Minister Wilson to the Secretary of State.
Brussels , March 5, 1906 .
Sir: I have the honor to inclose, under separate cover, a copy of a treatisea upon the administration of the Independent State of the Kongo, by Felicien Cattier, professor of the University of Brussels. The publication of this book has created a profound sensation in Belgium and has called out an animated discussion by the press and spirited debates in the Belgian House of Representatives.
On February 20 the leader of the Socialist party, Mr. Vandervelde, interpellated the Government as to its attitude toward the charges contained in Mr. Cattier’s book and made his interpellation the occasion for a fierce and eloquent attack upon the administration of the Kongo.
Making Mr. Cattier’s book the text of his speech, Mr. Vandervelde directly charged the Kongo administration with the maintenance of the institution of domestic slavery in the Kongo regions; with cruel and barbarous practices toward the native tribes; with a system of taxation amounting practically to confiscation; with violation of the stipulations of the treaty of Berlin guaranteeing [Page 90] equal trade facilities and rights to all nations; with perversion of the revenues derived from Belgian loans to the Kongo to the King’s private exchequer; with subornation of the press, and the maintenance of an organized bureau of corruption. It is regarded here as peculiarly significant and as confirming in a large measure the serious charges contained in the book of Mr. Cattier, that after interpellation the Government should have made no reply to his radical and serious charges, except in the way of simple denial.
After some days of discussion, Mr. Beernaert, minister of state and conservative deputy, offered the following resolution:
The House, iu harmony with the ideas governing the foundation of the Independent State of the Kongo by the act of Berlin, renders homage to all those who have devoted themselves to this work of civilization, and in view of the conclusions of the commission of inquiry into the administration of the State of the Kongo, and relying upon the improvements which the commission on reforms is at present studying, and also upon the future execution of the same, decides to proceed without delay to the consideration of the project of law of August 7, 1901, for the administration of the colonial possessions of Belgium.
It is to be noted that the resolution of Mr. Beernaert was adopted after the House had rejected an amendment to that motion calling upon the administration of the Kongo for all documents, accounts, and reports bearing upon the matters in debate for the information of Congress.
The debates had in the House, the trend of expression in the press, the discussions in clubs, literary organizations, and at social gatherings indicate that Cattier’s book has crystallized the spirit of discontent with the administration of the Kongo which has been for a long time prevalent, but without the opportunity of utterance.
While Mr. Cattier’s book is too voluminous to permit of a full translation by this legation, a general outline may be found useful.
The author starts out with a statement that the existing maladministration of the Kongo is due essentially to the initial error of attempting to administer the finances of a colony for the welfare of interests in the motherland rather than for the good of the colony itself.
The character of the administration is thus described:
The clearest and most incontestable truth resulting from this study is that the State of the Kongo is not a colonizing State; that it is scarcely a State at all; it is a financial enterprise. The primary objects of those in control of its administration have been financial, viz:
Increased revenue by taxation; rapid drainage of the natural richness of the country; the construction of such public works only as would increase the productivity of the soil, such was the policy of the State: All beyond that has been simply subsidiary. The colony has been administered neither in the interests of its inhabitants, nor yet in the economical interests of Belgium. Procure for the sovereign King a maximum of revenue, this has been the inspiration of the Government’s zeal.
Nor, according to the evidence offered by Mr. Cattier, does the Government appear to have been very scrupulous in its choice of the means of enlarging the Kongo revenue. He states that the stipulations of the Berlin conference guaranteeing free commerce to all nations have been nullified:
Free commerce does not exist in the Kongo, in any of the five regions just enumerated, and which form the total area of the territory of the State.
Relative to the recruiting of workmen and soldiers by force, Cattier says:
Generally the most tender course of procedure consisted in the purchase of domestic slaves from the native chiefs, who were taken to the stations chained together with iron collars.
The following letter, published by Consul Casement in his report, is worthy of production in this connection:
“The chief N’Gulu, of Wangata, is sent to Maringa to buy slaves for me. I beg the agents of the Abir (a commercial organization) to kindly report to me any wrongs he may commit while en route.
“Coquilhatville, May 1, 1896.”
It is admitted that since 1896 there has been an improvement in many ways, but the author states, and seems to prove, that taxation has steadily increased and is now exorbitant.
According to the figures of author, the taxation of the native population of the Kongo during the six years passed has amounted to 55.3 per cent of all visible resources.
The rate of taxation for adjacent African colonies is shown to be as follows:
British East African Protectorate, 1902–3, 1.6 per cent; 1903–4, 6 per cent.
German East African Colony, 15 per cent.
Kameroun, 3.5 per cent.
French Kongo, 4 per cent.
Mozambique Company, 11 per cent.
Every native of Mongola yields an annual profit into the treasury of the Kongo companies or to the royal exchequer of 756 francs ($152).
Continues Mr. Cattier—
one of the strangest creations of the sovereign King is the judicial person to whom is given the name of “Domain of the Crown.” The domain of the crown was established by a secret decree of March 8, 1896, and was not made public before 1902; in that year an abstract of the decree appeared in the Official Bulletin, together with one of a new decree of December 23, 1901. The texts of these two royal decrees have not been made public, and it is not yet known whether the decree of 3901 simply made additions to the patrimony of the domain of the crown, or whether it completes and modifies its organization. The abstract of the two decrees published in the Official Bulletin gives no details.
The area of the domain of the crown, as shown by Mr. Cattier, is immense:
Calculated with the greatest care, it amounts to 289,375 square kilometers, which is a territory equal to ten times the area of Belgium, to half the area of France, and 2½ times that of England. It covers more than one-fourth of the rubber zone worked during the last ten years (1,026.875 square kilometers).
The revenue of the domain of the crown from 1896 to 1905 makes an enormous total. Mr. Cattier makes two estimates of the sum total, obtaining, respectively, 80,738,000 francs and 85,270,000 francs. The revenue of the domain for that period may therefore be moderately estimated at 70,000,000 francs.
The purposes for which this large accumulation of money was designed was to some extent explained by the prime minister, Count [Page 92] de Smet de Naeyer, in the Belgian House of Representatives, July 3, 1903. He stated that the present object was the creation and endowment of public institutions and works in Belgium, as well as in the Kongo, it being the ultimate purpose to extend the benefits and privileges now held exclusively by the King to Belgium, and eventually to incorporate the Kongo with Belgium.
Mr. Cattier also presents evidence that the domain of the crown has purchased in the districts of Brussels and Ostend property valued at about 25,000,000 francs.
Commenting on these expenditures, Mr. Cattier says:
It would be a fundamental error to admit that tbe finances of a colony are not to be administered in its exclusive interest and solely for its development. Even if tbe revenues of the domain of the crown had been obtained without abuses and without crimes, the sovereign King should not have the right to expend them in luxurious works in Belgium. Belgium is rich enough to bear the expense of all her useful and necessary works.
Moreover, upon occasions when reforms have been demanded, the government of the Kongo, while admitting their necessity, has declined to realize them on the ground of poverty. Its budget has been closed with a deficit while millions belonging to the same were wasted in Belgium in the execution of works of luxury, in the purchase of consciences, and in dubious and dark dealings.
Analyzing the State of the Kongo budget, Mr. Cattier says:
If we compare the receipts of the State with the expenses, ordinary and extraordinary, the acknowledged deficit is only 27,000,000 francs. Nevertheless, the nominal capital of loans of all kinds made amounts to 130,000,000. The State has thus borrowed 130,000,000 to cover a deficit which by its own estimate amounts to 27,000,000.
Relative to the difference between the official statements of the Kongo government and the report of the commission of inquiry, Mr. Cattier says:
Nothing is more striking than the contrast between the official statements of the Kongo government and the report of the commission of inquiry:
|“Report of the secretaries-general to the sovereign King.||
July 15, 1900.
“Report of the committee of inquiry.
|“The judiciary statistics demonstrate the vigilance exercised by the investigating magistrates, in ascertaining infractions of the law, and their efforts are so directed as to lead to the punishment of all offenses.”||“The offenses committed under the compulsory system have rarely been referred to justice.”|
The book of Mr. Cattier gives several illustrations like the above of the difference between the official reports and the report of the committee on inquiry.
Relative to government employees and agents, Mr. Cattier says:
The Kongo State dispenses systematically with the services of the most distinguished of its agents. Valuable services rendered, instead of gaining the recognition and approval of the administration, only engender suspicion, and eventually bring about retirement. Not a single distinguished colonial was placed upon the recently organized reform commission.
Speaking of the attitude of the press toward the Kongo State, Mr. Cattier alleges the existence of a press bureau, and says:
This organization prepares most of the articles appearing in the newspapers friendly to the Kongo State. It is only fair to admit that certain Belgian newspapers belonging to the three great political parties have resisted the solicitations of the Kongo officials, and refused the gold of the domain of the [Page 93] crown. The State has thought it wise and proper to remunerate not only the devotion of newspapers and magazines, but also that of certain correspondents and reporters.
Commenting upon the evidence against the Kongo administration which has recently been accumulated, Mr. Cattier says:
Whosoever would have a year ago charged a tenth part of the facts now definitely established would have exposed himself to prosecution and would have found it practically impossible to prove his accusations. His conscience might have absolved him, but the judges would have convicted him.
That his motives in formulating the charges contained in his book may not be misunderstood, Mr. Cattier says:
To avoid any misunderstanding of my intentions, I wish to declare formally that I have been guided in the work I have presented by a double conviction—I believe that under prevalent political conditions in Europe the monarchical form of government is that which best serves the interests of the people. I firmly believe that not only is the Kongo useful and necessary to Belgium, but that the latter could not decline to accept its incorporation without incurring the charge of moral decadence and incapacity.
While Mr. Cattier does not demand the abandonment of the Kongo, he believes that the present régime of operating it through the juridical person, called the domain of the crown, should be abolished, and that free commerce should be established.
The salvation of the natives and the economical prosperity of the State can be obtained only in this way.
The author pronounces himself categorically for the annexation of the Congo to Belgium:
Immediate annexation is the sole honorable issue of the present situation. This question will demand solution very soon under difficult circumstances for the dynasty, when the problem of the succession to the thrones of Belgium and the Kongo must be determined. To-day the whole matter might be adjusted without danger.
It is probable, on account of the great interest taken in the Kongo question in England, that an English translation of Mr. Cattier’s interesting work will be made. If I learn of the existence of an English translation I will obtain the same and forward it to the department.
I have, etc.,