HOW DID CONGO TAKE THE WAY OF INDEPENDENCE?

The most delicate problem concerned the "evolved", who felt that they had reached the level of education and instruction of white people. A special status was conferred on them after a survey of their occupations and way of life, which had to be "European" in style. They felt they had the right to be integrated into white society and to be paid accordingly: equal pay for equal work. This meant disregarding the "expatriation bonus" that the foreigners were claiming for their sole benefit. The latter also considered that these children of the country were called upon to remain in their environment, to become the executives and leaders of tomorrow, which is what actually happened: the demands for independence emanated first and foremost from the "evolved" who had taken over the political leadership of their own people.

 

This Belgian colonial system was not considered incompatible with the Charter of the United Nations and the Declaration of Human Rights, to which Belgium had subscribed. Indeed, those documents required the "administering Powers" to lead a process towards eventual self-determination. Self-determination was not independence, and the end of the evolution could be far away. Belgian conceptions were oriented towards the creation of a community with two equal components in law and autonomy freely united under the same sovereign: the immense popularity of King Baudouin, both in the Congo and in Belgium, was an incentive for this. However, this freedom had to be exercised with full knowledge of the facts, which meant that it could not be exercised in the distant future: thirty years for some, closer for the Congolese, but much further away for the majority of Belgians.

 

The demand for independence, rather than autonomy, did not emerge until well after the Bandoeng "Non-Aligned" Conference of 1955. It then became, from the 1959 riots onwards, the issue at stake at the Belgian-Congolese Round Table in Brussels, which ended up aligning itself with the demand for immediate independence formulated by the evolutes.

The above reflects above all the point of view of the whites and, in part, of the evolués. What could, on the other hand, be the state of mind of the Black of the base? Until the fifties, he seemed to accept quite well the paternalistic conception of the Belgians, whom he considered as wealthy "uncles" coming from far away, or "bosses" in principle benevolent and who could, therefore, be treated and solicited with a certain familiarity. There was nothing humiliating about getting donations since they only partly compensated for the considerable gap between living and educational standards and the discrimination that resulted from it. Among these gifts, the French language, reading and writing, and the Christian religion were universally aspired to, for their own merits, but also as signs of "evolution" and as instruments necessary to erase inequalities. It was apparently a great disappointment to see these maintained with respect to those who had acquired these civilized practices. From then on, paternalism, symbolized by the benevolent "tu", was considered humiliating by the more evolved. Contacts with foreign countries revealed, moreover, that the whites were far from being all as wealthy and well-educated as they appeared to be in the Congo.

 

The colonial system was thus questioned at the outset by these mutual misunderstandings, which should have given rise to a social and political debate within new institutions. The establishment of these institutions, delayed by the metropolitan authorities, had barely begun when the Third World, nationalist and Marxist doctrines appeared. These structured the convictions of the leaders and gave their discourse a virulence that they were initially lacking. Above all, they accelerated a normal process of spontaneous decolonization, which should have been able to mature with the mentality. But it was too late: the Belgian Congo could not escape the acceleration of History towards the "liberation" of the colonized peoples, whatever the cost. For the Congo, this price was extraordinarily high: the dilapidation of all the infrastructures, the ruin of the economy and the return to pre-colonial despotism.