WAS THERE A "FORGOTTEN HOLOCAUST" FROM THE TIME OF THE INDEPENDENT STATE OF CONGO?
One, ten, twelve or thirteen million Congolese would have perished during the reign of Léopold II on the Independent State of Congo? Again, the scattering of the figures takes away their credibility. But let's take a closer look at the alleged or possible causes.
"Red rubber" is the most accused. The horrifying tales of how it was harvested give the impression that millions of indigenous people were victims. But exports hardly exceeded 6,000 t / year (1901), which corresponds to a production of 20,000 kg per day. At the rate of a kg, or a pound as in Brazil, or even less, per man/day, only a few tens of thousands of workers would suffice, and they were far from dying since their compulsory benefits were legally limited to no more than 40 hours per month.
Railroad construction? The deadliest, the Chemin de Fer du Congo, accused 1,932 of its 400 km, many of whom, several hundred, were not Congolese or died of natural death in the medical training of the Company. A thousand km were built before 1908 throughout the territory of the EIC. Total mortality can, therefore, be estimated at a few thousand (note that the mortality rate for whites was proportionally much higher than that of blacks. Finally, construction Panama, Suez and more recently the Three Gorges canals in China cost proportionately high mortality rates and sometimes even significantly higher).
The construction of caravan tracks? They most often followed the layout of pre-existing paths, which were rectified, cleared, widened and stabilized by the addition of laterite or woodwork, most often without earthworks. This work was carried out by local residents, without long journeys, and in principle within the framework of legally limited compulsory services. He could therefore hardly have been a murderer.
The portage? We have figures on the most important, between Matadi and Kinshasa, by the "Route des Caravanes". Before the construction of the railway, 25,000 loads of 25 to 35 kg were transported there annually in about twenty stages of 20 to 25 km per day. Again, an elementary calculation shows that 3,000 carriers in permanent rotation were sufficient. In fact, there were no permanent porters: their task accomplished, they returned home. They could not be asked for more: the work was too strenuous, but under these conditions could hardly be murderous. In fact, around thirty thousand men took turns for porterage periods of around twenty days for each and every year.
Military operations were to cause many more deaths, especially during the anti-slavery campaigns from 1890 to 1894, the Arabized and their allies have gathered large numbers. On the other hand, the expeditions to the Nile, against the Mahdists, as well as the repression of the Batetela and Budja rebellions only confronted a few thousand men. Generally speaking, moreover, according to the ranks of the officers who commanded them, the troops of the EIC engaged in these expeditions should not have been very numerous.
The military history of the EIC is specially marked out by lists of villages abandoned by their inhabitants at the approach of the troops, by a reflex analogous to that of our Belgian populations during the wars, and, also, alas, of reprisals and d fires committed by disbanded or ill-commanded soldiers, furious at having found nothing to loot. The account of their dubious exploits provided, with the "red rubber", the main substance of the campaigns of opinion directed against Léopold II. The atrocities reported seem numerous, but, to read well, they were spread over many years and committed, as far as Europeans are concerned, by a limited number of mercenary brutes attracted, yesterday and today, by adventurers, especially in very remote areas sheltered from the control of the administrative authorities of the EIC.
But it is especially necessary to quote the auxiliary troops commanded by native potentates which put part of Kasaï and Katanga in a cut section. The victims, most often on the run, were, however, few: the Congolese, accustomed to tribal wars, easily abandoned their villages to settle elsewhere at the slightest threat, taking with them their meager hard and victuals. The depopulation of certain regions was thus only apparent, as were the food shortages. We do not actually report any famine of the kind that is currently provoked by the war in South Sudan following many others following too rapid decolonization and which are certainly much more deadly than the meager Leopoldian military columns.
The loss of life attributable to the causes which have just been listed was probably compensated, in whole or in part, by the elimination of slavery - the hunting of men by the Arabs ravaged a large part of the territory of the Congo - the cessation of tribal wars, massacres perpetrated periodically by bloodthirsty potentates and deadly or inhuman customs, as well as by the beneficial action of missionaries and doctors.
The main causes of death, however, were epidemics, such as smallpox, as well as the spread of previously localized endemics, such as sleeping sickness. The first one was able to quickly oppose the vaccination, but the second one remained for a long time helpless: in the year 1901 alone five hundred thousand Congolese died, far more than the victims of all the other causes put together. Lung diseases and parasitic infections were also imported or more widely spread by displacement.
Without Leopold II, the main causes of death would have acted just as much, from the opening of the "terra incognita" to the outside world. We would have needed rubber as much in the World, where it was harvested everywhere in the same way, we should just as much have kicked out the slavers, built tracks and railways, suffered the actions of the few adventurers willing to enter the equatorial hell, and grieving at the spectacle of the same epidemics.
But, with him, the Congo goes down in history: the first mass vaccinations carried out under his reign foreshadow health action which will bring the natural demographic increase from 3 to 4% that it was before the EIC to 22% from the fifties. He will certainly have given birth to many more children, healed many more sick people than he perished during his reign. The unjust fates which weighed on the population of the Congo since the dawn of time have also been lifted: the Congo enters with it into the World, and directly into modernity by sparing the long, tragic and murderous history that our countries have had browse to get there. The Congo is also beginning to become a Nation and will discover a historical destiny: to constitute the center of political and economic gravity of Central Africa.