IT HAS often been said that Belgium has no official colonial doctrine, and that is true enough in the sense that there is none which is complete and systematic. Leopold II had no firm plans when he founded the Association Internationale Africaine in 1876, nor yet in 1879 when he secured Stanley's services. Neither he nor anyone else could have foreseen then that in 1885 he would be recognized by all the Powers as "Sovereign of the Congo Free State." One thing is certain, namely that Leopold II, acting alone and without the military and financial support of a government behind him, could never have hoped to conquer the Congo by force of arms, to impose himself there against the will of the inhabitants. Therefore no attempt at conquest was made. That was a fortunate beginning.
When Leopold II's political and national ambitions became more specific, he based his right on occupation, not conquest; on peaceful coexistence with the natives who occupied a very small part of the African Equatorial belt. It is true that in the 1890's Central Africa was not uninhabited; but neither was it fully occupied. The King, and later Belgium, never questioned the prior rights of the natives as first occupants. There was plenty of room for everybody--wide empty spaces where one could take up land without interfering with anyone else, without disturbing the natives in their peaceful possession of widely scattered patches of land, without infringing any existing rights.
In the vast area of the Congo basin there lived a few million natives, lost in the jungle and the bush, tolerated at best by their physical environment, leading a precarious life on what one might call the fringe of nature. Surface and underground wealth were unknown and unexploited. Belgian colonization aimed at tapping these unexploited resources, at occupying unused land, at filling voids.
The concern for native rights can be traced through Congo legislation from the very beginning. Thus an Order by the Administrator General dated July 1, 1885--the very
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