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Congo rubber and the present

This article on the BBC website talks about the hands and feet of Congolese children being cut if the required amount of rubber was not met by their parents: The horrific consequences of rubber's toxic past

There was yet another reason to cut children's hands, more complex albeit no less gruesome.

The first steps of the Belgian method were joyful. A colonial administrator would arrive in a village, meet the authorities and arrange a deal according to which the villagers would go out and harvest rubber and other goods, in exchange for valuable European items like steel knifes. It was a feast for the villagers, because of the obvious value of what they would get and out of respect and friendliness for their visitor. They would do their most to gather all they could. The administrator would then consider that the amount of rubber and other goods that they brought to him was what that village was capable of producing. He would make the authorities "sign papers" according to which they promise to provide the same amount on a regular basis.

Reality striking, the next time the administrator would arrive, the villagers would not be able to provide the same amount. The vines had not regrown since the previous harvest. The villagers would still be able to provide yet not the same quantity. That would be a rupture of contract, which begs for measures to enforce the law. Isn't this the very basis of a civilized country? Is it not a duty for a loving parent to make his children meet their obligations? The administrator would find himself having but no other choice than for example detain the wifes till the villagers provide the imposed amounts.

In order to do so, the villagers had to wander further away from their village and into dangerous territory. They would have to disrespect sacred grounds and risk problems with other tribes. They would also have to cease their regular activities essential to their survival.

The pressure imposed by the colonial enslaver being unbearable, some villages would revolt. The colonial administration would then send troops, composed of African soldiers, "to punish and restore peace", which again is the duty of a responsible government.

My paternal grandfather was a sergeant in the Belgian Army at the outbreak of World War Two. He had been disgusted by discourses from Leon Degrelle, a Belgian fascist party leader and was eager to go to battle and drive away the Nazi invasion of Belgium. Yet he was assigned to command a set of young conscripts with no ability for combat whatsoever, so instead he had to protect them and prevent them from being machined away by the Germans. He accompanied them during the retreat to the south of France. He would later on enlist in the US Army. Another quirk of the Belgian "army" was that each soldier received just ten bullets for his riffle and each bullet being fired had to be accounted for by paperwork. The same thing was enforced in Congo for the African colonial soldiers. A bullet would be replaced if the soldier could present proof that he had actually used it "to kill a bandit". That proof would be a hand, from the "bandit". Hence, the hands that were cut away would be from dead people. Reality kicks in and it so happened that those soldiers also used their ammunition for other purposes, like hunting animals to feed themselves. In order to have their ammunition refilled they had to present hands, any hands. Children's hands were the easiest to come by. The Belgian authorities never gave orders to cut those children's hands... they just enforced strict rules and accounted for every ammunition. The Belgian authorities had a highly civilized behavior.

The same way, the aborigines from Australia have been massacred away by European outlaws. Yet, nothing can be found in the British state archives that involves any intention to bring harm to the aborigines. The outlaws would install themselves on uncharted land and kill away whatever would hamper them. Years later, once their farming was installed and running well, the authorities would come and point out that their implantation is illegal, drive them away and install meek and polite settlers instead. The outlaws would then have to start from scratch on another patch of land further away. There have been "police operations" that killed away aborigines but they do not account for the whole of the genocide: The Killing Times: the massacres of Aboriginal people Australia must confront

There is a difference between the hands being cut in direct retaliation for not providing the requested amount of rubber and the hands being cut as an unplanned side effect. Of course I hold the Belgians responsible for everything that happened, I'm just stating that the reality was diverse and sometimes happened in perverse ways.

When the British tried to gain control over Congo, they reported the fact that the villages along the rivers were now empty. A simple calculation, of the known populations of those villages compared to their emptiness, brought the amount of people killed away by the Belgian authorities into the millions. Again, it would have made no sense for the Belgians to just wipe out the country. What seems to have happened is that the Congolese would flee into the woods whenever they saw European people approaching. They would get back to their villages once the danger was away. This oppression had severe consequences. Surviving in the woods for days or months in a row was harsh. It brought sickness and destroyed families. It did take its toll, it was inhumane. The fact remains that the Belgian authorities did not plan on a genocide.

What's important here is that what the BBC reports can be perceived as something evil that would no more be possible today, at least not from the part of an European state or enterprise, while the mechanisms that underline my version are still very well underway. Debts are being invented to gain control over African countries, puppet governments are being sponsored, the death toll from the population, be it to bad healthcare, crime or war is appalling. Our utterly civilized and tightly accounting procedures still are the tools of devastation and enrichment of a few.

What's also of importance to me is that those methods are being used against the European populations themselves. Many such mechanisms exist to ensure the wealth of the local elite while ruining the population. Politicians don't govern, they merely centralize and regulate the plundering and make sure the massacre is not felt. When Congo was a Belgian colony, the truth sold to the Belgian population about the Congolese was a tailored hoax. The same happens today about what's happening in Belgium, with for example no mention of the homeless simply being refused social help, the way social housing works in reality, little enterprises that install in Belgium just being plundered away a few years later, harmful sources of pollution being left unchecked... I did meet politicians and they would react the same way as their homologues back in the time of the colony, stating that what I report is simply impossible and contrary to everything they believe in. Children of rich people stick to this storyline, are being rewarded for their allegiance and the system goes on.

At the end of the colonial era, the British had managed to understand that they got a better yield by doing commerce; by developing the competence to really negotiate with tribes or villages what they would like to exchange. That would bring no destruction, require far less of those expensive army interventions and provide the highest attainable results. Maybe that level of civilization will one day develop inside of Belgium.

Eric Brasseur  -  Jully 26th  till  August 20 2019