Learn more about Belgian Congo
|Official language(s)||French, Dutch|
The Belgian Congo was the formal title of present-day Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) between King Léopold II's formal relinquishment of personal control over the state to Belgium on 15 November 1908, to the dawn of Congolese independence on 30 June 1960.
Léopold gave up control of his personal property, the Congo Free State, mainly due to international outrage over the brutality of his reign. Annexation to Belgium was accomplished by means of the Treaty of November 15, 1908, approved by the Belgian Parliament in August and by the King in October of the following year. The colony was administered by a governor-general at Boma, assisted by several vice governors-general. In Brussels, there was a colonial minister, who presided over the Colonial Council of 14 members, of whom 8 were appointed by the King and 3 chosen by the Senate and 3 by the Chamber of Deputies (lower chamber). The colony was divided into 15 administrative districts. The colonial budget was voted annually by the Belgian Parliament.
When the Belgian Government took over the Congolese Administration from King Leopold II, the situation in the Congo improved dramatically. Economic and social changes transformed the Congo into a "model colony". Hospitals and primary and high schools were built, and many Congolese had access to them. Even the ethnic languages were taught at school, a rare occurrence in colonial education. Doctors and medics achieved great victories against the sleeping disease (they managed to eradicate the disease). There was a medic post in every village, and in bigger cities, people had access to well equipped hospitals. The Administration continued with the economic reforms with the construction of railways, ports, roads, mines, plantations, industrial areas, etc. In the 1950s, life expectancy was around 55 years (today it is 51). At the time, the Congo's gross national product was the highest in Africa.
But the Belgian administration has been characterized as paternalistic colonialism. The educational system was dominated by the Roman Catholic Church and, in some rare cases, Protestant churches, and the curricula reflected Christian and Western values. For example, in 1948, fully 99.6% of educational facilities were controlled by Christian missions. Native schooling was mainly religious and vocational. Children learned how to write and read, and some mathematics, but that was all.
Political administration fell under the total and direct control of the mother country; there were no democratic institutions. The head of the state remained the King of the Belgians (who, already at the time, no longer had any political influence). The Belgian government controlled the country, but day-to-day operations were carried out by the governor general (see Colonial heads of Congo), who was appointed as a colonial administrator by the government.
Together with the paternalistic point-of-view of the Belgians, there was a kind of "Apartheid", as curfews for natives and other such restrictions were commonplace.
In 1952, Governor-General Petillon wrote to the Secretary of Colonies, saying that something had to be done in the Congo, and that if nothing was done, Belgium would lose this rich colony. He wanted to give the native people more civil rights, even suffrage. The Belgian government was against this proposal, saying that "it would only destabilise the region". In Belgium, some progressive members of Parliament wanted to incorporate the Congo into the Belgian Kingdom. Native Congolese people would thus be Belgian citizens, and would therefore have full political rights.
However, Belgium was not very interested in its colony, as the government never had a strategic long-term vision about the Congo. Nevertheless, there were some internal political changes, but these were complicated by ethnic rivalries among the native population.
 The rise of nationalism
|History of DR Congo|
The seeds of Congo's post-independence woes were sown in the emergence in the 1950s of two markedly different forms of nationalism. The nationalist movement — which the Belgian authorities, to some degree, turned a blind eye to — promoted territorial nationalism wherein the Belgian Congo would become one politically united state after independence. In opposition to this was the ethno-religious and regional nationalism that took hold in the Bakongo territories of the west coast, Kasaï, and Katanga.
In the early 1950s, these emerging nationalist movements put Belgium under increasing pressure to transform the Belgian Congo into a self-governing state. Belgium had ratified article 73 of the United Nations Charter, which advocated self-determination, and both superpowers put pressure on Belgium to reform their Congo policy. The Belgian government's response was largely dismissive. However, Belgian professor Antoine van Bilsen, in 1955, published a treatise called Thirty Year Plan for the Political Emancipation of Belgian Africa. The timetable called for gradual emancipation of the Congo over a thirty-year period — the time Van Bilsen expected it would take to create an educated elite who could replace the Belgians in positions of power. The Belgian government and many of the évolués were suspicious of the plan — the former because it meant eventually giving up the Congo, and the latter because Belgium would still be ruling Congo for another 3 decades. A group of Catholic évolués responded positively to the plan with a manifesto in a Congolese journal called Conscience Africaine, with their only point of disagreement being the amount of native Congolese participation.
 The Mouvement National Congolais
ElisaParallel to this was genesis of the Mouvement National Congolais (which was technically formed in 1956). The MNC was led by charismatic future prime minister Patrice Lumumba and supported the idea of complete unity for the Congo territory upon its independence. The party spread quickly after its formation to at least 4 provinces (there were six at the time). In 1959, an internal split was precipitated by Joseph Kalonji and other MNC leaders who favored a more moderate political stance (the splinter group was deemed Mouvement National Congolais-Kalonji. Despite the organizational divergence of the party, Lumbumba's leftist faction (now the Mouvement National Congolais-Lumumba) and the MNC collectively had established themselves as by far the most important and influential party in the Belgian Congo. Belgium vehemently opposed Lumumba's leftist views and had grave concerns about the status of their financial interests should Lumumba's MNC gain power. However, the MNC gained a clear majority in the Congo's first independent elections and forced Belgium to acknowledge Lumumba as Prime Minister.
 1959 and 1960: accelerating towards independence
Following the Léopoldville riots and Kasavubu's encarceration, 1959 initially saw the legalization of all Congolese political parties, followed by general elections throughout the Congo. The electoral activity resulted in all kinds of maneuvers by Congolese parties from which three political alliances emerged: a coalition of the federalistic nationalists of which consisted of six separatist parties or organizations, two of which were ABAKO and the MNC - Kalonji, the MNC-Lumumba, and finally that of the strong-man of Katanga, Moïse Tshombe, conscious of the economic vitality of its area and the business interests of the Mining Union (just like Kalonji with respect to the diamond exploitations in Kasaï). In 1960, the Round Table of Brussels was convened and occurred between January 20 and February 20. Congolese representatives and Belgians set the stage for nationwide elections later in the year. In May took place the legislative and provincial elections which marked new cleavages and alliances (the high vote-count for ABAKO) from which a compromise resulted: Joseph Kasavubu was elected President by the Parliament, Lumumba being a Prime Minister.
- This article incorporates text from an edition of the New International Encyclopedia that is in the public domain.
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