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Foreign News: We Did Not Steal

3 minute read

“The Belgian Congo will remain Belgian,” affirmed Belgium’s Minister of Colonies, Albert de Vleeschauwer, rebutting hints that Germany may get the Congo in the same way that she got Sudetenland (see p. 25). “We did not steal the Belgian Congo and nobody will steal it from us.” Chimed Premier Paul Henri Spaak before the Chamber of Deputies: “The Congo belongs to us. Our rights to it are established and nobody can contest them.”

Belgium did not steal the Congo. Famed for its Pygmies and the Congo River (longest in Africa, second longest in the world), the Congo, a dank jungle—about one-third the size of the U. S.—lying astride the equator, is valuable to Belgium as a source of copper, rubber, palm oil. The river mouth was discovered about 1482 by a Portuguese, Dioga Cào, but for three centuries little colonization was done. In the middle 19th Century intrepid British explorers pushed into the interior and in 1873 famed Explorer David Livingstone died while charting the river’s headwaters. Equally famed H. M. Stanley, sent to rescue Livingstone, remained to become the first white man to journey down the Congo to the sea.

British businessmen ignored Stanley’s proposal to establish trading posts in the Congo, but shrewd King Leopold II of the Belgians, in the market for a colonial empire, sent him into the region as the representative of a Belgian association of traders. In a few years Stanley had so expanded the association’s influence through trading posts and treaty alliances with petty native chiefs that by 1885 the world powers at Berlin agreed to recognize the Congo as a sovereign, free State, under control of the trading company. Leopold’s next step, as head of the company, was to have himself declared the sovereign.

At the end of the 19th Century grave charges of maladministration were made against the company’s rule. Arab slavers had been largely suppressed, it was admitted, but cannibalism was practiced, natives were forced into labor and the association had a strangle grip on all trade. Various commissions of inquiry failed to humanize the company’s rule and finally in 1908 the Belgian Government formally took over the Congo’s administration.

The only former German territories now in Belgium’s hands are the cattle-raising Ruanda plateau and the Urundi district, both part of German East Africa, ceded to Belgium by a League of Nations mandate. As to the return of these properties, Belgians last week said nothing.

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