Some Congolese Apologies
It only remains to examine some of the Congolese attempts to answer the unanswerable. It is but fair to hear the other side, and I will set down such points as they advance as clearly as I can:
1.—That the Congo State is independent and that it is no one else’s business what occurs within its borders.
I have, I trust, clearly shown that by the Berlin Treaty of 1885 the State was formed on certain conditions, and that these conditions as affecting both trade and the natives have not been fulfilled. Therefore we have the right to interfere. Apart from the Treaty this right might be claimed on the general grounds of humanity, as has been done more than once with Turkey.
2.—That the French Congo is as bad, and that we do not interfere.
The French Colonial system has usually been excellent, and there is, therefore, every reason to believe that this one result of evil example will soon be amended. There, at least, we have no Treaty obligation to interfere.
3.—That the English agitation is due to jealousy of Belgian success.
We do not look upon it as success, but the most stupendous failure in history. What is there to be jealous of? Is it the making of money? But we could do the same at once in any tropical Colony if we stooped to the same methods.
4.—That it is a plot of the Liverpool merchants.
This legend had its origin in the fact that Mr. Morel, the leader and hero of the cause, was in business in Liverpool, and was afterward elected to be a member of the Liverpool Chamber of Commerce. There is, indeed, a connection between Liverpool and the movement, because it was while engaged in the shipping trade there that Mr. Morel was brought into connection with the persons and the facts which moved him to generous indignation, and started him upon the long struggle which he has so splendidly and unselfishly maintained. As a matter of fact, all business men in England have very good reason to take action against a system which has kept their commerce out of a country which was declared to be open to international trade. But of all towns Liverpool has the least reason to complain, as it is the centre of that shipping line which (alas! that any English line should do so) conveys the Congo rubber from Boma to Antwerp.
5.—That it is a Protestant scheme in order to gain an advantage over the Catholic missions.
In all British Colonies Catholic missions may be founded and developed without any hindrance. If the Congo were British to-morrow, no Catholic church, or school would be disturbed. What advantage, then, would the Protestants gain by any change? These charges are, as a matter of fact, borne out by Catholics as well as by Protestants. Father Vermeersch is as fervid as any English or American pastor.
6.—That travellers who have passed through the country, and others who reside in the country, have seen no trace of outrages.
Such a defence reminds one of the ancient pleasantry of the man who, being accused on the word of three men who were present and saw him do the crime, declared that the balance of evidence was in his favour, since he was prepared to produce ten men who were not present and did not see it. Of the white people who live in the country the great majority are in the Lower Congo, which is not affected by the murderous rubber traffic. Their evidence is beside the question. When a traveller passes up the main river his advent is known and all is ready for him. Captain Boyd Alexander passed, as I understand, along the frontier, where naturally one would expect the best conditions, since a discontented tribe has only to cross the line. To show the fallacy of such reasoning I would instance the case of the Reverend John Howell, who for many years travelled on one of the mission boats upon the main river and during that time never saw an outrage. No doubt he had formed the opinion that his brethren had been exaggerating. Then one day he heard an outburst of firing, and turned his little steamer to the spot. This is what he saw: “They were horrified to find the native soldiers of the Government under the eyes of their white officers engaged in mutilating the dead bodies of the natives who had just been killed. Three native bodies were lying near the river’s edge and human limbs were lying within a few yards from the steamer. A State soldier was seen drawing away the legs and other portions of a human body. Another soldier was seen standing by a large basket in which were the viscera of a human body. The missionaries were promptly ordered off the beach by the two officers presiding over this human shambles.” And this was on the main river, twenty years after the European occupation.
7.—That land has been claimed by Government in Uganda and other British Colonies.
Where land has been so claimed, it has been worked by free labour for the benefit of the African community itself, and not for the purpose of sending the proceeds to Europe. This is a vital distinction.
8.—That odious incidents occur in all Colonies.
It is true that no Colonial system is always free from such reproach.
But the object of the normal European system is to discourage and to punish such abuses, especially if they occur in high places. I have already given the instance of Eyre, Governor of Jamaica, who was tried for his life in England because he had executed a half-caste at a time when there was actual revolt among the black population, of which he was the leader. Germany also has not hesitated to bring to the bar of Justice any of her officers who have lowered her prestige by their conduct in the tropics. But in the Congo, after twenty years of unexampled horror and brutality, not one single officer above the rank of a simple clerk has ever been condemned, or even, so far as I can learn, tried for conduct which, had they been British, would assuredly have earned them the gallows. What chance would Lothaire or Le Jeune have before a Middlesex jury? There lies the difference between the systems.
9.—That the British charges did not begin until the Congo became a flourishing State.
Since the Congo’s wealth sprang from this barbarous system, it is natural that they both attracted attention at the same time. Rising wealth meant a more rigidly enforced system.
10.—That the Congo State deserves great credit for having prohibited the sale of alcohol to the natives.
It is true that the sale of alcohol to natives should be forbidden in all parts of Africa. It is caused by the competition of trade. If a chief desires gin for his ivory, it is clear that the nation which supplies that gin will get the trade, and that which refuses will lose it. This by way of explanation, not of apology. But as there is no trade competition in the Congo, they have no reason to introduce alcohol, which would simply detract front the quality and value of their slave population. When compared with the absolute immorality of other Congo proceedings, it is clear that the prohibition of alcohol springs from no high motive, but is purely dictated by self-interest.
11.—That the depopulation is due to sleeping sickness.
Sleeping sickness is one of the contributory causes, but all the evidence in this book will tend to show that the great wastage of the people has occurred where the Congo rule has pressed heavily upon them.
So I bring my task to an end.
I look at my statement of the facts and I wince at its many faults of omission. How many specific examples have I left out, how many deductions have I missed, how many fresh sides to the matter have I neglected. It is hurried and broken, as a man’s speech may be hurried and broken when he is driven to it by a sense of burning injustice and intolerable wrong. But it is true—and I defy any man to read it without rising with the conviction of its truth. Consider the cloud of witnesses. Consider the minute and specific detail in the evidence. Consider the undenied system which must prima facie produce such results. Consider the admissions of the Belgian Commission. Not one shadow of doubt can remain in the most sceptical mind that the accusations of the Reformers have been absolutely proved. It is not a thing of the past. It is going on at this hour. The Belgian annexation has made no difference. The machinery and the men who work it are the same. There are fewer outrages it is true. The spirit of the unhappy people is so broken that it is a waste of labour to destroy them further. That their conditions have not improved is shown by the unanswerable fact that the export of rubber has not decreased. That export is the exact measure of the terrorism employed. Many of the old districts are worked out, but the new ones must be exploited with greater energy to atone. The problem, I say, remains as ever. But surely the answer is at hand. Surely there is some limit to the silent complicity of the civilized world?