Introduction To The Congo Question: The British Connection


INTRODUCTION TO THE CONGO QUESTION: The British Connection
by Frederick YAMUSANGIE

Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is a pleasure for me to be in front of you and I must admit I feel privileged being here to talk about one of the saddest part of Congolese history and its connection to Britain in bringing about a solution. I would be as brief as possible and other information would come during the debates afterward.

When I was approached to give this talk, I saw it as an opportunity, which one should not miss.

I think there is no need for me to start at the beginning of colonization of Congo. We all know about it.

What I thought I should focus today is the link between the struggle of the Congolese and the support of Britain. I mean British people. This is mainly because we are in London. We are here because of the problem that is related to the quest of Congolese Human Right; the problem, which is keeping many of us looking for a long lasting solution. Although its form varied from one generation to another, Congolese people I have come across are continuously saying “We are not free… We are not independent… The term genocide should also be applied into our case….”

So that led me to a personal dedication in finding the Denominateur Commun to the problems of Congolese since 1885, which I call The Congo Question.

In his book French Lesson In Africa, Peter Biddlecombe, a British writer, said, “Zaire is Britain’s biggest trading partner in French – speaking Africa, but we don't seem to enjoy the amicable relation Zaire has with so many other countries. Which is doubly odd because if it hadn't been for Zaire, or at least Zaire gold, Britain might not have won the last war. For Belgians lent Zaire gold to the British to enable them, in the dark days when they stood alone, to buy armaments from the States.

In this state of affaire, I would like to explain why I always place Britain at the centre of The Congo Question.

At the end of nineteen century, a young man of European descent was given a job in Congo. What he saw there affected his all being. He wanted to expose what he discovered in Congo of King Leopold II. When he turned his energy into writing, that young man became the person we all know today as the British Novelist Joseph Conrad. He decided to bring what he saw in Congo to a wider audience. The cruelties inflicted to Congolese in the name of production and his own experience in Congo became the basis of his masterpiece the novella Heart of Darkness.

As said Albert Camus, a French novelist, “In such a world of conflict, a world of victims and executioners, it is the job of thinking people, not to be on the side of the executioners.”

Joseph Conrad, as a thinking person, knew where he should stand.

A t the turn of the century almost one hundred years ago after the rise of Western imperialism in Africa and in the time of the exploitation of the Kingdom of Kongo, nearby kingdoms as well as neighboring lands, were branded Congo Free State; it became almost as natural seeing a Congolese being brutalized, humiliated or even killed than expecting a hot day in Congo itself, in the name of productivity or industrial capitalism. Maybe the term Free in Congo Free State was a Carta Blanca to those involved in the project as administrators in whatever they did in the name of bringing ‘Light' into ‘Darkness', in which we saw the natives being stripped of their human dignity.

The horror of that inhumane treatment of the Congolese in the hands of the Belgians at the time, according to Michela Wrong, in her book In the Footstep of Mr. Kurtz , left approximately ten million Congolese dead ; which is also confirmed by the Congolese journalist, Norbert X Mbu – Mputu in his book Cent ans d' Evangelisation du Mai-Ndombe (Diocese d'Inongo) Par les Pères de Scheut , by the Belgian priest Father Daniel Van Groewheghe in his book Du Sang Sur Les Lianes , and also in other books such as the King Leopold's Ghost by Adam Honchschild.

This may confirm that the exploitation of Congo by King Leopold II was among the biggest and most horrific genocides in the last hundred years.

By writing his novella Heart of Darkness, Joseph Conrad started a consciousness related to The Congo Question. Here in Britain, it became acceptable and fashionable to defend the human right of Congolese. It is beyond the scope of this speech to go on details about all the people who became associated to the cause of Congolese.

The publication of that novella brought about the need to defend the human right of Congolese. And the struggle took a different momentum when people such as E. D. Morel, Sir Roger Casement and William Sheppard joined it. Morel was the one who stood out the most.

E.D. Morel was a British national and a critic of the Belgian government policies in Congo Free State. His discoveries of Leopold II's exploitation came from his insider experience working as a clerk for Elder Demptser, a Liverpool-based shipping line, in Britain. When he found the discrepancies between the report (with regard to amounts of import/export goods) compiled by Congo Free State and his own findings, his conscience was challenged. He then quit his job and devoted his time and energy to express his growing concerns about the treatment of natives in Congo and other part of Africa. He wrote many books and pamphlets that openly accused Leopold's Congo Free State of violating human rights and of slaughter. He also published the picture of Congolese with mutilated hands to give the liberation of Congolese a different twist.

The reaction to those pictures in Britain was overwhelming. It resulted in the formation of a movement known as The Congo Reform Association, which was co-founded by Sir Roger Casement and E.D. Morel himself. Most popular individuals of the time joined the struggled as Mr Morel was clever enough to publish those pictures in his newspapers.

I think it is an example for today's Congolese editors and journalist to follow.

And then Britain became the centre of the Congolese liberation movement. Many great minds of the time joined the struggle. The people such as Mark Twain and Sir Arthur Canon Doyle became a part of it.

My friends, I must assure you that there is power in writing; and many people here in Britain are ready to help the Congolese in the quest for solving The Congo Question.

There are here in Britain those people who are ready to sacrifice their life for the Congolese cause. One of the questions the Congolese should ask themselves is “Are we using the right format in trying to connect with our British allies?”

So for something that started as a small book called Heart of Darkness and later on created such support from the British in the cause of the Congolese, there should be a need in coping it. And I can assure you that although dormant; the Congolese still have their vital support within the British people.

For some reason Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness is unknown by le commun de mortel in Congo today. And I urge all Congolese people today to read Heart of Darkness.

Heart of Darkness is the tale of Charles Marlow, an English seaman, who went to the Congo. Marlow, the fictional character and the narrator, told his adventure to his friends on board a cruising yawl called the Nellie on the river Thames overlooking Gravesend while it was immobile.

Early in his tale, he points out to his friends “The conquest of the earth, which mostly means the taking it away from those who have a different complexion or slightly flatter noses than ourselves, is not a pretty thing when you look into it too much.”

He then sums up the ethos of the imperial enterprise in “They were no colonists; their administration was merely a squeeze, and nothing more, I suspect. They were conquerors, and for that you want only brute force – nothing to boast of, when you have it, since your strength is just an accident arising from the weakness of the others. They grabbed what they could get for the sake of what was to be got. It was just robbery with violence, aggravated murder on a great scale, and men going at it blind – as is very proper for those who tackle a darkness …”

Are those problems, expressed by Joseph Conrad in Heart of Darkness, still alive today? That is the question.

According to my dear friend Professor Yuko Kurahashi, those problems still exist.

Quoting from her speech in the Conrad Society (UK) thirtieth international conference under the leadership of Dr Keith Carabine, Professor Kurahashi said, “Coltan is used to manufacture cellular phones and laptop computers – so today it is a very important commodity. Are the Congolese being fairly treated by those who want coltan? Under the colonization of Leopold II and the Belgian government, natural resources such as Ivory and Rubber were extracted. Today it is coltan. … It is very important to realize that we have been exploiting others and their resources, and that with today's technology the process may be more subtle but no less dangerous.”

Although some of us are now aware of the link between the extraction of coltan and the misery of the Congolese in the East of their country, we are allowing ourselves to be ‘blinded' by the comfort that brings the gadgets such mobile phones and laptops. Are we not???

Talking about the slaughter of the Congolese in the hands of the Belgian of the time, I would like to get a quotation from a letter that Joseph Conrad sent to Sir Roger Casement, “ And the fact remains that in 1903, seventy five years or so after the abolition of the slave trade (because it was cruel) there exists in Africa a Congo State, created by the act of European powers where ruthless, systematic cruelty towards the blacks in the basis of administration, and bad faith towards all the other states the basis of commercial policy .”

There is a passage in the book French Lesson in Africa, although it should not be attributed to the author but it is worthwhile pointing it out. It says “… And probably because the last thing we want is for Africans to do things for themselves. Just think what chaos a self-sufficient Africa would cause to the world's agriculture and industry.”

Can these last phrases sum up the new attitudes of the Congolese long-time allies, I hope not. Or it is because the Congolese themselves are not using the right format in propagating their problems.

That is an open question….

To conclude, I would like to say that we are living in period of greater opportunities. Anything is possible. We should be ready to open our hearts and minds to greater and greater possibilities and also to be prepared to any eventuality. We are living in the information age. Information is becoming available at the click of a mouse. I believe the conscientiousness that led to the formation of The Congo Reform Association in Britain, is still alive.

Thank you.

This speech was made during the Conference held by Wake Up Congo in London.

Frederick Kambemba Yamusangie is a novelist, playwright and poet who was born and partly brought up in Zaire (now known as the Democratic Republic of Congo) in Africa. He studied communication engineering at the University of Kent at Canterbury in England and now lives in Essex, United Kingdom. He is the author of Full Circle (iUniverse Inc., 2003, Lincoln, Nebraska, USA) and Beneath the Blue Sky: A Short Book of Poetry (Baltimore, PublishAmerica, 2005, 79p)

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CongoVision
26/4/2006

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