Excerpt from Roger Casement’s Congo Report- In this excerpt, Casement pointed out the lack of logic and unfairness behind the “tax” in kind (a tax collected in the form of agricultural produce or animals, raw materials, labor, or some other non-cash commodity) that the Congolese were expected to pay. Roger Casement was a British diplomat who traveled the Congo in 1903 and issued a report in 1904 explaining the abuses of the Congo Free State.

But there was no explanation offered to me that was not at once contradicted by the next. One said it [the practice of frequently requiring labor/products from the natives] was a tax, an obligatory [required] burden laid upon the people, such as all Governments have the undoubted right of imposing; but this failed to explain how, if a tax, it came to be collected by the agents of a trading firm, and figured as the outcome of their trade dealings with the people, still less, how, if it were a tax, it could be justly [fairly] imposed every week or fortnight [two weeks] in the year, instead of once, or at most, twice a year.

Another asserted that it was clearly legitimate [legal/appropriate] commerce [trade] with the natives because these were well paid and very happy. He could not then explain the presence of so many armed men in their midst, or the reason for typing up men, women, and children, and of maintaining in each trading establishment a local prison, termed a “maison des ostages” [house of hostages], wherein recalcitrant [disobedient] native traders endured long periods of confinement….

The summing up of the situation by the majority of those with whom I sought to discuss it was that, in fact, it was forced labor conceived [formed] in the true interest of the native, who, if not controlled in this way, would spend his days in idleness [laziness], unprofitable to himself and the general community.

Roger Casement, The Congo Report (p. 92) 1904

  1. Explain the problems with considering this practice either a tax or as trade.
  2. What did the majority of those Roger Casement discussed this with admit was the reason behind this practice?
  3. How does this source compare with the other sources you’ve read?
  4. Which other writers would Roger Casement agree with? How do you know?
  5. If they had been given the opportunity to resume control of their own affairs, do you think that the African tribes would have spent their days in idleness? Why or why not?
  6. What is the maximum amount or percentage of a person’s labor that should be needed to pay a tax, in any given society? Explain.