Belgian Congo (addition) - Encyclopedia

GEOGRAPHICAL NAMES Spanish Simplified Chinese French German Russian Hindi Arabic Portuguese

This article from the 1922 extension to the 1911 encyclopedia is an update of the information in the article Congo Free State.

BELGIAN CONGO (CONGO FREE STATE, 6.917). - Read justments of the Congo-Uganda frontier, and the incorporation in 1919 of the greater part of Urundi and Ruanda, increased the area of the colony by some 19,000 sq. m., and its inhabitants by, approximately, 2,500,000 to 3,000,000. The total area of Belgian Congo in 1920 was estimated at 928,000 sq. m. A census was taken for the first time in 1917. It was not complete but indicated that the pop. was little more than 7,000,000. In 1921, including Ruanda and Urundi the estimate was 10,- 000,000. In 1918 white inhabitants numbered 6,487, of whom 3,3 0 7 were Belgians. British numbered (in 1917) 820, of whom 588 lived in the Katanga province. Elisabethville (founded 1910), the capital of Katanga, had a white pop. in 1920 of about 1,600. It had many fine buildings and most of the amenities of a European town.

Trade, Agriculture and Communications

The most striking development in the resources of the country from 1909 was the exploitation of the copper mines of Katanga. They were worked by the Union Miniere, in which British capital was largely interested. Since Dec. 1909 the mines had had a direct outlet by railway to the E. coast at Beira. The output of copper rose from 997 tons in 1911 to 27,462 tons in 1917; it was 22,000 tons in 1919 and 19,000 tons in 1920. The copper-bearing belt is about 250 m. long and from 25 to 50 and more m. wide. The chief mine is at Kambove and has been worked since 1913. The ore is smelted at Lubumbashi, where in 1918 were seven furnaces with a producing capacity of 40,000 tons a year. Up to the outbreak of the World War all the Katanga copper was bought by Germans; thereafter it was sent to Britain. Tin is also mined in Katanga, but up to 1921 little had been done to exploit its iron and gold deposits and diamondiferous areas. Since 1913, however, an extensive diamond field in the Kasai basin along the Angola border has been worked. The stones, averaging ten to a carat, are found in the river gravel or in alluvial deposits. The output was about 90,000 carats in 1917 and over 200,000 carats in 1920. The gold mines at Kilo and Moto, worked since 1905, had an output in 1918 of some 90,000 ozs. The gold is found in placer deposits.

Next in importance to copper mining was the development of the palm-oil industry, which up to 1911 had been practically confined to the Mayumba district. In that year the British firm of Lever Bros. obtained large concessions in the interior to develop the cultivation of the oil-palm and to erect factories on the spot for crushing the oil. The company set to work with energy and the result was seen in largely increased exports. In 1910 the export of palm kernels was 6,141 tons, of palm oil 2,160 tons; in 1916 the figures were 22,391 tons and 3,852 tons respectively. Cocoa, rice and cotton were also increasingly cultivated and the fall in the value of rubber led to a much larger collection of copal, the amount exported, 2,139 tons in 1911, being 8,719 in 1916.

The value of exports, about £6,500,000 in 1910, was over £1 1 ,000,- 00o in 1916. During that period rubber fell from being 77% to 15 in value of the exports of produce of the colony, though the quantity exported-3,000-4,000 tons - was about the same. From 1914 onward copper and palm kernels and oil were the chief exports. A considerable part of the trade, export and import, was in transit, chiefly with French Congo, which had no direct communication with the sea except through Belgian Congo. The value of imports fell from £3,300,000 in 1910 to £2,380,000 in 1914. It varied much during the World War, being £2,100,000 in 1915, not quite £5,000,000 in 1916, £3,200,000 in 1917 and £3,500,000 in 1918. Before the war 60 to 70% of the imports came from Belgium, which also took the bulk of the exports. During the war external trade was almost wholly with Great Britain; after 1918 Belgium recovered part of the trade, though that with Britain continued much above pre-war figures and was worth £2,000,000 in 1919.

Considerable energy was shown in railway construction and by the end of 1918 there were combined railway and steamer routes from the mouth of the Congo to Dar es Salaam and Cape Town.

A railway 168 m. in length from Kabalo, on the Lualaba, along the Lukuga valley to Albertville on Lake Tanganyika was begun in 1911 and completed in 1915. The railway which connects at Sakania with the. Rhodesian railways and runs through Katanga reached Elisabethville in Oct. 1910, Kambove, the mining centre, in 1913 and Bukama, at the head of navigation on the Lualaba in May 1918. The length of the Katanga line is 450 m. and it is of the standard South African gauge. From Chilongo, on the Katanga railway, the building of a line westward to the Angola frontier - about 400 m. - was in progress in 1921. This line is to link up with the Benguella railway and put Katanga in direct communication with Lobito Bay, thus reducing the distance to Europe, compared with the Beira route, by over 3,000 miles.

Progress was made in improving river and lake navigation. Kinshasa, on Stanley Pool, possessing better accommodation supplanted its neighbour Leopoldsville as chief river port in 1915. In 1911-3 a pipe-line was laid from Matadi, on the Congo estuary, to Stanley Pool to supply the river steamers with petroleum for fuel and reservoirs capable of holding 8,000 tons of oil were built. In 1921 a seaplane service was started along the Congo river from Stanley Pool to Stanley Falls.


Taxes on imports and exports, not exceeding the equivalent of io % ad valorem, direct taxation of Europeans, and a poll tax on native adult males, a tax on ivory and the Government share in the exploitation of mines were the chief sources of revenue; the administrative services and interest on debt the largest items of expenditure. The abandonment of the trading monopolies of the old Congo Free State, and the taking over of its loans put a severe strain on the resources of the colony. Revenue increased from about £1,400,000 in 1909 to £2,320,000 in 1918. In each of those years expenditure was greater than receipts by sums varying from £400,000 to £1,500,000 and new loans had to be contracted. The public debt in 1919 was 349,000,000 francs. With the development of commerce, and especially of the Katanga mines - in which the colony had a two-thirds interest - the prospects of balancing the budget became good. A loan of 500,000,000 francs was raised in 1921 for public works.


From the date of its annexation by Belgium (Nov. 15 1908) the country was placed under the control of a colonial minister responsible to the Belgian Parliament, which has modelled the administration much on the lines of a British Crown Colony. The abuses and misgovernments which were fostered by the Leopoldian regime were remedied as quickly as was possible. Most of the trade monopolies held by Leopold II. and his associates were abandoned and foreign traders encouraged. Care was taken that the natives enjoyed security of land tenure - though ownership remained with the State - and the right to dispose of their own labour freely. Moreover in 1910 the natives were granted a measure of local autonomy; their chiefs were - for the first. time - officially recognized and were entrusted with large powers. These powers had a tendency, however, to make the chiefs, at least those of minor importance, simply agents of the State.

Another step in decentralization was taken in 1912 by the subdivision of the former unwieldy territorial division and by the grant of wider initiative to the commissioners of the divisions. But it was found that the Government was still too highly centralized and, in 1914, the various divisions were grouped into four provinces over each of which a vice-governorgeneral presided, aided by a consultative council on which non-official Europeans had seats. This left the governor-general, and the council of government free to deal with matters affecting the colony as a whole, including the preparation of the budget. The governor-general had, however, practically no authority in the province of Katanga, which, in 1910, except that it had no separate budget, became a separate colony. Its vice-governor-general exercised all the executive functions of the governor-general and corresponded directly with Brussels.

In general the new native policy was successful, though trouble arose from the difficulty, due to crippled finances, of securing an administrative personnel of the best type. Many of the old agents of the Congo State had to be retained. One of these officials in the Tanganyika region was in April 1912 sentenced to ten years' imprisonment for summarily executing 11 native prisoners, including 4 women and a child. But that the natives as a whole were satisfied was shown by their attitude during the World War. A column of about 600 men cooperated with French forces in the operations in Cameroon and other units aided in the defence of northern Rhodesia. An army of over io,000 men was raised for service in the East African campaign. At the outset of the war Belgium had endeavoured - unsuccessfully - to preserve neutrality in her Congo colony, and the first act of hostility was committed by the Germans (see East African Campaigns). In the result the north-western part of German East Africa was conquered by the Belgian native troops (as described in the article on the campaign) and from Sept. 1916 to March 1921 a considerable area of that country was under Belgian administration. Of this area nearly all the province of Urundi and the greater part of Ruanda were permanently assigned to Belgium by an Anglo-Belgian agreement of Sept. 1919. This was a notable addition not so much to the area as to the resources and population of the Belgian Congo. Ruanda and Urundi are healthy, fertile, highlying regions, thickly populated and great cattle-raising areas. The agreement made Kivu entirely a Belgian lake. By a previous Anglo-Belgian protocol (May 1910) the Congo-Uganda frontier had been modified so as to give Belgium the western shores of Albert Nyanza and in Feb. 1915 another agreement fixed the frontier between Albert Nyanza and the CongoNile watershed.

Baron Wahis, the first governor-general under Belgian administration, was succeeded in May 1912 by M. Fuchs. In 1916 M. Henry became governor-general. On his retirement the Belgian Cabinet departed from precedent by choosing, Jan. 1921, as the new governor-general a man without previous colonial experience - M. Maurice Lippens, governor of East Flanders. M. Louis Franck, the Belgian Colonial Minister, paid a visit to the Congo in 1920. His visit coincided with a period of unrest both among the white civil servants and among the natives, due to the high cost of living. For some time the majority of the white officials were on strike, while certain native tribes rose in revolt.

See A Manual of Belgian Congo, a British Admiralty publication (1920); M. Halewyck, La Charte Coloniale (3 vols. 1910-9); A. J. Wauters, Histoire Politique du Congo Belge (1912); E. M. Jack, On the Congo Frontier (1914); H. Waltz, Das Konzessionwesen im Belgischen Kongo (1917); F. Fallon, L' Agriculture au Congo Belge (1918). (F. R. C.)

- Please bookmark this page (add it to your favorites)
- If you wish to link to this page, you can do so by referring to the URL address below.

This page was last modified 29-SEP-18
Copyright © 2021 ITA all rights reserved.