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Pierre Savorgnan de Brazza

Pierre Paul François Camille Savorgnan de Brazza (1852-1905), an explorer of Italian nationality, single-handedly opened up for France entry along the right bank of the Congo that eventually led to French colonies in West Africa. His easy manner and great physical charm and his pacific approach among Africans were his trademark.

Born in Rome as Pietro Paolo Savorgnan di Brazza, he was the seventh son of Count Ascanio Savorgnan di Brazza, a nobleman of Udine with many French connections. Pietro won entry to the French naval school at Brest, graduated as an ensign, and went on the Jeanne d'Arc to Algeria, where he was horrified to see French troops shooting down Kabyle insurgents.

His next ship was the Venus, which stopped at Gabon regularly, and in 1874 de Brazza made two trips, up the Gabon and Ogoue rivers. He then proposed to the government to explore the Ogoue to its source, and with the help of friends in high places, including Jules Ferry and Leon Gambetta, he secured partial funding, the rest coming out of his own pocket. He also became a naturalized French citizen at this time, adopting the French spelling of his name.

In this expedition, which lasted from 1875-1878, armed with cotton textiles and tools to use for barter, accompanied only by a doctor and a natualist and a dozen Senegalese infantrymen, Brazza charmed and talked his way deep inland.

The French authorized a second mission, 1879-1882. Reaching the Congo River in 1880, Brazza proposed to King Makoko of the Batekes that he place his kingdom under the protection of the French flag. Makoko, interested in trade possibilities and in gaining an edge over his rivals, signed a treaty. Makoko also arranged for the establishment of a French settlement at Ncuna on the Congo's Malebo Pool, a place later known as Brazzaville.

In 1886 he was named governor-general of the French Congo. Journalists' reports of the contrast between the decent wages and humane conditions there contrasted with the personal regime of the Leopold on the opposite bank, in the Belgian Congo, made him some important enemies, and a mounting smear campaign in the French press led to his dismissal in 1898. By 1905 he was asked to look into the colonial conditions, which had deteriorated during his absence. But the French Assembly voted to suppress his embarrassing report.

He died suddenly of a fever at Dakar. There were rumors that he had been poisoned.

His epitaph reads une mémoire pure de sang humain ('a memory untainted by human blood')


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