The Congo reform movement in Britain, 1896–1913
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From 1896 to 1913, a British humanitarian movement worked to end the system of rule that had turned the Congo Free State into a horrific profit-making enterprise. This dissertation takes this reform movement as its primary object of study. It examines the ideologies of the movement's pioneers, goals, methods, and impact on life in the Congo. Never an anti-colonial force, but instead committed to improving colonial rule, the movement's motivations and practices relied heavily on the long tradition of British overseas humanitarianism, of which it was an episode, not a starting point. After a slow start, the movement changed public opinion, which made it more effective in the halls of power, and achieved a degree of popular support. To understand the movement, this study analyzes its leadership and supporters, considers its public meetings, and evaluates its finances. The Congo Reform Association did not fight alone; it worked with other organizations in marshalling information, arousing the public, and pressing the levers of power. It won the rhetorical battle by overturning the image of Leopold's Congo as a philanthropic and disinterested venture, despite a counter-discourse that portrayed the reformers as the tools of mercantile greed and anti-Catholicism. In the process, the reformers tapped into anxiety about Britain's place in the world and pride in its self-image as an international humanitarian conscience. This study shows that public meetings neither revolutionized the movement's finances nor had much impact on British foreign policy. The British Foreign Office became an increasingly important reforming force in its own right; key events depended on the Foreign Office and Belgian reformers as much if not more than the CRA. The reformers' influence at the Foreign Office waned, particularly after E.D. Morel's public attack on British foreign policy in 1909. After this, the Association was more a gadfly than a mover of events. Giving due credit for Morel's personal and organizational impact, this study neither adulates nor trivializes him, but emphasizes the human and structural factors that created the movement's flawed success. Finally, the dissertation culminates in a new interpretation of how power flowed to change the material facts of life for the people of the Congo. Stripping away the fog of events and working backwards from the end of the reform movement, the study re-defines the movement's effectiveness and brings a new chain of causality into focus.