Address delivered by King Albert I on the occasion of the opening of the Congo Museum, at Tervuren

Address delivered by King Albert I on the occasion of the opening of the Congo Museum, at Tervuren  (1910) 
by Albert I of Belgium, translator not mentioned

given May 5, 1910

Ladies, Gentlemen: The minister for the colonies has just rendered a just and solemn homage to the illustrious founder of the Congo, King Leopold II.

It is a duty for all of us, gentlemen, to associate ourselves entirely to these words of patriotic gratitude. The colonial museum that we are now inaugurating was a happy conception of the late King. He wanted it worthy of the task he had undertaken. Ever animated with the desire to embellish the suburbs of his capital, he had planned imposing edifices, to which this charming landscape of Tervueren and this park, with its majestic prospects, were to offer a marvelous setting.

Mr. Renkin has very eloquently characterized the action of the Belgian people in the Congo. He addressed to our compatriots words of praise in which I join most heartily. I take pleasure in recalling, in turn, this memorable epoch of the outset of the independent State, and I do so with all the more pleasure that I see among my auditors a great number of devoted servants of the first hour—these Africans who had faith in the future of the undertaking and who were its fearless and enlightened pioneers.

An immense task it was, that assigned to the Belgian people by the distinguished personalities gathered together by King Leopold II in the palace of Brussels, over 30 years ago.

This task comprised the exploring of those mysterious territories of Central Africa, their effective occupation by means of advance posts which were to be created, the crushing of the slave traders who spread terror and misery through all this part of the continent—in a word, the organizing of a real State by the delimitation of a vast district and the exerting to its furthermost frontiers, of the beneficent action of the metropolis—a glorious but difficult mission coming to our officers as early as 1878.

In order to carry out such a program our compatriots displayed equalities of initiative organization, endurance, and courage truly admirable, and which can never be too highly praised. Let us not forget, above all, that it was our countrymen, officers, and noncommissioned officers issued from our regiments, who dealt the decisive blows to the power of the Arab slave dealers.

Even now we have out there excellent officials. I have seen them at work, I esteem them, and I wish to address to them a public testimonial of my sympathy. They are equal to their task, and they will wisely apply the reforms that we have taken the pledge to realize in order to extend to the whole of the Congo a form of government worthy of Belgium.

My Government has resolutely taken up this course; numerous decrees have already been enacted, others are in preparation. All have in view the welfare of the natives and are inspired by a policy of generous liberty, for in the Congo, as in Belgium, we wish to enjoy the esteem of our neighbors and, surrounded with the sympathies of other nations, advance incessantly in the path of progress.

But, aside from the noble task of the administrative and political organization, there is another, that of the economical, rational, and progressive exploitation of the country, and in which are destined to participate, in a fertile toil, all our national forces.

Present methods of colonization do not consist, as in former days, in the importation of arms, liquors, and the excessive exploitation of a country, but in introducing, into remote and primitive regions worthier customs sanctioned by Christianity, in spreading therein the discoveries of science and the marvels of modern technique. A colonizing people who understand its true interests looks out first of all for the welfare of the populations intrusted to its care.

Belgium owes it to itself to occupy an important place in the economical evolution of intertropical colonies, evolution of which the principal artisans are, together with the official and the officer, the missionary, the engineer, the merchant, the cultivator. Now, ought we not to recognize that the economical task is at present but roughly sketched?

And yet our beautiful colony has been well favored by nature. It has been generously gifted with marvelous waterways, most of which lend themselves very well to navigation or will become accessible thereto after the necessary work of rock blasting and buoy laying has been accomplished.

The railways, gentlemen, appear as the indispensable complement of this admirable network of waterways. Have we made the necessary efforts in order to develop them?

The railway of the lower Congo will indeed remain a gigantic enterprise, unique in the economical history of Africa; but, since its achievement, aside from the railway of the great lakes, the essentially Belgian lines have but slightly progressed. It is desirable that we have at least a line of transportation, conceived and built by our compatriots, clear across the colony, and connecting the capital with the heart of the Katanga district. Without foretelling the future, the railway of the great lakes, duly extended, might realize this wish, which I formulate most heartily. In this respect we must become inspired by the example of the great colonizing nations which have undergone vast sacrifices in Africa.

When I speak of sacrifices, the exact significance of this term must be made clear; for there is hardly a railway in Africa which, after a certain number of years, does not repay the capital invested and procure for the colony considerable indirect resources. Thus statistics have registered the fact everywhere; that exportations and importations, as well as customs receipts, undergo an astonishingly rapid increase as soon as the railways are opened to traffic.

What we lack in the Congo and what we need is a well-established system of means of communication, and, if I dare to thus express myself, a special policy of railways. This policy must have a national character. We can not better show its vital importance than by citing the example of the United States. A part of the history of this great people is taken up with the question of transcontinental roads, the construction of which was followed with anxiety and impatience throughout the entire continent. In Russia the roads into Asia were the object of an immense effort considered as necessary to the extension and the maintenance of the political and economical power of the, Empire. The English, the French, the Germans have for many years past made the creation of railways the corner stone of their colonial action.

Our policy in regard to the means of transportation in the Congo must be seconded with fearlessness and foresight; we must take into consideration, first of all, the general interest of the colony. Enterprises as vast in scope as these we have undertaken bring with them great duties and necessitate incessant efforts. Had the first pioneers of the independent State not displayed an untiring activity, had they not ever made generous sacrifices, we should not to-day be in possession of the Congo. Let us follow this magnificent example; let us continue to display a constant energy full, above all, of confidence in our own forces.

Belgium has immense riches and can count upon men of great value who direct the investment of its financial reserves. May these distinguished men be also the artisans of the prosperity of our over-sea possessions; may they be convinced, as I am myself, of the national interest offered by the development of Belgian colonization. The credit institutions of this country have a patriotic function to accomplish—that of encouraging the expansion of capital in the Congo and of thus powerfully cooperating in the success of the highly civilizing work which helps promote the honor of our course of action in Africa.

The minister has spoken in excellent terms of the aim and of the organization of the museum. I hope that this fine institution may be worthy of the high thought of its founder. I see in it a work of science and of education, a work of useful diffusion of knowledge among the masses and of colonial propaganda. Its rich collection will show to all the inexhaustible resources of our colony. Under an enlightened and active guidance a center of knowledge, a source of precious documentation, will constitute themselves here. This museum will be as a reflection of our colonial development; it will enhance and increase again the scientific patrimony of Belgium. Gentlemen, I declare open the Museum of Belgian Congo.

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