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The Congo Crisis: 1960-1964

The Congo Crisis: 1960-1964

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An essay for the 2011 Undergraduate Awards (Ireland) Competition by Aideen O Connor. Originally submitted for CK 101 at University College Cork, with lecturer Dr. Mike Cosgrave in the category of Historical Studies
An essay for the 2011 Undergraduate Awards (Ireland) Competition by Aideen O Connor. Originally submitted for CK 101 at University College Cork, with lecturer Dr. Mike Cosgrave in the category of Historical Studies

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Published by: Undergraduate Awards on Aug 31, 2012
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The Congo Crisis: 1960-1964

Today, nearly fifty years since the Operations des Nations Unies au Congo (ONUC) was first deployed, another United Nations mission is once again attempting to ensure peace in the Congo basin. As rebel forces continue to destroy and pillage entire communities in the present-day Congo, it is undoubtedly worth examining the key figures, major forces and legacy of history underpinning the origins of this turmoil and the outcomes of the first United Nations mission1. Perhaps it could be argued that the ethnic tensions which surface today are the result of the state created over a hundred years ago by the Belgian King Leopold II. The large area of the Congo basin was ruled, not as a colony, but as a personal fiefdom, free to be entirely exploited by the Belgian monarch. The area was controlled by a small administration lacking specific knowledge of the country and its inhabitants. The rubber trade which was created depended on the forced labour of thousands. The Force Publique, along with corporate militias, ensured the native Congolese were subordinate. In total, millions of Congolese lost their lives in what became a ruthless private enterprise driven only by profit. As Joseph Conrad writes, it was undoubtedly “the vilest scramble for loot that ever disfigured the history of human conscience”.2 In 1908 the Belgian government was bequeathed the Congo by the monarch, yet “as a colony the Belgian Congo was strongly marked by the Leopoldian legacy as a system of economic exploitation, political repression and cultural


http://www.un.org/apps/news/infocusRel.asp?infocusID=120&Body=Democratic&Body1=Congo (accessed 18/12/08). Information on the current MONUC mission to the Democratic Republic of Congo. 2 M. Meredith, The state of Africa: a history of fifty years of independence, (The Free Press: Great Britain, 2005), P.96 (quoting Conrad).


oppression”.3 The Belgians ensured the continued exploitation of the Congo’s vast wealth and it became the ‘model colony’, isolated from outside interference and filled with, as the Belgians projected, loyal, contented subjects. During this period of colonial rule “the Belgians prepared the Congolese for everything but self-government”.4 Yet the lack of education available to Congolese perhaps only delayed for a short period the political agitation which was to come following World War II. It seems that the moral authority of the fight against fascism set an example for all repressed nations, and, across Africa, calls for independence became much louder post-1945. Indeed, by the end of the war the Governor-General of the Congo had declared that the days of colonialism were over.5 Yet, in the Congo’s case at least, this was not to occur without complications, or indeed obstruction from differing interest groups. As Smith Hempstone argues, the Congo state controlled by the Belgians was entirely a Belgian creation and had no basis in history.6 Thus the calls which began to emerge in the late 1950s for greater autonomy, and eventually independence, seemed doomed to be marked by tribal and ethnic divisions. As a result, once created, the independent Congo state and its inexperienced politicians were faced with seemingly insurmountable problems and the eventual collapse of democracy.

The Principal Actors

G. Nzongola-Ntalaja, The Congo from Leopold to Kabila: a people’s history, (Zed Books: London, 2002), P.26. 4 T. P. Melady, The white man’s future in black Africa, (Macfadden Books: New York, 1962), P. 165. 5 D. Renton, D. Seddon and L. Zeilig, The Congo: plunder and resistance, (Zed Books: London, 2007), P. 70. 6 S. Hempstone, Katanga Report, (Faber and Faber: London, 1962), P. 97.


Independence for the Congo occurred on 30th June 1960. On the 11th of July, Moise Tshombe declared the Congo province of Katanga to be an independent sovereign state. This action was influenced, without question, by his federalist position in relation to the new state, yet was also, perhaps, influenced by the tribal and ethnic differences of the region. Tshombe, at the Roundtable Conference in Brussels organised to discuss independence, strongly outlined his belief in tribal nationalism whereby the Congo would have a superficial central government but in essence be provincially ruled. As ethnic tensions in Katanga grew, Hempstone argues secessionist ideas came to the fore of Tshombe’s and his party’s (CONAKAT) ideology.7 For Tshombe, eventual secession was to become a means of protecting the wealth of the Katangan landscape and retaining the power balance in favour of the Lunda tribe.8 Yet Tshombe was not the only leader of the new movement for independence to lead a party based on tribal grounds. Joseph Kasa-Vubu, the future president of the Congo, also led a party whose allegiance he commanded due to ethnicity. Hempstone argues that both men were tribal nationalists who sought to preserve the “fabric of the society which has produced them”.9 In contrast, the enigmatic figure of Patrice Emery Lumumba argued unequivocally for a unified Congolese state, based not on ethnic lines but on a national movement. Lumumba was the product of self-education, an evolue who rose rapidly in the ranks of the Mouvement National Congolais. It was this man who was to dominate the evolution of the Congo from colony to independent state. In 1958 Lumumba became the public face of the campaign for independence following his appearance at the African People’s Conference in Accra.10 His speech there outlined his hard-line position in
7 8

Hempstone, Katanga Report, P. 72. Ibid, P. 72. 9 Ibid, P. 77. 10 Renton, Seddon, Zeilig, Plunder and resistance, P. 74.


relation to the transition of power; instead of arguing for a state still influenced by its old colonial masters, Lumumba highlighted the possibility of a country based on unity of the provinces, racial equality and secular law. For the oppressed ordinary citizen Lumumba had “the ability to articulate the grievances of the majority and the charisma to inspire them”.11 Yet for the Belgians and other Western powers Lumumba was a radical, with seemingly leftist tendencies at the height of Cold War tension and, for many, appeared to be an obstacle to the fulfilment of their personal interests12. Thus, from the beginning external forces set themselves against the future leader of the new state. Added to the external opposition were the internal divisions of policies, beliefs and political desires between the elites of the Congo.

Origins of Internal Discontent
Yet the remnants of Belgian rule also played a role in the emergence of the new state, and particularly as Nzongola-Ntalaja argues, in the creation of a new class structure which guided the movement for independence. Though Belgian repression, on the whole, ensured that dissent was suppressed, the system of forced labour and its negative social and economic consequences resulted in a series of uprisings from 1900-1945.13 Strikes, work stoppages and army mutinies during this time, though ostensibly protests at the conditions of the ordinary person, were ultimately a form of national response to colonialism, and its connotations of exploitation and oppression. Added to this was the influence of a religious-politico movement under Simon Kimbangu, arguing for both the

11 12

Ibid, P. 85. Nzongola-Ntalaja, The Congo from Leopold to Kabila, P.94. 13 Ibid, P.51.


salvation of the soul and liberation of the Congo from Belgian suppression.14 Indeed, despite his insistence on the apolitical nature of his organisation, the obvious nature of a mass social movement arguing for liberation from oppressors suggests otherwise.15 So, towards the middle of the twentieth century movements for alleviation of oppression, though not overtly stated independence, were coming to the fore amongst native Congolese society. Yet the education system of the Belgian colony ensured that for a Congolese, attaining education past primary level was difficult in the extreme. For the most part the population was separated into three different classes, as defined by Nzongola-Ntalaja; the skilled and unskilled workers, the petty bourgeois employers and entrepreneurs (into which class Tshombe, Kasa-Vubu and Lumumba would have fallen) and finally, the ‘lumpenproletariat’. It was, eventually, the evolues of the bourgeois class which were to provide the intellectual and organizational leadership necessary for a movement of independence. Yet at the beginning these individuals were marked not by radicalism, with even Lumumba supporting of the idea of a Belgo-Congolese community and a continuation of the status quo.16 Yet as the movements grew, and the realisation of equal rights remained a far-off dream, the anti-colonial alliance emerged. Through clubs, societies and organisations the intellectual leadership of the evolues created strong links with the mass population, thus allowing for the growth of an inter-class alliance of unity and the beginnings of political agitation in the Congo.17 The evolues leading this process were, at the beginning, tied to the wishes of the population through the shared suffering of oppression. Thus, when across Africa colonial powers began loosening their grip on their respective colonies, it provided the evolues
14 15

Ibid, P.50. Renton, Seddon, Zeilig, Plunder and resistance, P. 65. 16 Nzongola-Ntalaja, The Congo from Leopold to Kabila, P. 79-80. 17 Ibid, P. 80.


and the lumpenproletariat new stimulus for dissent.18 With the many ostensibly cultural groups now emphasising their true political underbelly, the Belgians were faced with a growing cross-ethnic cultural movement demanding reform. Belgium resigned itself to sweeping reforms and the introduction of municipal elections. Indeed, it was the first time since the era of King Leopold that the Belgians were being challenged for their rule and it seems that they were not prepared for an outright fight, most likely against the wishes of majority world opinion, to ensure the domination of their assets.19 Yet for the increasingly powerful leaders of the anti-colonial alliance municipal elections were not enough, and so, on the 20th of January at the Roundtable Conference in Brussels, nothing less than ‘immediate independence’ was acceptable.

Transition of Power and Early Independence
The early stages of transition were already marked by the political division of the anti-colonial alliance. At the Roundtable conference federalists such as Tshombe lost out to the centralist governmental desires of both Lumumba and the Belgians (apparently the one issue on which they agreed!). Indeed Nzongola-Ntalaja argues that these political divisions were brought about by both the political naivety of the Congolese politicians and “the destabilizing actions of the Belgians”.20 Certainly if this was the case the Belgians could have viewed the destabilizing of the new political groupings as a means to protect their own assets. Indeed the political and economic ineptitudes of the new leadership cadre of the Congolese allowed the Belgians to ensure, through privatization,

18 19

Meredith, The State of Africa, P.98. Renton, Seddon, Zeilig, Plunder and resistance, P. 75. 20 Nzongola-Ntalaja, The Congo from Leopold to Kabila, P.88.


the transfer of much of the industrial wealth to Belgian companies.21 Yet, despite this, elections were successfully held and Lumumba’s MNC-L, (following a division in the party on 16th July 1959) became the only party to win an outright majority in the provincial elections. The date for independence was set for June 30th 1960. The massive risks imposed by such a rapid transfer of power were obvious to all. Indeed, Melady describes the haste in which power was transferred as nearing “hysteria”.22 He furthers the argument that the transition occurred too quickly by highlighting the failures of the system of paternalism, enforced by the Belgians, in preparing the Congolese for power.23 In 1960 there were only thirty university graduates in the entire Congo, the first contingent of Congolese army cadets were not due to return from Belgium until 1963 and no Congolese had experience of government except at a restricted local level.24 For Lumumba the pan-African ideal of unity and non-alignment was to be a priority, along with the widespread benefit to the ordinary person, both economically and socially, of independence. In contrast the more conservative viewpoints of Kasa-Vubu, Tshombe and others gained the support of the West and of Belgium.25 Indeed, from this perspective, it could be argued that the Congo Crisis, while unarguably a crisis of independence and democracy, was also a crisis of decolonization. Perhaps this was best represented in Lumumba’s response to King Baudouin on the day of independence. While Baudouin’s speech epitomized the colonial outlook, and in fact represented the newly gained independence of the Congo as a gift from its colonial superior, Lumumba renounced Belgium’s colonial past and highlighted the “struggle, of
21 22

Ibid, P.88. Melady, White man’s future, P. 166. 23 Ibid, P.170. 24 Meredith, The State of Africa, P.100-101. 25 Nzongola-Ntalaja, The Congo from Leopold to Kabila, P.97.


tears, of fire and of blood”.26 The Belgian’s gamble of decolonization, whereby the Congolese would be provided with the trappings of power but no real control, had not paid off. 27 The victory of Lumumba and his apparent desire to rebuke Belgian colonial nostalgia was ample evidence of this.

The Congo Crisis Begins
Independence was gained officially on the 30th of June 1960. The new government faced the problems of resources, expectation and ultimately, ability. Within four days, the first crisis of the new state emerged. The Congolese members of the Force Publique expected, as did much of the population, immediate change after independence and, when this was not evident, mutinied. General Emile Janssens aggravated the situation further by writing the infamous words ‘before independence = after independence’ on a barrack’s blackboard in Leopoldville. Lumumba, attempting to calm the situation, appointed Victor Lundula and Joseph Mobutu as army commander and chief of staff respectively.28 The crisis continued to worsen as white residents began to evacuate the city and the Deputy Prime Minister Gizenga, unbeknownst to Lumumba, sought American aid.29 Hempstone argues that, at this point, it should have become obvious to Lumumba that foreign aid was necessary, and that the Belgians, who had offered their services, were the obvious choice.30 Indeed he furthers this argument by claiming neither Lumumba nor Kasa-Vubu had the moral courage to seek the Belgian aid necessary for the restoration of order. However, it is questionable whether Belgian aid,

26 27

http://www.africawithin.com/lumumba/independence_speech.htm, (accessed 18/12/08). Meredith, The State of Africa, P.101. 28 Ibid, P.103. 29 Nzongola-Ntalaja, The Congo from Leopold to Kabila, P.99. 30 Hempstone, Katanga Report, P.95.


sought for and received by the democratically elected government, would have been helpful at this juncture. At this point Lumumba seemed to have relatively few options; he could appeal to the United Nations, as opposed to the U.S. who had refused the Deputy Prime Minister Gizenga’s request, he could attempt to force the Belgians to withdraw himself, or he could request Soviet assistance. However, before his choices were made any clearer, the situation was further worsened by Tshombe’s announcement of Katanga’s secession on the 11th of July, with the secretive backing of Britain, France and of course, Belgium. As Renton, Seddon and Zeilig write “the new state seemed doomed to break apart, as its former colonial masters continued to exercise a nefarious power over events inside the country”.31 The Katangan province was the cornerstone of the Congolese economy under the Belgians and would, undoubtedly, have been intrinsic to any economic plan for the new state. Its secession would have resulted in complete decimation of the remaining provinces’ economies due to a lack of funding. Indeed, Katanga was so powerful economically that it contained twenty per cent of the entire private investment in the Congo and eighty per cent of its power supply.32 Added to this were the foreign owned companies, the largest and most influential of which was Union Miniere. This organization was the fifth largest supplier of copper in the world, along with mining for cobalt, radium and uranium.33 Without question the wealth of Katangan minerals was the reason for Western, and in particular, Belgian interest. In its sustainment of Tshombe, Belgium was not just interfering in the affairs of another, though new, independent country, it was protecting its own livelihood. Lumumba recognized that for Belgium, the
31 32

Renton, Seddon, Zeilig, Plunder and resistance, P.88. Hempstone, Katanga Report, P.55. 33 Ibid, P. 53.


Katangan province and its associated wealth, was necessary to ensure stability. He realized that, without Katanga and the Congo, Belgium could not exist in its present state.34 Thus, it seems the Belgian intervention in Katanga was not an action taken for the protection of its citizens and property as Hempstone argues35, but instead an act of selfpreservation, and perhaps desperation, through the destruction of the unity of the Congo. Indeed, while Lumumba represented a form of nationalism of the kind which frightened Western politicians, Tshombe and his Deputy Munongo represented, in many ways, the African mouthpiece for private businesses with investments in Katanga, for white settlers and ultimately for the Belgian interests.36 For Lumumba though, the secession of Katanga also caused the breakdown of his envisioned unified Congo, free from the ethnic bases of Tshombe’s ideology. In addition, the secession of Katanga sparked the declaration, by Lumumba’s former ally Kalonji, of the secession of South Kasai on August 8th 1960. (Eventually, in less than six months after independence, four separate regimes held sway in the Congo: Tshombe’s Katanga supported by the Belgians, Gizenga, based in Stanleyville, Kalonji in South Kasai and finally the Leopoldville government.37)

United Nations Intervention
On the 12th of July 1960, following the army mutiny, the illegal Belgian intervention and the secession of Katanga, Lumumba called on the United Nations for help to ensure the unity of his state and the removal of Belgian troops and foreign mercenaries. Yet, even at this early stage, the American Ambassador, Clare Timberlake, had advocated the use of the U.N. as a means of protecting Western interests in the
34 35

Renton, Seddon, Zeilig, Plunder and resistance, P. 89. Hempstone, Katanga Report, P.95. 36 Nzongola-Ntalaja, The Congo from Leopold to Kabila, P. 99. 37 Meredith, The State of Africa, P. 110.


Congo, and of furthering U.S. policy.38 The U.N., under the leadership of Dag Hammarskjold, gave little other than an acknowledgement of the Belgian interference, while at home Lumumba’s support and the power of his rhetoric were weakening.39 It has been argued that Hammarskjold’s interpretation of the mandate given to him by the Security Council came directly from the neo-colonialist viewpoint of the Western powers involved.40 (Indeed, three of his closest advisors – Bunche, Cordier and Wieschhoff – were American and, though most likely ostensibly neutral, were undoubtedly the products of the political environment in which they formed, Washington).41 For Lumumba his request for assistance was clear in its requirements, yet for Hammarskjold the impartiality of the U.N. was paramount, though with a Western slant, and thus, involvement in internal affairs could not be risked. The resolution passed on the 9th of August re-enforced this principle yet, in reality, as Conor Cruise O’Brien writes, everyday decisions and actions were taken which were “capable of influencing the internal affairs and the political future of the Congo”.42 Later, Resolution 161 gave the ONUC the mandate for peace enforcement and the United Nations troops were given legitimacy for the use of force, though this occurred too late to benefit the first Prime Minister. For Lumumba the actions of the U.N. left him in growing isolation as Tshombe continued to increase his hold on Katanga, with Belgian support. Perhaps out of desperation, or indeed recklessness, Lumumba called on the Soviet Union for assistance on the 15th of August. For America this was evidence of his communist-leanings and now
38 39

Nzongola-Ntalaja, The Congo from Leopold to Kabila, P. 99. Renton, Seddon, Zeilig, Plunder and resistance, P. 91. 40 Nzongola-Ntalaja, The Congo from Leopold to Kabila, P. 94-5. 41 C. Cruise O’Brien, To Katanga and back: a U.N. case history, (Hutchinson & Co. Ltd.: Great Britain, 1962), P. 59. 42 Ibid, P.60.


threw the newly-created state into the middle of Cold War tension.43 The actions of Lumumba, ultimately, led to his death and, perhaps in some ways, the rise of the C.I.A.backed Mobutu. His actions also sparked a constitutional crisis, though it seems KasaVubu is more to blame for this than Lumumba. By September 1960 their alliance had broken apart, and with the Soviet arrivals, Kasa-Vubu dismissed Lumumba. Both houses of parliament rejected this decision as illegal and Lumumba then promptly dismissed Kasa-Vubu. In the end, neither decision was upheld by parliament, and the fledgling democracy ground to a stalemate. Though reconciliation was attempted, within a week Mobutu had staged his first coup, and military rule was in place.44 With Lumumba under house arrest and the moderate Kasa-Vubu allowed his freedom it seemed once again that “the United Nations was working actively to promote the interests of the secessionists and Belgium”.45 (As Cruise O’Brien argues, had it not been for Andrew Cordier’s action of using U.N. troops to forcibly close Radio Leopoldville and the airport, Lumumba would, almost undoubtedly, have rallied crucial support immediately).46 It could be argued that ONUC failed to remain a peacekeeping force and instead transformed its mandate to peace enforcement. As Hempstone argues, the Katangan secession could, under international law, have been viewed as an exercise of the right to selfdetermination (although in this case it seems more Tshombe’s personal will determining the fate of the province). Thus, the U.N. intervention there could be seen as having political undertones and therefore, by its own charter, be illegal.47 In essence, the U.N.

43 44

Renton, Seddon, Zeilig, Plunder and resistance, P.96. Nzongola-Ntalaja, The Congo from Leopold to Kabila, P. 108-109. 45 Renton, Seddon, Zeilig, Plunder and resistance, P.98. 46 Cruise O’Brien, To Katanga and back, P. 93. 47 Hempstone, Katanga Report, P.99-100.


use of force to end the secession, though allowed by its Resolution 16148, perhaps resulted in the compromising of its integrity and usefulness, “in an explosive world which needs its potential power for peace”.49 Whatever the case, it cannot be argued that the U.N. intervention in the Congo was entirely successful. Though Tshombe eventually officially renounced the secession on 21st of December, no real attempts at reconciliation between the groups followed. So, though the U.N. eventually succeeded in ending the secession of Katanga in 1963, what Lumumba had requested it to do in the first place, the loss of life, political turmoil and infrastructural damage caused by its actions ensured an enduring loss of integrity in that particular corner of the world.50 Added to this was the fact that the U.N. had not attempted, in a meaningful way, to create any policy of ‘nationbuilding’. Thus, following the final departure of troops in 1964, the Congo returned to a state of disarray until 1965 when Mobutu once again stepped forward and assumed total control.51 Indeed, a lack of administrative education in democracy, added to his U.S. backed accumulation of power, could in some ways be blamed for the thirty-two reign of the “complete tyrant” Mobutu.52 As Ludo de Witte argues, the Western powers along with the U.N. “all betrayed their publically professed principles and ideals and the Congolese prime minister who had placed his trust in all of them at one stage or another”.53

Lumumba’s Downfall


K. Mansson, ‘Use of Force and Civilian Protection: Peace Operations in the Congo’, International Peacekeeping, Vol. 12, No. 4,Winter 2005, pp.503-519: 504. 49 Hempstone, Katanga Report, P.203. 50 Ibid, P.202. 51 Meredith, The State of Africa, P.115. 52 Renton, Seddon, Zeilig, Plunder and resistance, P. 111. 53 L. de Witte, The Assassination of Lumumba, trans. A. Wright and R. Fenby, (Verso: 2001), P181.


In mid-August 1960 American operatives in the Congo received authorization for an operation aimed at replacing Lumumba with a pro-Western moderate.54 From the very beginning of his tenure as Prime Minister Lumumba had been disliked as a radical, leftist politician by the Western powers. With his plea to the Soviet Union for assistance he sealed his fate; the only question which remained was whether he would be ‘eliminated’ or allowed to remain imprisoned. As Nzongola-Ntalaja writes “working hand in hand, Washington, New York and Brussels succeeded in eliminating Lumumba and his radical followers from the political scene and in replacing them with moderate leaders”.55 However, while Tshombe took foreign aid in the form of Belgian technicians and military personnel, he remained relatively unscathed, yet when Lumumba attempted to accept aid from a foreign power – having been refused aid from the U.S. – he was ostracized and removed from control. It seems logical to conclude that firstly, Lumumba’s personal politics which went against the wishes of the West and, secondly, the actual power from which he accepted aid, the Soviet Union, must have been factors in the action taken by those who orchestrated his removal. Due to its mineral wealth, and in an era of Cold War, its strategic importance for the capitalist powers, there was inevitably no chance that Lumumba, nor the Congo, would be left to implement its legitimate right of selfgovernment without foreign interference.56 As de Witte writes, the events of the Congo Crisis are “a staggering example of what the Western ruling classes are capable of when their vital interests are threatened”.57 Lumumba was placed under house arrest, guarded by an inner ring of U.N. forces and an outer ring of governmental troops. The Belgian forces in the Congo were explicit
54 55

Ibid, P. 94. Nzongola-Ntalaja, The Congo from Leopold to Kabila, P.95. 56 Renton, Seddon, Zeilig, Plunder and resistance, P. 96. 57 De Witte, Assassination, xxv (intro.).


in their desire to eliminate Lumumba and a plan, similar to that of the earlier C.I.A. plan to poison him, was established.58 When he fled Leopoldville for Stanleyville, his strongest base of support, on 27th of November 1960, the forces of Mobutu, along with Belgian and U.S. assistance, rapidly recaptured him. (He was captured on December 1st and denied U.N. protection the next morning by the Ghanaian contingent of the forces).59 Lumumba was severely beaten, with the knowledge of U.N. troops who refused to intervene, and on January 17th 1961 was flown to Elisabethville. From there he was taken, possibly in the presence of Tshombe, to the bush and, under the command of Belgian troops, was executed along with his compatriots Maurice Mpolo and Joseph Okito60. Later the bodies were exhumed, hacked to pieces and dissolved in acid by a Belgian police officer, Gerard Soette.61 De Witte argues that, despite the unequivocal knowledge that Lumumba’s transfer to Katanga was a death sentence, the Belgians failed to take any action to prevent this, indeed their prime concern was to remove any evidence of involvement on their behalf, for the benefit of the watching world.62 Thus, at the behest of the Western powers along with the connivance of his Congolese enemies, Patrice Emery Lumumba, the first democratically elected Prime Minister of the Congolese state was brutally murdered. His death caused worldwide protests, though in the Congo the response was more muted.63 By the role played in the orchestration of Lumumba’s death, the Western powers, notably the U.S. and Belgium, continued the tradition of colonial imperialism supposedly renounced with the
58 59

Nzongola-Ntalaja, The Congo from Leopold to Kabila, P.110. Ibid, P.110. 60 See L. de Witte’s account of the brutality of the imprisonment and assassination of Lumumba, The Assassination of Lumumba, P.97 – 126. 61 Renton, Seddon, Zeilig, Plunder and resistance, P. 99 – 100. 62 De Witte, Assassination, P. 110-111. 63 Ibid, P.100.


assumption of independence.64 Yet the most blatantly hypocritical aspect of his murder is that Lumumba, whatever his faults, was democratically elected and retained popular support throughout his short tenure. So, with his elimination, the supposed protectors of freedom and democracy renounced the very values which allowed their survival, all in the name of political and economic greed.

The Second Independence Movement
By October 1963 most of the more prominent Lumumubists had been removed from the political scene and the Binza Group, led in the main by Mobutu, held power. 65 The eventual development of the second independence movement evolved in the shape of two separate wars; Pierre Mulele in Bandundu and the Conseil National de Liberation (CNL) in the east. Thus, though the U.N. was still present in their peacekeeping form, albeit controlled in some ways by U.S. policy, the tragic loss of life continued. The insurrections, by January 1964 had become profoundly rural guerrilla rebellions and by November, the government, now under Tshombe’s premiership, with the aid of U.S. and Belgian troops, involved under a humanitarian pretext, quashed the revolts with the loss of over one thousand Congolese lives.66 In May 1964 a new constitution had been adopted and in 1965 elections were democratically held. Yet, Nzongola-Ntalaja argues, for the Western powers, a weakened democratic government could not support their specific interests, and thus, Mobutu was backed in his rise to power.67 The effect of these events on the course of democracy and nationalism, not alone in the Congo but pan-

64 65

Nzongola-Ntalaja, The Congo from Leopold to Kabila, P. 116. Nzongola-Ntalaja, The Congo from Leopold to Kabila, P. 121. 66 Ibid, P.138. 67 Ibid, P. 141-2.


Africa, has, in the words of de Witte, been “demoralizing”.68 Indeed, the implication of the supposed ‘protectors of freedom’ in the murder of a democratically elected leader still has a deeply shocking impact today, nearly fifty years later.

In the trajectory of the fledgling democratic Congolese state, a number of factors were significant in creating the platform from which Mobutu gained power and the state was reduced, within a relatively short period of time, to an autocratic dictatorship. Without doubt Lumumba himself, his political decisions and his personal beliefs, played a major role in the outcome of independence. Yet he was not the only key player; Tshombe, Kasa-Vubu, Mobutu, the U.S. administration, the Belgian government under Gaston Eyskens and, ultimately, Hammarskjold each affected the direction of the new state. It could be argued had Tshombe not declared the secession of Katanga, the U.N. forces would not have been requested by Lumumba, in which case Soviet assistance would not have been desired and Kasa-Vubu and Mobutu would not have had their chance to dismiss him! As Hempstone writes “in Katanga and in the Congo, as in the rest of Africa, politics is a highly personal art. It is men, not issues, which count”.69 And undoubtedly, it was the reactions and actions of the above men which truly affected the Congo. Yet behind each of these men was a political impetus; for Lumumba it was the creation of a unified, truly independent state free from the “ironies, insults, blows”70 that came from being a subject colony. For Eyskens, the Belgian Premier, continuation of

68 69

De Witte, Assassination, P. 175. Hempstone, Katanga Report, P.66. 70 http://www.africawithin.com/lumumba/independence_speech.htm (accessed 18/12/08).


Belgian power within central Africa was vital, both politically and economically. And for Hammarskjold the strength of the U.N.’s responsibility for neutral, impartial intervention was paramount, though in reality the outcome of his efforts was a promotion of Western ideologies at the behest of Washington, Brussels and, evidently, New York. As Nzongola-Ntalaja writes, “for Congolese patriots, there is no ounce of doubt that Hammarskjold’s actions did serve Western interests in the Congo”.71 It is in this fact that the major issue of the Congo Crisis of 1960-1964 lies. While ostensibly efforts were made to ensure the protection of civilians and the continuation of democracy, in essence the Western powers cared little for anything, other than the valuable resources on offer in the Congo. The Congo’s downfall, the one reason why it was not left to “work out its own future”72 was its own possible source of redemption; its mineral wealth. The legacy of brutal suppression for economic reasons during Leopold’s rule was carried on through the desires of the neo-colonists. Thus, the Congo state was to be subject to another three decades of ruthless oppression, a continuing war and a present-day U.N. force which, like its predecessor, has little chance of maintaining law and order. The Congo is a victim of its own internal tribal dissent and the remains of its bloody birth as Leopold’s fiefdom. Yet it is the intervention of external powers for their own greedy gains, which ultimately results in the utter desecration and destitution of ordinary life for the Congolese citizen. The supposed protectors of liberty, whatever their good intentions, have in many ways, brought about the downfall of the political freedoms which the U.N. today is, once again, trying to assure.

71 72

Nzongola-Ntalaja, The Congo from Leopold to Kabila, P.115. Ibid, P. 96.


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