The Simba rebellion of 1964–65, also known as the Orientale Revolt, was a rebellion in Congo-Léopoldville which took place within the wider context of the Congo Crisis and the Cold War. The rebellion, located in the east of the country, was led by the followers of Patrice Lumumba, who had been ousted from power in 1960 by Joseph Kasa-Vubu and Joseph-Désiré Mobutu and subsequently killed in January 1961 in Katanga. The rebellion was contemporaneous with the Kwilu rebellion led by fellow Lumumbist Pierre Mulele in central Congo. The rebels were initially successful and captured much of eastern Congo, proclaiming a People's Republic in Stanleyville. However, the insurgency suffered from a lack of organization and coherence, as well as tensions between the rebel leadership and its international allies of the Eastern Bloc. When the Congolese government launched a number of major counter-offensives from late 1964, spearheaded by battle-hardened mercenaries and backed by Western powers, the rebels suffered several major defeats and disintegrated. By November 1965, the Simba rebellion was effectively defeated, though holdouts of the rebels continued their insurgency until the 1990s.
The causes of the Simba Rebellion should be viewed as part of the wider struggle for power within the Republic of the Congo following independence from Belgium on 30 June 1960 as well as within the context of other Cold War interventions in Africa by the West and the Soviet Union. The rebellion can be immediately traced back to the assassination of the first Prime Minister of the Congo, Patrice Lumumba, in January 1961. Political infighting and intrigue followed, resulting in the ascendancy of Joseph Kasa-Vubu and Joseph-Désiré Mobutu in Kinshasa at the expense of politicians who had supported Lumumba such as Antoine Gizenga, Christophe Gbenye and Gaston Soumialot.
In 1961, this change in power led Antoine Gizenga to declare the creation of a rebel government in Stanleyville. This new state, dubbed the Free Republic of the Congo, received support from the Soviet Union and China as they positioned themselves as being "socialists" opposed to American intervention in the Congo and involvement in the death of Lumumba although, as with Lumumba, there is some dispute over the true political inclinations of the Lumumbists. However, in August 1961, Gizenga dissolved the government in Stanleyville with the intention of taking part in the United Nations sponsored talks at Lovanium University. These talks ultimately did not deliver the Lumumbist government that had been intended, Gizenga was arrested and imprisoned on Balu-Bemba and many of the Lumumbists went into exile.
It was in exile that the rebellion began to take shape. In 1963, the Conseil National de Libération (CNL) was founded by Gbenye and Soumialot in Brazzaville, capital of the neighbouring Republic of the Congo. However, whilst these plans for rebellion were being developed in exile, Pierre Mulele returned from his training in China to launch a revolution in his native province of Kwilu. Mulele proved to be a capable leader and scored a number of early successes, although these would remain localised to Kwilu. With the country again seeming to be in open rebellion of the government in Kinshasa, the CNL launched its rebellion in their political heartland around Stanleyville.
Simba forces and ideology
Gbenye's forces were organized as the "Armée Populaire de Libération" (APL), though were generally nicknamed "Simbas", meaning a lion or big lion in Swahili. They were recruited from ANC mutineers, tribesmen, and youth militants (jeunesse). In general, the Armée Populaire de Libération was divided into regular units which were organized like the ANC (namely the unités d'operations and unités de garnison), and units which were more akin to irregular militias (barriéres). Although they were on average well motivated, the Simbas lacked discipline and their command as well as control were often chaotic.
The majority of the Simbas were young men and teens although children were not unheard of in the conflict. The rebels were led by Gaston Soumialot and Christophe Gbenye, who had been members of Gizenga's Parti Solidaire Africain (PSA), and Laurent Kabila, who had been a member of the Lumumba aligned Association générale des Baluba du Katanga (BALUBAKAT).
Because of the range of political beliefs amongst the Simba rebels, attributing an ideology to the rebellion is very complex. Whilst the leaders claimed to be influenced by Chinese Maoist ideas, the Cuban military advisor Che Guevara wrote that the majority of the fighters did not hold these views. The fighters also practised a system of traditional beliefs which held that correct behaviour and the regular reapplying of dawa (water ritually applied by a medicine man) would leave the fighters impervious to bullets.
Early rebel expansion, January-August 1964
Part of a series on the
|History of the Democratic Republic of the Congo|
|See also: Years|
The Simba rebels managed to intimidate two well-equipped battalions of government Armée Nationale Congolaise (ANC) soldiers into retreating without a fight. They rapidly began to capture important cities. Within weeks, they controlled about half of the Congo. By August they had captured Stanleyville where a 1,500-man ANC force fled leaving behind weapons and vehicles which the Simba rebels captured. The attack consisted of a charge, led by shamans, with forty Simba warriors. No shots were fired by the Simba rebels.
As the rebel movement spread, acts of violence and terror increased. Thousands of Congolese were executed in systematic purged by the Simbas, 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 Patrice Lumumba in Stanleyville.
With much of Northern Congo and the Congolese upcountry under control, the Simba rebels moved south against Kasai Province. Kasai had rich mining concerns but was also a strategic key to more lasting control of Congo. If the rebels could capture Kasai Province up to the Angola border they could cut the government forces in half, isolating Katanga Province and severely overstretching ANC lines. In August 1964 unknown thousands of Simbas moved down out of the hills and began the conquest of Kasai. As before ANC forces retreated with little fight by either throwing down arms completely or defecting to the rebels.
Newly appointed Prime Minister Moïse Tshombe acted decisively against the new threat. Using contacts he had made while exiled in Spain, Tshombe was able to organize an airlift of his former soldiers currently exiled in rural Angola. The airlift was enacted by the United States and facilitated by the Portuguese as both feared a Soviet influenced socialist state in the middle of Africa. Tshombe's forces were composed primarily of Belgian trained Katangese Gendarmes who had previously served the Belgian Colonial Authority. They were a highly disciplined and well equipped force who had only just barely lost a bid for independence in the previous conflict. In addition the force was accompanied by Jerry Puren and a score of mercenary pilots flying Second World War surplus training planes fitted with machine guns.
The combined force marched on Kasai Province and encountered Simba forces near Luluabourg. Its mercenary pilots strafed nearby Simba columns which lacked any anti-aircraft equipment. At the behest of accompanying shamans, many Simba warriors had even discarded their firearms as a way of purifying themselves from "Western" corruption.
The engagement began in a shallow, long valley with Simba forces attacking in an irregular mixture of infantry and motorized forces, which charged directly at the ANC force. In response, the ANC troops also advanced directly, led by jeeps and trucks. The Simba rebels encountered heavy losses because of ANC machine-gun fire. It was a decisive defeat and the Simba rebels were forced to abandon their attacks in Kasai.
Success in Kasai justified Tshombe's decision to bring in Western mercenaries to augment well-trained Katangese formations. Two hundred mercenaries from France, South Africa, West Germany, the United Kingdom, Ireland, Spain, and Angola arrived in Katanga Province over the next month. The largely white mercenaries provided the ANC with a highly trained and experienced force that was unaffected by the indiscipline and social tensions within the ANC. They provided an expertise that could not be matched. Ironically, their presence also strengthened the recruitment efforts of the Simba rebels who could portray the ANC as a Western puppet.
Once the mercenaries were concentrated they spearheaded a combined offensive against the city of Albertville. Once captured, Albertville would give the ANC access to Lake Tanganyika and serve as a staging base for future offensives to relieve Government enclaves in the North. Simba forces were deployed in several large mobs around Albertville in expectation for an attack by ANC infantry and the motorized Gendarmes.
Mike Hoare, a white mercenary commander, led three boats of mercenaries around the Simba rebel flank to attack Albertville from the rear in a night attack. The move made good progress but was diverted when it ran across a Catholic Priest who convinced the mercenaries to rescue 60 clergy currently being held by Simba troops. The mercenaries failed to either rescue the priests or capture the Albertville's airport. The next day ANC infantry and the motorized Gendarmes re-captured the city, overwhelming poorly armed Simba resistance. Together with the success in Kasai the victory at Albertville stabilized the government southern flank. The abuse of the clergy also increased Western support for the Tshombe Government.
In July 1964, Moïse Tshombe had replaced Cyrille Adoula as Prime Minister of a new national government with a mandate to end the regional revolts. By early August 1964 Congolese government forces, with the help of the white mercenaries, were making headway against the Simba rebellion. Fearing defeat, the rebels reached out for support from the Soviet Union and Cuba. The Ugandan government, which felt that Tshombe was beholden to Western interests, offered covert aid to Gbenye. This included the use of government forces to train the rebels as well as the allowance for Ugandan territory to be used as a resupply route. Some Ugandan troops served alongside the rebels in combat, and the Congolese ANC and the Uganda Army's 1st Battalion directly clashed along the border of the two countries at some point in 1964. The Congolese government retaliated by bombing villages in Uganda's West Nile District.
The rebels started taking hostages from the local white population in areas under their control. Several hundred hostages were taken to Stanleyville and placed under guard in the Victoria Hotel. A group of Belgian and Italian nuns were taken hostage by rebel leader Gaston Soumaliot. The nuns were forced into hard labor and numerous atrocities were reported by news agencies all over the world. Uvira, near the border with Burundi was a supply route for the rebellions. On October 7, 1964 the nuns were liberated. From Uvira they escaped by road to Bukavu from where they returned to Belgium by airplane.
Rebel collapse, August 1964 - November 1965
As the quasi-communist Simba rebels faltered, the Soviet Union and Cuba took an active role in the conflict, flying or trucking in supplies, armaments and personnel. Included in these were Soviet advisors who attempted to turn the Simba army into a Western-style force, based on squads of riflemen supporting a machine gun team. The reforms were conducted quickly, and by late 1964 the Simba forces had some degree of modernity, instead of loose gangs of men armed with anything available.
As aid from the Soviet Union was received by the Simba military establishment, the Simba force made one final push against the government capital of Kinshasa. The advance made some headway but was stopped cold when several hundred mercenaries were airlifted North and attacked the flank of the Simba pincer. The mercenaries were then able to capture the key town of Boende. After this success, more mercenaries were hired and dispatched to every province in Congo.
Once that the final Simba offensives were checked, the ANC began to squeeze Simba-controlled territory from all sides. ANC commanders formed a loose perimeter around rebel areas, pushing in with a variety of shallow and deep pincers. With mercenaries acting as shock contingent for ANC forces, the Congolese government used aircraft to transport mercenaries to hotspots or rebel strongholds. Mercenary forces became adept at outflanking and then reducing Simba positions with enfilade fire.
Though war was turning in favor of the ANC, problems remained for the Congolese government. Most notably, the rebels still held numerous hostages and important towns in eastern Congo. In response, the Congolese government turned to Belgium and the United States for help. The Belgian Army sent a task force to Léopoldville, airlifted by the U.S. 322nd Air Division. The Belgian and American governments tried to come up with a rescue plan. Several ideas were considered and discarded, while attempts at negotiating with the Simba force failed.
The Congolese government and its Western allies finally decided to launch a multi-pronged campaign. ANC troops led by mercenary columns would advance from the west, southwest, southeast (Albertville) and east (Bukavu). The mercenaries were well equipped for the campaign, and given access to jeeps, trucks, mortars and armoured fighting vehicles. In addition, the ANC was provided with foreign advisors, including about 200 Cuban CIA agents who operated on the ground and also flew for the Congolese Air Force. The ground forces which were coming from the west and attacking Bas-Uele were also supported by armoured trains. While these ground offensives were going on, an international task force was prepared for airborne attacks on the urban centers of the rebels.
Though the initial ground attacks met with some success, the Simbas still managed to offer significant resistance, and even retook some areas amid counter-attacks soon after the campaign's beginning. The first airborne assault was carried out on 24 November. Organized by Belgian Colonel Charles Laurent, the attack was code-named Dragon Rouge and targeted Stanleyville. Five US Air Force C-130 transports dropped 350 Belgian paratroopers of the Para-Commando Regiment onto Simi-Simi Airport on the western outskirts of Stanleyville. Once the paratroopers had secured the airfield and cleared the runway they made their way to the Victoria Hotel, prevented Simba rebels from killing most of the 60 hostages, and evacuated them via the airfield. Over the next two days over 1,800 Americans and Europeans were evacuated, as well as around 400 Congolese. However, almost 200 foreigners and thousands of Congolese were executed by the Simbas. While the Belgians were securing Stanleyville, the ANC's columns "Lima I" and "Lima II" broke through the Simba defenses and arrived at Stanleyville on the same day. On 26 November, a second mission (Dragon Noir) was flown by the Belgians and captured Isiro. The Belgians withdrew most of their forces from the Congo after the successful conclusion of Dragon Rouge and Dragon Noir. The fall of Stanleyville and Isiro "broke the back of the eastern insurrection, which never recovered." The Simba leadership fled into exile while descending into disarray and severe disagreements; Gbenye was shot in the shoulder by one of his generals after dismissing him.
Final rebel strongholds
Though the main rebel forces had been dispersed, large areas in eastern Congo remained under Simba control. Furthermore, the rebels began to receive more assistance from Cuba which sent around 100 Afro-Cuban volunteers under Che Guevara to train them in March 1965. There were also plans to send trainers from other Communist countries to Congo as well. Instead, however, international support for the Simbas declined. This resulted from growing conflicts within and among the Socialist states, most notably the 1965 Algerian coup d'état and the Sino-Soviet split. Furthermore, the Maoist leadership of the Simbas disagreed with the Cubans over ideology, resulting in tensions that undermined any military cooperation.
The ANC launched two major campaigns in 1965 against the two last major Simba strongholds which were located along the Ugandan and Sudanese borders as well as at Fizi-Baraka in South Kivu. By summer 1965, the Simbas had lost a majority of their territory and were being abandoned by the Soviets and Cubans. The final Simba stronghold near Bukavu held out for a month but was inevitably captured but only after the Simba force had killed several thousand civilians. In November 1965, the Communist Cubans left the Congo. At this point, the rebellion was effectively defeated.
Though the Simba rebellion had been crushed, rebel remnants continued to be active. Weak and no real threat to the Congolese government, they waged a low-level guerrilla war from bases in remote frontier regions. Notable Simba holdouts were located in the western Virunga Mountains (these forces eventually became the Parti de Libération Congolais) and in South Kivu (Kabila's People's Revolution Party). Some of the Simba holdouts continued to be active until the First Congo War in 1996/97 when Kabila became President of the Congo.
Despite successfully defeating the Simbas, Tshombe's prestige was damaged by the joint Belgian–US operation which saw white mercenaries and western forces intervene once again in the Congo.
- The Gold Scandal in Uganda, which was linked to the Simba rebellion
- Mujaju 1987, p. 484.
- Abbott (2014), p. 15.
- Abbott (2014), p. 18.
- Olivier, Lanotte. "Chronology of the Democratic Republic of Congo/Zaire (1960-1997)". Mass Violence and Resistance - Research Network. Paris Institute of Political Studies.
- Abbott (2014), p. 14.
- Modern Swahili Grammar, East African Educational Publisher Ltd, 2001, p. 42
- Abbott (2014), p. 16.
- Kinder, Hermann; Werner Hilgemannitle=The Anchor Atlas of World History (1978). 2. New York: Garden City. p. 268 http://lcweb2.loc.gov/cgi-bin/query/r?frd/cstdy:@field(DOCID+zr0037). Retrieved March 16, 2009. Missing or empty
- M. Crawford Young (1966). "Post-Independence Politics in the Congo". Transition (26): 34–41. JSTOR 2934325.
- Rodgers (1998), pp. 13–16
- Rodgers (1998), pp. 16–19
- Rodgers (1998), pp. 16,20
- Rodgers (1998), pp. 16, 20–21
- Risdel Kasasira (27 February 2017). "Life as an Amin army commander". Daily Monitor. Retrieved 11 May 2019.
- "Gaston Soumaliot (Dutch)". Users.telenet.be. Retrieved 2014-07-22.
- "Atrocities at Uvira, July 24, 1964". Archive.catholicherald.co.uk. Retrieved 2014-07-22.
- "Liberation of Uvira (in French)". Kisimba.skynetblogs.be. 2010-08-20. Retrieved 2014-07-22.
- "Presentation by Sister Marie-Rose Dewyspelaere of the 1964 events in Uvira. Sister Marie-Rose Dewyspelaere moved to Uvira in 1966" (PDF) (in Dutch). Dewyspelare.be.
- Rodgers (1998), p. 20
- Annual Report of the American Bible Society, Volume 156, American Bible Society, 1971, p. 58
- Abbott (2014), p. 17.
- Abbott (2014), pp. 17–18.
- Malmassari 2016, p. 99.
- "HistoryNet – From the World's Largest History Magazine Publisher". Historynet.com. Archived from the original on 2008-03-16. Retrieved 2010-12-21.
- Dragon Operations: Hostage Rescues in the Congo, 1964–1965, Maj. T. Odom
- The Responsibility to Protect Archived 2014-11-15 at the Wayback Machine, International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty, December 2001
- Nzongola-Ntalaja 2007, pp. 138–139.
- Nzongola-Ntalaja 2007, p. 136.
- Young 1966, p. 40.
- Abbott (2014), p. 19.
- Annual Report of the American Bible Society, Volume 156, American Bible Society, 1971, p. 58
- Prunier (2009), p. 77.
- Prunier (2009), p. 83.
- Prunier (2009), pp. 77, 83.
- Abbott, Peter (2014). Modern African Wars (4): The Congo 1960–2002. Oxford; New York City: Osprey Publishing. ISBN 978-1-78200-076-1.
- Dunn, Kevin C. (2003). Imagining the Congo: International Relations of Identity. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.
- Fox, Renee C.; de Craemer, Willy; Ribeaucourt, Jean-Marie (October 1965). ""The Second Independence": A Case Study of the Kwilu Rebellion in the Congo". Comparative Studies in Society and History. 8 (1): 78–109. doi:10.1017/s0010417500003911. JSTOR 177537.
- Gelijeses, Piero (2002). Conflicting Missions: Havana, Washington and Africa, 1959-1976. London: University of North Carolina Press.
- Gleijeses, Piero (April 1994). ""Flee! The White Giants Are Coming!": The United States, the Mercenaries, and the Congo, 1964–65". Diplomatic History. 18 (2): 207–37. doi:10.1111/j.1467-7709.1994.tb00611.x. ISSN 0145-2096.
- Guevara, Ernesto 'Che' (2011). Congo Diary: Episodes of the Revolutionary War in the Congo. New York: Ocean Press.
- Hoare, Mike (2008). Congo Mercenary. Boulder: Sycamore Island Books.
- Kisangani, Emizet Francois (2012). Civil Wars in the Democratic Republic of Congo, 1960-2010. London: Lynne Rienner.
- Malmassari, Paul (2016) . Armoured Trains. An Illustrated Encyclopedia 1825–2016. Translated by Roger Branfill-Cook. Barnsley: Seaforth Publishing (Pen and Sword Books). ISBN 978-1848322622.
- Mujaju, Akiiki B. (October 1987). "The Gold Allegations Motion and Political Development in Uganda". African Affairs. 86 (345): 479–504. doi:10.1093/oxfordjournals.afraf.a097945. JSTOR 722666.
- Nzongola-Ntalaja, Georges (2002). The Congo from Leopold to Kabila: a people's history. London: Zed Books.
- Nzongola-Ntalaja, Georges (2007). The Congo, From Leopold to Kabila: A People's History (3rd ed.). New York: Palgrave. ISBN 9781842770535.
- Prunier, Gérard (2009). Africa's World War : Congo, the Rwandan Genocide, and the Making of a Continental Catastrophe: Congo, the Rwandan Genocide, and the Making of a Continental Catastrophe. Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-970583-2.
- Reybrouck, David van (2014). Congo: the epic history of a people. New York: Ecco.
- Rodgers, Anthony (1998). Someone Else's War. Harper-Collins.
- Verhaegen, Benoît (1967). "Les rébellions populaires au Congo en 1964". Cahiers d'études africaines. 7 (26): 345–59. doi:10.3406/cea.1967.3100. ISSN 0008-0055.
- Wagoner, Fred E. (2003). Dragon Rouge: The Rescue of Hostages in the Congo. Honolulu: University Press of the Pacific.
- Witte, Ludo de (2002). The Assassination of Lumumba. London: Verso.
- Young, Crawford (1966). "Post-Independence Politics in the Congo". Transition. Indiana University Press (26): 34–41. doi:10.2307/2934325. JSTOR 2934325.