New Look at Colonialism
It Has Been an Asset in the Belgian Congo
By GILBERT BURSILEY
THE WORD colonialism has be- ."avid students of colonial systems.
come one of the most provoca- of anthropology, and of political
tive terms in world affairs. geography. They have closely
It has conflicting connotations watched colonial experiences in
for peoples of different countries, areas much longer in contact with
races and ideologies. It means one Europe, such as Ghana. Nigeria,
thing behind the Iron Curtain and and the coastal regions.
another thing to s. In general it
has unpleasant and derogatory TIESE observations point logs
av elonsa. Furtheomore it is the rally to the second asset of the
cause of serious misunderstand- Belgians in the Congo- a dedi-
ings with our allies. rated and capable corps of colon-
From first-hand observations on ial administrators.
the Belgian Congo it is my hope to This is not to say that other
reorient the reader toward the colonial poaer do not have such
word colonialism; to divest the mn u h crusacsare
term of its derogatory connoa nmn,dbut ntheire Congo. It must be
tions and to accord it such dignty remembered that Belgium has just
and respect as able twentieth-
cn t u r y administrators have tis one colony asd therefore any
e rned for it. young man entering colonial serv-
ice knows exactly to what part of
the world he is going and some-
THE BELGIAN Congo, with 900,- thain of the climate and peoples
000 square miles, is almost h 11 eneounter.
equal in size to the United States Sise tis young m. n knows he
east of the Missisippi. will be staying in the same area
Its entire European population he normally learns a native lan-
of 90,000 wouldn't fill the Univer-
sity football stadium. Its African uage and something of the habits
populations of 13,000,000 is fewer ahd he ts dealingt
in numbers than the Negroes in whom he is dealing.
the United States. The Africans
are splintered into hundreds of THE THIRD special asset of the
different tribal and racial groups Belgians in their colonizing ef-
with different languages and fort is the economic wherewithal
forms of social organization. One with but one colony Belgium's offi- to do the job.
runs the gamut from seven-foot cials become experts on that area. The Congo's southernmost prov-
Watutsis to four-foot pygmies, 3) Great economic wealth; the ince, the Katanga, is one of the
with Bantu peoples of great di- natural resources of the Congo world's richest areas in mineral
versity in between. have contributed to an impressive r esources. High-grade copper
The inhabitants of the Congo program of social welfare and ad- veins, uranium, cobalt, gold, silver,
are far from the point where these vancement zine, and all sorts of by-products
different component races have an and related minerals are mined in
understanding of and tolerance for IT MIGHT be said then that the significant quantities.
one another. Their differences are period of colonial progress in the Other provinces furnish tin and
being broken down by migration Congo dates from the early 1920's. the greater part of the world's in-E
to the cities, by common service Thus there are living men - dustrial diamond supply. Therec
and a common language in the European as well as African - is valuable production of cocoa,1
Congo's armed forces, the Force who can remember the epoch coffee, tobacco, tea, cotton, lum-
P u b Ii q u e, and through inter- when cannibalism, anarchy, tyran- ber, rubber, palm oil and palm
mingling of students at the Lo- ny, and cruelty ruled in large sec- kernels..
vanium and State Universities. tors of the Congo. There are still The Congo's hydroelectric po-a
The high opinion, commonly many Belgian administrators on tential is tremendous and thef
held, of Belgium's accomplish- duty in the Congo who started eventual completion of the Inga
ments in the Congo at once their careers in the 1920's. project on the lower Congo River,
a r o u s e s speculation as to the The parents of the young Con- with twenty times TVA's capacity,
causes of its success. What pe- golese workers and students of will render possible an expansion1
culiar assets do the Belgians have today come from that early period of light industry and a more bal-c
in the Congo that aren't generally when contact with the white man anced economy,.
found elsewhere? was minimal and unhappy.
Viewed thus, the Congo of to- THIS GREAT wealth is largelyi
AMONG many factors there are day merits even greater praise - controlled by five giant com-c
three that merit discussion: the black man in recognition of panies which pay royalties and2
1) The "newness" of the Congo; the extent to which he has pro- taxes into the Belgian Congon
the fact that it is the last great gressed socially and the European treasury.n
colonial area to be explored and for the helping hand he has of- These revenues and resourcesa
opened up has given the Belgians fered. within the Congo have made pos-t
the chance to profit from the ex- The Belgian administrators, sible ambitious programs in pub- b
perience of other colonizers. particularly those in top positions. lic housing, education, health, and d
2) A dedicated and capable are for the greater part men of sanitation, native welfare and so-
corps of colonial administrators; culture and training. They are cial work, as well as in conserva-
tion of natural resources, meas-r
ures against soil erosion, etc.
Collectively these measures
have been molded into a Ten- I
Year Plan which is now in its lasta
quarter. Plans encompassed aa
r , ( #w, broad advance on many economict
fronts and in general quotas havec
w , s-been met.
In some fields such as transpor-
tation and road building the Ten-
a . Year Plan is behind schedule. One
the whole, however, it must bee
mo"' rated a success.
EW HOUSING for the Congo-
lese is generally something
asy:+which the visitor to any Congo s
- city is proudly shown by his guide.
Leopoldville, with a population
T of 350,000, is resettling a third of
these persons in seven 'satellite",,
cities complete with schools, rer-t
reation facilities, dispensaries, and
utilities which ring the metropoli-
tan area. .
a yElsewhere in the Congo one can
see fine little brick houses - city
blocks of them - at Elizabethville,
in the mining towns of Jadotville
and Kolwezi, at Luluabourg, ina
Bukavu, at Stanleyville and in
PUBLIC HEALTH is another
field where the colonial power
fully justifies its presence in Af-
In terms of human suffering it
would be calamitous to have the
A large and modern textile factory is one indication of how the European leave most areas where
Belgian Congo is developing economically. he is now engaged in public health
SUNDAY, FEBRUARY 22, 1959
INCE WRITING the following article almost a year ago (see
editor's note below in box) there has been an increase in the
tempo of political demands by Congolese.
This acceleration is due in large part to two factors:
1) New "semi-independent" status of French colonies.
The four provinces of neighboring French Equator-
ial Africa have all opted for local autonomy, giving
them a semi-independent status as "Republics" within
the French Union.
Facing the Belgian Congo capital of Leopoldville
-across the Congo River-is Brazzaville, now capital
of the "Republic of the Congo." Several thousand Afri-
cans crossthe river daily, working and living on opposite
banks. The political evolution on one bank of the Congo
reaches the other side with incredible rapidity.
2) Economic woes of Belgian Congo.
The business recession of 1958 had repercussions in
the Congo, a major supplier of copper and other basic
minerals and raw materials. The impact was delayed but
contributed to unemployment in metropolitan areas.
At the same time there continued the heavy migration
of Africans from the "bush" to the city. Leopoldville
acquired some 30,000 unemployed, who although in no
danger of starvation, had ample time on their hands
for political fermentation.
IN DECEMBER and January there were several events of in-
The Minister of Colonies, Mr. Leon Petillon resigned and a
Minister of the Congo, Mr. Van Hemelryck, was appointed to
Rioting broke out in Leopoldville and Matadi among the
Bakongo people, followers of a Mr. Kasavubu who fomented po-
litical discontent through an association known as "Abako."
There are, however, very real linguistic and racial barriers to
the spread of these disorders to other parts of the Congo.
Nonetheless the future will almost certainly witness an in-
crease in the political problems plaguing the Congo. The power
struggle between other African leaders, Nkrumah in Ghana,
Toure in Guinea, Banda in Nyasaland, Nyerere in Tanganyika,
Boganda in the "Central African Republic," Mboya in Kenya,
Awolowo in Nigeria,.etc., effectively brackets the Belgian Congo
and will focus world attention on the Pan-African nationalism
of these figures.
Inevitably this fever will embroil the Congo--and soon after
the Portuguese colonies of Angola and Mozambique.
activities. In the Congo there are
excellently equipped and manned
hospitals for Africans in all ad-
Government dispensaries are
scattered throughout the jungle
and highlands and can be reached
from the most remote villages.
Missionary hospitals and dis-
pensaries of all denominations
have operated for years and have
done outstanding work, often un-
dergoing hardship and privation.
A common sight in Leopoldville
s the helicopter that dusts the
city and its suburbs with DDT.
As a result there are far fewer
mosquitos in Leopoldville than in
most American cities tat least on
a summer night).
However, it is still advisable to
take anti-malaria pills, as it would
be prohibitively expensive, if in-
lined possible, toeradicate the
anopheles from all areas.
HERE ARE two great scientific
research centers in the Congo,
IRSAC and INEAC. In such fields
as medicine, agriculture, forestry,
anti-erosion, and soil conservation
these institutes are performing
research and experimentation of
asting value for the African in-
habitants of the area.
Such scientific activities are
another instance where the moth-
er country has to make significant
outlays of funds.
There are active and well-
planned programs for the Congo-
ese in the fields of recreation,
ocial activities, and sports.
Each population center has a
oyer social or community recrea-
ion hall. These are well-built per-
manent buildings with European
taffs. Sports are encouraged and
he stadium at Leopoldville some-
times seats up to its capacity of
eventy thousand for football
In Leopoldville and the other
major centers there are Belgo-
Congolese Cultural Associations
with European and African offi-
cials. They hold concerts, illus-
trated travel talks, art exhibits,
and social gatherings where white
and black races are fully inte-
At Leopoldville's annual folk-
loric fair impressive work by
painters, sculptors, woodworkers,
ivory carvers, etc., is displayed and
There are museums where na-
tive folklore and art are being
preserved, both in the major cities
and in the heart of the bush at
such places as Mweka and Kab-
gaye. One also finds geological
museums at Ehizabethville and Ja-
dotville which compare with any
in the world.
IN SUMMARY of this discussion
of modern colonialism it may be
said that the Congolese are as well
fed, as well paid, and as well edu-
cated as any other African peoples
and that their forward progress
continues at a rapid pace.
What, then, can be their frus-
trations and aspirations? What
complaints do they voice? What
criticisms are made of the Belgian
The press in the Congo airs
many views on these subjects.
There are lots of Congolese edi-
tors and writers and they argue
all sorts of issues among them-
There is just as great division
among the Europeans, especially
on the subject of how to handle
the Congo in the future. The road
of the Governor General and his
advisors has been far from smooth.
The permanent settlers (some
three or four thousand colons live
in the Eastern Province of the
Kivu) have very pronounced
views on many social questions,
CONGOLESE are encouraged in as they do in Kenya and elsewhere
A the fields of art and in cultur- in Africa.
al activities. (Continued on Next Page)
Gilbert Bursley has served some 17 years in the govern-
ment, which since the war has been mostly on assignments in
the Near East and Africa. He served as Public Affairs Off i.
cer and Consul in the Belgian Congo before assuming his
present position in 1957 as assistant director of the Univer-
sity's Development Council. The article printed here has
been condensed from one which originally appeared in the
autumn 1958 issue of the Michigan Alumnus Quarterly