Review of The New Congo by Tom Marvel
This is an interesting account of what the author saw in a journey over a considerable part of the Belgian Congo in 1946. Landing at Leopoldville by air, he went as far as Borna on the Lower River. Then a hop of a thousand miles to Stanleyville and thence down the eastern fron-tier to Elizabethville and the copper country and westward from there to the diamond fields of the Kassai. Vast areas along the Middle River and its tributaries were thus unvisited, but the account has much useful and interesting information that will be a revelation to those who think of the Congo as a tropical jungle peopled by wild tribes, elephants, and pythons. Indeed, the book has many surprises to an old Congo hand who saw the country as late as fifteen years ago.
Leopoldville, the capital, is now a city of 106,000, of which 6,000 are whites. It is a flourishing metropolis with its nine-story office building, its department stores, expensive shops, daily papers, banks, public library, sidewalk cafés, and "No Parking" signs. A hydroelectric plant furnishes abundant power; water is abundant and pure; and modern sanitation and, in short, all the amenities of a modern city are
( 578) available. There are industries, too—extensive shipyards, a great cotton mill, railway yards, and technical schools where capable natives are trained as clerks, accountants, telegraphers, mechanics, and in all the useful skilled occupations.
The native city is separated from the European section by a no-man's land, and Europeans may not visit the native part after dark. Here are attractive houses, each with garden space, good water, sanitation, retail shops and markets, dispensaries, movies, swimming pool, and playing fields. There are no shantytowns or slums with shacks as in Johannesburg.
The contrast between the Belgian colony and the neighboring British Northern Rhodesia is interesting to note. In Rhodesia the Englishman is a settler who has come out to Africa to live and who takes an interest in the country as his home. They claim to live in a white man's country with a native problem which is often the problem of how to induce the natives to work for wages.
In the Congo, on the other hand, the typical Belgian regards his residence as temporary; he is engaged for a fixed term of years, and home to him means Europe. Whatever other consequences follow from this difference, the effect on the native life is far more favorable in the Belgian system. While in Northern Rhodesia it is illegal to teach a skilled trade to a native lest he compete with the white carpenter or bricklayer, in the Congo the announced ultimate objective is to turn over the colony to its inhabitants as soon as they are prepared to take it over. So the natives are encouraged to learn the arts and crafts. Trains are run by all-native crews, and copper and tin are mined by completely mechanized operations with natives running the steam shovels, only the supervisory functions being performed by a small force of whites.
It is fortunate for the natives that the intensive development of the natural resources was delayed until the arrival of electric power and automatic machinery. This reviewer once journeyed by caravan, as miles from the railhead to Stanley Pool, for eleven days over rough roads with natives who carried burdens of sixty pounds. Nor was this economical, for the expense was a hundred dollars. All that is changed. Busses now run on good roads, and the mines have neither pick nor shovel. There are serious problems in plenty but the back-breaking drudgery has been by-passed by the machine. It will be many a long day before the natives can take over, but the first steps are being taken, and there is much to commend.
The great development in the Belgian Congo came during the second World War with impressive results. The statement has been published that the colonial government has credits in the United States of three billion dollars. Whether this is accurate or not, it is true that the Katanga mines have produced more copper than all the rest of the world since their beginning. At one time the Congo had a practical monopoly on the production of radium, and half the world production is said to come from there at the present time, though the operations and the figures are now top secret. Most of the material for the atomic bombs came from the Conga. The Mamma mines sent 40,000 tons of pure tin to the United States during the war and 1300 tons of ore, 70 per cent pure, are sent annually to Texas City for reduction. Half-a-million troy ounces of gold have been taken from the mines at Kilomoto, and some forty thousand are now employed there. Some Soo tons of tantalum and 3,000 tons of cobalt were produced during the war, and quantities of zinc concentrate are annually shipped to Belgium. Tungsten, malachite, cadmium, and other of the rare and valuable minerals swell the total. Three-fourths of all the diamonds, by weight, now come from the Congo from the alluvial deposits in the Kassai Valley. Most of these are not gems but the industrial diamonds so essential to modern high-speed operations.
Vegetable products are also important. Some three million dollars' worth of palm oil is annually sent to the United States and much to other countries. Cotton culture is becoming important, as is cacao, sugar, and, of course, rubber. Cement factories turn out sixty thousand tons a year for local use. They also make their own cigarettes-three million a day-with American machinery.
All the above figures are taken from this book. The author visited the managers and heads of departments and was everywhere well received and assisted. Of matters sociological he records little and knows less. No native villages away from the planned towns were visited, nor is there any mention of a single Protestant mission station.
One significant result of the white occupation does receive mention; the growing number of the evolués, a term that has arisen to denote the natives who speak French, wear European dress, have learned some art or skill of the Euro-
( 579) -pean, as stenography, engineering, cabinet-making, or the like. These evolués tend to live in separate villages with better and more pretentious houses in which are found books, news-papers, and magazines. They form an increasingly numerous class, holding themselves superior to untaught natives but with a status be-low the whites. There is no mention in the book of any present problem but from other sources it is known that the Communists are busy, particularly in Brazzaville, and that Marxist Literature is being smuggled in. The capitalistic system is thus being attacked from the rear. Of this we are destined to hear a great deal in the years ahead.
Another important sociological problem which awaits study is the effect on the village life in the forest, from which are taken increasing numbers of the best and strongest young men. The colony is as large in area as the twenty-six states east of the Mississippi River. In this mil-lion square miles there are perhaps fewer than twelve million souls. With a hundred thousand in Leopoldville, seventy thousand in Elizabethville, forty thousand in Kilomoto, and with other centers of between twenty and thirty thousand and with this process still going on of robbing the villages, the effect, whatever it is, can hardly be favorable.
The book contains, besides the author's ac-count of his firsthand observations, a historical introduction, with only minor inaccuracies. There is a description of the river, the greater part of which he did not see at all and in which the language becomes quite flowery, much as the reader might be tempted to do in writing a description of the Amazon from an armchair in Indiana. There is a short concluding chapter of gratuitous advice to the government of the colony written with a minimum of competence.
The book will. well repay anyone who is interested in the rich Congo Valley, which is destined to become increasingly important. It would be fine to see that country; it can be done in thirty-six hours from New York.
Lake Forest, Illinois