Joseph Kasa-Vubu

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Joseph Kasa-Vubu
Kasa-Vubu in Bandalungwa cropped.jpg
1st President of Congo-Léopoldville
In office
30 June 1960 – 24 November 1965
Prime Minister Patrice Lumumba
Joseph Iléo
Justin Marie Bomboko
Joseph Iléo
Cyrille Adoula
Moise Tshombe
Évariste Kimba
Preceded by Position established
Succeeded by Mobutu Sese Seko
Personal details
Born 1917
Kuma-Dizi, Mayombe, Belgian Congo
(Now Congo-Kinshasa)
Died 24 March 1969
Boma, Congo-Léopoldville
(Now Congo-Kinshasa)
Political party ABAKO
Children Justine Kasa-Vubu

Joseph Kasa-Vubu, alternatively Joseph Kasavubu, (1910 [other sources have 1913, 1915 and 1917] – 24 March 1969) was the first president of the Congo-Léopoldville (1960–65), today the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Early life[edit]

Little is known about Kasa-Vubu's youth. He was born in the village of Kuma-Dizi[1] in the Mayombe district of the Belgian Congo in 1917.[2] His early education was in the Kongo language.[1] He was rumoured to be the grandson of a Chinese worker brought to the Congo to work on a railroad line between Matadi and Léopoldville.[3] His mother was a member of the Bakongo tribe. In 1925, he took the Christian name Joseph, and his parents sent him to receive a Catholic education in Mbata Kiela[4] Kasa-Vubu went on to study theology and philosophy at the Kabwe seminary until 1939, but before graduation, he opted to become a teacher rather than a priest. [3] He later converted to Protestantism.[4]

Kasa-Vubu went on to work as an agronomist, book keeper and civil servant before he attained the rank of chief clerk, the highest level of employment available to Congolese under Belgian colonial rule.[4] Kasa-Vubu began semi-clandestine political organizing work while he was still employed by colonial authorities.[3]

In 1955, Kasa-Vubu was elected leader of the ABAKO (Alliance des Bakongo), made primarily of his own people, from around the Congo River. Under his leadership, the group swept the first open municipal Leopoldville elections in 1957, and he was elected mayor of the Dendale district of the city.[4]

Kasa-Vubu quickly became known as one of the first Congolese leaders to call for independence. At first, he advocated for independence from Belgium on a 30-year timeline, but he shortened the timetable as the ABAKO movement gained in strength.[3] In his inauguration speech as mayor of Dendale, Kasa-Vubu reiterated his demand for independence, drawing a reprimand from Belgian colonial authorities, which only strengthened his image as a Congolese leader.[4]

On 4 January 1959, an ABAKO political gathering organized by Kasa-Vubu erupted into violence, sparking the Léopoldville riots, a pivotal moment in the Congolese struggle for independence. Kasa-Vubu was set to address the crowd on African nationalism, but colonial authorities banned the meeting. They were unable to calm the crowd and thousands of Congolese began rioting. Kasa-Vubu was arrested, along with several other leaders, and imprisoned for inciting the riot. He was released two months later.[4]

Congolese independence[edit]

Kasa-Vubu with the outgoing Governor-General of the Congo, Hendrik Cornelis, before the latter's departure from the country

Upon Congo's independence from Belgium, the ABAKO won a significant number of votes in the new parliament but not an outright victory. In a political compromise, it was agreed that Patrice Lumumba, of the Mouvement National Congolais (MNC) would be prime minister, and Kasa-Vubu would face Jean Bolikango, a former mentor in the ABAKO, for the presidency.[1] Kasa-Vubu was elected president by the Congo's new national assembly, taking office on 30 June 1960.

The new republic was immediately disrupted by political and military strife and regional secessionist movements, and the central government was paralyzed by conflict between the more conservative Kasa-Vubu and leftist Prime Minister Lumumba. While Lumumba advocated for a stronger central government, Kasa-Vubu preferred a more decentralized form of government that gave autonomous powers to provinces under a federal system.[3]

Kasa-Vubu was regarded as rather mysterious in his motivations and his actions, frequently preferring to stay silent or give ambiguous answers when he was confronted. His role as head-of-state was theoretically ceremonial and far less influential than Lumumba's role as prime minister. During the immediate upheaval following independence, Kasa-Vubu took few steps and made few definitive statements, even as Lumumba appealed for international assistance to the Americans, the United Nations and the Soviet Union.[3]

Congo Crisis[edit]

Kasa-Vubu with Colonel Joseph-Désiré Mobutu in 1961

On 5 September, Kasa-Vubu dismissed Lumumba, who was accused of communism. Lumumba refused to accept that but announced Kasa-Vubu's dismissal,[5] creating a stalemate that endured until 14 September, when Army Commander Joseph-Désiré Mobutu seized power and arrested Lumumba. Lumumba was later handed to Moise Tshombe's secessionist forces in the southern province of Katanga and killed.

Over the next five years, Kasa-Vubu presided over a succession of weak governments. In July 1964, he appointed Tshombe as prime minister, with a mandate to end the Simba Rebellion. Tshombe recalled the exiled Katangese gendarmerie and recruited white mercenaries, integrating them with the 'Armée Nationale Congolaise (ANC). Many of the mercenaries had fought for Katanga while Tshombe was leader of that breakaway province. Despite the successes against the Simba rebels, Tshombe's prestige was damaged by his use of white mercenaries and western forces. He lost the support of Kasa-Vubu, who dismissed him from the post of prime minister, in October 1965.

Mobutu seized power for a second time on 25 November 1965, now deposing Kasa-Vubu and subsequently declaring himself head of state.


Mobutu placed Kasa-Vubu under house arrest[6] before eventually allowing the deposed president to retire to his farm in Mayombe. Kasa-Vubu died in a hospital in Boma four years later in 1969, possibly after a long illness.[4]


Kasa-Vubu had six children.[4] Following his death, his family went into exile, first to Algeria and then Switzerland.[1] One of his daughters, Justine M'Poyo Kasa-Vubu, eventually returned to the Congo (then called Zaire) in the 1990s. In 1997, she was appointed a cabinet minister by Laurent Kabila and then ambassador to Belgium.[7]

In popular culture[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d Kisangani 2009, p. 265.
  2. ^ LaFontaine 1986, p. 216
  3. ^ a b c d e f Tanner 1961.
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h Reuters 1969.
  5. ^ Doyle 2006, p. 175.
  6. ^ Rich 2012, p. 304.
  7. ^ Kisangani 2009.


Further reading[edit]

  • Kasa-Vubu, Justine M'Poyo (1997). Kasa-Vubu et le Congo indépendant: 1960–1969. Brussels: Le Cri édition. ISBN 9782871061854. 
  • Kasa-Vubu, Justine M'Poyo (1985). Joseph Kasa-Vubu, mon père: de la naissance d'une conscience nationale à l'indépendance. Brussels: Éditions de Chabassol. OCLC 17233037. 

External links[edit]

Preceded by
Position created on independence from Belgium
President of the Republic of the Congo
Succeeded by
Mobutu Sese Seko