Belgian Congo


In preparation for the peace conference that was expected to follow World War I, in the spring of 1917 the British Foreign Office established a special section responsible for preparing background information for use by British delegates to the conference. Belgian Congo is Number 99 in a series of more than 160 studies produced by the section, most of which were published after the conclusion of the 1919 Paris Peace Conference. The Belgian Congo (present-day Democratic Republic of the Congo, called Zaire 1971−97) was an enormous colony in southern Africa, ruled by Belgium from 1908 until 1960, when it became an independent republic. From 1885 to 1908, it was known as the Congo Free State and administered as the private property of King Leopold II of Belgium. The book covers physical and political geography, history, social and political conditions, and economic conditions. The historical section recounts the political and diplomatic process by which Leopold, working through the International African Association and claiming to be acting out of humanitarian and philanthropic motives, managed to secure acceptance by the European powers of his personal sovereignty over this vast territory. It touches only briefly on the massive abuses of the indigenous population that have been documented by researchers and that led to the transfer of control from the king to the Belgian state. No estimate is given for the size of the ethnically and linguistically diverse population. The economic section emphasizes the importance of rubber production and mining—especially of copper, diamonds, and gold—in the colony. The study concludes with a “Note on Katanga,” the large province in the south, which, because of its physical characteristics, climate, and railroad links, “cannot be regarded as part of the Congo, but rather belongs to Rhodesia.” This province was especially important for its copper mines, and it remains a major mining center in present-day Congo.

Last updated: July 23, 2015