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Home arrow Political science arrow British Humanitarianism and the Congo Reform Movement, 1896-1913



The German reform movement took years to organize, beginning in 1903-04, when Alfred Zimmerman, a former colonial official who was chancellor of the German embassy in London, became a committed Congo reformer.[1] He hoped for a European consensus on the rights of Africans under colonial rule. Like Casement, he could not participate in a lobbying organization, but there was no Morel to lead one for him, only Ludwig Deuss. Deuss, like Holt, sympathized with the Africans as people and as customers. He was the only prominent reformer to have married an African woman. Unfortunately, his poor political and organizational sense impeded his well-intentioned efforts.[2] Despite the gradual buildup of support in Bremen, Hamburg, and Berlin, favorable press coverage, and lively debates at the Colonial Society, it took until 1910 to form the German League for the Defence of the Natives of the Congo Basin.

With German allies fragmented, reformers pinned their hopes on the Kaiser. In 1905, the Quakers sent E.W. Brooks and J.G. Alexander to Berlin as a deputation regarding the Congo, possibly with Zimmerman’s support. Brooks and Alexander, CRA Executive Committee members, brought alongJohn Harris for eyewitness testimony. They met with German officials but not the Kaiser. The next year, the Kaiser asked his friend Lord Lonsdale for his opinion of the

Congo Free State.[3] Morel seized the opportunity, sending a packet of materials via F.W. Fox and Lonsdale, such as the Speaker articles of 1900 and a calf-bound copy of Red Rubber.[4] When the Kaiser visited England in November 1907, Harris asked the Anti-Slavery Society and the Quakers to sponsor a deputation, but Anti-Slavery deferred to the Friends, who were not able to secure a meeting.[5] Harris then proposed a visit to Berlin, but Sir Thomas Fowell Buxton vetoed the idea, saying that it would be open to misinterpretation.[6] The approaches to the Kaiser were not a productive use of energy. Wilhelm disliked Leopold but did not take up humanitarian causes.[7]

According to the German agent of Leopold’s Press Bureau, its subsidies had generated much goodwill for the Congo.[8] The German Congo League formed only after the Press Bureau closed. The alliance between British and German reformers had its benefits. The CRA collected ?158 from seven Germans, Deuss, Vohsen, and others kept the controversy alive in the German press, and Morel could showcase their support. However, the reformers had little official impact. Great-power calculations in Berlin, not public pressure, determined the few occasions when the German government supported British pressure on Belgium.

  • [1] Not to be confused with Arthur Zimmerman, Foreign Minister of Germany duringWorld War I.
  • [2] Morel to Abel-Musgrave, 2 February 1910, F8/118:26; Willequet, La CongoBelgeetla Weltpolitik, 51-4, 172-5.
  • [3] F.W. Fox to Morel, 4 November 1906, F9/6:37.
  • [4] Fox to Morel, 6 November 1906, F9/6:39-40; Morel to Deuss, 12 November 1906,F10/14:598.
  • [5] Brit. Emp. s.19 D1/3:652; Brit. Emp. s.20 E2/12; Buxton to Morel, 5 October 1907,F9/2:217.
  • [6] Anti-Slavery Committee, 19 November and 6 December 1907, Brit. Emp. s.20E2/12; Buxton to Alexander, 10 December 1907, Brit. Emp. s.19 D1/3:821.
  • [7] Emerson, Leopold, 225.
  • [8] Hochschild, King Leopold’s Ghost, 240-41.
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