A Brief Postal History of the Belgian Congo
The Belgian Congo occupied the area of western Africa now covered by the Democratic Republic of Congo. The area was first colonized in 1885 when King Leopold II of Belgium founded and ruled what he named the Congo Free State. The King used the Congo as a personal colony, exploiting its resources and labor for his financial gain.
The postal system was established soon after.
First Stamp of the Congo Free State, featuring the profile of Leopold II
Like the earliest message systems in many places around the world, one of the earliest types of “modern” postal communications in the Belgian Congo was the use of “bush posts.” This was operated by private individuals who carried mail to remote areas. These bush posts were often operated by traders or missionaries and were not officially recognized by the colonial government.
In 1895, the Belgian government established the first official postal service in the Congo, with post offices and mail routes being set up in the major towns and cities. The postal service was primarily used for official government business and communication between the colonizers and Europe.
This postal system was not well developed, and mail often took months to reach its destination. It continued to rely on the bush post, due to a general lack of infrastructure, and the difficulty of transporting mail in the vast and largely inaccessible territory.
In 1908, King Leopold was forced to turn over the Belgian Congo to the government of Belgium, which renamed it the Belgian Congo.
As the colony developed, the postal system improved and more post offices were established. By the early 20th century, the postal service had expanded to cover most of the colony, and the first postage stamps under the new name were issued in 1909.
These palm trees appear on one of the first stamps of the renamed Belgian Congo
During World War II, the Belgian Congo was administered by the exiled Belgian Government, and mail service was disrupted. After the war, the postal system was rebuilt and new stamps were issued.
The Belgian government implemented several policies aimed at exploiting the Congo’s resources and labor for the benefit of Belgium. One of the policies was the forced labor system, which required Congolese men to work on rubber and ivory plantations, often under brutal conditions. This system led to the deaths of an estimated 3 million Congolese people.
The colony was also used as a source of raw materials for Belgian industry. The Congolese economy was heavily dependent on those exports. The colony had almost no industry, and the majority lived in poverty.
The Belgian government also began a policy of racial segregation and discrimination. The white colonizers enjoyed privileges and a higher standard of living than the native population. Education and healthcare were also limited, and the majority black population had limited access to those.
Despite this, there was a small educated elite of Congolese who began to demand their rights and a greater representation in the colonial government. These demands grew stronger in the 1940s and 1950s.
Following talks in Brussels with a united Congolese group of leaders in the spring of 1960, the new Republic of the Congo became independent on June 30, 1960, ending the postal history of the Belgian Congo.
The last stamps of the Belgian Congo were issued in 1960.