The Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) has a long and complicated history with Belgium. The history is complicated by King Leopold’s quest to make Belgium great which began July 1, 1885, when the King decreed that all lands belong to the state. Belgium extracted rubber, ivory, diamonds, and uranium from the Congo but made few local investments. Instead the legacy of colonial Belgium is of no schools, no hospitals, no infrastructure except that which facilitated the export of resources.
Historians describe Belgian colonialism as perhaps, the most cruel and brutal form of colonialism ever inflicted on a people. The Belgians had no interest in investing in the Congo or its people and some speculate that by the eve of Congolese independence in June 1960, the aspiring nation had only sixteen African university graduates out of a population of more than thirteen million. There were no Congolese engineers or physicians. During Belgian colonialism, most Africans worked the mines and plantations as indentured laborers on four- to seven-year contracts, in accordance with a law passed in Belgium in 1922. The few roads, railroads, electric stations, and public buildings that existed were constructed by forced labor.
“The colonialists care nothing for Africa for her own sake. They are attracted by African riches and their actions are guided by the desire to preserve their interests in Africa against the wishes of the African people. For the colonialists all means are good if they help them to possess these riches”- Patrice Lumumba
Earlier, during the brutal reign of King Leopold villagers were flogged publicly, burnt to death and their hands were cut off if they didn’t produce enough rubber. Soldiers were ordered to cut off the hands of all those they killed as proof that they did not waste the ammunition they had been given. In fact every soldier was supposed to produce a right hand for every shot fired.
The United States, Belgium & The Congo
In April 1884, seven months before the Berlin Congress, the United States became the first country in the world to recognize the claims of King Leopold II of the Belgians over the territories of the Congo Basin. Later, the US was interested in the Congo because uranium from Congolese mines was used to manufacture the first atomic bombs that were dropped over Hiroshima and Nagasaki during World War II. The US was also interested in preventing Russia from utilizing any resources from this region as part of its cold war strategy. However, the newly elected Congolese leader, Patrice Lumumba did not line up with western interests.
Patrice Lumumba, the first legally elected prime minister of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), was assassinated on 17 January, 1961. His assassination took place barely seven months after independence. Although historians tell different accounts about the death of Lumumba, one is certain. The US and Belgium orchestrated the coup and assassination of Lumumba. Historians point out that US President Dwight Eisenhower during a National Security Council Meeting gave an order for the assassination of Lumumba with no objection from those present. The US justified their decision by implying that Lumumba’s communist tendencies could be compared to those of Cuba and therefore needed to be curtailed. Although Belgium admitted that the assassination fo Lumumba was driven by a desire to control resources they have never attempted to pay restitution for their acts. In fact, most diamond trade between Africa and the rest of the world still takes place in Belgium, further giving them the privilege to control this lucrative industry. They feel intervention in the Congo was justified because of their fear of communism, economic collapse, civil war, and protection of European citizens.
“The day will come when history will speak. But it will not be the history which will be taught in Brussels, Paris, Washington or the United Nations…Africa will write its own history and in both north and south it will be a history of glory and dignity- Patrice Lumumba
Perhaps, it was the following speech delivered by Lumumba on Independence day (June 30, 1960), that gave the US and Belgium justifications for their action. It is now apparent that as long as the Congo possesses vast amounts of mineral wealth, it will continue to be a volatile region.
PATRICE LUMUMBA AT INDEPENDENCE, JUNE 30, 1960
Men and women of the Congo,
Victorious fighters for independence, today victorious, I greet you in the name of the Congolese Government. All of you, my friends, who have fought tirelessly at our sides, I ask you to make this June 30, 1960, an illustrious date that you will keep indelibly engraved in your hearts, a date of significance of which you will teach to your children, so that they will make known to their sons and to their grandchildren the glorious history of our fight for liberty.
All that, my brothers, we have endured. But we, whom the vote of your elected representatives have given the right to direct our dear country, we who have suffered in our body and in or heart from colonial oppression, we tell you very loud, all that is henceforth ended.
The Republic of the Congo has been proclaimed, and our country is now in the hands of its children. Together, my brothers, my sisters, we are going to begin a new struggle, a sublime struggle, which will lead our country to peace, prosperity, and greatness. Together, we are going to establish social justice and make sure everyone has just remuneration for his labor [applause].
We are going to show the world what the black man can do when he works in freedom, and we are going to make of the Congo the center of the sun’s radiance for all of Africa. We are going to keep watch over the lands of our country so that they truly profit her children. We are going to restore ancient laws and make new ones which will be just and noble. We are going to put an end to suppression of free thought and see to it that all our citizens enjoy to the full the fundamental liberties foreseen in the Declaration of the Rights of Man [applause].
We are going to rule not by the peace of guns and bayonets but by a peace of the heart and will [applause]. And for all that, dear fellow countrymen, be sure that we will count not only on our enormous strength and immense riches but on the assistance of numerous foreign countries whose collaboration we will accept if it is offered freely and with no attempt to impose on us an alien culture of no matter what nature [applause].
In this domain, Belgium, at last accepting the flow of history, has not tried to oppose our independence and is ready to give us their aid and their friendship, and a treaty has just been signed between our two countries, equal and independent. On our side, while we stay vigilant, we shall respect our obligations, given freely. Thus, in the interior and the exterior, the new Congo, our dear Republic that my government will create, will be a rich, free, and prosperous country. But so that we will reach this aim without delay. I ask all of you, legislators and citizens, to help me with all your strength.
I ask all of you to forget your tribal quarrels. they exhaust us. They risk making us despised abroad.
I ask the parliamentary minority to help my Government through a constructive opposition and to limit themselves strictly to legal and democratic channels. I ask all of you not to shrink before any sacrifice in order to achieve the success of our huge undertaking.
In conclusion, I ask you unconditionally to respect the life and the property of your fellow citizens and of foreigners living in our country. If the conduct of these foreigners leaves something to be desired, our justice will be prompt in expelling them from the territory of the Republic; if, on the contrary, their conduct is good, they must be left in peace, for they also are working for our country’s prosperity.
The Congo’s independence marks a decisive step towards the liberation of the entire African continent [applause]. Sire, Excellencies, Mesdames, messieurs, my dear fellow countrymen, my brothers of race, my brothers of struggle–this is what I wanted to tell you in the name of the Government on this magnificent day of our complete independence.
Our government, strong, national, popular, will be the health of our country. I call on all Congolese citizens, men, women and children, to set themselves resolutely to the task of creating a prosperous national economy which will assure our economic independence.
Glory to the fighters for national liberation!
Long live independence and African unity!
Long live the independent and sovereign Congo!