Émile Janssens

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Émile Janssens
Emile Janssens.jpg
General Janssens in uniform
Nickname(s) Petit Maniaque
Born 1902
Schaerbeek, Brussels, Belgium[1]
Died 4 December 1989 (aged 87)[1]
Brussels, Belgium
Allegiance  Belgian Congo
Service/branch Force Publique
Years of service 1939 - 1960
Rank Lieutenant-general
Commands held Force Publique (March 1954-1960)
Other work Historian

Lieutenant-General Émile Robert Janssens (1902-1989) was a Belgian military officer and colonial official, best known for his command of the Force Publique at the start of the Congo Crisis. He described himself as the "Little Maniac" (Petit Maniaque) and was a staunch disciplinarian, but his refusal to see Congolese independence as marking a change in the nature of his command has been cited as the cause of the Force Publique 's mutiny in July 1960.[2]


He served in various military roles during World War II. He served in Abyssinia, Nigeria, the Middle East, France, Holland and Belgium.[3] After the war, he taught at the Royal Military Academy in Brussels. In 1952, he was promoted to the rank of colonel and made responsible for the major military camp at Kamina.[1]

On 1 February 1954, Janssens was given command of the Force Publique, the gendarmerie of the Belgian Congo which also acted as the colony's armed forces.[3] He took over from Auguste-Édouard Gilliaert who had commanded it since World War II. Since its creation, the entire Force Publique was tightly segregated along racial lines and, despite being majority black, was commanded by white officers and NCOs. In 1958, Janssens was further promoted to the rank of Lieutenant-General.[1]

The period of Janssens' command of the Force Publique coincided with the expansion of the African nationalist movement in the Congo. In 1959, he was responsible for repressing an important wave of riots in Léopoldville led by the Alliance des Bakongo[a] (ABAKO) party.[1]

1960 Mutiny[edit]

"As I have always told you, order and discipline will be maintained as they have always been. Independence brings changes to politicians and to civilians. But for you, nothing will be changed...none of your new masters can change the structure of an army which, throughout its history, has been the most organized, the most victorious in Africa. The politicians have lied to you."

Speech to Force Publique soldiers on 5 July 1960[4]

With the independence (dipenda) of Congo-Léopoldville on 30 June 1960, Janssens remained in charge of the Force Publique. During the final years of colonial rule, he had firmly opposed initiatives to allow black soldiers into the traditionally white officer corps of the Force Publique. Immediately prior to independence there were still no commissioned black officers in the Force, although about twenty Congolese officer cadets had commenced training at military academies in Belgium. This attitude caused unrest among the black troops under his command, already unsettled by the stress of keeping order during the independence celebrations and seeing themselves as excluded from the benefits of freedom.[5] Janssens was determined that the social order created under the Belgian colonial rule would continue even in the new independent state.[6]

He called a meeting of the NCOs of the Léopoldville garrison on 5 July 1960,[7] just six days after independence, where, in an attempt to remind the soldiers of their oaths of loyalty and obedience, he wrote on a blackboard, "Before independence = After independence" and gave an accompanying speech in which he argued that independence did not change anything for the army.[8]

The message infuriated the soldiers under his command, who mutinied and attacked European settlers. The mutiny, beginning at Camp Hardy near Thysville,[6] prompted an exodus of Europeans in the country towards Brazzaville and Stanleyville where the Belgians deployed paratroopers to rescue their citizens.[8]

Some have seen the rebellion as a result of Janssens' insensitivity, while others suspected he was deliberately trying to incite a rebellion.[9] Regardless, in the aftermath of the mutiny, Janssens resigned from his post, also resulting from differences with the government of Patrice Lumumba.[10] He was replaced by Victor Lundula, who had been hastily promoted to General from the rank of Sergeant-Major.[6] In the aftermath of the mutiny, the Force Publique was dissolved and replaced by the Armée Nationale Congolaise (ANC).

Later life[edit]

Janssens returned to Belgium, via the French Congo. Returning to Brussels, and professing to be retired, he publically approached a statue of King Leopold II, the founder of the Congo Free State (the antecedent of the Belgian Congo), then bowed his head and announced "Sire, they've messed it all up" ("Sire, ils vous l'ont cochonné").[1] The comment was widely reported and, because it appeared to criticize politicians and their decision to grant independence to the colony, it became a popular slogan for Belgium pro-colonialist groups.[11] In his later years he wrote widely on his experience of the Congo Crisis and of Congolese history of the colonial period in general. He is particularly noted for his 1979 work on the history of the Force Publique.[12]

In 1964, Janssens unsuccessfully stood as lead candidate for the minor far-right Parti national (National Party) party in the local elections. The party was closely associated with the far-right colonialist Amitiés Belgo-Katangaises movement which supported the secession of the Katanga from the Congo. From 1983 to 1989, he served as head of the Belgian nationalist organization Pro Belgica.

In popular culture[edit]

  • In the 2000 film Lumumba, directed by Raoul Peck, Janssens was played by Rudi Delhem.

See also[edit]

Notes and references[edit]


  1. ^ In most Bantu languages, the prefix ba- is added to a human noun to form a plural. As such, Bakongo refers collectively to members of the Kongo ethnic group.


  1. ^ a b c d e f "Décès du général Janssens". Décès. Le Soir. 5 December 1989. 
  2. ^ "Un Peu d'Histoire: Le Mois De Juillet 1960 à Mweka". CJ News. Josephiteweb.org. Retrieved 14 March 2013. 
  3. ^ a b Bailly, Michel (6 December 1989). "Emile Janssens: un officier exaspéré par la politique". Le Soir. Retrieved 14 March 2013. 
  4. ^ Zeilig, Leo (2008). Lumumba: Africa's Lost Leader. London: Haus. p. 103. ISBN 9781905791026. 
  5. ^ Public Papers of the Secretaries General of the United Nations. New York: Columbia Univ. Press. 1972. p. 17. ISBN 0231036337.  |first1= missing |last1= in Authors list (help)
  6. ^ a b c Gondola, Charles Didier (2002). The History of Congo. Wesport (Conn.): Greenwood. p. 118. ISBN 0313316961. 
  7. ^ Crawford-Young, M. (1966). "Post Independence Politics in the Congo". Transition 26: 34. JSTOR 2934325. 
  8. ^ a b Van Reybrouck, David (2010). Congo. Een geschiedenis. Amsterdam: De Bezige Bij. p. 304. ISBN 9789023456636. 
  9. ^ Antheunissens, Paul (3 April 2010). "Il y a cinquante ans: " Sire ils vous l’ont cochonné "". La Voix de la Democratie Congolaise. Retrieved 14 March 2013. 
  10. ^ "Congo Army Revolt Ends: Officers Imprisoned by troops are Freed; Resume Control". The Milwaukee Journal. 7 July 1960. Retrieved 14 March 2013. 
  11. ^ Braeckman, Colette (28 June 2010). "Congo retr: retour sur un pari perdu". Le Soir blog. Retrieved 28 August 2014. 
  12. ^ Janssens, Émile (1979). Histoire de la Force publique. Brussels: Ghesquière. 

Further reading[edit]