In 1952, at the end of his year of study at the University of New-York, Robert Bodson who was confronted by the lack of knowledge of the Americans concerning Belgian colonial policy and shocked by the inaccurate information portrayed in literature available at that time, decided to undertake a lecture tour of the United States to make the people aware of what was really happening in the Belgian Congo.

At the end of his 28,000 km tour across the U.S., he wrote a report setting out the questions and criticisms that he had heard and submitted it to the Belgian authorities who asked him to make a lecture tour of the main cities of the Belgian Congo. Equipped with a camera he captured the beautiful pictures in the film "Congo Close-up" translated into 5 languages and distributed to Belgian embassies, the UN and teaching institutions. This short film (28") showing various aspects of the Belgian Congo in 1954, is an expression of hope for an increasing collaboration between the Belgians and the Congolese in a society where two cultures blend harmoniously.



Map Congo/Europe
Surface area of the Congo: 2.345.400 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:
African population
Non African population
Density per sq km

Non African population in the Belgian Congo:

Essentially Europeans 115,157: among whom 87,736 Belgians, 5,361 Portuguese, 3,718 Italians, 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.

In term of activities :
  • 43,9 % workers in private enterprises
  • 18,7 % civil servants
  • 22,1 % farmers and settlers
  • 15,3 % missionaries
Administrative organisation

In 1908, the Belgian parliament decided to accept the heritage of the Congo Independent State, which Leopold II wanted to bequeath to it. At that time the colonial charter was clearly defined: protection and promotion 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.
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).

In 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.
Hospitals & dispensaries
Leper hospitals
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.

In 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 6000 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 8000 ancillary medical staff (Congolese and Europeans).


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. Installed 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.

In 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.

In 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 Bfr ($495.760.000)
Imports in 1959: 1.372.000 tons for a value of 14.994.000.000 Bfr ($299.880.000)

Mineral resources: Among others

First world producer of industrial diamonds.

  • Copper: 250.000 tons annually (4th world producer)
  • Cobalt: 5.500 tons i.e. 75 % of global production
  • Zinc: 6th world producer
  • Tin: 9th world producer
  • Silver: 118 tons
  • Gold: 11 tons 500 kg
  • Coltan (Tantalo-columbite): 156 tons
  • Manganese: 367,000 tons
  • Coal: 419,499 tons
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 (2000 pools).