Catherine Hoskyns’s book, The Congo since Independence, is a scholarly and fair-minded account, based on an analysis of all the available documentary material, and also on discussions with many of the personalities concerned, of events in and about the Congo during the two fateful years 1960 and 1961. This is the first time that an attempt either in French or English has been made to produce a connected narrative of the complex events of these years and all students of the Congo and of the United Nations will be deeply in Miss Hoskyns’s debt.footnote1 Such students will, of course, be familiar with much of the material on which she has worked, for example, the valuable annual documentary collections published by crisp—but in a number of areas, notably in the section ‘Constitutional Crisis’, dealing with the fall of Lumumba, she sheds much new light on her subject.
Thorough as Miss Hoskyns’s analysis of available material is, it necessarily falls short of being anything like a full account of the history of the period since much relevant material—relating, for example, to the crucial role of certain foreign embassies and interests—will not be available for many years and much will probably never be available. It is, I think, a weakness of this important study that it does not make the reader sufficiently conscious of these large gaps in our present knowledge, but rather tends to leave him under the impression that, through Miss Hoskyns, he now has most of the material needed to reach valid conclusions about what happened. The reader should be, but is usually not, made aware that what he has here is a very good interim account, an account of the present state of our knowledge on these matters, and that the historical picture may look significantly different when the relevant archives—such as may survive—of the State Department, the Quai d’Orsay, the Foreign Office and the Belgian Government become available for inspection many years hence.
This weakness, common to most ‘studies of contemporary history’ might have little enough political significance were it not for the way in which it combines in the present study with the assumptions and dialect of Chatham House to produce a picture of the Congo somewhat tidier, more polite, more honest and above all, more immune to foreign intrigue, than experience of the reality suggests.
It is natural, within the terms of reference of Chatham House, that Miss Hoskyns should not, without grave reason and weighty evidence, impute improper motives to Congolese politicians, but since the motives of the current crop of Congolese politicians are seldom proper, this imparts a faint tinge of unreality to her descriptions of their transactions. Similarly, she obviously cannot, working within the Chatham House terms of reference, suggest or imply that given developments in the Congo are likely to have been the result of American, Belgian, British or French intervention, or describe the divergencies of the Congo policies of these countries, without firm evidence in support of what she has to say; as these and other nations are not disposed to leave such firm evidence lying around she therefore cannot say very much about them; since the Congo policies of these countries have been and remain among the most important elements in the political history of the Congo the discretion which she must maintain regarding this area is another notable, though inevitable, limitation on the value of her book. It is important, however, not to over-emphasize these reservations. Although the limitations of the material available, and of the area of speculation permissible in a Chatham House publication, are important, it must be said that Miss Hoskyns follows up such clues as are available with pertinacity and courage and that her account, even within its rather antiseptic limits, is significantly closer to reality than the picture presented so far either by the Press or in United Nations documents. Both the usefulness and the limitations of Miss Hoskyns’s study are
This is a necessarily brief sketch, but is is nonetheless curious that it omits all mention of King Leopold and his Congo Free State. It is understandable that in a book mainly concerned with the Congo since independence the author would not wish to become deeply involved in a discussion of Leopold’s Congo; nonetheless the more recent history of the Congo can hardly be understood without some knowledge of the form which Belgian rule took in its first 20 years: a form of exploitation of human and other resources unparalleled in colonial annals for murderous and destructive greed.footnote2
Miss Hoskyns does mention in a footnote later on that Leopold’s régime ‘caused an international scandal’; in the circumstances this is not quite enough. Belgians and their friends and enemies have already forgotten or forgiven the atrocities which their fathers committed against the Congolese, but recent experience suggests that the Congolese themselves have not forgotten all this quite so easily. Some of the brutalities committed against Europeans which Miss Hoskyns is obliged to chronicle—and does fairly chronicle—would be a little better understood if the historical background were somewhat more firmly situated.
A background section which explains the basic attitude of the Belgians in the words: ‘they regarded themselves as holding the Congo in Trust for Africans’ can rightly be called misleading. Some Belgians, among them politicians, administrators and missionaries, probably did have this curious idea; it was not my good fortune in the Congo to encounter more than one or two who appeared to be even aware of such a concept. The king of the Belgians went (by proxy) into the Congo for what he could get out of it and most of his compatriots went there in the same spirit. Ideas of ‘trusteeship’ dawned late, dimly and mimetically. This does not impugn the sincerity of those Belgians who, especially after the Second World War, strove to bring about a more responsible attitude, but it would be a notable idealization of reality to suggest that an attitude of responsibility to the Africans was widespread among Belgians either in the Congo itself or in the metropolis. One can understand that Chatham House would not wish to be beastly to the Belgians, but the restraint which this implies for such a historical retrospect as this is indicative of some of the weaknesses of Chatham House historiography.footnote3