Belgian Responsibility for Past and Present Troubles in Africa

Congolese warlord Thomas Lubanga has been sentenced to 14 years in jail for recruiting and using child soldiers in his rebel army in 2002 and 2003. Taking into account time in custody, he will now serve a further eight years. In March, he became the first person to be convicted by the International Criminal Court (ICC) since it was set up. — BBC, July 10

Fifty years ago, in July 1962, the Belgian colonies Rwanda and Burundi declared their independence, like the Congo two years before them…. Le Soir (July 2) writes: “Why have these countries fared so badly in terms of human development, democracy and neighbourly relations? To answer that question we must widen our perspective. It is the Belgians, and they alone, who since the beginning of the last century have shaped the policies of these countries. They have imposed an ethnic reading of the social differences that existed between the Hutus and Tutsis, confused democracy with the law (or dictatorship?) of the numerical majority, and divided long-established peoples, societies with complex structures…. In the 1960s Belgium also showed that it would not hesitate to resort to violence or even crimes in its sphere of influence…. It is perhaps time to recognize that right from the beginning of their independence the three countries (Congo, Rwanda, Burundi) that Belgium once ruled were in a poor position.” — euro|topics


5 responses to “Belgian Responsibility for Past and Present Troubles in Africa

  1. Alan Pearson

    The Congo, Rwanda and Burundi sure were “in a poor position” at the moment of “independence.” When the Belgians abandoned the Congo, it was after decades of economic and social exploitation of the indigenous population, ruthlessly directed by a totally Belgian upper bureaucracy. Wikipedia says that the first Congolese university graduate attained that feat only in 1956. About the same time, a Belgian academic published a thirty-year plan for the independence of the Congo; the duration was selected according to the author’s (probably pessimistic) assessment of how long it would take to develop the necessary layers of Congolese leadership. Belgium’s precipitate exit left these countries with no trained – let alone experienced – leaders. Other colonial powers were ungenerous, ham-fisted, and ethnocentric, but Belgium outdid them all.

  2. Horace Krever

    The so-called “Congo Free State”, for most of its duration, was not a colony of Belgium but that of its king, Leopold II. The sordid story is well told by Neal Ascherson in his The King Incorporated, of which A.J.P. Taylor said, “Anyone who still believes in the white man’s burden should read this story of the Congo. It is a story of unmitigated evil.”

  3. Michael Gundy

    The Congo, et al, were the personal and private holdings of Leopold II, son of Leopold I, of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld and King of Beligum. As such, he oversaw the brutal rape of his African possessions and peoples. These were left with no physical or social infrastructure and a legacy of terror. Is it any wonder that Thomas Lubanga carries this tradition on?

  4. Michael Gundy

    I found Basil Davidson’s “The Black man’s burden: Africa and the curse of the nation-state” a useful book explaining the dynamics of the colonial and post colonial periods.

  5. Alan Pearson

    How much time did Leopold II spend in his African possessions? Assuming the answer is, Not much, who managed them on his behalf (or implemented his directives)?