DON'T THE COLONIZERS REDUCE BLACKS IN SLAVERY?

On the contrary, they released them despite the violent shock of the arrival of a revolutionary lifestyle by contrast with the customs in place.

 

For the great majority of African societies, slavery constituted one of the fundamental institutions of their economic and social system: the slave was the only currency prevailing everywhere, and the possession of numerous slaves classified the master in the social hierarchy. The production of this "commodity" was ensured by tribal wars - some of which had no other purpose than the raid - and by the judicial system: civil (the enslavement of the insolvent debtor and his family) and criminal ( in punishment for murder, adultery, black witchcraft, and uncompensated theft). There is nothing pejorative about this observation: slavery - whatever our current perception - corresponds to a certain stage in the evolution of societies, and was practiced by all peoples.

 

From the 1st century AD, Africa was renowned in the East for the ease with which slaves could be obtained there. Opone and Zanzibar supply the Persian Gulf, Iran, India, and Indonesia. Revolted slaves even created ephemeral kingdoms there.

 

The introduction of the camel in Africa from the second century onwards and the spread of Islam from the seventh century gave rise to new trends: the trans-Saharan slave trade was added to the Asian one. It mainly supplies North Africa, but also, more marginally, Mediterranean Europe, in shortage of labor for the cultivation of sugar cane.

Quite naturally the French colonists of the Antilles, faced with the same problem, resorted to the existing trade, which thus created new outlets, via the west coast of Africa and the Gulf of Guinea. The Americans followed: they produced cotton, an even more labor-intensive crop than sugar cane. The Spanish problem was different. From the start of the Conquista, their Council of the Indies prohibited the reduction of the Indians into slavery: the Spanish colonists therefore also turned to the existing African market to procure the servants, laborers, and workers they needed.

 

The Atlantic trade was however short-lived: three centuries, compared to the nineteen Arabs. The first blacks arrived in America, with sugar cane, around 1500, but from 1808 trafficking was prohibited by Great Britain and the United States. However, it still took about fifty years to effectively end the traffic in slave ships, which had become outlaws. As for the Arab slave trade, which could no longer direct itself except towards the Indian Ocean, it fell to the King of the Belgians Leopold II, to root out the last roots of it by his anti-slavery campaigns of the 1890s in eastern Congo.

 

With regard to internal trafficking, the European powers had put an end to it as they occupied the interior of Africa: the prohibition of slavery, like that of other degrading and inhuman practices, ranged from oneself. But if European colonization abolished slavery, it resurfaced with decolonization. Mauritania, Nigeria, and Sudan, to name but a few, have resumed trade in men. Elsewhere, it reappears under other forms: the discharge of debts, the fictitious affermage etc…

 

Finally, we must point out a fundamental difference between the two forms of trafficking: the Arab and the Atlantic: the first, which involved the greatest number of men for the longest period, left no trace. , other than negative, in the cultural evolution of humanity, for want of having left sufficient survivors who have retained their identity; the second, relatively brief, brought out Afro-Caribbean, Afro-American and Afro-Amerindian cultures with tens of millions of representatives.

 

Have the forced harvesting of natural rubber, and other compulsory labor, really caused a frightening death rate in the Leopoldian Congo?

 

The forced rubber harvest was very limited in time: from 1892 to 1908, and in reality only involved relatively small quantities: 3,500 T per year on average. These 3,500 T. correspond to 12,000 kg per day, which at the rate of 0.5 kg per worker, could only occupy 24,000 out of a population of the order of 10 million individuals, including 2,000,000 to 3,000. 000 HAV (able-bodied adult men, according to the terminology of the time). This tax, therefore, represented only one to two percent of the population's labor resources. One might wonder in this connection what would this percentage be in our civilized states endowed with advanced fiscal systems? 30% at least!

 

As for working conditions, they were much less harsh than in the textile workshops of the same period, or later in our coal mines. The village chiefs chose those who, each in turn, had to collect rubber for a few days a year, which was most often done by cutting with a machete a liana, and expressing the latex. The greatest inconvenience consisted in reality in staying for several days far from the village, in living conditions certainly very uncomfortable, and which our current labor regulations would obviously have condemned. But, in other times other customs, and all the countries producing natural rubber acted in the same way, except that it was often the same workers - over-exploited by private employers, as in Brazil - who, throughout the could not provide for their needs otherwise.

 

The ivory harvest - a practice already well entrenched before the EIC - did not give rise to special benefits: it was indeed a state monopoly, but it confined itself to reserving for the administration and its concessionaires l 'purchase of ivory from those who had collected it from elephants who died of natural causes or during the hunts that the natives organized to ensure their food. The large-scale massacre of elephants did not begin until after decolonization, when the laws protecting wildlife were no longer applied.

 

Another criticism of Leopold II was the construction of communication routes by requisitioning workers. Regarding the road network, it was especially necessary to improve the pre-existing tracks which linked each village to its neighbors. The tasks would have made a Belgian roadmender of the time smile: one meter of progress per man per day. At this leisurely pace, the construction in fifty years of the 137,000 km of roads had to occupy only 5,000 to 10,000 men permanently. They were appointed by the village chiefs, who often took advantage of the occasion to punish bad guys, recalcitrants and protesters. The whites - administrators, territorial agents and officers - therefore had to manage sometimes with strong heads and evil spirits, from which was born the rumor according to which the Public Force - the Congolese army - will be especially composed of the worst elements of the population in its nascent phase, up to the possibility of enrolling volunteers. The methods by which they were brought into line are well known in all the armies of the world, and whether they are those of yesterday or today, their muscular discipline was never considered reprehensible. However, it should be noted that in the Congo no one has ever been shot or sent to prison for indiscipline.

 

Regarding the portage, before the construction of the Matadi-Léopoldville railway, 30,000 load carriers of 20 to 35 kg accomplished stages of 25 km per day, while the infantry regulations of the time required 30 kg and 40 km to marching regiments in Belgium. And still, the Congolese porters were often relayed from stage to stage, while the Belgian soldier in training or in operation was required day after day to his daily performance.

 

In total, compulsory benefits hardly lasted longer than a hundred thousand full-time workers. In a population of 2 million HAVs they took turns at the rate of about twenty working days per year for each. This labor tax, which could not legally exceed 45 days a year and per HAV was certainly not exaggerated: the taxation of labor income in our European countries far exceeds this level.

 

As for the construction of railways - the work of private companies - it was not compulsory labor. The workers were voluntary, salaried, often imported from other countries, and protected by social legislation which was the first in the world to limit working hours. We therefore quickly resorted to task compensation, which allowed everyone to adjust their effort according to their strengths and ambitions. This innovation put an end to the high mortality that caused effectively, among the Whites as among the Blacks, imported mainly from the Antilles and West and East Africa, the laying of the first fourteen kilometers of the first Matadi-Kinshasa rail. This unforeseen mortality was due to the ignorance in which we were at the time of the difficulties in the field, tropical pathologies and the rules of hygiene and life to be observed in large African construction sites. But beyond these first kilometers, the remedies having been discovered and applied, mortality was found at the level of that of other large companies of the time, such as the digging of the Gotthard tunnel, and probably lower than that of local populations who stood far from the construction sites and did not benefit - when they could have - from the health infrastructures put in place by the builders.