By - Adedoyin Shittu
Congo is roughly the size of Western Europe. The country is extremely rich in gold, copper, timber, tin, diamond, Coltan (found in mobile phone), cobalt (found in mobile phones battery) and many other mineral resources.
64% of the world’s coltan, a precious mineral needed for our mobile devices, is found in Congo.
Congo has the potential to be one of the richest countries in the world even richer than Dubai but the wealth only trickles to a few hands and most is looted away by the Western powers and multinational companies.
Congo untapped resources is estimated to be equivalent to the GDP of Europe and the United State combined, yet the people of the Congo are one of the poorest on earth
Congo in the 19th Century
King Leopold ascended the Belgium throne in 1865. 9 years later, Henry Morton Stanley, an American explorer and journalist captivated Europe with the riches in Africa.
This was after African slavery has lost its shine. This got the attention of the Belgium ruler who was interested in expanding his colony. Congo, compared to Belgium is about 76 times bigger than Belgium.
In 1878 the King turned to Stanley to help him take over the Congo which he did in 1879.
Stanley approached the Congo chiefs and tricked the chiefs into signing a treaty of land ownership to King Leopold forever and also assist in human labour in return for a piece of cloth per month. This made Congo a personal property of King Leopold.
In 1879, King Leopold named his “Congo The Free State” and he said his mission was to free the Congolese from foreign oppressors namely the Arab slave traders who are kidnapping the native people and selling them in to slavery abroad. Though this was a guise to what he really had in mind.
In 1884, 14 European countries sat in Berlin in what is known today as the “Berlin Congress” and looked at the map of Africa to share the continent among themselves. Congo fell in to the hands of King Leopold II and he assured the Europeans that his regime will bring prosperity and fair trade to the Congo.
In 1887, John Dunlop discovered rubber tyre as a useful and inexpensive way to “revolutionalise” travelling. This was a big break to King Leopold as the Congo was one of the few places in the world where rubber grew wild.
He formed “Force Publique”, an army of Belgium in Africa and got them to forced Congolese natives in to rubber harvesting. This was a dangerous work that involves scaling on top of a tree where the valuable vine is hung.
King Leopold rush to corner the rubber market led to a “reign of terror” and a new form of slavery in the Congo.
Long whip called the “chicotte” is used to whip natives or the natives had their right hands severed when they do not meet their rubber quota. This chicotte when used, tear open the skin of the native and 20 strokes is enough to render the receiver unconscious. 50 to 100 strokes are often fatal.
When the workers collapse due to exhaustion, starvation or disease, the army shot them and were ordered to cut off their hands as proves that bullets were not wasted.
In the 23 years, King Leopold ruled Congo; he was responsible for the massacre of 10 million Congolese people. He killed them by flogging them to death, starving them into forced labour, holding children ransom, cutting off their hands and genitals and by burning villages. He did all these without even setting foot in to Congo.
In 1896, a German newspaper reported that 1308 hands had been gathered in one day.
But to the outside world, Congo seems like a perfect colony, profitable and civilised and all thanks to King Leopold but Congo the Free State was anything but Free.
By 1901, Congo was one of the world largest suppliers of rubber and king Leopold lived a high life in Belgium. This led to suspicion by a British journalist who noticed huge wealth in form of rubber trade leaving the country but nothing is going in, except arms and ammunitions which were not used by the natives.
Congo after the reign of King Leopold II
In 1908, the Belgium government was forced to confront the African holocaust after mounting evidence against the king and King Leopold was forced to hand over control of the Congo to the Belgium government. By this time king Leopold massive wealth gotten from the rubber trade was safely tucked away in his Swiss account.
One would think that the Congolese will be relieved but the cruelty continued. This is because of the discovery of huge mineral resources in Congo soil. So the system of forced labour went from rubber to mineral resources
The Belgium renamed the country “Belgium Congo” and they ruled for the remaining 50 years till independent was won in June 1960.
The Belgium boasted to the world of their help to the Congolese people and how they built churches, medical centres and elementary schools.
But there was a limit to the Congolese freedom in their country, under the Belgium rule, no native could vote and there was no system of higher education for blacks.
By 1956, there was only 17 college graduates among the 15 million people. The Belgium deliberately discouraged the Congolese from going far in their educational pursuit in order to keep them under their rule. The Belgium motto was to “keep the African ignorant and not educated so as to prevent a potential present”. This changed in the late 1950s.
Patrice Hemery Lumumba role in Congo independence and his brief
After decades of colonial rule, African across the continent began to demand equal rights from their colonial masters including Patrice Lumumba of Belgian Congo.
Patrice Hemery Lumumba, born in the village of Onalua in Kasai province, Congo on July 2, 1925 was a member of Batetela tribe which is one of the smallest tribe in the country.
Despite the fact that he only got a primary school education at a Protestant Mission school, Lumumba strove to ensure that he improved his education and did not allow the lack of education hold him back.
Patrice Lumumba saw the injustice facing his people and decided to take a stand. He started writing poems and essays for the Congolese journals to indicate the difficulty of the Belgian regime.
He also applied for and received full Belgian citizenship
He began his political activities at the Postal office in Leopoldville now Kinshasa.
In 1955 Lumumba became the regional president of a purely Congolese trade union of government employees that was not affiliated to the Belgium trade union federation.
In 1956, Lumumba was invited on a study tour to Belgium but on his return he was arrested in 1958 for the misuse of postal funds by the Belgium but was soon released.
In October 1958, he founded the National Congolese Movement and became its president.
In December 1958, he attended the first All-African people’s conference in Accra, Ghana where he met nationalists from across the African continents. He was made a member of the permanent organization set up by the conference.
As the clamour for independence intensified, the Belgian government announced a program intended to lead to the independence of Congo beginning with local elections in December 1959. But this was viewed by the nationalists (Lumumba’s party) as an attempt by the Belgian government to install puppets so they announced a boycott of election.
The Belgian government then tried to repress the people but this led to a riot in Stanleyville that resulted to 30 deaths.
Lumumba was arrested in 1959 for making an inciting speech which was calling for rebellion which brought about the riot. The Nationists decided to change tactics and decided to contest in the election. They won with a sweeping victory in Stanleyville.
Lumuba was released on the insistence of his party members in order for him to attend the Brussels Round Table Conference of January 1960. In this conference, a date of Independence was agreed upon.
Though Lumumba emerged as the leading politician of the new Congo, he was forced to make an unholy coalition with Joseph Kasavubu, his rival to become the nation’s prime minister while Kasavubu became the nation’s first president after independent.
Lumumba wanted to govern independently but it was difficult as there were only 30 Congolese graduates in the country. So it was agreed that the Belgium will support the nation for 5 years including the control of the army.
The Independence celebration was short-lived as a few days after independence; some units of army started a mutiny which led to the breakdown of the country. Moise Tshombe used the opportunity to proclaim that Katanga, a mineral rich province, is seceding from Congo. The Belgian troops landed in Katanga to sustain Tshombe secessionist regime out of interest in the region’s rich mineral deposits.
Lumumba sought the assistance of the assistance of the United Nations (UN) to pursue the Belgian troops and restore order in the country but the UN declined and the secession continued.
Disgruntled Lumumba then went to the Soviet Union who became an ally in his struggle for independence. This alarmed the Western powers because of the cold war between the Soviet Union and the western powers.
This led to the dismissal of Lumumba in September of the same year but this was contested by Lumumba supporters.
In October 1960, Lumumba was placed under house arrest by the United Nations but his supporters organised his escape to Kasai. He was captured again at the end of November 1960 and was imprisoned at Thysville. On Joseph Mobutu order, Lumumba chief of staff, Lumumba was executed to death by firing squad.
Belgo-Katangan police commander, Gerard Soete and his brother then hacked up what was remained of Lumumba and dissolved the pieces in Sulphuric acid, saving a couple of teeth as souvenirs.
58 years after and Congo is still in Chaos
January 17 will always be remembered as the day, Patrice Lumumba was brutally murdered in the presence of his wife and child with two of his ministers and no one has been held accountable for the murder despite the evidence against the US and the Belgium.
In the guise that Lumumba represent “communism” in Congo, The US had him murdered though Patrice Lumumba was for a unified Congo. He fought against division of the country despite the country deep ethnic divisions.
58 years, later the country is still torn by civil unrest and tribal wars. He stood against imported ideologies even “communism” and supported a Pan-Africanism and the liberation of colonial territories.
The country is still ransacked in wars with itself and its neighbours many years after and these wars are instigated because of control of Congo massive wealth.
Many multinational companies were implicated in “sourcing” coltan from Congo according to a UN report. These multinational companies and foreign government have served as an engine for conflict in Congo
Cobalt another mineral resources found in large supply in the Congo is a strategic and critical mineral that is essential for our aerospace, military and defence industries.
In 1946, a “Strategic Mineral Stockpiling Act” was passed to obtain and stockpile cobalt and Congo has the largest reserve on earth especially in the eastern part of the country. The country was targeted. Western powers such as US and the UK provide financial aid and military aid to Congo neighbours. These neighbouring countries such as Rwanda and Uganda close to the East of Congo raid the areas and this has instigated the tribal wars in these regions. Recently about 900 Congolese were killed in a tribal war but it is really a war to control resources by unseen hands.
In our digital age, we are swept away by the range of electronic devices and have literally dependent on technology. The international parade of companies and nations exploiting the Congo is endless, even countries like North Korea is not left out in the scramble.
The scramble for Congo is still on; before Patrice Lumumba, the scramble was ongoing and after his demise, the scramble continues. The world continues to benefit from Congo riches while the country men, women and children continued to be raped, starved, displaced and killed.
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