Page 4, 29th July 1960

29th July 1960
Page 4
Page 4, 29th July 1960 — WHY WAS BELGIUM SO BLIND ?

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Locations: Leopoldville, Brussels


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By Professor A. A. J van BILSEN

HAS independence come too soon to the Congo ? My answer is: the Congo's independence has been prepared too late.

At the end of 1959, the situation was such that the only alternative to immediate independence was to have recourse to force to maintain the authority of the colonial power. This alternative, which would have involved, almost fatally, a policy of military repression such as that adopted in Algeria or in Kenya during the Emergency, could not have been contemplated by Belgium.

Quite apart from moral considerations, it would, on all available evidence, have constituted an inadequate preparation for independence. Belgian public opinion would not have accepted it. One can also ask whether Belgium would have been financially, militarily, and diplomatically in a position to withstand the prolonged strain of a police and military campaign at such a great distance from its frontiers.


AT the end of 1959 a state of revolutionary tension was developing in the Congo. It was expressed in the province of Leopoldville by a movement of passive resistance and civil disobedience, while in the other regions violence broke out.

How did it happen that Belgium allowed herself to be completely taken by surprise by what has happened? How did it come about that the Congo, known since the last world war as an oasis of peace and prosperity, found itself abruptly on the brink of revolt?

It is correct that, up to the middle of 1956. the Congo remained completely apart from the powerful movement of AfroAsian emancipation. The first nationalist voices were raised four years ago, and the two names that at that moment attracted attention were those of Joseph Kasavubu, now President of the Republic, and Josep Ileo, the President of the Senate. The former was running Abako, the forerunner and the best organised of the Congolese political parties and one which has created a powerful mass-movement in the region stretching from Leopoldville to the sea. The latter issued in July 1956 a political manifesto which contributed forcefully to the national awakening among the intellectuals of all the regions of the Congo.


ONCE the first surprise was over, the Belgium authorities did not take any notice of these warnings and, with imperturbable complacency, pursued a policy of colonial domination and social paternalism.

The Belgium authorities were of the opinion that it was precisely this paternalism which formed the secret of their colonial success. They lost sight, however, of the fact that it was the absence of trained leaders which delayed the birth of the movement of emancipation. and other intellectuals, less well trained. were to assert themselves and take the country into their hands.

In 1958 the International Exhibition at Brussels gave these latter for the first time the chance of coming to Europe in large numbers and of their making contact with the outside world.

After their return to Africa, political manifestos and parties multiplied and the movement of liberation made a definite start with a force that was rapidly becoming formidable. During this period, at the end of 1958, a third important leader made his appearance: Patrice Lumumba, president of the Mouvement National Congolais and now Prime Minister.


RESPONSIBLE Belgian circles were surprised by this rapid crise de conscience, the importance and the force of which were badly assessed. In reality. Belgium was not ripe for conducting a policy of emancipation. This explains why she committed herself to a road where all actions and all decisions were taken with a fatal delay.

It was at the latest in July 1958. after the general election in Belgium, that the new Government ought to have promised independence and negotiated with the Congolese leaders over the date and the timing of emancipation, as well as the organisation of elections with a view to the immediate establishment of internal selfgovernment.

In fact, six months more were 'necessary for Belgium to prepare itself for the declaration of intention of January 13, 1959 (made immediately after the tragic riots of Leopoldville). This Governmental declaration promised independence, but the Government had neither the clearmindedness nor the political power to suggest a delay or to adopt the method of negotiations with the Congolese with a view to the organisation of a transitional regime of selfgovernment. After having promised independence in January 1959 the Belgian authorities then lost a whole year, during' which nothing was done either to prepare Congolese political, administrative, or military leaders or to organise general elections which would have allowed the nomination of a Congolese Government and the organisation of a transition period (one year was necessary to prepare the elections for local councils . . .).


THE Congo entered on independence with a triple formidable handicap: no political experience, no trained personnel. no money.

And this shows that the responsibility for what is happening today must be shared by all the Belgian Governments that have succeeded each other since the end of the second world war and that the three Belgian political parties arc morally responsible.

The principal Congolese leaders, and particularly MM. Kasaviibu and Lumumba, bad for a year asked for the setting up of a provisional Government which would have prepared independence and allowed the Congolese to acquire a certain experience in the conduct of public affairs. In January again, at the time of the Round 'Fable Conference. M. Kasavuhu insisted on this point, but in vain.

Administered up to the day of independence by a colonial regime that was strongly centralised and run direct from Brussels, the Congolese had been kept completely apart from all responsible participation in public affairs up to ire end of 1957. At this time, municipal elections were organised in three cehtres, followed later by several others, and as a result of these elections Congolese mayors were appointed at the start of 1958 in 30 African communes.

The Congo entered on independence with fewer than 25 university graduates in a population of 13,000,000.

The administration did not include. on June 30, any Congolese official in a post of responsibility, except for half a dozen people appointed in extrentis in the youth information services and In the local administration. The Congolese army, 25,000 strong, was led entirely by Belgium officers and it was only a few months before independence that the first nine warrant officers were appointed.

It is hardly necessary to point out that, at the moment of independence, all the technical services

(transport, telecommunications, postal services etc.), all the 'icy offices (banks of issue, exchequer. and others), and all the judicial posts above the rural level of cus ternary law were still entirely in the hands of the Belgians.


rr HE Congo became

1 independent saddled with an extremely bad financial position. On one hand, the budget had shown a heavy deficit for several years (this deficit is accounted for essentially by the burden of the annual charge of the public debt-25 per cent of the budget—and by the total cost of Belgian officials and technicians in public services—again about 25 per cent).

On the other hand, the financial situation is characterised by a considerable unbalance of the balance of payments, because of large-scale transfers of profits, capital. and payments, particularly to Belgium, and finally by a very severe treasury crisis.

The independence of the Congo, proclaimed on June 30 in conditions that were so unfavourable, brought great risks. On the Belgian side, all hopes were based on a triple presumption: that the Force Publique (the Congolese army) would retain all its cohesion for the maintenance of order; that the administration (10,000 Belgian civil servants) and all the technical services (exclusively run by Belgians) would remain intact and continue to function normally; and finally that the independent Congo would rely on Belgium from the monetary, economic, diplomatic, and technical points of view.

A few days after independence, this hope collapsed abruptly and completely with the mutiny of the soldiers of the Force Publiour demanding black officers as their share of independence. The insecurity thus created and numerous acts of violence caused panic among the European population. The exodus of the Belgians has brought about the collapse of the administration and of all the struc

Could not the intervention of Belgian parachutists have been avoided if Belgium had in time, before independence, appealed to UNO? It is difficult to understand how, on the eve of its intervention, the Belgian Government did not approach the secretary general of the United Nations and why it did not keep the security council informed of the drama that was being played in the Congo, why it did not ask UNO for observers and an international police force.

Whatever the justification may be, Belgian military intervention is liable to create a terrible misunderstanding between the Congo and Belgium and to bring about a situation recalling Indonesia at the end of the Dutch colonial era.


THANKS to the assistance of the international police sent by the United Nations, following the decision of the security council of July 13, it will be possible to restore order and for the Congolese Government to start work. It is a question of reconstructing the administration and of making the public services function again. For this. again, increased and considerable assistance from the United Nations and from abroad will be necessary.

It is to be hoped that the Congo, enjoying the confidence of Parliament, will maintain all its tures of the State and of the economy.


ONE can bitterly regret that Belgium did not have the clearmindedness to foresee in time that the Congo was going in its turn to be involved in the movement of liberation and decolonisation of the European countries and that nothing had been undertaken to prepare an African elite nor to alter the Congo's economy in view of this necessary evolution,

But, in my opinion, the gravest mistake that has been made by the authorities of my country in this affair has been the constant refusal to appeal to the United Nations.

The collaboration of the United Nations in a genuine tutelary regime such as that which has functioned in Somalia, applied only a few years ago, would have allowed one to avoid in the Congo the misfortunes that have swooped down on the young republic and, in Belgium. the moral, human. and economic repercussions that have resulted.

Even during these last months an appeal to UNO could have saved everything. as much in the sphere of maintaining order as in that of reform and the consolidation of the public services. It is. in fact, nationalist pride which has forbidden the Belgian controllers of foreign and African policy td choose this wise and certain way.

A lesson

IF other countries with colonial responsibilities ask what are the lessons to he drawn front the Congolese tragedy, I hope they will tell themselves that the answer to this question is in no way that one must "decolonise" more slowly (i.e. maintain by force a regime overtaken by history and condemned from now on) but that they must appeal in time to the United Nations and so internationalise their responsibilities, thus proving to the world and to the peoples they rule their good faith and their good will.

The Belgian Government considered itself obliged to launch in the Congo military intervention by paracommandos in order to save groups of Belgians who were threatened and to allow the evacuation of those who, in large numbers, wished to leave the country.

This intervention has not taken place at the request of the Congolese Government, the possibility of which was foreseen in article 6 of the Belgo-Congolese treaty of friendship. The Belgian Government saw itself confronted with a case of force majeure and bases its intervention on international law, which recognises the moral obligation of a country to assure its nationals of protection. authority and cohesion. It will be necessary to reabsorb certain internal tensions which showed themselves during the dramatic events of the last few days.

The head of State, several members of the Government, and a large number of political leaders have shown, during the tragic happenings which have buffeted the Congolese regime, a courage to which one must pay tribute. The President of the Republic and the Prime Minister have been shown to be in reality the duun4viri of the regime.


AMONG so many urgent questions -social troubles and raises in wages, provisioning the large towns, reorganising all the services, reorganising the army, the police, and the administration — the Congolese Government is faced with the problem of the secession of Katanga.

In my opinion, wisdom would suggest, on both sides, seeking genuine negotiations resulting in a compromise, in federal framework. It is true that Katanga is the richest province of the Congo and that on its own it supplies 52 per cent of the budgetary resources of the State.

it is normal that Katanga wants to argue over the proportion of the fruits of its wealth that it wishes to keep for its own development. But Katanga, which has an industrial vocation, cannot lose sight of the fact that its markets are to be found in the north and not in the south. It also has a duty of solidarity with regard to black Africa. Its leaders would condemn themselves by escaping it.

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