It may be safely asserted that no barbarous people have ever so readily adopted the fostering care of benevolent enterprise, as have the tribes of the Congo, and never was there a more honest and practical effort made to increase their knowledge and secure their welfare.
George Washington Williams, a black American historian, went to see the Congo for himself in 1890, the same year as Joseph Conrad. After travelling more than 2,000 km up river, he wrote an open letter to the king. Here is some of what he reported:
- Schools: none – thus the “honest and practical effort made to increase their knowledge”.
- Hospitals: one, built by the Dutch. Most surgeons lacked supplies. This put even whites in danger. (Williams himself would die of disease on his way back to America. He was only 41.)
- Prisons and chain gangs: where you could wind up for even the slightest offences.
- Trade: only allowed with the state and at its prices.
- Power: given up by African chiefs after they were tricked into believing that whites had amazing strength, could withstand gunshots unharmed, could control the sun and would bring peace to all the land.
- The army: too small to keep the peace and uphold law and order. There were only 2,300 soldiers in a country of over 2,300,000 square kilometres. Much of the country was out of control.
- Terror: how the army ruled. It burned down houses and shot down people at will, taking their land and making those who lived into slaves. An example: One time a steamer pulled up to a river town. When the people came out to greet the boat as expected the soldiers on board levelled their guns and opened fire, shooting down men, women and children. They took those who lived as prisoners to work on a plantation. The officers fought over who would get the best looking women.
- Food for the army: not provided by the king. Instead it had to be demanded at gunpoint from those who lived near the posts. Those who refused to give food to the army had their houses burned down.
- The value of life: One time two officers saw a man coming down the river in a boat minding his own business. They made a five pound wager about who could shoot him dead first. After three shots he fell dead, shot in the head.
- Sex slaves: brought in from Portuguese Africa by the state and hired out to the highest bidder. The half-white children of such women became property of the state.
- The slave trade: instead of wiping it out, the state and the army took part in it at all levels. Even knowing full well that hundreds of slaves would be eaten. The army used slaves as soldiers and as mistresses for the white officers.
- Cannibals: used as shock troops. They delivered heads to the white officers and ate the children.