On 30 June 2020, on the occasion of the 60th anniversary of the former Belgian Congo’s independence, the news went viral over the planet: Philippe, King of the Belgians, had conveyed regrets for the colonial past, and particularly for the time when Leopold II owned the Congo as a personal possession (1885-1908), to the Congolese head of state and to the Congolese people.
- Léopold II and the Congo
- The Berlin Conference and the creation of the Congo Free State (CFS)
- The Javanese model as applied by Belgium’s Leopold II in the Congo
- The international campaign against the crimes committed in the Congo by Leopold II of (…)
- Leopold II, King of the Belgians, is responsible for deliberate ‘crimes against (…)
- The colonial period when Belgium owned the Congo (1908-1960)
- With the World Bank aiding and abetting, Belgium forced the Congolese people to pay a debt (…)
- Belgium’s support of Mobutu’s dictatorship
- Belgian private corporations systematically derived profits from the relationships between (…)
- Jacques de Groote after the end of his term at the IMF and World Bank
- Belgium’s attitude after Mobutu’s fall
- What solution was put forward to solve the Congolese debt issue?
- How was the operation to be financed?
- The delusion of the HIPC initiative
Here is the core passage of the letter:
During the period of the Congo Free State, acts of violence and cruelty were committed, which still weigh on our collective memory. The colonial period which followed also caused suffering and humiliation. I would like to express my deepest regrets for these wounds of the past, the pain of which is now revived by the discrimination still too present in our societies. I will go on fighting all forms of racism. (see amp.cnn.com)
This intervention by the King of the Belgians is one of the outcomes of the huge international movement of renewed awareness and mobilization that has developed at the end of May and through the month of June 2020 since the murder of George Floyd by the U.S. police.
The statement is grossly insufficient in that it does not point to those who were responsible for such atrocities: King Leopold II is not even mentioned. Philippe does not convey any apology and does not suggest that the Royal family and/or the Belgian State should pay compensation money. He does not refer either to the possibility of giving back goods that were stolen from the Congolese people when Leopold II owned the Congo and when the Congo was a Belgian colony (1908-1960). Some of those goods are located in the Africa Museum at Tervuren or in private collections. Philippe does not suggest that statues of colonizers or other symbols of the colonial era present in public areas be got rid of, or at least accompanied by panels explaining the horror of colonial times.
I would like to recall some key events in the relationships between Belgium and the Congo in order to underline the extent of the Belgian government’s liability.
I make no claim to exhaustiveness and will focus on the fields I know best, namely odious and illegitimate debt.
Léopold II and the Congo
Léopold II had considered colonizing a part of Argentina and then looked at the Philippines but the price that Spain asked was too high. Finally he decided to get hold of the Congo Basin. To do this he had to be crafty to avoid conflict with the other European powers that were already present in the area and might not favourably view a new arrival wanting a piece of the cake.
In the 19th century the Europeans justified their colonial policies with arguments of Christianizing the pagans, introducing free trade (still a current discourse) and in Sub-Saharan Africa, putting an end to the Arabs’ slave trade.
In 1876, Leopold II organized an International Geographical Conference in Brussels with an objective that was quite consistent with the spirit of the time: “To open up to civilization the last remaining region of the globe where it has yet to penetrate, to throw back the shadows still enveloping entire populations, is, I dare to say, a crusade worthy of this century of progress (…) It seems to me that Belgium, a central and neutral state, would be the right place to hold this reunion (…) Must I reassure you that when I called you all here to Brussels I was not motivated by Selfishness? No, gentlemen, Belgium may be a small country but she is happy and contented with her condition: my sole ambition is to serve her well”. He goes on to explain to the great explorers he had gathered there that the objective of the International Geographical Conference was to build roads to reach the hinterland, and to set up pacifying medical and scientific stations which would be the means of abolishing slavery and of creating harmony between Chiefs as they brought just and unbiased arbitration. That was the official discourse.
To open up to civilisation the last remaining region of the globe where it has yet to penetrate, to throw back the shadows still enveloping entire populations, is, I dare to say, a crusade worthy of this century of progress.
– Léopold II, King of the Belgians
Shortly afterwards he engaged the British explorer Henry Morton Stanley, who had just crossed Africa from East to West by following the Congo River to its estuary.
The Berlin Conference and the creation of the Congo Free State (CFS)
In 1885 at the Berlin Conference, after much diplomatic manoeuvring, Léopold II obtained authorization to create an independent Congolese State which became known as the Congo Free State (CFS). In his closing speech to the conference Chancellor Bismark said “The new state of the Congo will one day be a prime example of what we wish to achieve, and I express my deepest wishes for its rapid development and the realisation of the noble desires of its illustrious creator.”
The new state of the Congo will one day be a prime example of what we wish to achieve.
– Bismark, Chancellor of the German Empire.
Although he gave great speeches in great conferences Léopold II had a very different discourse elsewhere: in documents he sent to his delegates in CFS whose task was to extract the profits, or his declarations to the press. For example, in an interview with Leopold II which appeared in the New York paper Publisher’s Press on 11 December 1906–twenty years after the Berlin Conference – he said “When dealing with a race made up of cannibals for thousands of years, it is necessary to use methods that shake their laziness and make them understand the healthy aspects of work.”
As from the moment in 1885 when Leopold II could create from nothing the Congo Free State as his own personal state he issued a first decree that declared all unexploited land as state property. He grabbed the land even though the reason for creating the CFS was to allow the chiefs to enter into agreements and to defend themselves against the Arab slave traders. With Stanley’s help, he passed a series of treaties with Congolese tribal chieftains by which the lands of their villages and of their territories came under the control of CFS’ head of State, Leopold II. Other lands, which were immense territories, were declared vacant and so also became the property of the CFS.
When dealing with a race made up of cannibals for thousands of years, it is necessary to use methods that shake their laziness.
– Léopold II, King of the Belgians
The Javanese model as applied by Belgium’s Leopold II in the Congo
At this point Leopold II used the model applied by the Low Countries in Java to his country’s exploitation of the Congo: he systematically exploited the population, succeeding in dominating it particularly thanks to the creation of the ‘Force Publique’, requiring of said population the harvesting of latex (natural rubber), elephant tusks, and provision of the necessary food supplies to the colonizers. The king granted himself a monopoly on almost all Congolese activities and sources of wealth. His model involved harvesting a maximum of the Congo’s natural resources by strategies which have nothing in common with modern methods of industrial production. Indeed, the agenda compelled the Congolese population to harvest latex to fulfil a certain quota per capita, and to hunt in order to gather enormous quantities of elephant tusks. Leopold II maintained a colonial force with an army mainly consisting of Congolese but with Belgian officers, in order to impose respect for the colonial order and for the obligatory supply systems. He made systematic use of horrifyingly brutal methods.A given amount of rubber was required per head. In order to compel village chiefs and other men to go and harvest it, their women were imprisoned in concentration camps, wherethey were sexually abused on a regular basis by colonizers or by Congolese from the Force Publique. If the required results and quantities were not reached, people were killed ‘as an example’, or mutilated. Photographs from that era show the victims of such mutilations, and these photographs reveal a specific purpose. Force Publique soldiers had to bring back the hands of their victims to prove that every cartridge had been used appropriately, but hands could be severed with machetes and did not require shooting.
The vision and the political strategy of Leopold II, King of the Belgians, representative of the country’s and of the people’s interests, were illustrative of a colonialist approach of extreme brutality. Moreover, on the subject of this policy, he states,
To claim that all white-generated production in the country must be spent only in Africa and in order to generate profit for the blacks is pure heresy, an injustice, an error which, if actually implemented, would bring to a standstill the march of civilization in the Congo. The State, which could only have become a State with the active support of the whites, must be useful to the two races and allocate to each its fair share.
Clearly, the Congolese’s share was forced labour, the leather whip and severed hands.
To claim that all white-generated production in the country must be spent only in Africa and in order to generate profit for the blacks is pure heresy.
– Leopold II
On the subject of unrestrained exploitation of natural rubber resources, I shall only mention a few figures: rubber harvesting began in 1893, and was linked to the demand for tyres by the early automotive industry and the development of the bicycle. Production figures show 33,000 kilos of rubber in 1895; 50,000 kilos in 1896; 278,000 kilos in 1897; 508,000 kilos in 1898… Such huge harvests generated huge benefits for private companies created to manage the exploitation of the Congo Free State by Leopold II, who was also their main shareholder. The price of a kilo of rubber at the mouth of the Congo River was 60 times lower than the market price in Belgium. One is reminded of the current issue of the price of diamonds or coltan (columbite-tantalum) mined today.
The international campaign against the crimes committed in the Congo by Leopold II of Belgium
This policy eventually triggered an enormous international campaign against the crimes perpetrated by the regime of Leopold II. Black pastors in the United States were protesting against this situation, then were joined by British activist E.D. Morel. Morel worked for a British company in Liverpool, and was regularly called on to travel to Antwerp. He observed that while Leopold II claimed that Belgium was undertaking commercial exchanges with the Congo Free State, ships were returning from the Congo with cargoes of elephant tusks and thousands of kilos of rubber, and the return cargoes were mainly arms and foodstuffs for the colonial forces. Morel considered this to be a very strange kind of trade, a strange kind of exchange. At the time, those Belgians supporting Leopold II never acknowledged this truth. They declared that Morel represented the interests of British imperialism and only criticized the Belgians in order to take their place. Paul Janson, a member of parliament after whom the main auditorium of the Free University of Brussels was named, declared,
I shall never criticize the actions of Leopold, because those who criticize him, especially the British, do so only in the spirit of ‘move over and make room for us’.
However, criticism grew, with books such as Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, and The Crime of the Congo, a toolittle-known work by Arthur Conan Doyle, the creator of Sherlock Holmes. An international campaign against the exploitation of the Congo generated demonstrations in the United States and also in Great Britain, finally producing results. Leopold found himself obliged to set up an international commission of enquiry in 1904, which met in the Congo, to take evidence. The testimonies they received there are overwhelming. They are available in manuscript form in the Belgian state archives.
Leopold II, King of the Belgians, is responsible for deliberate ‘crimes against humanity’
During the last twenty years, many conferences have been held and books published to denounce the type of state established in the Congo by Leopold II, King of the Belgians. In short, an ample corpus of serious research has now been added to the documentation of the period.
From this we learn, for example, that the portion of the Congo Free State’s budget destined to cover military expenses varied, year in, year out, between 38% and 49% of total expenditure. This demonstrates the importance of the leather whip and of modern guns in establishing a dictatorship with systematic use of weapons of brutality and murder.
One may consider it a certainty that the King of the Belgians, and the Congo Free State, which he governed with the agreement of the Belgian government and parliament of the time, are responsible for deliberate ‘crimes against humanity’ . These crimes are not blunders; they are the direct result of the type of exploitation to which the Congolese population was subjected. Some prominent authors have spoken of ‘genocide’. I propose not to create a debate focused on this issue because it is difficult to agree on figures. Some serious authors estimate the Congolese population in 1885 to have been around 20 million, and write that in 1908 when Leopold II transferred the Congo to Belgium, thus creating the Belgian Congo, there remained 10 million Congolese. These estimates by reputable authors are, however, difficult to verify in the absence of a population census.
The colonial period when Belgium owned the Congo (1908-1960)
Leopold II tried to get rid of the Congo since by making it over to Belgium he would also shake off the debts he had accumulated with various banks. Acceding to his request, Belgium inherited the debts contracted to exploit the Congolese people. The King had hoarded the extracted wealth as private loot while he had ordered enormous expenses from Belgium to strengthen its power and image. But big Belgian and foreign capitalist corporations had also had their share: Belgian arms manufacturers and traders, companies that supplied equipment, those that collected and processed natural rubber, and many others.
The Belgian State thus inherited the Congo and Leopold II’s debts, which led to further exploitation of the Congolese people.
While the Congo was a Belgian colony, big Belgian capitalist companies made maximum profit thanks to the exploitation of the huge natural resources of the country, notably in terms of minerals of all kinds. The Belgian State was paying off Leopold II’s debts and contracting new ones to better help big capital to accumulate maximum profit.
The Congolese people had no rights to speak of. The education system was pitifully inadequate because Belgium wanted to prevent the Congolese from entering higher or university education.
Not only were the Congolese people exploited in their native land, but they were also called upon to fight for Belgium during the various wars it was involved in, notably with an eye on the German colonies of Rwanda and Burundi to the East of the Congo. Thousands of Congolese died away from home fighting wars waged by European capitalist powers.
And indeed as Belgium was on the winning side in the First World War, it was able to extend its colonial territory with Rwanda and Burundi, wrenched from the German Empire through the Treaty of Versailles in 1919.
During the Second World War, the U.S. made the atom bombs that annihilated Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945 with uranium extracted for the Congolese province of Katanga. By way of thanks the U.S. canceled the debt Belgium owed them.
On the other hand, when Belgium agreed to the Congo’s independence on 30 June 1960, it expected the Congolese government led by Patrice Lumumba to take over the debt Belgium had accumulated with the World Bank over the 1950s to exploit the ‘Belgian’ Congo.
Lumumba refused. This was one of the reasons that induced Belgium to plan and directly participate in Lumumba’s murder of in January 1961.
We should read the speech delivered by the prime minister of the Republic of Congo, Patrice Lumumba, in front of Baudouin I, King of the Belgians.
Baudouin had claimed in his own speech,
The Congo’s independence is the culmination of the Belgian ‘civilising mission’ devised by the genius of Leopold II, which he launched with tenacious courage and which was continued with perseverance by Belgium.
In his speech Lumumba insisted that justice be done for the Congolese people. Here is an English translation of it.
Speech delivered in Parliament after those by King Baudouin and President Joseph Kasavubu, on the day of the proclamation of the independence of the Republic of Congo.
Men and women of the Congo,
Victorious independence fighters,
I salute you in the name of the Congolese Government.
I ask all of you, my friends, who tirelessly fought in our ranks, to mark this June 30, 1960, as an illustrious date that will be ever engraved in your hearts, a date whose meaning you will proudly explain to your children, so that they in turn might relate to their grandchildren and great-grandchildren the glorious history of our struggle for freedom.
Although this independence of the Congo is being proclaimed today by agreement with Belgium, an amicable country, with which we are on equal terms, no Congolese will ever forget that independence was won in struggle, a persevering and inspired struggle carried on from day to day, a struggle, in which we were undaunted by privation or suffering and stinted neither strength nor blood.
It was filled with tears, fire and blood. We are deeply proud of our struggle, because it was just and noble and indispensable in putting an end to the humiliating bondage forced upon us.
That was our lot for the eighty years of colonial rule and our wounds are too fresh and much too painful to be forgotten.
We have experienced forced labour in exchange for pay that did not allow us to satisfy our hunger, to clothe ourselves, to have decent lodgings or to bring up our children as dearly loved ones.
Morning, noon and night we were subjected to jeers, insults and blows because we were ‘Negroes’. Who will ever forget that the black was addressed as ‘tu’ not because he was a friend, but because the polite ‘vous’ was reserved for the white man?
We have seen our lands seized in the name of ostensibly just laws, which gave recognition only to the right of might.
We have not forgotten that the law was never the same for the white and the black, that it was lenient to the ones, and cruel and inhuman to the others.
We have experienced atrocious sufferings, being persecuted for political convictions and religious beliefs, and exiled from our native land: our lot was worse than death itself.
We have not forgotten that in the cities the mansions were for the whites and the tumbledown huts for the blacks; that a black was not admitted to the cinemas, restaurants and shops set aside for ‘Europeans’ that blacks travelled in the barge’s holds, under the feet of the whites in their luxury cabins.
Who will ever forget the shootings which killed so many of our brothers, or the cells into which were mercilessly thrown those who no longer wished to submit to the regime of injustice, oppression and exploitation used by the colonialists as a tool of their domination?
All that, my brothers, brought us untold suffering.
But we, who were elected by the votes of your representatives, representatives of the people, to guide our native land, we, who have suffered in body and soul from colonial oppression, we tell you that henceforth all that is finished with.
The Republic of Congo has been proclaimed and our beloved country’s future is now in the hands of its own people.
Brothers, let us commence together a new struggle, a sublime struggle that will lead our country to peace, prosperity and greatness.
Together we shall establish social justice and ensure for everyone a fair remuneration for their labour.
We shall show the world what the black man can do when working in liberty, and we shall make the Congo the pride of Africa.
We shall see to it that the lands of our native country truly benefit its children.
We shall revise all the old laws and make them into new ones that will be just and noble.
We shall stop the persecution of free thought. We shall see to it that all citizens enjoy to the fullest extent the basic freedoms provided for by the Declaration of Human Rights.
We shall eradicate all discrimination, whatever its origin, and we shall ensure for everyone a station in life befitting their human dignity and worthy of their labour and their loyalty to the country.
We shall institute in the country a peace resting not on guns and bayonets but on concord and goodwill.
And in all this, my dear compatriots, we can rely not only on our own enormous forces and immense wealth, but also on the assistance of the numerous foreign states, whose co-operation we shall accept when it is not aimed at imposing upon us an alien policy, but is given in a spirit of friendship.
Even Belgium, which has finally learned the lesson of history and need no longer try to oppose our independence, is prepared to give us its aid and friendship; to that end an agreement has just been signed between our two equal and independent countries. I am sure that this co-operation will benefit both countries. For our part, we shall, while remaining vigilant, try to observe the engagements we have freely made.
Thus, both in the internal and the external spheres, the new Congo, our beloved Republic to be created by my government, will be rich, free and prosperous. But to attain our goal without delay, I ask all of you, legislators and citizens of the Congo, to give us all the help you can.
I ask you all to forget your tribal quarrels: they weaken us and may cause us to be despised abroad.
I ask you all not to shrink from any sacrifice that might ensure the success of our grand undertaking.
Finally, I ask you unconditionally to respect the life and property of fellow-citizens and foreigners who have settled in our country. If the conduct of these foreigners leaves much to be desired, our Justice will promptly expel them from the territory of the Republic; if, on the contrary, their conduct is good, they must be left in peace, for they, too, are working for our country’s prosperity.
The Congo’s independence is a decisive step towards the liberation of the whole African continent.
Our government, a government of national and popular unity, will serve its country.
I call on all Congolese citizens, men, women and children, to set themselves resolutely to the task of creating a national economy and ensuring our economic independence.
Eternal glory to the fighters for national liberation!
Long live independence and African unity!
Long live the independent and sovereign Congo!
Belgium’s responsibility in the murder of Lumumba in January 1961 was established by several authors, notably by Ludo De Witte,  and was the subject of a commission of inquiry within the Belgian Parliament in 2001-2002. See also Ludo De Witte’s interview with the CADTM in 2018, www.cadtm.org (in French only).
With the World Bank aiding and abetting, Belgium forced the Congolese people to pay a debt that had been used for their colonial exploitation
In the book The World Bank: a never-ending coup d’Etat originally published in 2006,  I pointed out the fact that the debt Belgium had contracted with the World Bank during the 1950s had been unjustly relegated to the Congolese people thanks to Mobutu’s complicity when he organized the arrest, then actively participated in the murder, of Lumumba.
How did it work? Violating the right to self-determination, the World Bank granted loans to Belgium, France and the UK to finance projects in their colonies.  As acknowledged by the Bank’s historians, “The loans, which served to alleviate the dollar shortages of the European colonial powers, were largely directed to colonial interests, especially mining, either through direct investments or indirect assistance, as in the development of the transport infrastructure related to mining”.  Those loans made it possible for colonial powers to reinforce the yoke under which they kept colonized people. They contributed to supplying colonial metropolises with minerals, farm products, fuel. In the case of the Belgian Congo, the millions of dollars that were granted for projects decided by the colonial power were almost entirely spent by the Congo’s colonial administration to buy products exported from Belgium. All in all the Belgian Congo ‘received’ loans for U.S. $120 million (in three tranches), 105.4 million of which were spent in Belgium.  For Patrice Lumumba’s government it was just unthinkable to pay the World Bank a debt that had been contracted by Belgium in order to exploit the Belgian Congo.
Things changed in 1965: after Mobutu’s military coup, the Congo, now renamed Zaire, acknowledged that it had a debt towards the World Bank; of course the debt had actually been contracted by Belgium to exploit the Belgian Congo.
International law is very clear on this point. A similar case occurred in the past and was decided on by the Treaty of Versailles. When Poland retrieved its status as an independent state after the First World War, it was decided that debts contracted by Germany to colonize the part of Poland it had occupied would not be charged to the newly independent state. The Treaty of Versailles signed on 28 June 1919 stipulated: “There shall be excluded from the share of such financial liabilities assumed by Poland that portion of the debt which, according to the finding of the Reparation Commission… arises from measures adopted by the German and Prussian Governments with a view to German colonisation in Poland.”  The Treaty provides that creditors who have lent to Germany for projects on Polish territory can claim their due only from that colonial metropolitan power and not from Poland. Alexander Nahum Sack, the theoretician of odious debt, specifies in his 1927 law treaty:
When the government contracts debts in order to subject the population in part of its territory or to colonize it with nationals of the dominant nationality, etc., those debts are odious for the native population in that part of the territory of the debtor State. 
The Treaty of Versailles decreed that the German Empire would lose its African colonies and that their debts would be cancelled. In this respect, Sack quotes part of the Allied Powers’ reply to Germany, that was not ready to accept such debt cancellation because it meant it would have to foot the bill. They said,
The colonies should not bear any portion of the German debt, nor remain under any obligation to refund to Germany the expenses incurred by the Imperial administration of the Protectorate. In fact, it would be unjust to burden the natives with expenditure which appears to have been incurred in Germany’ s own interest, and it would be no less unjust to make this responsibility rest upon the Mandatory Powers which, in so far as they may be appointed trustees by the League of Nations, will derive no benefit from such trusteeship.
This fully applies to the loans the Bank granted Belgium, France and the UK for the development of their colonies. Consequently, the World Bank and Belgium violated international law when in the 1960s they forced onto the newly independent Congo the burden of debt contracted for its colonization.
Belgium’s support of Mobutu’s dictatorship
The Belgian army intervened twice in the Congo to help Mobutu and his dictatorial regime to crush the resistance of Lumumbist organizations, first in November 1964 with the operation Red Dragon and Black Dragon, respectively at Stanleyville and at Paulis. On this occasion, the operation was jointly led by the Belgian army, Mobutu’s army, the General Staff of the U.S. army and mercenaries, among whom some anti-Castro Cubans.
In a speech delivered at the UN General Assembly in November 1964, Ernesto Che Guevara condemned this intervention, as he also did in a speech delivered in Santiago de Cuba, “today, the most poignant and pervasive memory that stays with us is that of the Congo and of Lumumba. Today, in that country that is both so distant and so near to our hearts, historical events have occurred which we have to know about, as we have to learn from what has been experienced. The other day, Belgian parachutists assaulted the city of Stanleyville.” (excerpt from Che Guevara’s speech in Santiago de Cuba on 30 November 1964, on the occasion of the 8th anniversary of the town’s uprising led by Frank País (translation CADTM, from the French version blogs.mediapart.fr).
The second intervention of the Belgian army occurred in Kolwezi in the heart of the mining area of Shaba (Katanga) in May 1978 in collaboration with the French army and Mobutu’s army.
Furthermore, Belgium sent high-ranking advisors to the Congo under Mobutu’s dictatorship, among them Jacques de Groote, who had taken part in the Belgian-Congolese round table to prepare the independence of the Belgian Congo in the first months of 1960. Mobutu also participated in the opening of the round-table conference in Brussels. Between April 1960 and May 1963, de Groote was an advisor to Belgium’s Executive Director at the IMF and World Bank in Washington. On November 24, 1965 Mobutu seized power for good by staging a coup against President Kasavubu. From March 1966 to May 1969, de Groote was an economic advisor to the de facto government of Mobutu, while also working as an advisor at the National Bank of the Congo. He played an active role in the design and implementation of the economic policy of the country as well as in the negotiations between Mobutu, the IMF, the World Bank, and the U.S. government.
In the period 1973–1994, Jacques De Groote was one of the Executive Directors of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and one of the governors of the World Bank (IBRD). He was an active member of a hard core in the Belgian political class while representing its interests and those of big private corporations within international institutions. 
At the end of the 1970s, Erwin Blumenthal, a senior IMF official, German banker, and former Director of Foreign Affairs at the Bundesbank, made a damning report about Mobutu’s management of Zaire.  He warned foreign creditors that they should not expect repayment as long as Mobutu remained in power.
Between 1965 and 1981, the government of Zaire borrowed about $5 billion from foreign creditors, and between 1976 and 1981 there were four restructuring programmes authorised by the Paris club concerning part of its external debt amounting to $2.25 billion (see the figure below on the amount of debt in Congo-Kinshasa during Mobutu’s dictatorship). All of this debt falls into the category of odious debt, and can therefore be considered null and void.
The very poor economic management and systematic embezzlement by Mobutu of part of the loans did not lead the IMF and World Bank to stop their assistance to Mobutu’s dictatorial regime. Strikingly enough, after the Blumenthal report was submitted, the Bank’s disbursements increased (so did the IMF’s disbursements, but they do not show in the chart below). Clearly, the choices made by the World Bank and the IMF are not mainly determined on the basis of sound economic management. Mobutu’s regime remained a strategic ally of the U.S. and other influential powers in the Bretton Woods institutions (e.g., France and Belgium) as long as the Cold War lasted.
Congo-Kinshasa (Zaire under Mobutu): World Bank disbursements
From 1989-1991 with the fall of the Berlin Wall, later followed by the crumbling of the Soviet Union, Western powers began to lose interest in Mobutu’s regime. All the more so since in many African countries (including Zaire) national conferences were taking place and making democratic claims. The World Bank reduced its lending before stopping its loans altogether in the mid-1990s.
Under Mobutu’s rule (1965-1997), the IMF and the World Bank were instruments serving U.S. policy and geostrategy, which rewarded Mobutu for his support in the Cold War.
In many cases, the loans were used to corrupt governments during the Cold War. The issue was not whether the money was improving a country’s welfare, but whether it was leading to a stable situation, given the geopolitical realities in the world.
– Joseph E. Stiglitz, Chief Economist of the World Bank from 1997 to 1999, Nobel Laureate in Economics in 2001, on a French television show L’Autre mondialisation (The Other Globalization), on Arte, March 7, 2000
Therefore, the IMF and the WB, where de Groote was a senior official, became complicit in the abuses committed by the Mobutu regime against human, economic, social and cultural rights inasmuch as they maintained their support for the dictatorial system, which did not at all honour its financial obligations.
The issue of the moral responsibility of the creditors was particularly apparent in the case of Cold War loans. When the IMF and the World Bank lent money to the Democratic Republic of the Congo’s notorious ruler Mobutu, they knew (or should have known) that most of the money would not go to help that country’s poor people, but rather would be used to enrich Mobutu. It was money paid to ensure that this corrupt leader would keep his country aligned with the West. To many, it doesn’t seem fair for ordinary taxpayers in countries with corrupt governments to have to repay loans that were made to leaders who did not represent them.
– Joseph Stiglitz, Globalization and Its Discontents, 2002
Mobutu and his clan used the State coffers as a steady and plentiful source of personal enrichment with three different kinds of misappropriation: legal, illegal, and mysterious expenditures. The legal ones, such as the presidential endowment, was allocated without any control. The illegal expenditures are described in the Blumenthal report (this secret report was made public in 1982),  which indicates that it was impossible to control the State’s financial transactions since the presidential office hardly made a distinction between personal expenses and public spending. Erwin Blumenthal identified at least seven bank accounts held abroad that were used to channel money directly to Mobutu’s personal bank accounts or to corrupt political figures. Erwin Blumenthal’s message was clear: “The corruptive system in Zaire with all its wicked and ugly manifestations, its mismanagement and fraud will destroy all endeavours of international institutions, of friendly governments and of commercial banks towards the recovery and rehabilitation of Zaire’s economy. Sure, there will be new promises by Mobutu, […] but no (repeat: no) prospect for Zaire’s creditors to get their money back in any foreseeable future.” 
Since 1979, the main lenders to Mobutu’s regime, closely connected to the IMF, had known and been aware of these fraudulent practices, and of the risk they were taking by continuing to lend to Mobutu.
Since 1979, the main lenders to Mobutu’s regime, closely connected to the IMF, had known and been aware of these fraudulent practices, and of the risk they were taking by continuing to lend to Mobutu
As indicated in this report, the third category of embezzlement consisted of “mysterious expenditures.” One of the State’s largest budget items (accounting for 18% according to a 1989 World Bank study) was “other goods and services,” a hotchpotch with little information on how the expenditures were allocated. According to World Bank experts, most of the money was used for extravagant expenditures as well as to purchase military equipment. This shows that the World Bank was also well aware of the illegal use made of the loans it was granting.
By the mid-1970s, it was clear that the money injected into Zaire in the form of loans or grants was systematically misappropriated. They were either directly transferred to personal bank accounts held abroad  or invested in prestigious, inadequate, and/or useless projects that helped many people to get richer, but certainly did not help the sustainable industrialisation of the economy. For instance, according to the Office of ill-gotten gains (Office des biens mal acquis, OBMA), which was created at the National Conference, Mobutu supposedly pocketed a 7% commission on the value of the Inga hydroelectric plant. The investigation could not be pursued to its conclusion because of resistance from official circles. 
J. de Groote actively supported Mobutu’s regime and intervened several times to improve the relationships between the IMF, the World Bank and Mobutu, although he was very well placed to know in detail what Blumenthal denounced in his report. He also knew about the serious violations of human rights committed by the Mobutu regime.
Yet in 1994, at the end of his term, de Groote said he was satisfied with his action vis-à-vis Congo-Kinshasa. While all along, the vast majority of the Congolese people lived in great misery, the persecutions and assassinations of opponents were rife, and the economy was devastated.
Progression of debt in Congo-Kinshasa during Mobutu’s dictatorship
From 1965 to 1969, Congo-Kinshasa’s foreign debt stock  rose from $32 million  to $159 million (US dollars). The first major jump occurred in 1970, when in a single year, the debt stock doubled, increasing by $180 million. It jumped again in 1973, when the price of copper and other raw materials skyrocketed on international markets. With significant budget resources and reserve currency, the regime could borrow massively. This was the heyday of costly major projects or white elephants, which would only become profitable in the distant future. Up until 1979, on average its debt stock increased by nearly $700 million per year and was mostly in the private sector. The recurrent problem during this period is the fact that these sums were used for investments that would only generate returns in a distant and very uncertain future.
Sectors like energy, transportation and communications, as well as public works, are indispensable for the development of a country, because they are required in order to develop productive activities. However, these projects were not based on sound economic principles, either in terms of expertise or in terms of how they were financed and executed.
For example, Zairian stakeholders, and in particular the Zairian State, requested and obtained from financial institutions (especially private ones) expensive short- and medium-term commercial loans to fund projects that would only be profitable at best in the very long term. Such infrastructure investments should instead be funded by low-interest, fixed rate, very long-term loans. This type of borrowing only really exists between States, which offer each other privileged conditions.
Neither the debtor nor the creditor demonstrated adequate financial discipline, according to which loan conditions should coincide with the characteristics of a project. For example, in the case of the Inga dam, which was supposed to produce electricity for all of Zaire and its neighbouring countries, the funding came from a medium-term commercial loan. However, it took nearly ten years to build the dam, and it could have been calculated that it would only become profitable twenty or thirty years later. As a result, the original loan could only be paid back by taking on more debt.
The situation gradually became unbearable and Zaire could no longer make the payments due on this loan. In addition to the poor choice made in terms of the kind of loan, there was an increase in the price of oil and a decrease in the price of copper. Pressure mounted when Zaire decided to stop making payments on its loan. The IMF intervened and signed the first stabilisation programme with Zaire, which included the usual IMF conditionalities such as a currency devaluation, public spending cuts, and guarantees that Zaire would continue repaying its debt.  Zaire’s creditors allowed it to defer its loan payments, and also to reschedule its overall debt. Between 1976 and 1981, Zaire’s debt was renegotiated four times by the Paris Club corresponding to a total amount of $2.25 billion (US),  and between 1976 and 1983 Zaire signed three structural adjustment agreements with the IMF. In 1983, its debt was renegotiated for the fifth time, and $1,490 billion of it were rescheduled.
It is interesting to observe how generous the IMF was at this time with regard to this country, which was such a bad payer and was not respecting IMF conditionalities.
Between 1979 and 1984, Zaire’s debt stock increased only slightly, as Zaire attempted to meet its debt obligations. During this period of time, the net financial transfer was barely positive. On the whole, the disbursements paid to Zaire by its creditors were mainly used to service its debt.
Between 1984 and 1990, Zaire’s debt stock increased by 70% (based on constant prices). Meanwhile from 1982 to 1988, it received loans from the IMF ($600 million), the World Bank ($650 million), and Western governments ($3 billion), but commercial banks refused to continue lending it money. During this same period, despite the warnings of an IMF representative, Erwin Blumenthal, Zaire was held up as a model student of the IMF. [ 20]This foreign complacency can only be justified on the basis of political and geo-strategical considerations. For example, despite warnings from the United States’ ambassador on how difficult it would be to control the allocation of the foreign aid disbursed, Mobutu’s regime was given full support by the U.S. government, and President Ronald Reagan requested that military aid be doubled to thank Mobutu for having supported U.S. troops in Chad.  In 1987, under pressure from the United States, the IMF approved a structural adjustment loan despite the strong objections made by senior IMF officials. At that very time, Mobutu was allowing American troops to use its territory and military bases to engage in military operations in Angola. 
Before 1986, the money borrowed was mainly used to repay the debt so there was little chance of using it for investments. The total investment budget was estimated to be around $65 million in 1985, and it was subsequently cut to $40 million. Later, when investment projects regained popularity, Zaire’s debt stock increased considerably.
As of 1990, Mobutu’s regime became isolated on the international scene. The fall of the Berlin Wall marked the end of the Cold War, and there was not as much interest in having Mobutu as an ally. As of this moment, the flow of disbursements to his regime dried up, and the net transfer to Zaire became negative starting in 1990, as stated in a World Bank report (1996).  According to the same report, in 1994, Zaire paid $201 million more than it received from international financial institutions. In 1991, the IMF broke off its relations with Zaire, and the World Bank would follow suit in 1993. With no new foreign disbursements, Zaire no longer had enough cash to service its debt, and had to suspend its repayments in 1994. The interest and penalties accrued, which increased the debt stock significantly.
All of this debt can be considered to be odious debt, because it was contracted by the dictator Mobutu, and as such it should have been entirely cancelled when Mobutu’s regime collapsed.
Belgian private corporations systematically derived profits from the relationships between Belgium and the Congo
The excerpt below speaks for itself. It was pronounced by Jacques de Groote in a speech given in 1986 to a group of Belgian company directors, and then published in the Bulletin de la Fédération des Entreprises de Belgique (Newsletter of the Federation of Belgian Companies).
The advantages Belgium derives from its participation in the activities of the Group’s institutions– as do all World Bank member countries–can be measured in terms of flow-back, that is to say the relationship between, on the one hand, the total amount of disbursements made by the IDA (International Development Association, which is part of the World Bank Group) or the World Bank in favour of a country’s companies, when these companies sign contracts, and, on the other hand, the contributions of this country to the Bank’s capital, as well as to the IDA’s resources. Flow-back is thus the relationship between what the companies obtain via the sales of equipment or consulting services and what Belgium provides as a contribution to the IDA’s resources and to the Bank’s capital. The flow-back from the World Bank toward industrialised countries is significant, and has continually increased: for all industrialised countries, it has increased from 7 to 10 from the end of 1980 to the end of 1984. In other words, for one dollar put into the system, the industrialised countries got back $7 in 1980 and receive $10.5 today. 
Jacques de Groote after the end of his term at the IMF and World Bank
In his interview with Béatrice Delvaux from Le Soir in March 1994, at the end of his term at the IMF, de Groote congratulated himself on the role he had played in the decision made by Belgium to adopt the neoliberal agenda in the 1980s.
You did, however, from Washington play a major role in the orientation of Belgian economic policy. You provided a guarantee from the IMF for the economic shift at the beginning of the 1980s, in close relationship with the ‘Poupehan’ group?  J. de Groote’s response: Absolutely, and I’m extremely proud of this. I am even extremely satisfied. At that time, we completed studies that enabled the major economic policy options to be defined for Belgium, which were then discussed with Alfons Verplaetse,  and other figures including Wilfried Martens. 
These statements provide a good illustration of the close relationships between figures like De Groote and the key political leaders in a particular country. De Groote acknowledged, moreover, that the independence of the Belgian National Bank was only for the form, because Belgian (monetary) policy was defined in a very small, secretive circle bringing together key stakeholders, ranging from the Prime Minister to the Governor of the National Bank, and including the head of the Christian Unions and representatives of corporate management, all in cahoots with the IMF.
Belgium’s attitude after Mobutu’s fall
After Mobutu’s fall, in spite of pleas from the CADTM and other organizations, the Belgian government did not do anything to help the Congolese people retrieve the money that Mobutu and his clan had embezzled and invested in cash or real estate in Belgium. Yet a country like Switzerland had moved a long way in that direction, for once. But the ties between the Belgian ruling class and Mobutu’s clan were so tight that nothing conclusive was done even though some magistrates tried to take positive measures.
Later, Belgium was complicit in whitewashing the odious debt accumulated by Mobutu. Instead of acknowledging that it had to be cancelled because it was illegitimate, Belgium got involved in the setting up of a complex mechanism whereby the Congolese people were bound to lose and the creditors that had helped the former regime were to win.
After the murder of Laurent-Désiré Kabila in January 2001 and the accession to power of his son Joseph, the government in Kinshasa, under pressure from countries such as Belgium and the US, presented an Enhanced Interim Program and the 2002 budget predicted a 1139% increase in the amount required to service the external debt. 
What solution was put forward to solve the Congolese debt issue?
The bilateral and multilateral creditors planned to solve the issue by getting the arrears of the DRC’s debt to the IMF and the World Bank paid off, so that it could join the HIPC initiative and resume paying its debt.
In order to guarantee repayment, the debt had to be consolidated, i.e. old debts had to be replaced by new ones at a ‘concessional’ interest rate of 0.5 %.
However, according to International Law, in particular the jurisprudence and doctrine of ‘odious debt’, the DRC’s external debt, which had been entirely contracted under Mobutu’s dictatorship, was null and void.
The creditors’ point of view was of course different: they wanted the DRC to resume payments by contracting new loans. Once the new repayments were started, the Democratic Republic of the Congo could reach the ‘decision point’ of the HIPC initiative (i.e. have met the eligibility criteria of the Initiative, when the first interim relief measures become applicable) and, according to creditors, gain access in the long run to an 80% relief of its debt (reliefs being spread over several decades), which would shrink it to $2 billion, to which the new loans would obviously have to be added.
Participation in the HIPC initiative depends on the implementation of the Enhanced Interim Program, i.e. on the triennial structural adjustment measures devised by the IMF and the World Bank and enforced since 1 April 2002 (the opening of a permanent office of the IMF and the WB in Kinshasa, a new central bank, a more liberal new code for investments in the mining sector, the reform of public companies, the liberalization of prices, the reduction of inflation to 28% and of the fiscal deficit to 0.8% of the GDP in 2002, etc.).
How was the operation to be financed?
The repayment of huge arrears to the IMF and the WB was no easy task for a country in such a state of social decay. It was only made possible thanks to loans granted by States, that were often major shareholders at the IMF and the WB; with their loans the DRC could repay arrears to the IMF and the WB, so they were giving with one hand and taking back with the other.
But the Democratic Republic of the Congo was not rid of its debt for all that. Indeed it now had to repay the loans that had been necessary to repay arrears to the IMF and the WB. And the indebted country was just as helpless as before. This second operation thus required new loans, now granted by the IMF and the WB.
Through mere book-keeping entries, Mobutu’s odious debt thus became a debt contracted by the regime of Joseph Kabila, a leader deemed to be respectable since, after a war that killed over three million, the international community had built a peace plan around him and flanked him with four deputy presidents representing the warring factions of the time.
The delusion of the HIPC initiative
While the Democratic Republic of the Congo actually had part of its debt cancelled in the context of the HIPC initiative, the outcome was still largely insufficient. From an accounting standpoint, the debt cancellation did not occur until 2010, so 24 years after the launch of the initiative in 1996. During this period, external public debt went from $7.5 to 10.3 billion. In 2010, $4.6 billion were cancelled and $948 million were rescheduled, taking the external public debt stock back to $4.3 billion. This is a long cry from the “90% or more debt cancellation” announced by the G7 and the Paris Club.  According to the latest available data, the country’s debt now amounts to $4 billion.  From a human point of view, the neoliberal policies enforced as a counterpart did not make it possible for the DRC to get the socio-economic indicators off the ground, the country still being considered a low-income country by the World Bank.  From a legal point of view, the cancellations that were granted by creditors rendered inapplicable the doctrine of odious debt.
Belgium is no longer a creditor of the DRC but the CADTM considers that the Belgian government should do the following: 
- Publicly recognize and name all the misdeeds and crimes committed by Leopold II and the Kingdom of Belgium against the Congolese people and to make them an official apology;
- Complete the investigations aimed at throwing light on the circumstances of and the reasons for the assassination of Patrice Lumumba, identifying the perpetrators and bringing them to justice  ;
- Examine the scars of the past, involving the people concerned, both in formal education and in popular education projects, through institutional channels;
- Arrange the restitution of all Congolese cultural goods and artefacts;
- Actively support the reappraisal of all symbols of colonialism in Belgian public spaces;
- Conduct an audit of the history of the debt in order to proceed with unconditional financial reparations and hand-overs for the amounts received as a result of the colonisation of the Congo;
- Take action within the multilateral bodies (the World Bank, the IMF, the Paris Club, etc.) to ensure that their members implement total and unconditional cancellation of the odious debts of the Democratic Republic of Congo;
- Publicly support any moratorium on debt repayments that the DRC government might decree in order to improve the public health system and deal with the CoViD-19 epidemic and other treatable diseases. A great many deaths could be easily avoided with a significant increase in public health expenditure.
The CADTM supports the various movements that call for action in Belgium in the wake of Black Lives Matter and all those working on the issue of colonial memory.
The CADTM supports the Congolese people as they face the health, economic and social consequences of the CoViD-19 crisis. In spite of creditors’ diktats and the serious shortcomings of successive Congolese governments, resulting in severe repression and flagrant denial of basic human rights, Congolese social movements are holding on. The CADTM supports those struggles that aim for the triumph of social justice.
The author’s thanks go to Brigitte Ponet and Rémi Vilain for their suggestions.
Translation by Christine Pagnoulle and Vicki Briault Manus (CADTM)
 See The assassination of Lumumba. London, New York: Verso. 2001.
 Eric Toussaint, Banque mondiale : le Coup d’Etat permanent. L’Agenda caché du Consensus de Washington, co-published by CADTM / Syllepse / CETIM, Liège/Paris/Geneva, 2006, 310 pages. cadtm.org; translated into Spanish Banco mundial: el golpe de estado permanente Editorial Viejo Topo (Barcelona), 2007 ; Editorial Abya-Yala (Quito), 2007 ; Editorial del CIM, Caracas, 2007 ; Editorial Observatorio DESC, La Paz, 2007; into English The World Bank: a never-ending coup d’Etat: the hidden agenda of Washington Consensus Pub. VAK (Mumbai-India), 2007, also as The World Bank : A Critical Primer, Pluto Press, London; Michigan University Press, Michigan; Between The Lines, Toronto,; David Philip, Cape Town; and recently into Japanese.
 The colonies for which the World Bank granted loans are, to Belgium the Belgian Congo, Rwanda and Burundi; to the UK, East Africa (including Kenya, Uganda and future Tanzania), Rhodesia (that became Zimbabwe and Zambia) as well as Nigeria, to which we must add British Guyana in South America; to France, Algeria, Gabon, French West Africa (Mauritania, Senegal, French Sudan that became Mali, Guinea-Conakry, Ivory Coast, Niger, Upper-Volta that became Burkina Faso, Dahomey that became Benin).
 KAPUR, Devesh, LEWIS, John P., WEBB, Richard. 1997. The World Bank, Its First Half Century, Volume 1, p. 685-686.
 The fact that Belgium was the beneficiary of loans to the Belgian Congo can be deduced from a table published in the WB’s 15th Annual Report for 1959-1960. IBRD (World Bank), Fifteenth Annual Report 1959-1960, Washington DC, p. 12.
 Article 92, see polandpoland.com.
 SACK, Alexander Nahum, Les Effets des Transformations des Etats sur leurs Dettes Publiques et Autres Obligations financières, Recueil Sirey, Paris, 1927. p. 158.
 Source : Treaty series, n° 4, 1919, p. 26. Cited by Sack, p. 162.
 In 2013, I devoted a book to this figure: The Life and Crimes of an Exemplary Man, cadtm.org Though anecdotal, the list of decorations awarded to Jacques De Groote is quite telling: he is Grand Officier de l’Ordre de Léopold Ier in Belgium, i.e. the second highest Belgian distinction; Mobutu decorated him with the Palme d’or in Zaire; he is also Grand Officier de l‘Ordre d’Orange-Nassau (Luxembourg), he is bearer of the Orden für Verdienste in Austria and received the Red Star in Hungary.
 It is worth mentioning that at the height of his power, Mobutu had people call him “Mobutu Sese Seko Kuku Ngbendu wa Za Banga” (which means Mobutu the unstoppable warrior who goes from one victory to another).
 The Bank’s historians wrote that in 1982 “Lured by Mobutu’s guile and promise of reform and by pressures from the United States, France, and Belgium, the bank embarked on an ambitious structural adjustment lending program to Zaire” in Devesh Kapur, John P. Lewis, Richard Webb, The World Bank, Its First Half Century, 1997 Volume 1: History, p. 702.
 In 1978, the IMF sent Erwin Blumenthal to the Central Bank of Zaire to improve its operations. In July 1979, he resigned after receiving death threats from those close to Mobutu.
 Erwin Blumenthal, “Zaire: Report on her Financial Credibility”, 7 April 1982, typescript, p.19.
 Mobutu even managed to intercept money before it actually reached the public coffers, as happened for instance with the $5 million granted by Saudi Arabia in 1977 (Emmanuel Dungia, Mobutu et l’argent du Zaïre (Mobutu and the money of Zaire), 1992, L’Harmattan, p.157).
 Steve Askin and Carole Collins, “External Collusion with Kleptocracy: Can Zaire Recapture its Stolen Wealth?” in African Political Economy, 1993, n° 57, p.77.
 L’ENTREPRENEUR. 1980. « Le lancinant problème de la dette extérieure du Zaïre » (The problem of Zaire’s persistent external debt), n°11, December 1980, p. 44-47.
 The $32 million corresponds to the debt that Belgium and the World Bank imposed on the Congo with the complicity of Mobutu’s regime. As stated above, during the 1950s Belgium borrowed $120 million from the World Bank to develop its colonial projects in the Belgian Congo. Belgium had only repaid part of this loan before the Congo gained its independence on 30 June 1960. The remaining amount ($32 million) was passed on to the Congo when Mobutu established his dictatorship in 1965.
 HAYNES, J., PARFITT, T. and RILEY, S. 1986. “Debt in Sub-Saharan Africa: The local politics of stabilisation,” in African Affairs, July 1986, p.346.
 Paris Club website: www.clubdeparis.org
 Ibid, p. 347.
 NDIKUMANA, Leonce and BOYCE, James. 1997. Congo’s Odious Debt: External borrowing and Capital Flight, Department of Economics, University of Massachusetts.
 Ibid, p.17.
 Ibid, p.18.
 FEB, 1986, p. 496-497.
 The Poupehan group was a lobby made up of the main conservative political leaders in the Belgian Christian Social Party, who played a key role in the neoliberal shift. See archives.lesoir.be
 Alfons Verplaetse was the Governor of the National Bank of Belgium, and a member of the Flemish Christian Social Party.
 Wilfried Martens, the Christian Social Prime Minister who put in place neoliberal policies in alliance with the Liberal Party.
 The next six paragraphs are taken from Éric Toussaint & Arnaud Zacharie’s article “La République démocratique du Congo” published in 2002, cadtm.org, accessed 1st July 2020. (In French only).
 See also a document by the African Development Bank,
“Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC): Completion Point Document under the enhanced HIPC Initiative.”, April 2011. Available at www.afdb.org
 Data in this paragraph are World Bank data: International Debt Statistics, 1995-2018, using the following variables: Debt stock reduction (current US$); Debt stock rescheduled (current US$); External debt stocks, general government sector (PPG) (DOD, current US$); External debt stocks, other public sector (PPG) (DOD, current US$); External debt stocks, private guaranteed by public sector (PPG) (DOD, current US$); External debt stocks, public and publicly guaranteed (PPG) (DOD, current US$); External debt stocks, public sector (PPG) (DOD, current US$); PPG, bilateral (DOD, current US$); PPG, multilateral (DOD, current US$); PPG, official creditors (DOD, current US$); PPG, other private creditors (DOD, current US$); PPG, private creditors (DOD, current US$) databank.worldbank.org
 See the position paper (in French only) “Répondre à la crise de la covid-19 : la Belgique et l’annulation de la dette des pays du Sud”, 26 June 2020. cadtm.org
 See Jennifer Rankin, “Belgium mulls charges over 1961 killing of Congo’s first elected leader ,” The Guardian 1 July 2020 www.theguardian.com