South Kasai

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South Kasai
Unrecognized state

Flag Coat of arms
Map of the Congo in 1961 with South Kasai highlighted in red, bordered by Katanga to the south.
Capital Bakwanga
Government Monarchy
Mulopwe ("King")a Albert Kalonji
Historical era Cold War
 -  Congolese independence 30 June 1960
 -  Secession 8 August 1960
 -  Monarchy proclaimed 12 April 1961
 -  Defeated 30 December 1961
a. Prior title was "Supreme Chief of the Muluba People and Protector of the Associated Tribes".

South Kasai (French: Sud-Kasaï) was an unrecognised secessionist state within Congo-Léopoldville (the modern-day Democratic Republic of the Congo) between 1960 and 1961. South Kasai sought its independence in similar circumstances to the much larger neighbouring state of Katanga, in the south, during the political turmoil arising from the independence of the Belgian Congo known as the Congo Crisis. Ethnic violence and political tensions between the leaders of the central government and local leaders plagued the diamond-rich region. By December 1961, its secession had been repressed and the state was reintegrated into the Congo.


Colonial rule[edit]

Colonial rule in the Congo began in the late 19th century. King Leopold II of Belgium, frustrated by Belgium's lack of international power and prestige, attempted to persuade the Belgian government to support colonial expansion around the then-largely unexplored Congo Basin. The Belgian government's ambivalence about the idea led Leopold to eventually create the colony on his own account. With support from a number of Western countries, who viewed Leopold as a useful buffer between rival colonial powers, Leopold achieved international recognition for a personal colony, the Congo Free State, in 1885.[1] The Kingdom of the Luba was annexed into the new state in 1889. By the turn of the century, however, the violence of Free State officials against indigenous Congolese and the ruthless system of economic extraction had led to intense diplomatic pressure on Belgium to take official control of the country, which it did in 1908, creating the Belgian Congo.[2]

Belgian rule in the Congo was based around the "colonial trinity" (trinité coloniale) of state, missionary and private company interests.[3] The privileging of Belgian commercial interests meant that large amounts of capital flowed into the Congo and that individual regions became specialised. On many occasions, the interests of the government and private enterprise became closely tied and the state helped companies break strikes and remove other barriers imposed by the indigenous population.[3] The country was split into nesting, hierarchically organised administrative subdivisions, and run uniformly according to a set "native policy" (politique indigène)—in contrast to the British and the French, who generally favoured the system of indirect rule whereby traditional leaders were retained in positions of authority under colonial oversight.


Before the start of the colonial period, the region of South Kasai formed part of the Luba Empire, a federation of local kingdoms with a degree of cultural uniformity.[4] During the 17th and 18th centuries, the Luba spread across large parts of the Kasai-Katanga savannah and eventually developed into a number of ethnic subgroups.[4] Although never united into a centralized state, the groups retained a degree of emotional attachment based around shared origin myths.[4] Other groups, like the Songye and the Kanyok also had long histories in the Kasai region.[5]

One of the major legacies of colonial rule in Kasai was the arbitrary redivision of the population into new ethnic groups.[6] Despite the shared language and culture of the two groups, colonial administrators believed the inhabitants of the Lulua river area to be ethnically different from the Baluba and dubbed them the Bena Lulua.[6] The colonists believed the Baluba to be more intelligent and hardworking to the Bena Lulua, who were believed to be more conservative and stupid.[6] As a result, from the 1930s, the state began to treat the two groups differently and applied different policies to them and promoting them to positions above other ethnicities.[6] Fearing the rise of a power Luba elite as a threat to colonial rule, the administration began to support Lulua organisations in the 1950s contributing to the ethnic polarisation.[7] In 1952, an organization called the Lulua Frères (Lulua Brothers) was established to campaign for socio-economic advancement of the Lulua group.[7]

In 1959, the Baluba-Lulua crisis was brought to a head by the discovery of a colonial proposal to move Baluba farmers out of Lulua land to the less fertile land on Luba territory and animosity rose.[7] In August 1959, Luba demonstrations against the plan which were violently repressed by the colonial state.[7]

Nationalism and the Kalonji-Lumumba split[edit]

An African nationalist movement developed in the Belgian Congo during the 1950s, primarily among the évolués. The movement was divided into a number of parties and groups which were broadly divided on ethnic and geographical lines and opposed to one another.[8] The largest, the Mouvement National Congolais (MNC), was a united front organisation dedicated to achieving independence "within a reasonable" time.[9] It was created around a charter which was signed by, among others, Patrice Lumumba, Cyrille Adoula and Joseph Ileo, but others accused the party of being too moderate.[10] Lumumba became a leading figure within the MNC, and by the end of 1959, the party claimed to have 58,000 members.[11]

Although it was the largest of the African nationalist parties, the MNC had many different factions within it that took differing stances on a number of issues. It was increasingly polarised between moderate évolués and the more radical mass membership.[12] A radical faction headed by Ileo and Albert Kalonji split away in July 1959, but failed to induce mass defections by other MNC members. The dissident faction became known as the MNC-Kalonji (MNC-K), while the majority group became the MNC-Lumumba (MNC-L). The split divided the party's support base into those who endured with Lumumba, chiefly in the Stanleyville region in the north-east, and those who backed the MNC-K, which became most popular around the southern city of Élisabethville and among the Baluba.[13]

The 1959 elections degenerated into an "anti-Baluba plebiscite" as the Luba MNC-K succeeded in obtaining a plurality but failed to take control of the provincial government in Kasai.[7] Instead, Lumumba promoted a Lulua, Barthélemy Mukenge, to be provincial governor while Kalonji was refused an important ministerial portfolio in Lumumba's central government.[7] The Kalonjists, who felt rejected by the central government, began supporting Moise Tshombe's secessionist CONAKAT party in Katanga against their centralist BALUBAKAT party which represented the Luba-Katanga.[14] However, the CONAKAT's ethnic nationalism favoured the "authentic Katangese" and was skeptical about supporting any Baluba groups.[14] The Kalonjists therefore severed ties between the Luba-Kasai and the Luba-Katanga without gaining any real advantages.[14]


Persecution of the Baluba[edit]

Main article: Luba people

In the early aftermath of independence, violence erupted between the Baluba and Bena Lulua across the southern Congo.

Kalonji claimed that the secession was largely sparked by persecution of the Baluba in the rest of the Congo.[15]

Independence and structure[edit]

Postage stamps of South Kasai, overprinted onto earlier issues of the Belgian Congo

On 14 June 1960, days before the Belgian Congo was to become independent, local officials declared the autonomy of Kasai and proclaimed the Federal State of South Kasai. On 8 August 1960, the autonomous Mining State of South Kasai (État minier du Sud-Kasaï) was proclaimed with its capital at Bakwanga (present-day Mbuji-Mayi). Kalonji was proclaimed President and Joseph Ngalula was appointed head of government.

Like Katanga, the South Kasai government was heavily supported by foreign mining companies. Forminière, a notable Belgian mining company, was the state's principal supporter and received concessions from South Kasai in return for financial support.[15]

An assembly of notables invested Kalonji's father with the imperial title of mulopwe (akin to "King" or "Emperor") on 12 April 1961. The new mulopwe immediately abdicated in favor of his son, who thereafter ruled South Kasai as mulopwe Albert I Kalonji. On 16 July, Kalonji rejected royalty status, but retained the title of Mulopwe and changed his name to "Albert I Kalonji Ditunga". The state's title changed to the Federated Kingdom of South Kasai (Royaume fédéré du Sud-Kasaï).[16]


With Soviet support, 2,000 central government troops of the Armée Nationale Congolaise (ANC) launched a major offensive against South Kasai.[17] The attack was extremely successful, but during the course of the offensive, the ANC became involved in infighting between the Baluba and Bena Lulua ethnic groups.[17] As a result, the ANC perpetrated a number of large massacres of Luba civilians.[17] Around 3,000 were killed.[18] The violence of the advance caused an exodus of thousands of Baluba civilians who fled their homes to flee the fighting.[19]

After a bloody four month military campaign during which thousands of civilians were massacred, central ANC troops re-conquered the region. Kalonji was arrested on 30 December 1961, thus ending the South Kasai secession. Kalonji attempted to set up a new government following an escape from prison on 7 September 1962, but it was terminated less than a month later.

Under the subsequent regime of Joseph Mobutu (Mobutu Sese Seko), the former South Kasai was divided to discourage separatist sentiment or activity.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Pakenham 1992, pp. 253–5.
  2. ^ Pakenham 1992, pp. 588–9.
  3. ^ a b Turner 2007, p. 28.
  4. ^ a b c Nzongola-Ntalaja 2007, p. 102.
  5. ^ Nzongola-Ntalaja 2007, pp. 102-3.
  6. ^ a b c d Nzongola-Ntalaja 2007, p. 103.
  7. ^ a b c d e f Nzongola-Ntalaja 2007, p. 104.
  8. ^ Freund 1998, p. 199.
  9. ^ Zeilig 2008, p. 64.
  10. ^ Zeilig 2008, pp. 64–5.
  11. ^ Zeilig 2008, p. 76.
  12. ^ Zeilig 2008, pp. 82–3.
  13. ^ Zeilig 2008, pp. 83–5.
  14. ^ a b c Nzongola-Ntalaja 2007, p. 105.
  15. ^ a b Nugent 2004, p. 86.
  16. ^ Gondola 2002, p. 187.
  17. ^ a b c Zeilig 2008, p. 114.
  18. ^ Haskin 2005, p. 26.
  19. ^ Haskin 2005, pp. 33.


  • Nugent, Paul (2004). Africa since Independence: A Comparative History. New York: Palgrave-MacMillan. ISBN 978-0-333-68273-9. 
  • Haskin, Jeanne M. (2005). The Tragic State of the Congo: From Decolonization to Dictatorship. New York: Algora Publishing. ISBN 0875864163. 
  • Freund, Bill (1998). The Making of Contemporary Africa: The Development of African Society since 1800 (2nd ed.). Basingstoke: Palgrave-Macmillan. ISBN 978-0-333-69872-3. 
  • De Witte, Ludo (2002). The Assassination of Lumumba (Trans. ed.). London: Verso. ISBN 1-85984-410-3. 
  • Zeilig, Leo (2008). Lumumba: Africa's Lost Leader. London: Haus. ISBN 978-1-905791-02-6. 
  • Gondola, Charles Didier (2002). The History of Congo. Wesport (Conn.): Greenwood. ISBN 0-313-31696-1. 

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