- Created: Thursday, 25 January 2018 15:27
- Written by Alwyn Turner
Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! no. 96 - August/September 1990
30 June 1990 was the thirtieth anniversary of the gaining of independence by Congo (now Zaire), an event that passed virtually unnoticed in the British media. Seen at the time as the most disastrous episode in the decolonisation of Africa, much of the history of the transition to independence, and of the role played by the country's first Prime Minister, Patrice Lumumba, is now ignored. ALWYN TURNER pays tribute to his memory.
Congo was first brought under Belgian rule in 1885, when Leopold II, having failed to convince the Belgian government of the prestige of having an African colony, simply annexed the region under his own direct rule. During the next three decades, he instigated a ruthless policy of exploitation of natural resources that amounted virtually to genocide, with an estimated one third of the African population being wiped out in the drive to extract ivory and rubber from the country. Even by imperialist standards, the violence was clearly unacceptable and, under international pressure, the Belgian government took over the running of the country in 1908.
For the next half century, Congo was not seen in political but simply in economic terms as a source of massive mineral wealth, to be extracted through forced labour. The Belgian government favoured total suppression combined with a policy of silence that effectively cut off the country from the rest of the world; even within Belgium, Congo was ignored, while the government deliberately avoided the creation of a white colonial class with any ties to the country.