We Are Left with Barely Anything: Colonial Rule, Dependency, and the Lever Brothers in the Belgian Congo, 1911–1960

Benoît Henriet, Reuben Loffman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

When historians have examined labour relations in the
Belgian Congo, the paradigmatic image is that of rapacious,
avaricious metropolitan investors oppressing helpless
African communities by dint of a skeletal but violent cohort
of intermediaries. Leopold II was exemplary of this trend.
Having never set foot in the Congo, he drew vast profits
from the territory by means of initiating a series of
appalling atrocities as his employees coerced Africans into
harvesting rubber in the late nineteenth and early
twentieth centuries. Such emphasis on exploitation fits with
a long-standing scholarly emphasis on African dependency
that has also highlighted how capital has leaked out of the
Congo and into Europe and North America. Yet this article
argues, first, that capital sometimes leaked from Europe to
the Congo. Secondly, this essay suggests that not every
investor in the Congo was as mendacious and cynical as
Leopold II. Some, namely the Lever brothers, came to the
Congo in the sincere hopes of establishing Christian, middle
class African communities in the bush. But Lever’s plans
were compromised by the firm’s paternalism and their
overriding need to turn a profit.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)71-100
Number of pages31
JournalJournal of Imperial & Commonwealth History
Volume48
Issue number1
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2 Jan 2020

Keywords

  • Belgian Congo
  • Christianity
  • Leverhulme
  • dependency
  • labour relations
  • paternalism

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