Other Free Encyclopedias » Online Encyclopedia » Encyclopedia - Featured Articles » Contributed Topics from A-E

Africa: Belgian Colonies - HISTORY OF BELGIAN COLONIZATION, THE ADMINISTRATION OF CONGO BY THE BELGIANS (1908–1960)

rwanda hutus tutsis congolese

Belgium created two colonies in Africa: the entities now known as the Democratic Republic of the Congo (formerly the Republic of Zaire) and the Republic of Rwanda, previously Ruanda-Urundi, a former German African colony that was given to Belgium to administer after the defeat of Germany in World War I. The scramble for colonies was the brainchild of Leopold II, king of Belgium.

HISTORY OF BELGIAN COLONIZATION

Belgium itself had gained independence in 1831 when it broke away from the Netherlands and became a new nation. The second king of Belgium, Leopold II, was a very ambitious man who wanted to personally enrich himself and enhance his country’s prestige by annexing and colonizing lands in Africa. In 1865 he succeeded his father, Leopold I, to the Belgian throne. In 1876 he commissioned Sir Henry Morton Stanley’s expedition to explore the Congo region. This exploration led initially to the establishment of the Congo Free State. The new colony comprised a land bigger than western Europe and seventy-four times larger than Belgium, and belonged to Leopold II as a personal possession. He proclaimed himself king-sovereign of Congo Free State at a time when France, Britain, Portugal, and Germany also had colonies in the area. In 1885 Leopold II secured U.S. recognition of his personal sovereignty over the Congo Free State.

Leopold II was absolute ruler of Congo. His rule was brutal and millions of Congolese died as a result. By 1895 the British press started to expose Leopold II’s atrocities in Congo. In 1897 a Swedish missionary told a London meeting how Leopold’s soldiers were rewarded by the number of Congolese hands they amputated as punishment to native workers for failure to work hard enough. By 1899 the British vice consul confirmed and further reported the brutality of Leopold’s misrule in Congo. Finally in 1908, Leopold was forced to hand over the Congo Free State, his personal fiefdom, to the Belgian state.

THE ADMINISTRATION OF CONGO BY THE BELGIANS (1908–1960)

The takeover of the administration by the Belgian government brought some improvements in the lives of the Congolese peoples, who had suffered untold hardships under Leopold II and his private militia. There were slight improvements in the everyday economic and social life of the Congolese that were comparable to conditions in other European colonies in Africa. The Belgian colonial administration built some schools, railways, roads, plantations, mines, industrial areas, and airports. Despite the modest improvements in the lives of the Congolese, the Belgians created two separate societies in the Congo: the whites and the natives. The whites had all the luxuries, and the native Africans lacked everything. It was an apartheid type of social and political system. All the major decisions concerning the Congo were made in Brussels, and the Congolese were not allowed to participate in the running of their own country.

In 1955 some of the few Congolese educated-elites organized a resistance to the lack of democracy and the apartheid policies of the Belgian colonial masters. The main aim of these so-called évolués in resisting the Belgian colonial administration was to redress the gross inequality that existed between the Europeans and the Africans. They used civil disobedience, strikes, and civil unrest against the Belgian colonialists. This uprising led to the disintegration of the Belgian colonial administration and helped in winning independence for the Congo in 1960.

HISTORY OF BELGIUM COLONIZATION OF RWANDA

Belgium’s other colony, Rwanda, was an independent monarchy until the Germans annexed it in 1899 and made it part of German East Africa. Belgium seized Rwanda and Burundi from Germany in 1916; two years later, after the defeat of Germany in World War I, Ruanda-Urundi was formally given to Belgium as a League of Nations (later United Nations) trust territory.

RACE AND ETHNICITY IN PRECOLONIAL AFRICAN BELGIAN COLONIES

In precolonial Congo, established monarchies and kingdoms maintained order. The most notable of these empires was the Kingdom of Kongo, which was founded in the fourteenth century and centered around present-day western Congo and northern Angola. Other notable empires included the Luba empire, founded in the sixteenth century and centered around Lakes Kisale and Upemba, located in central Shaba; the Lunda kingdom of Mwata, founded in the fifteenth century and centered in southwestern Congo; and the Kuba empire of the Shonga people, founded in the seventeenth century and centered around the Kasai and Sankura rivers in southern Congo. Another notable kingdom was the Lunda kingdom of Nwata Kazembe, founded in the early eighteenth century and centered around the Luapula River near the Congo-Zambia border. There were other small LubaLunda states in Congo.

Relations among the Congolese peoples during the precolonial period were largely harmonious. Through intermarriage and socioeconomic contacts, interethnic strife was benign. These kingdoms, especially the Kingdom of Kongo, were comparably wealthy, and when the standard of living is high, people tend to get along well. Nevertheless, there were interethnic wars on some occasions.

In 1482 the Portuguese navigator Diogo Cão became the first European to come to the Congo. The Portuguese established a relationship with the king of Kongo but stayed in the modern Angolan coastal areas. It was not until the eighteenth century that the Portuguese gained substantial influence in Congo. This was the situation until King Leopold II of Belgium made the Congo his personal possession, and it became the only colony owned and run by a single individual.

RACE AND ETHNICITY IN PRECOLONIAL RWANDA

Before the European incursion into Rwanda and the Belgian colonization, Rwanda was united under the central leadership of an absolute Tutsi monarchy. The people, although classified as Hutu, Tutsi, and Twa, essentially spoke the same language. They also shared the same culture, ate the same or similar foods, and practiced the same religion.

Precolonial Rwanda under the monarchy was highly stratified. The aristocracy, who were essentially the Tutsi, owned all the land and earned tributes from the farmers, who were mainly Hutu. Whereas the Hutus were farmers, the Tutsis were cattle herders. The Twa or the “pygmies,” who were the original inhabitants of Rwanda, were outcasts and despised by both the Hutus and the Tutsis. There was social mobility (both upward and downward) in this stratified Rwandese society. A rich Hutu who purchased a large herd of cattle could become a Tutsi, while a Tutsi who became poor would drop into the Hutu caste. Intermarriage was not prohibited in this caste system. Both Hutus and Tutsis served in the king’s military. All the members of the castes seemed to be living in harmony until the Belgians came and brought ethnic conflict with them. These conflicts resulted in many wars and episodes of genocide.

ETHNIC RELATIONS DURING THE BELGIAN COLONIAL ADMINISTRATION

The Belgians ruled over Congo from 1909 to 1960, while their rule over Rwanda lasted from 1918 to 1962. In the Congo, the Belgians created an apartheid-like system between the Europeans (Belgians) living in Congo and the Congolese, thereby marginalizing the Congolese in their own society. Among the Congolese, the Belgians used the strategy of divide and rule. They favored certain ethnic groups, especially the ones that would allow them to continue to colonize and plunder the rich natural resources of the Congo.

Before the coming of the Europeans, the Kingdom of Kongo had well-organized political and administrative structures that rivaled those of the Europeans. The economic system of the kingdom was organized into guilds based on agriculture and handicraft industries. The European incursion into the west coast of Africa and the consequent slave raids increased the migrations of refugees into Kongo. These migrations created myriad problems both at the time and in subsequent periods.

When the Belgians took over the administration of Rwanda from the Germans in 1918, they significantly changed the Rwandese system of government and social relations. The Belgians found willing elites to help them rule Rwanda. The Tutsis were willing collaborators to the Belgian colonization. The Belgians, in turn, gave the Tutsis privileged positions in politics, education, and business. The Belgians even took the few leadership positions that the Hutus had and gave them to the Tutsis. Specifically, in 1929, they eliminated all the non-Tutsi chiefs, and as a result the Hutus lost all their representation in the colonial government. A further blow came in 1933, when the Belgians issued identity cards to all Rwandans. These mandatory identity cards removed the fluidity from the Rwandan stratification (caste) system, thereby confining people permanently as Hutus, Tutsis, and “pygmies.” The Belgians empowered the Tutsis so much that their exploitation of the Hutu majority reached new heights. As the independence of Rwanda became inevitable in the 1950s, however, the Belgians changed course and started to empower the Hutus by increasing their political and economic muscle and providing them access to modern education.

These conflicting measures brought anarchy and led to the creation of extreme groups—from both the majority Hutus and the minority Tutsis—wanting to protect the interests of their respective peoples. It was the activities of these extreme groups that led to the various episodes of genocide that reached appalling heights in 1994 with the killing of nearly one million people, mostly Tutsis and moderate Hutus, by extreme Hutus.

The first wave of genocide by the Hutus against the Tutsis took place earlier, however, under the administration of the Belgians in 1959. Like the 1994 genocide, it started when extremist Tutsis attacked a Hutu leader, and the Hutus retaliated by killing hundreds of Tutsis. In the Western press, this conflict was portrayed as a racial and cultural one, between the tall, aristocratic, pastoral Tutsis, and Hutus who were uneducated peasant farmers. That the Tutsi and Hutu were originally two castes of the same people, speaking a common language, and that the antagonism had been created by Belgian colonial forces for their own purposes, were facts somehow lost in the international dialogue.

To summarize, the ethnic rivalries and tensions in the former Belgian colonies of Congo and Rwanda that escalated following independence and continued into the twenty-first century had their roots in the Belgian colonial administration. It was during the Belgian colonial administration that the foundations for the postcolonial and present-day ethnic tensions and political instability were laid.

Africa: British Colonies - HISTORY OF BRITISH COLONIAL RULE IN AFRICA, PRECOLONIAL RACIAL AND ETHNIC RELATIONS IN BRITISH COLONIAL AFRICA [next] [back] AFI - Rock group, Career, Sidelights, Selected discography

User Comments

Your email address will be altered so spam harvesting bots can't read it easily.
Hide my email completely instead?

Cancel or

Vote down Vote up

over 2 years ago

Great work, it would be nice to have an author name so I could more easily MLA cite it.

Vote down Vote up

over 3 years ago

Very comphrehensive article. Your objectivity is refreshing.Please continue your exposure to the truth.

Vote down Vote up

almost 2 years ago

Wow. everyone who read this is now dumber.

Vote down Vote up

over 1 year ago

poo
Poopoo
Poopoo
Poopoo
Poopoo
Poopoo
Poopoo
Poopoo
Poopoo
Poopoo
Poopoo
Poopoo
Poopoo
Poopoo
Poopoo
Poopoo
Poopoo
Poopoo
Poopoo
Poopoo
Poopoo
Poopoo
Poopoo
Poopoo
Poopoo
Poopoo
Poopoo
Poopoo
Poopoo
Poopoo
Poopoo
Poopoo
Poopoo
Poopoo
Poopoo
Poopoo
Poopoo
Poopoo
Poopoo
Poopoo
Poopoo
Poopoo
Poopoo
Poo

Vote down Vote up

almost 2 years ago

it sucked

Vote down Vote up

almost 4 years ago

who is telling the story someone from Belgium or someone from Congo because i really need to know this for school if you can give me the answer to this ill very apriciat this

THANK YOU

BOB



Vote down Vote up

almost 2 years ago

This is very good material. I would love to know the author since I am doing research on this subject.

Vote down Vote up

over 2 years ago

A very good and exhaustive article.keep up the good job

Vote down Vote up

over 2 years ago

it sucs like f#$%*

Vote down Vote up

over 1 year ago

thus website is truly amazing!!!!!

Vote down Vote up

almost 4 years ago

Why did the dutch colonize the hutu and tootsie?