The Belgian Congo and territories under mandate (Ruanda-Urundi) end of 1959

 Geography, Administrative structures

Surface area of the Congo: 2,345,410 km2 (80 times Belgium).

Rwanda-Burundi: 54,172 km2 (2 times Belgium) – (territories under United Nations protectorate entrusted to Belgian Administration).

January 1, 1959 populations :

Non-African population in the Belgian Congo :
Essentially Europeans 115,157 : among whom 87,736 Belgians, 5,361 Portuguese, 3,718 ltalians, 3,483 Greeks, 2,380 French, 2,674 British, 1,357 Dutch.

Other nationalities : 2,030 Americans, 825 Swiss, 539 from Luxemburg, and in smaller numbers : Swedes, Canadians, Germans, Poles, Spaniards, some Turks, Norwegians, Russians, Danes, some Asians and Africans from other parts of the continent.

ln term of activities :
→  43,9 % workers in private enterprises
→  18,7 % civil servants
→  22,1 % farmers and settlers
→  15,0 % missionaries

Administrative organisation

ln 1908, the Belgian parliament decided to accept the heritage of the Congo lndependent State which Leopold Il wanted to bequeath to it. At that time, colonial policy was clearly defined by the Belgian Parliament, namely the development of the potential, special consideration being given to living conditions of the local population.

The Belgian Congo had a legal system distinct from that of Belgium, and was governed by its own laws. Estates, budgets and administrations were kept separate.

The administrative power was in Brussels. The Parliament and the Senate voted the colonial budget and the Minister for the Colonies, assisted by the Colonial Counsel, was responsible to them. The Governor General managed the local administration.

The Congolese territory was divided into 6 provinces, placed under the authority of Provincial Governors. Each province represented a territory equal to several times the size of Belgium, and was divided into districts (28 in total). Each district was further divided into territories (135 in all), villages under tribal authority and other local centres managed by the Congolese.


Coexistence of non-written local tribal law and written laws of European origin has given birth to a rather complex legal system largely ruled by the principle of separation of power. The old tribal laws applied by the wise men of the village remained in practice so long as they were not contrary to public law and order.


Fundamental principle : First and foremost : to educate the masses through the generalisation of primary, secondary and professional teaching in 25,000 schools.

Vocational training at ordinary and high levels is rapidly expanding and includes most professions. ln the larger centres, technicians are given the training which enables them to contribute quickly to the development of the country and to take on increasing responsibilities.

Agricultural and medical training are the most important among the large variety of study programmes.

With regard to the training of an elite : as of 1953, priority was given to the creation in the Congo of two universities where young Congolese could study in an environment close to the realities of their own country rather than see them uprooted from their surroundings in foreign countries. Diplomas would be equivalent to those of Belgian universities.

As of 1954, two universities were created, one of which was equipped with a nuclear research reactor (the only one in Africa).

ln 1959/1960 :

1,682,195 children were provided with schooling, i.e. the quasi­ totality of children at the age of primary school.

59,393 students were in secondary and professional schools. As of 1953 schools became co-educational : Congolese and Europeans.

763 students attended the courses at various university faculties.


An outstanding effort had been achieved not only in the creation of hospitals and dispensaries but also in medical care given to the Congolese and European populations. All medical care was free of charge.

Every year, 6 million Congolese, i.e. half the population, went through a medical check up visit, not counting those who received care for specific ailments.

ln fighting the great epidemics: the following have been treated and cured 12,314 cases of trypanosias, 141,096 cases of pian, 267,226 cases of leprosy, 57,329 cases of syphilis and 23,904 cases of tuberculosis.

Medical network : private institutions and missions must be added to the official network which, together, represented 6,000 medical centres totalling 86,000 beds, i.e. one bed per 160 inhabitants.

The medical staff was made up of 850 medical doctors and more than 8,000 ancillary medical staff (Congolese and Europeans).


Roads: 195,213 km.
Railway network: 5,241 km (of which several hundred km were electrified).
Waterways : 14,597 km.
Airway traffic : three international airports and quite a number of secondary airports.


Thirty hydroelectric power plants and a hundred thermic power plants covering the energy needs in cities and industry. lnstalled power: 700,000 kW- energy produced: 2,800,000,000 kWh.


On December 31, 1959 there were 1,473,330 salaried (and paid !) Congolese. Standard of living of the Congolese: from 1950 to 1957, the index increased from 100 to 176,1.

Index of the average Congolese worker salary:
From 1950 to 1958 the index rose from 100 to 237 for a cost of living increase of 20 % for the same period of time.

ln 1958 the gross national product per capita was $ 90, the highest in Africa. The increase of the GNP total from 1920 to 1959 was an average of 4.8 % per year, the one of the commercialised GNP was 5.9 % per year which is exceptionally high.

ln a recent study from the International Monetary Fund it was calculated that to return to the standard of living in existence in 1959 in the Congo, an annual increase of 5% would be required up to the year 2075, i.e. 115 years after Independence.

External trade :

Exports in 1959 : 1,630,000 tons for a value of 24,788,000,000 BEF (495,760,000 $).
Imports in 1959 : 1,872,000 tons for a value of 14,994,000,000 BEF (299,880,000 $).

Mineral resources :

→ Copper: 250,000 tons annually (4th world producer)
→ Cobalt : 13,500 tons i.e. 39% of global production
→ Zinc : 6th world producer
→ Tin : 9th world producer
→ Silver : 118 tons
→ Gold: 11,540 kg
→ Coltan (Tantalo-columbite) : 547 tons
→ Manganese : 367,000 tons
→ Coal : 419,499 tons
→ Uranium :  7% of global production

Agriculture and stock farming

A prosperous agriculture was developed.

A wide array of 20 produce was exported (which is exceptional for a developing country) representing 40 % of export value.

Palm oil (6th world producer)
Cotton (3rd African producer)
Wood, coffee, rubber, bananas, oil and cattle cake were important agricultural produce representing a significant tonnage.

There has never been a scarcity of food during the colonial era.

An important network of INEAC stations (National institute for agricultural studies in the Congo) was created to study the possibility of improving methods of cultivation of the main agricultural produce, and introducing new cattle breeds with a view to further improving the nutrition of local populations. Fish breeding was also introduced (2,000 pools).

Find testimonies about this the video ″Congo Close up

Back to Documents