Belgian Congo WWII

by Mitch on August 7, 2011 0 Comments

The Congo was also characterized by the extraordinary development of huge mining industries (particularly in the province of Katanga, well known for its copper, and in the Kasai region, famous for its industrial diamonds). From the 1920s on, heavy investments in the exploitation of the colony’s rich mineral resources transformed the Congo into a major actor in the world economy. During both world wars, the Belgian Congo played a great role as purveyor of raw materials for the Allies, while the Congolese troops also engaged in warfare against the German and Italian forces.


Believing the war lost and over, King Léopold refused to lead a Belgian government-in-exile. Instead, he stayed in-country while the Belgian government was trapped in Vichy. A rival government-in-exile formed in London in July that sharply criticized the king and continued to fight the German occupation with whatever personnel escaped and military resources were provided by ...

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The Arab wars

by Mitch on May 29, 2011 1 Comment

These Swahili of the East coast of Africa supplied most of the troops for the Arabs from Zanzibar and, indeed, those who had settled further into the interior. They also worked for European explorers and this picture of Speke's "faithfulls" gives a good idea of their appearance.

The greatest challenge faced by the Force Publique in its early years came in the 1890s, in the so-called “Arab wars”.

The sharpest struggles were those that had to be undertaken not against the Africans, but against Swahili slave traders (often called “Arabs” but rarely of pure Arab descent) and their followers in the eastern Congo.

The Congo Arab war was one of the bloodiest conflicts of the whole era of imperial conquest.

The fighting [was] massive, because both sides enlisted the aid of thousands of irregulars. An estimate of 70,000 dead on the Swahili–Arab side is probably exaggerated, while ...

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The Force Publique

by Mitch on May 29, 2011 0 Comments

In the beginning the private army King Leopold had decreed into existence in 1886, the Force Publique, was composed largely of African mercenaries recruited outside the Congo. Of the original 2,000 other ranks of the force, only 111 were Congolese. Preference in early recruiting was given to that much sought after “martial race”, the Hausas of the Central Sudan. In the end, however, these foreign mercenaries proved to be too expensive and local recruiting was intensified. In 1891, chiefs were ordered to produce a certain number of recruits per year, and a militia was founded from which men could be drafted to fill out the ranks in emergencies. In 1900 the term of enlistment in the Force Publique was raised from five to seven years. The Free State also used large numbers of irregulars in its campaigns. The Azande people of the north Congo and the Batetela people, who ...

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by Mitch on January 12, 2011 0 Comments

Belgian and Congolese soldiers in Leopoldville (now Kinshasa) soon after independence.

The so-called Colonial Charter of 1908 set out the main lines of the Belgian colonial system: a rigorous separation between the budgets of the colony and the mother country; a strict parliamentary control of executive power (in order to avoid the excesses of the former Leopoldian despotism); the appointment of a governor-general in Congo, whose powers were strictly limited by the metropolitan authorities; and a tight centralism in the colony itself, where provincial authorities were granted little autonomy.


In reality, Belgium’s political parties and public opinion showed little interest in Congolese matters. Consequently, colonial policy was determined by a small group of persons, in particular the minister of colonies, a handful of top civil servants in the Ministry of Colonies, some prominent Catholic ecclesiastics, and the leaders of the private companies that were investing increasing amounts of capital ...

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by Mitch on January 12, 2011 0 Comments

During World War I, Belgian colonial troops participated in the military campaigns against the Germans in East Africa. They occupied a large part of this German colony. After the end of the war, the Belgian government tried to exchange these territories against the left bank of the Congo River mouth, which was in Portuguese hands. This plan failed to materialize, and finally, on May 30, 1919, according to the Orts-Milner Agreement (named after its Belgian and British negotiators), Belgium’s spoils of war only consisted of two small territories in the Great Lakes region bordering the immense Belgian Congo, namely Rwanda and Burundi (their ancient names being Ruanda and Urundi).


As was the case with the other former German colonies, the League of Nations entrusted both of these territories to the victorious power as ‘‘mandates.’’ Belgium administered these mandates through a system of indirect rule. The pre-colonial social and political ...

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The Congo

by Mitch on January 12, 2011 0 Comments

During the age of discovery, European vessels searched the shores of Africa for riches and glory. The unknown region of what is now known as sub-Saharan Africa turned out to be an inhabited region where peoples and cultures flourished. As the explorers came upon the Congo River and landed on its shores, they recognized that the area was different from anything that they had ever seen. The Portuguese arrived first at the mouth of the Congo River, encountering the people of the area. This encounter began a long and destructive relationship that still affects the people of the DRC (Hochschild 1999, 7–18).


More recently, the DRC has suffered from the colonial legacy of King Leopold II of Belgium. Formerly known as the Congo Free State, the DRC endured Leopold’s destruction, devastation, and extraction. As the personal colony of the king, the DRC provided Belgium with substantial revenue and ...

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by Mitch on November 18, 2010 0 Comments

Patrice Lumumba (1925–1961). Patrice Lumumba, leader of the Congolese National Movement, addresses troops in Stanleyville, July 18, 1960.


Lumumba, the son of a poor peasant, was born in Onalua (near Katako-Kombe, in East Kasaï, Congo) on July 2, 1925, when Congo was under Belgian colonial rule. During his primary school years, Lumumba ran away or was expelled from several missionary institutions. But at the same time, he was ambitious and driven by real intellectual hunger. On arriving in Stanleyville (now Kisangani) in July 1944, he attended evening classes and became a voracious reader. He was employed in the postal service, but also had an active public life outside of work.


Lumumba became the founder and president of several Congolese cultural, social, and political organizations, including the local Amicale Libérale. In this capacity, he met the Belgian Minister of Colonies, Auguste Buisseret, when the latter was visiting Congo in 1954 ...

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Warfare in Africa WWI

by Mitch on October 5, 2010 0 Comments

For the Great War in Africa, although the product of European devices and desires, was fought principally by the Africans themselves. In all, somewhere over 2 million Africans served in the First World War as soldiers or labourers, and upwards of 200,000 of them died or were killed in action. By comparison with Europe such figures are low—the first represents between 1 and 2 per cent of the total population of Africa. But in a local context a comparison with twentieth-century industrialized nation states is inappropriate; never before in the history of Africa had manpower been mobilized on such a scale.

Both during the war and after it, British and French propaganda accused the Germans of militarizing Africa: they had, said Lloyd George on 24 January 1919, ‘raised native troops and encouraged these troops to behave in a manner that would even disgrace the Bolsheviks’. Such rhetoric was ...

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The Belgian Congo – Post Colonial Mess

by Mitch on October 5, 2010 0 Comments

Street fighting in the Congo. The weapons are surplus Second World War issue with which the world was still awash in the 1960s.

The Belgian Congo, which dissolved in a flood of political violence immediately upon obtaining independence in 1960. Belgium had done next to nothing to prepare its colony for self-rule. Its departure was simply a reflection of its own inability to continue bearing the burdens of colonial stewardship. When the Belgians left, political authority was vested in a hastily conceived parliamentary government headed by Patrice Lumumba, the leading figure of the Congolese National Movement. He immediately faced dissention within Congo's security forces, which rebelled against the Belgian officers left behind to train them. Most Europeans remaining in the country fled. A month later the southernmost of the country's six major provinces, Katanga (Shaba), seceded. Lumumba appealed to the Soviet Union and to the UN for assistance ...

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Belgians in Ethiopia WWII

by Mitch on October 2, 2010 0 Comments

The following is a synopsis of information derived from a book titled "The Belgian Campaign in Ethiopia" published in 1942 by the Belgian Information Center in New York. In May of 1940, Belgium's army was overwhelmed by Nazi Germany's panzers in 18 days. The conquest of Belgium did not resolve the status of the Congo, Beligum's overseas colony. The Congolese had only the "Force Publique", a small paramilitary corps with more in common with a police force than an army, with which to protect and control the 12 million indigenous inhabitants and 30,000 Belgian colonials.


In the fall of 1940, the Belgian Congo committed themselves to converting their colonial constabulary into a force with which to assist the British in their war against the Italians. On November 25, 1940, the Belgian Congo's Governor-General Ryckmans, declared war on the Italians. The 1st battalion of the new ...

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