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|Part of the Congo conflicts and the Cold War|
Belgian paracommandos preparing for a hostage rescue operation, November 1964
| Congo (Stanleyville)
South Africa (Mercenaries)
| Congo (Léopoldville)
|Commanders and leaders|
| Patrice Lumumba †
Dag Hammarskjöld †
| King Baudouin I
| Joseph Kasa-Vubu
|Part of a series on the|
|History of the Democratic Republic of the Congo|
|Democratic Republic of the Congo portal|
The Congo Crisis (1960–1966) was a period of turmoil in the Congo that began with national independence from Belgium and ended with the seizing of power by Joseph Mobutu. At various points, the conflict had the characteristics of anti-colonial struggle, a secessionist war with the province of Katanga, a United Nations peacekeeping operation, and a Cold War proxy battle between the United States and the Soviet Union.
The Crisis resulted in the deaths of some 100,000 people. It led to the assassination of Prime Minister Patrice Lumumba, as well as a traumatic setback to the United Nations following the death of UN Secretary General Dag Hammarskjöld in a plane crash as he sought to mediate.
Prior to the establishment of the First Republic in 1960, the native Congolese elites had formed semi-political organizations which gradually evolved into the main parties striving for independence. These organizations were formed on one of three foundations: ethnic kinship, connections formed in schools, and urban intellectualism.
The largest of these was Association des Bakongo (ABAKO), founded in 1950, which was an ethnic association which promoted the interests and language of the Bakongo (or Kongo) people, as well as Bakongo-related ethnic groups. ABAKO, led by Joseph Kasa-Vubu during the Crisis, was at the forefront of the more insistent demands for both independence and federalism. Other less successful ethnic associations included the Liboke lya Bangala, who championed needs of the Bangala ethno-linguistic group (a grouping created by Western ethnographers.
The Fédékaléo represented people from the Kasai region. Fédékaléo later split into several groups. Though these organizations represented ethnic groups from all over the Congo, they usually based themselves in Leopoldville (now Kinshasa), since one reason for their existence was the need to maintain ethnic ties after the mass migration to urban areas.
Another source of political groupings was the various Alumni Associations—whose membership came from former students of colonial Christian schools in the Congo. Most of the major politicians of the period were Alumni members, and the associations were used to create networks of advisors and supporters.
The third political tributary were the Cercles, urban associations that sprang up in the cities of the Congo, which were designed to foster solidarity amongst the évolués (the educated, westernized middle class). In the words of Patrice Lumumba, the head of the Cercles of Stanleyville (now Kisangani), the Cercles were created to "improve intellectual, social, moral and physical formation" of the évolués.
In 1958, together with Cyrille Adoula and Joseph Ileo, Lumumba founded the Mouvement National Congolais (MNC), a national independence party intended to be non-tribal. It later split into two, MNC-L led by Lumumba and the MNC-K led by Albert Kalonji in Kasai.
The thirty year plan
In the early 1950s the Belgian government came under increasing pressure to allow the Belgian Congo to become a self-governing state. Belgium had ratified article 73 of the United Nations Charter, which advocated self-determination, and both superpowers put pressure on Belgium to reform its Congo policy. The Belgian government's response was largely dismissive. However, Belgian professor A.J. van Bilsen, in 1955, published a treatise called Thirty Year Plan for the Political Emancipation of Belgian Africa.
The timetable called for gradual emancipation of the Congo over a thirty year period—the time Van Bilsen expected it would take to create an educated elite who could replace the Belgians in positions of power. The Belgian government and many of the évolués were suspicious of the plan — the former because it meant eventually giving up the Congo, and the latter because Belgium would still be ruling Congo for another three decades. A group of Catholic évolués responded positively to the plan with a manifesto in a Congolese journal called Conscience Africaine, with their only point of disagreement being the amount of native Congolese participation.
The ethnic association ABAKO decided to distance themselves from the plan, in part because most of the Catholic évolués who wrote the Conscience Africaine manifesto were not from the Kongo ethnic group favoured by ABAKO, but also because they had decided to take a more radical, less gradualist approach to ending colonialism. ABAKO demanded immediate self-government for Congo.
This plan was never made official. All early political efforts were hampered because Belgium had made no plans for Congolese independence. There were only nine university degree holders, and no Congolese in the entire military with a rank higher than Sergeant.
1959 Leopoldville and Stanleyville Riots
ABAKO gathered steam over the following few years, consolidating political control over much of the lower Congo and Léopoldville. By early 1959, much of the lower Congo was beyond the control of Belgian authorities. The Belgian authorities prohibited ABAKO from meeting and this caused widespread rioting in Léopoldville from 4–7 January 1959 during which 34 Africans died.
On January 12 Joseph Kasa-Vubu was arrested and the Belgians stated that he would be released on March 13. Subsequently, the Belgian government announced constitutional reforms intended to bring more Congolese into government, but only in an advisory capacity. They also indicated that the end result of the process would eventually be independence. With this plan the Belgians hoped to satisfy the demands of the more moderate Congolese for inclusion in the political process while neutralizing the more extreme Congolese nationalists with the promise of eventual independence.
The end result was the opposite of what was intended. There was a surge of political activity, over fifty political parties were registered, nearly all of them based on tribal groups. Nationalist demands grew more extreme as parties competed with each other. There was further rioting, during which 24 people were killed, in Stanleyville on October 31, 1959 after Patrice Lumumba was arrested following a meeting of the MNC.
The Roundtable Conference, Brussels 18–27 January 1960
Faced with increasing instability, the Belgians held a "Roundtable Conference" in Brussels for the leaders of the different Congolese parties. The MNC demanded that Lumumba should be released from prison so he could attend. The Belgians agreed to independence but tried to negotiate for a transitional period of three to four years. The Congolese insisted that independence be granted immediately and the most that they would concede was a few months.
At the end of the conference on 27 January 1960 it was agreed that elections would be held by 22 May 1960, and independence granted on 30 June 1960. The experience of the French in the ongoing Algerian War for independence was something the Belgians desperately wanted to avoid.
22 May 1960 elections
In order to create political institutions to govern Congo after its independence on 30 June 1960, the elections were held on 22 May 1960.
Only the two biggest parties presented themselves in more than one province:
- The MNC-L (Patrice Lumumba) had won the elections: with about a quarter of the seats it ended first. It obtained a majority in the Eastern (Oriental) province.
- The Parti National du Progrès or PNP, was second, was defeated as national party by the MNC-L. It was favored by the Belgians.
Every other party was based in only one province; their strongholds followed ethnic divisions:
- In the province of Léopoldville, Parti Solidaire Africain or PSA (Antoine Gizenga) narrowly defeated ABAKO (Joseph Kasa-Vubu).
- In the province of Katanga, Confédération des Associations Tribales de Katanga or (CONAKAT) led by Moise Tshombé narrowly defeated Association Générale des Baluba de Katanga or BALUBAKAT (Jason Sendwe).
- In the province of Kivu, Centre de Regroupement Africain, CEREA (Anicet Kashamura) won but didn't obtain a majority; MNC-L came second.
- In the province of Kasaï, MNC-L and MNC-K (Albert Kalonji, Joseph Iléo and Cyrille Adoula) fought a duel over the first place. MNC-L could count on two smaller parties (UNC and Coalition Kasaienne (COAKA).
- In the Eastern province, MNC-L won a clear majority; the PNP was its only adversary.
- In the province of the Equator, parties were very weak, but PUNA (Jean Bolikango) and UNIMO (Justin Bomboko) could be called the local parties.
In the national parliament, Lumumba could count on a coalition of (in order of loyalty) MNC-L, UNC and COAKA (Kasaï), CEREA (Kivu), PSA (Léopoldville) and BALUBAKAT (Katanga). It was opposed by PNP, MNC-K (Kasaï), ABAKO (Léopoldville), CONAKAT (Katanga), PUNA and UNIMO (Equator) and RECO (Kivu).
As part of a deal, on June 24, 1960, Kasa-Vubu was elected president and the Lumumba government obtained the confidence of Chamber and Senate.
The independent Republic of the Congo was declared on 30 June 1960, with Joseph Kasa-Vubu as President and Patrice Lumumba as Prime Minister. It shared a name with the neighboring Republic of the Congo to the west, a French colony that also gained independence in 1960, and the two were normally differentiated by also stating the name of the relevant capital city, so Congo (Léopoldville) versus Congo (Brazzaville).
Course of the Crisis
The First Republic
On 30 June 1960, the country's first day as an independent nation, Baudouin, the King of the Belgians, arrived for the formal handover of power. What was intended to be a day of pomp and national celebration turned into a public relations disaster. This was clear almost from the moment the king stepped off the plane. On his way from the airport, a man, Ambroise Boimbo, snatched his ceremonial sword and began dancing around in the road with it. At his arrival in the parliament building on the following morning, the king was shown more respect. However he then made an ill-advised speech praising the "genius" and "tenacious courage" of his great uncle King Leopold II.
In the Congo, Leopold II is mainly remembered as the founder and sole owner of the Congo Free State, a private project undertaken by the King. The extraction of rubber and ivory in the Congo during this period relied on forced labour and resulted in the massacre and mutilation of millions of Congolese. President Kasa-Vubu altered his prepared speech to exclude ending remarks of praise for King Baudouin. Prime Minister Lumumba was not due to give a speech; according to some reports this was a deliberate exclusion. However, he rose and gave a speech which extolled the independence struggle "of tears, fire and blood". He attacked the Belgian Congo's "regime of injustice, oppression and exploitation". Some media reported that Lumumba ended his speech by ad-libbing to Baudoin: "Nous ne sommes plus vos macaques" (We are no longer your monkeys)--—a reference to a common slur Belgians used against Africans. However, this is not found in the text of his speech and may be apocryphal.
This speech was well received by the Congolese who heard it. For many Congolese, hearing any European dignitary, let alone a king, being addressed this way was extraordinary. For the king and his entourage, this speech was an insult and they nearly decided to fly straight back to Belgium and skip the rest of the ceremonies. They stayed for the official lunch, at which Lumumba made a somewhat more conciliatory speech saying "At the moment when the Congo reaches independence, the whole Government wishes to pay solemn homage to the King of the Belgians and to the noble people he represents for the work done here over three quarters of a century. For I would not wish my feelings to be wrongly interpreted." However, it was his first speech that was remembered and broadcast throughout the Congo.
At independence, the Congo armed forces, the Force Publique, had both military functions and served as a gendarmerie. All officers and senior non-commissioned officers were Belgians. After 30 June 1960, resentment rose in the army whose privates and NCOs saw little opportunity for advancement. Further discontent was caused by the decision by Lumumba to raise the pay of all government employees except the military. On 5 July 1960, the commander of the Force Publique, Lieutenant General Émile Janssens, called a meeting of the Léopoldville garrison. Janssens was not a man of diplomatic talent. In an attempt to remind the soldiers of their oaths of loyalty and obedience, he wrote on a blackboard, "After independence = before independence."
This was not a message the rank and file members of the army were prepared to hear. By the end of the day the garrison had mutinied against its white officers and attacked numerous European targets. Armed bands of mutineers roamed the capital looting and terrorizing the white population. This caused the flight of thousands of European refugees to Brazzaville and Stanleyville. The credibility of the new government was ruined as it proved unable to control its own armed forces.
This led to a military intervention into Congo by Belgian forces in an ostensible effort to secure the safety of its citizens. Whilst the danger to Belgian citizens and other foreigners was real, the intervention of these forces was a violation of the national sovereignty of the new nation, as it had not requested Belgian assistance. In an attempt to conciliate the soldiers, the Congolese government decided to "Africanize" the army. All personnel were promoted by one rank and its name was changed to the Armée Nationale Congolaise.
The flight of officers left the 25,000 man force still armed but totally uncontrolled. This left the new country without an effective instrument of central control and was an important causative factor in the rapid descent of the country into chaos.
Secession of Katanga
On 11 July 1960, with the support of Belgian business interests and over 6000 Belgian troops, the province of Katanga in the southeast declared independence as the State of Katanga under the leadership of Moise Tshombe, leader of the local CONAKAT party. Tshombe was known to be close to the Belgian industrial companies which mined the rich resources of copper, gold and uranium. Katanga was one of the richest and most developed areas of the Congo. Without Katanga, Congo would lose a large part of its mineral assets and consequently government income.
In defense of the decision to declare independence, Tshombe said Katanga was "seceding from chaos". In particular Tshombe believed if he allowed the mutinous ANC to enter it would result in lawlessness and bloodshed. With Belgian assistance the Katanga Gendarmerie was created as an effective military force. At the core of the Katangese forces were several hundred European mercenaries many of which were recruited in Belgium.
Almost from the beginning, the new state faced a rebellion in the north in Luba areas. This was led by a political party called Association of the Luba People of Katanga (BALUBAKAT). In January 1961, Katanga faced a secession crisis of its own when BALUBAKAT leaders declared independence from Katanga. Throughout the period of the secession, Katangese forces were never able to completely control the province.
Katanga received assistance from numerous foreign mercenaries, mostly white South Africans, Rhodesians, Belgians and other Europeans, including Mike Hoare. Major Mike Hoare's first mercenary action was in Katanga, as the province first attempted to break away from the newly independent Congo in 1960-61. His unit of mercenary fighters was called "4 Commando". South Africa's apartheid government supported Katanga's secession bid, and facilitated the entrance of mercenaries to aid the Katangese cause.
UN military intervention
On 14 July 1960, in response to requests by Prime Minister Lumumba, the UN Security Council adopted Resolution 143. This called upon Belgium to remove its troops and for the UN to provide 'military assistance' to the Congolese forces to allow them 'to meet fully their tasks'. Lumumba demanded that Belgium remove its troops immediately, threatening to seek help from the Soviet Union if they did not leave within two days. The UN reacted quickly and established United Nations Operation in the Congo (ONUC).
The first UN troops arrived the next day but there was instant disagreement between Lumumba and the UN over the new force's mandate. Because the Congolese army had been in disarray since the mutiny, Lumumba wanted to use the UN troops to subdue Katanga by force. Referring to the resolution, Lumumba wrote to UN Secretary General Dag Hammarskjöld, ‘From these texts it is clear that, contrary to your personal interpretation, the UN force may be used to subdue the rebel government of Katanga.’
Secretary General Hammarskjöld refused. To Hammarskjöld, the secession of Katanga was an internal Congolese matter and the UN was forbidden to intervene by Article 2 of the United Nations Charter. Disagreements over what the UN force could and could not do continued throughout its deployment, despite the passage of two further Security Council resolutions. Passed on 22 July, Security Council Resolution 145 affirmed that Congo should be a unitary state and strengthened the call for Belgium to withdraw its forces. On 9 August, Security Council Resolution 146 mentioned Katanga for the first time, and explicitly allowed UN forces to enter Katanga whilst forbidding their use to 'intervene in or influence the outcome of any internal conflict'.
Secession of South Kasai
The South Kasai region sought independence in similar circumstances to neighboring Katanga during the crisis. Ethnic conflicts and political tensions between leaders of the central government and local leaders plagued the diamond-rich region. Communal violence broke out between the Baluba and Lulua on 11 October 1959 in Luluabourg. In response, the colonial administration sponsored reconciliation talks at Lake Munkamba. These ended in January 1960 with a call for all Luba peoples scattered throughout the Congo to be "repatriated" to Kasai.
On 14 June 1960, days before the colony was to become independent, officials declared the independence of Kasai (not of Congo) and proclaimed the Federal State of South Kasai. Lumumba appointed Barthelemy Mukenge, a Lulua, as provincial governor, appearing to favor one side in the conflict. On 8 August 1960, the autonomous Mining State of South Kasai was proclaimed with its capital at Bakwanga. Albert Kalonji, a Luba chief, was named president of South Kasai and Joseph Ngalula was appointed head of government.
Soviet & US interventions
Lumumba was determined to quickly subdue the renegade provinces of Kasai and Katanga. Dissatisfied with the UN, on August 17, 1960 Lumumba followed through on his threat to request military assistance from the Soviet Union. The USSR quickly responded with an airlift of ANC troops into Kasai and a supply of military trucks. A bloody campaign ensued causing the deaths of hundreds of Baluba tribesmen and the flight of a quarter of a million refugees.
Lumumba's decision to accept Soviet help angered the administration of President Dwight D. Eisenhower in the United States who via the CIA, increasingly supported Mobutu and Kasa-Vubu. Referring to the Communist takeover in Cuba in 1959, the CIA station chief in Leopoldville cabled the director to saying "Congo [is] experiencing [a] classic communist effort [to] takeover government... there may be little time to take action to avoid another Cuba". Eisenhower authorized the CIA to initiate a plan to assassinate Lumumba using poison to be placed in his food or toothpaste, although this plan was aborted.
See: Larry Devlin
On 5 September 1960, state president Joseph Kasa-Vubu dismissed prime minister Patrice Lumumba and announced the decision over Leopoldville radio. In his place, he appointed Joseph Ileo, a respected moderate. Lumumba refused to accept his dismissal and in turn announced over the radio, that Kasa-Vubu was deposed. Ileo tried to form a new government but did not manage to get his new government approved by parliament. In contrast, Lumumba's position was confirmed by a parliamentary vote of confidence.
In order to instill calm, the UN closed all Congolese airports under their control along with the radio station in Leopoldville. This halted the Soviet supported airlift of Congolese troops to Kasai. Kasa-Vubu was able to continue broadcasts from Brazzaville across the border and made a further announcement on September 10 that the Lumumba government was dissolved.
On September 12, forces loyal to the Chief of Staff of the Army, Joseph Mobutu, placed Lumumba under house arrest at the prime minister's residence, however he was soon released by Congolese troops loyal to him.
On September 14, with U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) help, Mobutu seized power in a military coup, suspending parliament and the constitution. Mobutu declared Lumumba and Kasa-Vubu "neutralised" but left the latter in office. All Soviet advisors were ordered to leave. Lumumba was again placed under house arrest, but this time with a guard of UN troops for his protection.
There were now four different regimes in the former Belgian Congo:
- Joseph Mobutu and Joseph Kasa-Vubu in Leopoldville, supported by Western governments
- Antoine Gizenga in Stanleyville, supported by the Soviet bloc, Fidel Castro's Cuba, the Algerian FLN led by the revolutionary Ahmed Ben Bella, Gamal Abdel Nasser in Egypt, as well as the newly independent left-wing African nations Ghana, Guinea and Tanganyika.
- Albert Kalonji in South Kasai.
- Moise Tshombe in Katanga, supported by Belgium and western mining interests, and militarily assisted by South African and European mercenaries. Notable mercenaries in Katanga in 1960-61 included Alastair Wicks, Mike Hoare, Jean Schramme, and Bob Denard.
Lumumba assassinated in Katanga
See: Death of Lumumba
On 17 January 1961 Mobutu sent Lumumba to Élisabethville (now Lubumbashi), capital of Katanga. In full view of the press he was beaten and forced to eat copies of his own speeches. For the next three weeks, he was not seen or heard from. Then Katangese radio announced implausibly that he had escaped and been killed by some villagers.
In fact he had been tortured and killed along with two others shortly after his arrival. It was soon clear that he had been murdered in custody. In 2001, a Belgian inquiry established that he had been shot by Katangese gendarmes in the presence of Belgian officers, under Katangese command. Lumumba was beaten, placed in front of a firing squad with 2 other allies, cut up, buried, dug up and what remained was dissolved in acid.
The UN Security Council met in the wake of Lumumba's death in a highly emotional atmosphere charged with anti-colonial feeling and rhetoric. The Soviet Government even went as far as to blame Hammarskjöld for Lumumba's death, calling for his dismissal. Hammarskjöld refused to resign and remained in office. On 21 February 1961 the Security Council adopted resolution 161, which authorised 'all appropriate measures' to 'prevent the occurrence of civil war in the Congo, including ... the use of force, if necessary, in the last resort'.
This resolution demanded the expulsion from the Congo of all Belgian troops and mercenaries, but did not explicitly mandate the UN to conduct offensive operations. This resolution was ultimately interpreted by the local UN forces to justify military operations to end the secession of Katanga. In death, Lumumba had finally succeeded in getting UN support for his campaign against Katanga. Despite this new resolution, during the next six months the UN undertook no major military operations, instead concentrating on facilitating several rounds of political negotiations.
Political negotiations, election of Cyrille Adoula
Between January and May, 1961, several conferences were held to resolve the constitutional crisis brought on by the dismissal of Lumumba by President Kasa-Vubu. In January, roundtable talks were held in Leopoldville. In March a conference was held in Tananarive, Madagascar. The Tananarive conference was boycotted by pro-Lumumbist Antoine Gizenga. This conference recommended a loose confederation of states and was opposed by the central government in Leopoldville. A third conference was held in Coquilhatville, capital of the Equateur province in April.
The leaders agreed to form a federal state of Congolese provinces. This plan was opposed by Tshombe, who wanted more independence for Katanga. As he was leaving Coquilhatville, Tshombe was arrested on charges of criticizing President Kasa-Vubu. He was released in June after pledging to reunite Katanga with the Congo. On August 2, the parliament voted to elect Cyrille Adoula as Prime Minister, ostensibly bringing stability to the central government.
UN launches Operation Rumpunch
By the end of August, it was clear that Tshombe had no intention of implementing his pledge to reunite Katanga with the rest of the country. In particular, he had not complied with the UN security council resolution demanding the expulsion of foreign mercenaries. On August 28, under "Operation Rumpunch", UN forces started to disarm Katangese troops, capture key Katangese military assets and arrest all the foreign mercenaries who formed the core of the Katangese gendarmerie.
This operation was initially successful, but stopped when the Belgian consul in Elizabethville persuaded the local UN officials that he would complete the operation. This was a ruse, however, as ultimately only regular Belgian officers and not mercenaries were expelled from the province. Many mercenaries who were repatriated found their way back into Katanga via Rhodesia.
UN launches Operation Morthor
On September 9, when it became clear that Tshombe's mercenaries were still in control of the Katangese gendarmerie, the UN launched "Operation Morthor" to again round up foreign mercenaries and political advisors. In addition the Congolese central government issued the UN with arrest warrants for Tshombe and other key Katangese officials. The UN was able to act on these warrants because the new government of Cyrille Adoula was the internationally recognized authority. Operation Morthor was a political and military fiasco. Originally intended as an arrest operation Morthor quickly escalated into open warfare, as blood was shed on both sides.
It went badly from the start. The Katangese gendarmerie were forewarned and mounted resistance to UN attempts to gain control. The UN did manage to capture the post office and radio station, and arrested the Vice President, however, through miscommunication or confusion, the Presidential Palace was never secured and Tshombe was able to escape. At the end of the first day of the operation, the UN special representative announced over Katangese radio that the secession was at an end. This statement was premature and caused controversy because the UN was not specifically mandated to end the secession, only to prevent civil war and expel foreign mercenaries.
Siege of Jadotville
On 13 September Tshombe fled to Ndola in Northern Rhodesia (now Zambia) from where he urged the gendarmerie to continue resistance. Reports of UN attacks on civilian installations came from Elizabethville and caused anger in Europe. A company of 155 UN troops from Ireland was attacked and trapped in Jadotville. Katangese forces made use of a Fouga Magister jet, piloted by a Belgian mercenary, to strafe the company and prevent resupply.
Death of Dag Hammarskjöld and military standoff
In the midst of Operation Morthor, UN Secretary General Dag Hammarskjöld decided to intervene personally and negotiate a ceasefire with Tshombe. On the night of 17–18 September his plane crashed en route to Ndola, killing him and fifteen others on board. The exact cause of this was never determined.
With death of the Secretary General, the fighting continued in Katanga. The next day the besieged Irish UN company at Jadotville, after holding out for 6 days, surrendered to the Katangese Gendamerie having run out of water and ammunition (See Siege of Jadotville). After these reversals the UN agreed to a ceasefire on poor terms, giving back public buildings and military posts to Katangese control.
On September 20 Tshombe returned to Elizabethville. The Irish troops remained in Katangese custody until October 25 when a prisoner swap was agreed. On October 30, Congolese government forces attacked Katanga but were repulsed with heavy casualties.
UN Security Council Resolution 169, Operation Unokat
On November 2, 1961, the UN General Assembly unanimously appointed U Thant as Secretary General to replace Dag Hammarsköld. Skirmishes involving UN forces continued in Katanga. On November 22, a party of Irish soldiers were ambushed and killed by Baluba tribesmen in Niemba, Northern Katanga. On November 24, UN Security Council Resolution 169 was adopted, “to take vigorous action, including the use of the requisite measure of force, if necessary,” to remove foreign military and other personnel not under the U.N. Command.
The UN discovered that the Katangese gendarmerie were planning an offensive against them. The gendarmerie were setting up roadblocks in order to isolate UN units from one another. This prompted another major military operation called Unokat launched on December 5, to remove the roadblocks and take control of strategic positions around Elizabethville. After heavy fighting and casualties on both sides UN strategic objectives were achieved.
Katangese military assets were neutralised including the newly created Katangese Air Force. In response Tshombe threatened to blow up the dams and copper mines around Kolwezi. On December 18, Tshombe agreed to unity talks; these talks would last one year without reaching agreement.
Congolese forces re-conquer South Kasai
On December 30, 1961, after a four-month military campaign, troops of the Congolese central government re-conquered South Kasai and arrested Kalonji, thus ending the South Kasai secession. Kalonji escaped prison in September 1962 and attempted to set up a new government but it was dissolved a few weeks later.
Antoine Gizenga remained head of the breakaway Eastern (Orientale) province throughout most of 1961. After the death of Lumumba, several African and Eastern European governments recognized the Stanleyville government as legitimate. Gizenga's government also received arms from China. Following talks with Prime Minister Cyrille Adoula, Gizenga agreed to join the central government under the understanding that it would follow the policies of Lumumba, however relations broke down and on January 14, 1962 ANC forces defeated the Stanleyville gendarmerie and arrested Gizenga.
UN Operation Grand Slam ends Katanga secession
Throughout 1962, Tshombe maintained the independence of Katanga. In August, UN Secretary General U Thant proposed a plan that Katanga become an autonomous region in a federal state. Tshombe initially agreed with the proposal but agreement was never concluded. In December 1962 the UN launched "Operation Grand Slam" on Katanga's political and military infrastructure. This proved to be a decisive attack and by January, 1963 Elizabethville was under full UN control. This ended the secession of Katanga.
Rural insurgencies in Eastern Provinces
In early 1964, a new crisis broke out as Congolese rebels calling themselves "Simba" (Swahili for "Lion") rebelled against the government. They were led by Pierre Mulele, Gaston Soumialot and Christophe Gbenye who were former members of Gizenga's Parti Solidaire Africain (PSA). Mulele was an avowed Maoist, and for this reason his insurgency was supported by communist China.
The rebellion affected Kivu and Eastern (Orientale) provinces. By August they had captured Stanleyville and set up a rebel government there. As the rebel movement spread, discipline became more difficult to maintain, and acts of violence and terror increased. Thousands of Congolese were executed, including government officials, political leaders of opposition parties, provincial and local police, school teachers, and others believed to have been Westernized. Many of the executions were carried out with extreme cruelty, in front of a monument to Lumumba in Stanleyville.
In July 1964, Moise Tshombe replaced Cyrilla Adoula as Prime Minister of a new national government with a mandate to end the regional revolts. Tshombe had been the leader of Katanga when that province tried to secede. Among his first moves, Tshombe recalled the exiled Katangese gendarmerie and recruited white mercenaries, integrating them with the ANC. Many of these mercenaries had fought for Katanga when Tshombe was leader of the breakaway province.
Foreign involvement in the Simba Rebellion
In October 1963 an antigovernment coalition calling itself the National Liberation Council (CNL) had been formed by a potpourri of former Lumumbist government officials and disaffected regional, often tribally based, strongmen. The council had offices in the city of Brazzaville, capital of the People's Republic of Congo-Brazzaville. The Marxist-Leninist leader of the Congo-Brazzaville People's Republic, Alphonse Massemba-Debat, was one of the strongest backers of the Lumumbist rebels, and provided them with a headquarters and logistical support.
The central figure behind the eastern rebellion was Soumialot, who, in January 1964, was sent to Burundi by the CNL, with the mission of organizing the rebellion. With the full support of the Burundian authorities, Soumialot set up a CNL headquarters in Burundi. Thanks to his own skill in exploiting local conflicts and working out tactical alliances with Tutsi exiles from Rwanda, Soumialot was able to recruit thousands of dedicated supporters in eastern Kivu, along the border with Burundi.
The leaders of the Lumumba-inspired rebellion were leftist or Marxist, but most of the foot soldiers were tribal fighters, who resented what they perceived as the exploitation of their land and resources by the government and its foreign masters. These fighters and their Marxist commanders, led by Soumialot in Kivu and the Maoist Mulele in Kwilu, formed what became the Simba Rebellion, which aimed to topple the national government.
The insurgents managed to attract Chinese and some Soviet aid. The various allied rebel leaders took over huge portions of the ill-defended national territory. One Chinese-backed rebel column commanded by Gbenye seized the Northern city of Stanleyville in August 1964 and declared the "People's Republic of the Congo". Soumialot was named President of all rebel-held territory. The People's Republic of Congo-Stanleyville was not to be confused with the People's Republic of Congo-Brazzaville, the latter being an independent nation and separate political entity. Soumialot's People's Republic instituted a rival national government in Stanleyville and claimed to be the rightful rulers of the entire former Belgian Congo, as opposed to the Kasa-Vubu regime based in Leopoldville. Just as it did in 1960-61, the Congo once again had two rival national governments based in Stanleyville and Leopoldville.
By September 1964 the Leopoldville government responded in earnest to insurgency, and were aided by the West. The tripartite of Kasa-Vubu, Tshombe and Mobutu took quick action to bolster their threadbare army's fighting strength, calling in Irish mercenary commander Mike Hoare from South Africa and asking him to recruit a thousand white fighters from South Africa and Rhodesia. The American CIA also backed the efforts to destroy the rebellion.
The Soviets, the Chinese, the Americans and their Western allies were now all involved in the Congo, providing money, arms and advisors to their chosen factions. In addition, the "Radical" Leftist leaders of the African continent were outraged at the specter of white mercenaries and "Neocolonial" Western powers intervening on behalf of the Leopoldville regime, and openly supported the Stanleyville rebel government. In addition to Massemba-Debat's Marxist "Congo-Brazzaville" People's Republic, these supporters included: Ahmed Ben Bella in newly independent Algeria, Gamal Abdel Nasser in Egypt, and Julius Nyerere in the neighboring socialist nation of Tanzania, among others.
By early August 1964 Congolese government forces, with the help of the groups of white mercenaries under their own command, were making headway against the Simba rebellion.
A mercenary fighting for the West in the Congo gives the following account:
It seemed to me we had been taking villages apart, innocent villages of peaceful farming folk who did not want any part of this war, all the way along the track from far down in the south.
We would turn up unexpectedly, open fire without warning, race through the place, burning every pathetic shanty and shack to the ground regardless of who might be inside. The idea was to spread the image of our determination and ruthlessness; to terrorise the whole area; to give the rebels an example of what they were in for...
It seemed almost certain that the villagers knew nothing about the activities of the rebels...
Unsuspecting women were hustling around, carrying water and going about the last of their day's chores. Children were playing in the dust, laughing and shouting to one another.
We paused for a few minutes, and then came the order to fire. There was a great crackle of shots from machine guns and our deadly new Belgian rifles. Women screamed and fell. Little children just stood there, dazed, or cartwheeled hideously as bullets slammed into them.
Then, as usual, we raced into the place, still firing as we went. Some of us pitched cans of petrol on to the homes before putting a match to them. Others threw phosphorus hand grenades, which turned human beings into blazing inextinguishable torches of fire.
For a while, as we raced along, there was bedlam. Shrieks, moans, shrill cries for mercy. And, above all, the throaty, half-crazed bellowing of those commandoes among us who quite obviously utterly loved this sort of thing. Then, as we moved away beyond the village, the comparative silence, the distant, hardly distinguishable cries of the wounded, the acrid smell of burning flesh.
These mercenaries were trained to never, 'in any circumstances', take prisoners:
Even if men, women and children come running to you... even if they fall on their knees before you, begging for mercy, don't hesitate. Just shoot to kill.
Fearing defeat, the rebels started taking hostages of the local white population in areas under their control. Several hundred hostages were taken to Stanleyville and placed under guard in the Victoria Hotel.
Operation Dragon Rouge
The Congolese government turned to Belgium and the United States for help. In response, the Belgian army sent a task force to Leopoldville, airlifted by the 322nd Air Division United States Air Force.
Washington and Brussels tried to come up with a rescue plan. Several ideas were considered and discarded, while attempts at negotiating with the Simbas failed.
The task force was led by the Belgian colonel Charles Laurent. On 24 November 1964, five US Air Force C-130 transports dropped 350 Belgian paratroopers of the Para-Commando Regiment onto the airfield at Stanleyville. Once the paratroopers had secured the airfield and cleared the runway they made their way to the Victoria Hotel, prevented Simbas from killing all but some 60 of the hostages, and evacuated them via the airfield. Over the next two days over 1,800 American and European civilians were evacuated as well as around 400 Congolese. Almost 200 foreigners and thousands of Congolese were executed by the Simbas. An American medical missionary, Dr. Paul Carlson, was among those killed.
The operation coincided with the arrival of ANC and other mercenary units (seemingly including the hurriedly formed 5th Mechanised Brigade and Mike Hoare's 5 Commando) at Stanleyville which was quickly captured. It took until the end of the year to completely put down the remaining areas of the Simba rebellion.
Despite the success of the raid, Tshombe's prestige was damaged by the joint Belgian-US operation which saw white mercenaries and western forces intervene once again in the Congo. In particular, Tshombe had lost the support of President Joseph Kasa Vubu and Chief of the Army Mobutu Sese Seko and was dismissed from his post as prime minister in October 1965.
Che Guevara in the Congo
In early 1965 Marxist revolutionary Che Guevara travelled to Congo to offer his knowledge and experience as a guerrilla to the insurgents. According to Algerian President Ahmed Ben Bella, Guevara thought that Africa was imperialism's weak link and therefore had enormous revolutionary potential. Guevara led the Cuban operation in support of the Marxist Simba movement. Guevara, his second-in-command Victor Dreke, and 12 other Cuban expeditionaries arrived in the Congo on April 24, 1965 and a contingent of approximately 100 Afro-Cubans joined them soon afterward.
They collaborated for a time with guerrilla leader Laurent Kabila, who had previously helped supporters of Lumumba lead an unsuccessful revolt months earlier. As an admirer of the late Lumumba, Guevara declared that his "murder should be a lesson for all of us". Guevara's aim was to export the revolution by instructing local anti-Mobutu Simba fighters in Marxist ideology and foco theory strategies of guerrilla warfare. However, Guevara soon became disillusioned with the discipline of Kabila's troops and later dismissed him, stating "nothing leads me to believe he is the man of the hour".
As an additional obstacle, Mike Hoare's 5 Commando unit of white South African mercenaries, in concert with Cuban exiles and the CIA, worked with the Congo National Army to thwart Guevara in the mountains near the village of Fizi on Lake Tanganyika. They were able to monitor his communications and so pre-empted his attacks and interdicted his supply lines. Despite the fact that Guevara sought to conceal his presence in the Congo, the U.S. government was aware of his location and activities.
In his Congo Diary, he cites the incompetence, intransigence and infighting of the local Congolese forces as key reasons for the revolt's failure. Later that year on November 20, 1965, Guevara left the Congo with the Cuban survivors, six members of his 12-man column having died.
Mobutu seizes power
On 25 November 1965, just five days after Guevara's departure, Joseph Mobutu seized power from President Kasa-Vubu. Mobutu had the political and military support of Western countries, who saw him as an ally against communism in Africa. He established a one-party state, banning all other political organizations except his own. Tshombe was charged with treason and fled the country once again, this time to Spain.
Although Mobutu succeeded in taking power, his position was soon threatened by the Kisangani Mutinies, also known as the Stanleyville Mutinies or Mercenaries' Mutinies, which were a direct continuation of the Congo Crisis and involved the same political actors. The First Kisangani Mutiny was in 1966, the Second was in 1967. Amid rumours that the ousted prime minister Tshombe was plotting a comeback from his exile in Spain, some 2,000 of Tshombe's former Katangese gendarmes, led by mercenaries, mutinied in Kisangani (formerly Stanleyville) in July 1966. The mutiny was unsuccessful and was crushed.
Exactly a year after the failure of the first mutiny, another broke out, again in Stanleyville, apparently triggered by the news that Tshombe's aeroplane had been hijacked over the Mediterranean and forced to land in Algiers, where he was held prisoner. On the morning of 5 July 1967 10 Commando ANC, Jean Schramme's unit, launched surprise attacks on Stanleyville, Kindu, and Bukavu. Involving approximately 100 former Katangese gendarmes and about 1,000 Katangese, the mutineers held their ground against the 32,000-man Armée Nationale Congolaise until November 1967, when Schramme and his mercenaries crossed the border into Rwanda and surrendered to the local authorities. The country settled into a semblance of political stability for the next several years, allowing Mobutu to focus on his unsuccessful strategies for economic progress..
Over the next three decades, Mobutu led one of the most enduring regimes in Africa; it was also one of the most dictatorial and corrupt. Despite the country's obvious natural resources, including copper, gold and diamonds, much of Zaire's population sank further into poverty. Mobutu allegedly amassed a personal fortune estimated to be as much as US$5 billion, while what infrastructure the country had was left to decay. After changing the country's name to Zaire in 1971, Mobutu also pursued a policy expunging remnants of colonialism. In addition to changing the names of the country and many of its cities, major industries were nationalized.
As the Cold War waned in the early 1990s, so did Western support for Mobutu. Belgium, France, and the United States all suspended military and financial assistance to Mobutu's regime. As the economic and political situation worsened, Laurent-Désiré Kabila began a military drive from eastern Zaire in 1996 to depose Mobutu. As Kabila and his rebels advanced, Mobutu, who had been out of the country receiving medical treatment, returned to Zaire and attempt to crush the rebellion. In May the following year, however, with his regime in shambles, Mobutu fled into exile and had reportedly requested permission to travel to France for medical treatment, but the French government had refused. Mobutu died less than four months after he was forced into exile in Morocco.
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|Wikimedia Commons has media related to: Congo Crisis|
- One-page synopsis of the conflict broken into four phases from MIT
- List of resources on the interventions compiled by the US Air Force
- Republic of Congo Post-Independence War
- Map of the 1964-65 insurgencies
- Retracing Che Guevara's Congo Footsteps by BBC News, November 25, 2004
- "Back from the Precipice". Time Magazine. 1960-08-01. Retrieved 2007-12-01.
- Paul Berthoud, A Professional Life Narrative, 2008, worked with ONUC and offers testimony from the inside