of hatred or racism: they still lacked knowledge of what life really is like in other countries, and seemed to associate the fact that colonials seemed to be better off than themselves with the colour of their skin. In Europe, there are different classes, and the elite is more wealthy. In the same way, wages people earn are not dependent upon the colour of their skin. Congolese people seemed confused about these matters and began to imagine the grass would be greener with another country’s technical assistantship. When they turned to Communism for technical assistance, they did not realise that the latter were much less concerned about humanitarian objectives than Europeans. Congolese chose freedom from a paternalist organisation to end up in misery. Under the Belgian regime, and there is photographic evidence for this, at least Congolese people experienced a good life. But later, after they had their independence, the population complained to President Mobutu that it was hungry. The latter continued with his propaganda against past Belgian rule implying it should still have been blamed for Zaire’s disastrous economy.
In New York, the United Nations Security council studied the possibility of intervening in the Congo. Moise Tshombe then wrote to the General Secretary, Mr Hammarskjoeld, to invite him to prove his noble designs. On the 14th July 1960, the Congo’s Prime Minister, P. Lumumba convinced President Kasavubu to discontinue diplomatic relations with Belgium and on the same day, the United Nations voted for a resolution that its forces could only intervene where order was disrupted and to ensure the safety of individuals.
On the 16th July, the Belgian Government officially declared it acknowledged the Katangese secession, stating that this was done to bring peace back to the region and also acknowledged the fact that technical assistance was requested. It assured Katanga of its support. Moise Tshombe made an appeal to the African nations to join him in his crusade against Commuism and in his dream of creating a Confederation of Free States. Brussels was not against such ideals as they knew that the Congo was in danger of falling into Communist hands as long as Lumumba remained in power. The Katangese leader invited the Congolese President to discuss the structures the Congolese nations should be given... Later, King Baudouin took the initiative of making a speech in which he showed himself favorable to the Katangese secession. But two weeks later, the Belgian Government gave Katanga a series of urgent directives as it feared that Soviet troops would intervene in the Congolese affair. Lumumba had actually made a request of assistance to the Eastern block and Soviet men of Affairs arrived in Leopoldville with a loan of 29 Ilyushin transport planes, 100 truckes and 200 technicians the following day. It is not that he was in despair of obtaining U.N. forces assistance, as some authors have suggested, as the U.N. had secured Moise Tshombe’s agreement for the entry of their forces in Katanga and these had already taken up their position. However, disappointed by this support, Lumumba called for the withdrawal of white UN troops, expelled the Belgian Embassador to the Congo, and declared a state of emergency with measures to abrogate freedom of speech! As if this was not enough, he also attacked the UN forces and accepted the Russian offer of aid. On the 12th August, Moise Tshombe met the United Nations’ General Secretary and agreed to the ‘ONUsian’ troops taking their position in Kolwezi.
When the Nationalist P. Lumumba took office in Leopoldville in 1960, Moise Tshombe, the Katangese leader, supported by the Anglo-Belgian Companies, had declared Katanga an Independent State. Moise Tshombe said that he dreamt of establishing a Confederation of African free States, the goal of which would be to achieve economic and political equality with other powers, and to arrest the progress of Communism. In a speech to “all his African brothers”, he made a solemnel appeal to them to shake themselves from the Communist joug and join Katanga in its crusade for liberty and progress. Kivu, Kasai, Rwanda and Burundi which were still under Belgian administrative rule, rallied to Tshombe and the Belgian Government advised him to send emissaries to main African non-Communist governments - at the same time as more than 10,000 demonstrators gathered in Peking in support of the Congolese plight.
On the 5th September 1960, in Leopoldville, Kasavubu fired Lumumba and they dismissed each other; Kasavubu prevailed with support from the army led by Colonel Mobutu and Lumumba was murdered in February 1961. Fearing a Soviet troops’ intervention and realising the potential dangers lurking in the Congolese Crisis - the Belgian Government and the United Nations adopted a policy which Smith Hempstone criticises. Other factors which were perhaps taken into account were Katanga’s annual revenue of $84 million upon which the Congolese economy depended, and the fact that a powerful Confederation of African States may not have been that desirable. In Hempstone’s opinion, the policy was wrong despite the fact that one of the motivation may have been the need to preserve world peace. He contends the affair has apparently shaken the UN foundations and driven a wedge between NATO powers.
Moise Tshombe had proclaimed Katanga’s secession from the Congo on the 11th July 1960. He stipulated that the royal promise to give democratic institutions to Katanga according to the UN Chart of Rights had not been kept since they had to put up with tactics of terror and division (originating from the Central Government in Kinshasa). These, he argued, were the methods of Communist dictators. Disrespecting discipline, he said, soldiers had rebelled, threatened the European population, arrested individuals illegally, ramsacked houses, committed murders and rapes. In his view, the Congolese Government sought a total desintegration of the Katangese administrative and military organisation – it was abnormal to treat one of its provinces in this way! He appealed to the UN and the Belgian Government, and complained that the objective of the method was to frighten European employees so that they would depart and could be replaced by Communist recruits. UN delegates preferred paying lip-service to the request of the Congolese government and claimed their concern was to preserve the Congo’s territorial unity. Ileo, Kalonji and Tshombe then made an alliance and signed a pact which they claimed was to protect themselves from a UN ‘regime of tyranny’, on the 28th February 1961.
The Katangese President, Mr. Moise Tshombe, was in favour of hiring foreign technicians but surprisingly, but the Security Council’s resolution seems to have been to remove foreign advisers. The UN also did little to assist the evacuation of white women and children from Kivu and other provinces. Hempstone contended that if a Lumumbist was maltreated, this was likely to unleash an outcry from the Communist bloc, Afro-Asian nations, and Liberal circles in Britain and America. But if a white (most probably Belgian) woman was killed or molested, no such reaction would occur as if she was already discredited in the minds of the UN’s members who immersed themselved in the matter of the eviction of Belgian personnel from Katanga. Hempstone stated that this made little sense - and that it was difficult to know whether the UN were doing the Communists’ dirty work to preserve world peace or to secure copper for the US !
As a result of the first wave of trouble and by August 1960, the European population in Katanga decreased from 34,000 to 10,000, then returned to 20,000. Tshombe had warned the UN that a blood bath would ensue if they tried to remove white employees of the Katangese Government. Fighting occured in September and December 1961 between Katangese forces and the UN forces, and again in October 1962 after the failure of talks. For such details as set against the political, economic and ethnical background, please consult Smith Hempstone’s book. The Katangese Government published a White Paper on the, Events of September and December 1961 - in French and English, only a few copies of which still exist in the world. It was published because Katangese authorities were dumbfounded over the fact that the UN supported the Congolese government and in the course of their attacks caused damage to hospitals, churches and the Red Cross. They claimed to be particularly upset by the unfairness of UN’s decisions and policies. Claims were made that in order to reintegrate Katanga into the Congo, the UN made war to the Belgians in Katanga but also placed obstacles in the path of reconciliation between Congolese leaders. It was also said that the UN adopted a hotile attitude towards Belgium, a member-nation and attempted to prevent the return of Belgians’ civil servants or private citizens to the Southern region. Yet the UN was unable to provide the Congo with doctors, teachers, technicians or administrators in their required number. The original unity of the Congo which they set out to preserve, was, furthermore, only a provisional constitution of the Belgian law (loi fondamentale) which had not even been ratified.
In March 1961, fourteen Congolese leaders met in Tananarive, the capital of the Malagasy Republic on Tshombe’s invitation. Tshombe opened his Conference by suggesting a common front against the Security Council’s resolutions to force the withdrawal of all Belgian military, parmilitary and advisory personnel from the Congo. The Conference expressed in a communiqué their desire to create a Community of Congolese States, a loose Confederation of nearly sovereign states - without customs or immigration barriers. But the UN and US didn’t like the idea. At the same time, a division was occurring in Katanga due to the fact that the indigenous population noticed Europeans were getting ready to insure their own defense, and reasoned they was going to be robbed of their independence. An increasing number of fearful natives joined the ‘Nationalist’ movement. Not sharing Moise Tshombe’s views in respect of the economy being dependent upon European technical assistance, the Nationalists accused him of being a ‘White men’s instrument’. There also were accusations directed at the Union Minière as to its meddling in Katanga’s politics. This originated from sources who viewed the Union Minière du Haut Katanga as a mining company and were not aware that from the beginning, its functions were comparable to those of a government or State. The mining complex’s management did indeed have domination over Katanga’s economic life since its policies and decisions affected the region’s economy; a break down in the services it provided could just as well have caused a collapse in an indirect manner. An advert published in 1959 said it all: it read (in French) “90,000 Congolese live in the bosom of the great family which the Union Minière du Haut Katanga is for them”. The company had transformed virgin territories and contributed to the birth of a civilisation in the Southern region of Katanga as a result of providing services to its indigenous as well as European employees.
In January 1963, Moise Tshombe put an end to the Secession and the UN troops arrived in Kolwezi whilst mercenaries recruited by the Katangese government took refuge in Angola.
1963-84 in Katanga
In 1963, racial tension increased in Kolwezi as the thoroughly confused indigenous population started rebelling and using the political situation as an excuse to commit acts which would have been viewed as plunder in time of peace. This may have been due to the expansion of the anti-colonialist Communist-supported movement or ‘Nationalists’.
After a self-imposed exile in Europe and many difficulties to gain allies and solutions to the problem of the Provinces, Moise Tshombe accepted Kasavubu’s invitation to return to Leopoldville by the end of June 1964. Kasavubu was President of the Congo at the time. On the 10th July 1964, Tshombe reappeared ont he political scene as Congolese Prime Minister. However, as a result, he became a threat once again. Elections were to take place and as he became convinced that Tshombe would run for presidency, Kasavubu asked him to resign from his post as Prime Minister, and then dismissed him. The situation became confused and on the 25th November 1965, General Mobutu, the Chief Staff of the Congolese Army and former Lumumbist, seized power.
Believing that his motive was to return the situation to normality, Tshombe promised him his support. However, just as everybody took for granted the elections were going to take place, Mobutu suddenly cancelled everything and informed the country he intended to rule it for a period of five years. Disgusted, Tshombe left the Congo, not knowing he would never see it again!
Mobutu however forced the withdrawal of the communist bloc embassies and established a Government of University graduates. He was himself almost ousted by mercenaries but his rule survived. On the 8th December 1966, he demanded that the head office of the U.M.H.K. be transferred to the Congolese Capital of Leopoldville now called Kinshasa. From the 1st January, there was not more U.M.H.K., and the question was for 2500 European technicians whether they would accept the new employer. Provincial assemblies were abolished under Mobutu and the administration centralised for the whole of the Congo in June 1967. In 1983, Zaire’s suppport for Israel was formalised and it continued to provide air-bases for US zones in return for US political support. Mobutu was elected (not re-elected since he had originally dictated his own rule) in 1984. Zaire has encountered considerable difficulties to repay the debts it has incurred with foreign countries as a result of its wars.
How Moise Tshombe was Condemned
Whilst he was residing in Madrid, Moise Tshombe was accused of treason by a tribunal in Kinshasa and condemned to death. In his book “Moise Tshombé Abandonné”, J. Burlion claims that it was the C.I.A. which engineered his kidnapping on the 30th June 1967. M. Tshombe had stated that he was flying to Mallorca to meet some businessmen who had offered him money. The drama took place in mediterranean airspace on board a Hawker-Siddely 125 type plane (G-ASNU) of the Gregory Air Services Limited rented in Geneva. The pilot was authorised to land in Roufarik, a military airport 30 kms south-west of Alger.
Although the Katangese Secession had been unsuccessful, many had hoped that anarchy - if it was continuous in the Congo - could in the future make the phoenix rise again from its ahses, but the Katangese leader, who was kidnapped and imprisonned in Algeria, died on the 29th June 1969.
The condemnation to death decreed in Kinshasa on the 6th March 1967 was based on the following accusations:
- In July 1960, M. Tshombe had proclaimed Katanga independent, armed himself and taken position against the ANC to defend his secessionist regime and suppress the Balubas’ rebellion.
- In February 1965, had estranged the economical independence of the country in his function as Prime Minister, by agreements where lawsuits were concerned with P.H. Spaak (Belgium) and the large Belgian private companies.
- In 1966, had endeavoured to form an army of mercenaries and maintained subversion in katangese units of the ANC with the view to overthrow the new regime.
- Had financed the publishing in the Congo of subversive material, especially ‘Le Léopard Libre’.
The accusers had continued: “Tshombe was elected President of the province of Katanga by elections in the Province. Therefore, he was responsible for the politic of the whole of Katanga. And on the 11th July 1960, he made this province an independent state and gave it a Constitution to make it look as a legal institution, with a so-called national hymn, a so-called ‘Katangese’ flag of green, white and red colours, with crosses and symbols of his choice which he substituted to the national emblems. ‘The accused indicated publicly his intention to obtain recognition of his illegal State by other world States. He sent embassadors to European countries which did not acknowledge them.’
One of the most serious crimes committed by the accused was said to have been ‘circulating so-called Katangese monetary notes which bore the ‘hideous effigy of the accused in order to reinforce the secession and its independence form Kinshasa’s authorities’.
He also ‘ordered the destruction of Congolese notes in the ‘Banque Nationale du Congo’ in Lumumbashi.’
- The accused Tshombe had : ‘sent back the Congolese forces posted in the province of Katanga,’ had ‘replaced them by an irregular army called ‘Gendarmerie Katangaise’, made up of incontrollable hoodlum and of mercenaries recruited mainly in South Africa.’
- This ‘gendarmerie’ (police force) h’helped Tshombe to resist the international forces of the UN sent to Katanga to re-establish the Congo’s integrity.’
At this point Moise Tshombe was getting 20 years imprisonment but the sentence did not stop there.
- The accused Tshombe had ‘reinforced the Katangese forces with planes of French origin and of the type “Fouga Magister” with which he proceeded to exterminate the population of North-Katanga which was hostile to his authority and which opposed itself to the Katangese secession.’
- Tshombe had ‘bombarded (raided) a UN camp where almost 80,000 Congolese not originating from the south of Katanga were trapped and killed. Therefore he was guilty of assassinations because the raid of the UN camp was executed upon his orders.’
- It was then that ‘Tshombe exiled himself in Europe (1st April) when he had ended the Katangese secession, and upon his orders, his forces took refuge in Rhodesia and Angola where they submitted themselves to intensive military training in order to attack the Congo once again and to overthrow its established rule.’
- For all this, it was claimed, Tshombe was condemned to death by law. But there was more:
- ‘Obsessed by his designs to gain power, Tshombe had written a letter dated 5th August 1966 to the President of the Soviet Union the content of which was not know (the allegation was that Tshombe was seeking Communist assistance to overthrow the authorities in Kinshasa but this claim was totally unsubstantiated).
- ‘To execute his plan, the accused, was aided by his brother, Thomas Tshombe, known as Chef Lumanga, who had remained in Lumumbashi.’
Tshombe was also blamed for the assassination of Colonel Tshatshi and 500 persons and for the Ksangani rebellion. The recruitment of mercenaries in France and their training in Ardèche as reported by African journalists was also put in question and the ‘procureur général’ Kabeya also recalled mercenaries’ recruitment in Brussels, at the Café Normandie, situated at 100 m of ‘La Bourse’ of Brussels. Its last meeting had taken place on the 31st January 1967. For this, the accused received 20 years imprisonment in addition to his death penalty.
- Tshombe was also accused of writing articles in the ‘Léopard Libre’ against President Mobutu and M. Diangenda and of referring to them as ‘traitors’ in order to incite the Kimbanguists so that they would oppose themselves to the President of the Republic of the Congo (Mobutu). The Editors of this magazine had run away to Europe!
Jacques Burlion stated, ‘Moise Tshombe was sentenced to death by default on the 17th March 1967.’
When Mungul-Diaka arrived in Algeria to collect the prisonner, he learned, however, that the Algerians required the Congo to pay a high price for this important man. Alger also requested that Kinshasa interrupted its diplomatic and military relations with Tel-Aviv and aligned itself with their revolutionary and progressive goals for African States (the same that Tshombe himself believed in, it would seem) - but President Mobutu could not agree to this transaction, for fear of angering the United Nations. Moise Tshombe, ‘abandonné’, remained imprisonned in Alger, till he died.
Irony and Hope
As the historical background to the creation of the U.M.H.K. has shown, the Belgian team of exploration was the first to settle in and claim Katanga. It was a scramble. However, even after this, large investors from a number of countries participated into the actual colonisation of the Congo. So, in fact, Leopold II’s promises as regards business entreprises to other countries did materialise! Most of the criticism can be traced back to the time when newspapers picked up the story of the scramble for Katanga.
The merged companies became a ‘State within a State’ especially in their hey day. The fact that power rested in the companies’ hands was a source of criticism in relation to Katanga’s secession. Yet it was its investors who created civilization in the Congo.
We have seen evidence of welfare provided to the indigenous population and their share in the economic success in the post Second World War period. It was progressively educated with the goal to acquire full equality with European employees. Political unrest and wars have had a disrupting effect in the Congo and Katanga, as anywhere. Its mining industry has survived but under Mobutu, the people have been starving. The Congolese greatest ambition was to be independent (to be equal) and free from Europeans. But ironically, Mobutu was forced to sell concessions to American Companies because of national debts and economic collapse, which amounts to reverting to the situation as it was before 1908. Since frontiers are slowly disappearing, a country with such an amazing history should open up its doors to tourism as an economic solution for the future.
Georges Brausch Belgian Administration in the Congo
Greenwood Press, 1961
(from the British Library)
Economic and social progress, race
relations, Congolese participation in
Government, Administration structure,
from colonial structure to proposal 1956.
Features of Belgian rule, services,
Paternalism, erring acculturation.
M.E. Chamberlain The New Imperialism, Historical Association
1970. General background on interpretation of
colonisation of Africa.
L.H. Gann & The Rulers of Belgian Africa
P. Duignan Princeton University, 1979.
Probes colonial apparatus, attitudes,
behaviour of civil servants and soldiers
who built empire. 19th c. colonial society,
role of military, administrative power
structure, change from exploitative economy
to enlightened one; interpretations from
Marx to economic theories of 1950s and
political explanations, role of Leopold II.
L.H. Gann & Colonialism in Africa 1870-1960
P. Duignan Vol.1, Cambridge University Press, 1969.
contains extracts by J. Stengers, chap.8.
David Gibbs Political Economy of Third World
Intervention, University of Chicago, 1991.
(from British Library)
Chap. 3: development in relation to Mining
exploitation - Congo dependent upon such
resources; details on character of society.
H. Lamar & Thompson The Frontier in History
North America and South Africa
a comparative study of the Turner
T. Pakenham Scramble for Africa 1876-1912
Abacus, London 1991.
Historical review of colonisation
of Africa. Part iv, p.585 and p.656.
Explorations, founding of three
sister companies which started
exploitation of mineral resources
resulting with development,
details on treaties for land in this
historical background and on
Leopold II’s ‘crusade’ 1876 to
his last throw in 1906.
F.J. Turner The Significance of the Frontier in
American History, Henry Holt and
Louis Cuypers (Editor) Union Minière du Haut Katanga
1906-1956, a book produced by
the U.M.H.K. for the 50th anniversary
of its inception, with the help of Paul
Verlinden (technical adviser).
Printed by Vromant, S.A., Brussels.
published 15th April, 1956.
Major R.R. Sharp En Prospection au Katanga, il y a
cinquante ans (Prospecting Katanga
(explorer) fifty years ago) translation,
educated at Imprimeries et Papeteries Belgo-
Christ Church, Congolaises ‘Imbelco’, Elisabethville,
Oxford. Belgian Congo, 30th September, 1956. contains photographic records.
First-hand experience of very first
exploration in the service of
Tanganyika Concessions Ltd, and
later the U.M.H.K.
Ivac, S.A. Union Minière du Haut Katanga -
Jean Malvaux, S.A., Brussels, 1958.
U.M.H.K.’s Structure and economic role
exportation of products, and how
modern Katanga was born.
Summary of how the formation of
the UMHK contributed to the
development of Katanga.
Jacques Burlion Moise Tshombe Abandonné
a Belgian Journalist Pierre de Meyere, Editeurs, Brussels, 1969.
Examines circumstances surrounding
the mystery of the leader of seceding
Katanga, M. Tshombe’s kidnapping
* * *
Translation of the letter by the Count E.Carton de Wiart, Secretary to King Leopold II which was included in the introduction to the book entitled ‘Union Minière du Haut Katanga 1906-1956’ published by Editions L. Cuypers, Brussels, for its 50th Anniversary.
“The year 1906 was full of worries for King Leopold II, the sovereign of the Independent State of the Congo. For the previous twenty years during which he had created this empire, he had no end of preoccupations. Its territories were immense and he had to place in position the first foundations of an organisation which was not even embryonic in the first place, from an administrative, economic and military point of view. He was supported in this endeavour by a number of exemplary officers and clerks... and upto that time had managed to resolve most internal problems. Foreigners had reacted with scepticism, if not derision to his taking on such a gigantic task...he had been criticised in this difficult period: he was aware of this himself, but tried constantly to improve his entreprise in the name of civilization... When foreign attacks against his administration of the Congo became more violent, I suggested to him to ask a consul to study the situation in other African colonies and to publish his conclusions to defend ourselves against those accusations. However, he rejected this request in a message, the original of which is in the Royal Museum of the Belgian Congo:
‘We are in our right; so, we should not do unto them what we criticise them of doing unto us. We have rights and it is our duty to defend ourselves from those lies ... but it would not do us any good to do more than this. ...
“He believed entirely in the goodness of his project. At that time, some of the most eminent experts in political matters in relation to colonialism, already praised him. Maréchal Lyautey addressed a letter to me in 1930 which read:
“About forty years ago when I started living as a colonial, I learned a lot fom
King Leopold II’s achievement in the Congo: he was an exemplar of creation,
or practical organisation , of liberal initiative, he was aware of the physical , moral and social needs of the native people... it was an inspiration and guidance for me ...
“In 1906, the Belgian Congo’s internal situation was consolidated....the country was beginning to prosper, the administration was well organised, but there were external problems. The anticongolese campaign had been fought with surprising fanaticism. It had left its marks in other countries where opinion as regards the Congo was rarely in sympathy. Some countries even attempted to have a revision of Berlin’s decisions.... And this was after a quarter of a century of heroic efforts which had transformed central Africa, to the advantage, not only of Belgium, but of all the countries of the world as they benefited from the breakthrough. Belgian nationals were only privileged as far as they had been the first to settle there, had more experience and had already established more contacts...
“The king realised it would be wise to invite American and British groups or companies to associate themselves with the Belgians in the Congo. This was the object of his project of founding the main Companies in 1906: the ‘Union Minière du Haut Katanga’, the ‘Society International Forestière et Minière du Congo’ and the ‘Compagnie du Chemin de Fer du Bas-Congo au Katanga’ (BCK). Studies compiled for the anniversary of their 50th year explain in details the foundation, beginnings and the wonderful developments of these three companies. However, these few introductory lines have the object to describe the atmosphere in which they first came to being, and the situation which preceded their coming into existence, which represents an event of major importance for the Belgian Congo.
“The King had contacted some time before then, a certain Mr. Pierpont Morgan, an important banker in New York, and Mr. Thomas F. Ryan, another important American businessman. At first Mr. Morgan had an interest in a project of railways in China in which Leopold II...saw a benefit for Belgium. Mr. Thomas F. Ryan became a faithful associate of the Congo in the ‘Forminière’ (company), the initial program of which was immense, but the perspective of which were vague at first.
“As regards England, the pathway was already in place due to the first prospections realised in Katanga by the Tanganyika Concessions Limited, a company managed by Robert Williams, whom the King already knew.
“Thomas F. Ryan was a tall middle-aged man, with a cool intelligence, who had retired from his business in the United States but who had found greatly attractive the potential which the large virgin territories of the Congo represented, and he invested his funds heavily into the new entreprise.
Robert Williams was totally different. He was Scottish, and full of imagination, with a stamina and endless energy. He had previously collaborated with Cecil Rhodes, and this experience had given him a blind faith in the development of Africa. The idea of working with the King filled him with enthusiasm.
During Spring 1906, the King was aboard his yacht ‘Alberta’ in Villefranche where he had called me to work with him in order to elaborate the first projects of organisation of the three companies. We worked on these projects throughout the summer after his return in Belgium, at the same time as he dealt with other duties, and particularly his famous ‘letter to the General Secretaries’. Hubert Droogmans, the general secretary ‘des Finances’ of the State of the Congo, whom he trusted, came a few times and spent many hours with him to put to the project the finishing touches, and Jean Jadot, also did. The latter - one of his most faithful and devoted counsellors, was the one he called ‘the Great Jadot’ as he particularly admired him.
“This hard work culminated at the end of the year with the founding of the ‘Union Miniere du Haut Katanga’ (28 October 1906), of the ‘Compagnie du Chemin de Fer du Bas-Congo au Katanga’ (31 October 1906), of the ‘Société Internationale Forestière et Minière du Congo’ (6 November 1906).
“Attention has not been sufficiently drawn upon the fact that this triple creation really has an exceptional character. Indeed, in the Congo as well as in Belgium and elsewhere, there normally is at the origin of a financial organisation one or many personalites who, in view of a discovery, or a desire to develop a concept, gather associates, subscribers who set up a company the founders of which will remain the directors and principal beneficiaries. But in the case of the companies formed in 1906, it was a completely different situation: the initiative was made by the government of the State, and more exactly by its head. The latter was looking for men who could be interested to support the program which had come to life in his creative mind. He gave them the responsibility of the entreprise and the management of the concessions. At the same time, the organisation was forced to create and give to the State a number of ‘actions’ (for returns of investments).....
“The organisation thus created, its real founder, the King, retired from the project and only the investors remained, and the State received substantial financial returns, if there were any, without having had any capital outlay.
“As to the history of these three institutions, it is recounted in this commemorative work . Their glorious culmination at the end of the first half of a century of their existence is evident to everyone.... In spite of what people expected, noone was able to foresee the prodigious financial outcome the king’s entreprises would have ... it took many years to reap returns from this labour; it was indeed only in 1919 that a large dividend could be distributed to the investors of the Union Minière. They had patiently waited for it for thirteen years. The international situation was definitely consolidated, Katanga was ococupied and when Belgium took over the king in 1908, it acquired a colony with a durable organisation.”
* * *
George Grey’s letter published in the Morning Post on the 20th January 1903:
I have become convinced of my own accord, during the last two years, that in the district of Katanga, European officers do their best to treat the Central African native in a fair and kind way, and in a similar way as officers from other nations, regard the native as a human being, and give him as much right to demand a price suitable to him for the work or goods he supplies.
* * *
Structure of the Union Minière in the 1950s.
The main offices of the Union Minière were established in Elisabethville and this general management was represented in other centres: in Jadotville for the central region and Kolwezi for the western one. Directors and specialist engineers were made responsible for various categories of operations who also directed the following departments:
* The Department of the Mines (exploitation of deposits according to programmes of production and control of the installations of concentration).
* Management of the main factories responsible for the functioning of metallurgical factories including:
- Management (control) of the factories in Jadotville;
- Management of the factories in Lubumbashi;
* The Department of Studies and Construction for studies and establishment of new installations or extension of existing ones;
* Geological Department, responsible for research, prospection and assessment of mineral deposits;
* Department of Research and Experience for laboratories studies (treatment methods and experimental factories).
* Department of the Indigenous Workforce (for recruitment, instruction and social evolution of the Congolese workers and of their families);
* Medical Department responsible for the sanitary welfare of European andCongolese personnel;
* Technical Secretariat for programmes and general control of production;
* Service of Organisation and of the Securite du Travail (safety in work), to control the industrial output. A Secretarial Administration; a Service of Accountancy; and a division which ordered goods, material and reserves of all sorts from Belgium.
At the Central Administration in Brussels, the various services were:
* The Direction of Brussels and a Secretarial management;
* The Bureau (office) of ‘Ingenieurs-conseils’ (advisors in the matters of geology, mines and metallurgy);
* Research Department;
* The Dept. of Purchases which dealt with the orders from Africa;
* A Service of Products, which organised the transport and insurance of African material in Europe, refining of raw material and deliveries to clients;
* The Dept. of Radium Research (natural radioactive material) and distribution of isotopes in Belgium and research on certain nuclear problems);
* Service of Accountancy receiving and centralising all the data from the accountants operating in the company;
* Service ‘des Contentieux’: for public relations and the administration of the Colony;
* Services of Recruitment, of African personnel and medical service;
* Various internal services to execute administrative affairs;
* * *
A Personal Experience.
On the 9th July, a mutiny broke out in Elisabethville at the Massart Camp. I was 13 years old. We lived in Kambove, 25 minutes from Jadotville. My parents had brought me by car to Elisabethville to stay overnight with two teachers from Jadotville (Melle Liard and Jeanmart) with whom I was going to travel back to Belgium (we had to travel by train to Beira across Rhodesia and Mozambique, then board the Europa of the Lloyds Maritime Company, which was cruising to Venice in Italy, then by train to Namur, Belgium). On their way back to Jadotville, in their 1950 blue Pontiac, my parents apparently met a convoy of cars - refugees from Jadotville who were heading south for Elisabethville and Rhodesia. They understood what was going on but decided to risk going back to Kambove to collect some belongings. At the time of their departure from Elisabethville, they had no knowledge that the situation had escalated so dramatically. My father told my mother to hold on to a revolver they had kept in the glove compartment and continued upto Kambove, they could not risk stopping even if there was an obstruction on the road...
The teachers and myself were staying at the ouse of the B.C.K.’s director as his daughter was also leaving with us by train the next day (the B.C.K. conveniently being the Railways Company in Katanga). We knew nothing of the situation till we were awakened in the middle of the night and told to leave the house and take refuge at Elisabethville’s College St. Francois de Sale, immediately. The street in which the house was situated was calm but after the alert, there were reports on the radio of various skirmishes taking place around the area.
My mother heard of this situation on the radio and was distressed to have left me in the heart of the trouble when her intention was to save me from it. Bags were packed up quickly and we left in two cars as quickly as possible, and arrived at the school at the same time as another hundred or so Europeans. On the roofs of the buildings practically encircling all the inner gounds of the College, some Rambo-type individuals had already taken up their position and we were directed to a classroom where we settled for the rest of the night. I lied down on a woodden desk for the worst night of my life, whilst the teachers sat on the bare floor. The next day I walked around the grounds of the College with the B.C.K. director’s daughter, who was my age. The situation was rather evocative of a medieval castle under siege but with the uggly reality of sanitary facilities having got out of order overnight due to the number of people using the College as a sanctuary! We were told that the Balubas had attacked and that they were using bicycle chains to fight. Fortunately they were prevented from reaching the College thanks to the efforts of the Katangese Police Force. We did not have time to get hungry and later on the same day, we were allowed to leave the compound but were directed to our own private diesel engine to catch up with a train of refugees heading for Bulawayo. We were told to hide under the seats as we would be crossing a certain area of trouble. We caught up quickly with the train of refugees and after one night journey had to change train to head for Mozambique. We were received at the private homes of Rhodesian residents, then continued by train to Beira where we were supposed to board the Europa whilst refugees took another route, because our journey had been organised in advance. Whilst we cruised north, passing Dar-es-Salaam, Zanzibar, Mombasa, Mogadishu and passed through the Canal of Suez to Venice, no news was heard concerning my parents, despite the teachers’ attempts to make contact with the U.M.H.K. They feared the worst, but when we arrived in Namur, I was greeted by a lady whom I expected to be my cousin, but she looked surprisingly like my mother! She had been sent ahead of me by air after staying for a week with a family in Rhodesia!
I returned to Katanga in 1961 - to Kolwezi, where my father had been posted, just in time to live the next events (after a stay of only two months) and to be a refugee again this time on the Benguela railway to Angola, from there to Rhodesia and to Belgium by air. My father came home one evening and told us to pack to go to Belgium: the word had been given that women and children were to travel by train to Luso, Angola. All travelling expenses were of course covered as usual by the U.M.H.K. This included overnight stays in hotels in Angola and Rhodesia, for thousands of people, practically all the families of the U.M. personnel! I stayed in Belgium for six months and returned to Katanga again in June 1962 to live the events of the end of 1962 and of the beginning of 1963. In 1963, my father was attacked and wounded. On that day, we did go home to Ruwe, 3 kms from Kolwezi escorted by U.N. troops!
By September 1962, we started noticing military activity in town - mercenaries were present in our area and fighting soon went on north and south of Kolwezi. The United nations troops advanced from the south and one day we heard that the Katangese had surrendered in Jadotville. The United Nations planes bombarded our airport in Kolwezi, but not civilians’ houses, nor the town. I was hospitalised with both legs in plaster and during this time, listened to military messages exchanged between mercenaries and army posts on certain waves on my transistor. I was sent home early because room was needed for wounded mercenaries. The airport runnaway which was but 2 kms from us was bombarded. The airport building itself was left in a pitiful state. I was sent back to Belgium in 1964, and when I landed back in Kolwezi in 1965, it was still in ruins - I remember people continued to pass under the archway of the front door of the dilapidated airport building for access to the runnaway in order to board aeroplanes.
In January 1963, the Gurkhas suddenly appeared in our street on motorcycles! I was lucky it was no more dramatic than this from my point of view, but many colonials had life threatening experiences.
SCRAMBLE FOR KATANGA
by C. Meuris
* An Historical Review tracing circumstances in which prospection committees were created in countries interested in acquiring territories in the Independent State (of the Congo) because of a gold and copper rush, at the end of last century.
* How Katanga was claimed by one of Leopold II’s expeditions and why one sent by Cecil Rhodes failed.
(1) Criticism of Leopold II’s regime 1890s and early 1900s.
(2) Belgian Colonialism in the Congo.
* How the ‘Union Miniere du Haut Katanga’(U.M.H.K.) was created [A merger between a Belgian company and the Rhodesian Tanganyika Concessions Ltd.; the connection with Cecil Rhodes’ ‘Chartered’.] The present name of the company is ‘Gecamines’.
* How and Why the Congo’s colonisation rested upon international investments before and after becoming ‘Belgian’ in 1908.
* Importance of the UMHK in the affairs of the Belgian Congo (mining industry, politics, over entire period until Mobutu’s rule). Its operations during the World-wars and during Katanga’s Secession.
* Photographic Evidence of Share in Economic Abundance and Welfare provided to the native population (author liaising with Gecamines in Brussels for matters of copyright if any).
Monsieur Alain Godefroid,
Union Miniere S.A., (written to on 26th April, 2000.)
Rue du Marais 31,
About the author: C. Meuris (maiden name),
MA in Translation with language technology. BA (Hons) in Rel. Studies and History, Researcher in the origins of Civilization (MPhil: biography of L.A. Waddell), University of Wales, Swansea. Acted as literary agent (as C. Sandie, author of The Secrets of the Fifth Kingdom) for the French author Jimmy Guieu (d.2.1.00) for various publishing projects.
Born in Jadotville, lived in Kolwézi whilst her father (Léon Meuris) was working as a civil engineer for the UMHK.
After retirement, the latter worked for the Belgian Ministry of Transport.
It was his plans which were chosen for the underground of Brussels whilst he worked for the S.T.I.B.
Copyright 2001 Christine Meuris et Turbulences Web Editions pour l'édition internet. Tous droits réservés pour tous pays
Federation of the Free States of Africa
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