Here are Christine’s weekly DRC notes, facts, updates and history lessons from 9/24/2013-10/11/2013. There’s a lot of history here, which is important in framing how exactly a nation (continent) with so much natural resources can find itself in such a devastated state.
The Ivory and Rubber of Today
As we learned last week, King Leopold raped the Congo of its natural resources – particularly ivory and rubber – until his eventual ouster thanks in large part to the Congo Reform Association (CRA). Backed by several notable artists / writers [did you join/check out their Facebook page? : ], the CRA handed the Congo over to the Belgian government. That was perhaps the beginnings of international aid as we know it. Big donors (Cadbury) + a morally good cause (human rights abuses and exploitation) + internationally acclaimed artists (Twain, Doyle, Conrad) + and a clear objective (that was achieved!) = not so different from the Live Aids, We are the Worlds, Katrina relief efforts, etc. of today.
However, little did they know that the rape, pillage and plunder of the region’s abundance of natural resources would continue not only under Belgian control but under the control of large multi-national companies. We’ve all heard of blood diamonds but do we know about blood copper, blood coltan/tantalum, blood tin/cassiterite and blood tungsten? What about Blood in the Mobile? Well we should because these minerals are ubiquitous in our lives. In fact, you’re probably using a machine that contains these minerals from the Congo to read this and I too am using such a machine to type this… The NGO, War Child, breaks it down here. In essence, these minerals found in nearly everything we own and use on a daily basis are the rubber and ivory of today.
The issue of conflict / blood minerals is rife with complexities of borders, laws, cultures, trade, human rights abuses, destruction of families, the economic demise of the entire region, corporate greed, human need, ongoing civil war upon war upon war and and and … and there is soooo much literature out there that it’s impossible to distill all of it into an easily digestible fact or two. So I suggest you just google or youtube “conflict minerals” or “blood minerals” and see what you get.
In fact, Pete did just that and found a fascinating video via youtube on this issue that is 24 minutes long and very much worth a view.
I will end this post here. There is no resolution. No link to donate. No petition to sign. Nothing to make us feel better about this calamitous issue in which we are all complicit. At least not now….
Was Overthrowing King Leopold the Result of the First International Humanitarian Movement?
As we learned last week, several literary geniuses – Joseph Conrad, Arthur Conan Doyle and Mark Twain – were instrumental in uncovering the dark realities that were taking place in the Congo and bringing it to the world stage. They bolstered the advocacy work of the Congo Reform Association (CRA) which was founded by Dr. Henry Grattan Guinness (a missionary), Edmund Dene Morel (a shipping clerk), and Roger Casement (British Consul) in the UK in 1890.
All three men made significant contributions to the organization but today we highlight E.D. Morel, who as Congo’s Forgotten Hero was the impetus and organizer for what could be one of the very first international humanitarian movements. He was a writer who worked at Elder Dempster, a shipping company in Liverpool, when he discovered that the shipping invoices didn’t match the packing lists to and from the Congo Free State
The movement for reform accelerated when E. D. Morel, a shipping clerk, compared the falsified official reports of the [Congo] Free State with shipping records and rubber sales. Far from being a loss-making enterprise, as Leopold complained, the Free State was reaping a hidden fortune for its proprietor on the scale of £500,000 in a single two-year period (1899-1900), or over £40,000,000 ($70,000,000) in today’s money.2 Finding the Free State’s imports composed primarily of weapons, Morel concluded that these fortunes were reaped from the coerced labor of unwilling subjects. (Project Muse)
Morel gathered information about actual events on the ground to corroborate his claims and the Congo Reform Association quickly gained steam both in the UK and abroad with branches in the US and other countries. Who helped him?
- Christians! Morel’s eyes and ears were none other than Christian missionaries who reported back with first-hand eyewitness accounts and photographs. Even the Church of England and other American churches supported him.
- A Chocolate Millionaire! William Cadbury was one of his benefactors and helped finance Morel’s writings.
Yielding to international pressure in 1908, King Leopold was removed from power over the Congo Free State! The Belgian Parliament annexed the colony but refused to hold any commission of inquiry into the human rights abuses nor try Leopold for genocide (which he effectively did commit). In any case, the mission of the Congo Reform Association was accomplished and disbanded in 1913 as a result. Dean Pavlakis argues that the Congo Reform Association is at the root of organized global humanitarian movements (after the International Committee for the Red Cross).
Today you can even join the Congo Reform Association’s Facebook page!
SIDEBAR: The Scramble for Ivory and Rubber
Check out this PPT on the Rubber and Ivory trade:
- Ivory: was mostly used for high brow art, billiard balls and piano keys
- Rubber: the demand for rubber surged in the late 1800s to early 1900s with the rising popularity of bicycles. Dunlop, which originated in 1889 in the UK was one of the top manufacturers of rubber goods specializing in tires for bicycles then motorcars in 1900 and thereafter diversified into shoes, clothing, aerospace, golf balls, tennis rackets and even wet suits!
- King Leopold’s Ghost – I’ve read excerpts here and there. It’s written so well I just may read the whole thing one day!
King Leopold and the Belgians had a lot of help
In “America’s Early Role in the Congo Tragedy” Robert Wuliger outlines some of the biggest and earliest players that fueled the calamity in the DRC – many of whom you may recognize!
- J.P. Morgan – yup that guy: financier, banker, philanthropist, art collector.
- Thomas Fortune Ryan – tobacco and transport magnate. [side note: he paid for a gymnasium and a dormitory at Georgetown (my alma mater!)]
- John D. Rockefeller, Jr. – oil tycoon and philanthropist (father founded Standard Oil), this article states his involvement is unclear though.
- Daniel Guggenhem – industrialist and philanthropist, brother to Solomon R. Guggenheim, founder of the eponymous museums.
- James D. Stillman (may be associated with Citibank? I’m not sure who he is… anyone?)
- Edward B. Aldrich (son of Nelson W. Aldrich *, Republican leader in the Senate, and brother of Winthrop W. Aldrich, Mr. Eisenhower’s ambassador to the Court of St. James’s)
According to the article, another source adds John Hays Hammond – mining engineer, diplomat and philanthropist and Harry Payne Whitney –
an American businessman, thoroughbred horse breeder, and member of the prominent Whitney family. [side note: His wife, Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney, founded the Whitney Museum of American Art. And as you may have already noticed, this marriage united two very powerful families (already in business together): the Whitneys, one of the families that managed the Standard Oil Trust, and the Vanderbilts, shipping and railroad empires.]
It is fascinating to note how many of these heavy-weight financiers of what turned out to be a royal catastrophe in the DRC are – as are many of their heirs – some of the most prominent philanthropists… of even today.
? Did you know ?
On my first MSF mission to Nigeria (2009), I worked with Dr. Richard Rockefeller? I remember him as having been very kind, a bit nerdy, and a great team player. At night, he loved to plop his chair in the middle of the compound and read his kindle with a headlamp – no matter how many bajillions of bugs it attracted! (yes, those were the days of kindles without backlights! : )
FYI: His parents were John D. Rockefeller, Jr. and Abigail Greene Aldrich, daughter of Nelson W. Aldrich * (crazy all the intermarrying! and crazy that we’ve come full circle! (at least in this narrative : )
More Congolese History
I found an interesting website that outlines the timeline of Congolese history, which is quite complicated, but you can get the gist of it here:
Here are a couple notable moments in the Congolese timeline that speak to why and how King Leopold got his way:
- January 1870: Belgian Interest: Belgium’s King Leopold II makes his first inquiries into the Congo, hiring explorer Henry Stanley to help him lay claim to the land.
- January 1871: Trade Routes: Henry Stanley spends nearly three years navigating the waterways of Congo in an attempt to create a trade route between the Congo River and Atlantic Ocean.
- July 1871: Dr. Livingstone?: During Stanley’s trade mission for King Leopold, he encounters missionary David Livingstone in the town of Ujiji in western Tanzania. Livingstone had fallen out of contact with the outside world for several years, and Stanley’s famous words upon spotting him are “Dr. Livingstone, I presume?”
- May 1885: A New State: Belgium’s King Leopold II establishes The Congo Free State, a private corporation administered through a dummy organization called the Association Internationale Africaine, in which he is the sole shareholder and chairman. In fulfilling his colonial ambitions, Leopold oversees the next brutal chapter in Congo’s history in which 10 million Congolese are killed.
Basically, Leopold pulled off one of the biggest scandals in history, duping powerful, international investors (not that they were entirely upright and innocuous) by setting up the aforementioned smokescreen organization, the Association Internationale Africaine for the Congo Free State, which was a large area that includes the DRC of today. All this was under the guise of humanitarian work and philanthropy and christianizing and civilizing…. while profiteering of course.
Not all like that (NALT! :)
Even though many wealthy American (and European) capitalists had large interests in partaking in the Congolese plunder brokered by Belgium’s King Leopold II, there were a few notable Westerners – artists actually – who illuminated the atrocities taking place halfway around the world. Today we visit 3 of them.
1) Joseph Conrad. Thanks to Anthony Bourdain, we are reminded that Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness was set along the Congo River. According to good ol Wikipedia: Heart of Darkness is a short novel written by Joseph Conrad, presented as a frame narrative, about Charles Marlow’s job as an ivory transporter down the Congo River inCentral Africa. This river is described to be “… a mighty big river, that you could see on the map, resembling an immense snake uncoiled, with its head in the sea, its body at rest curving afar over a vast country, and its tail lost in the depths of the land.” In the course of his commercial-agent work in Africa, the seaman Marlow becomes obsessed by Mr. Kurtz, an ivory-procurement agent, a man of established notoriety among the natives and the European colonials.
The story is a thematic exploration of the savagery-versus-civilization relationship, and of the colonialismand the racism that make imperialism possible. Originally published as a three-part serial story, in Blackwood’s Magazine, the novella Heart of Darkness has been variously published and translated into many languages. In 1998, the Modern Library ranked Heart of Darkness as the sixty-seventh of the hundred best novels in English of the twentieth century.
2) Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Yes, he’s the chap of Sherlock Holmes fame! The Crime of the Congo was a pamphlet he wrote documenting the human rights abuses in the Congo. In 1909 Conan Doyle, fueled by “a burning indignation, which is the best of all driving power”, wrote a book in only eight days. The Crime of the Congo, filled with graphic descriptions of violence and illustrated with photos of mutilated people, dealt with the atrocitiesh committed in the Belgian Congo on behalf of King Leopold II.
3) Mark Twain. Indeed, Mark Twain wrote a sleeper that is perhaps one of my personal favorites. King Leopold’s Soliloquy is a pamphlet that speaks from King Leopold’s perspective, basically outlining all the reasons why his actions are justified; why the savages need to be Christianized; and why mutilation is the most reasonable punishment for not meeting their daily quota. With this, Twain argued that the US had a legal and moral obligation to intervene in the Congo. (a timeless argument, don’t you think?)
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