End of the Belgium Congo
The question most commonly asked about events in the Congo since it became independent is why they should have occurred there, and not in other ex colonies. It is not, of course, true that similar happenings have not taken place elsewhere as a result of the relinquishing of sovereignty by the colonial power. India, the Dutch East Indies and Algeria all provide examples of much greater disaster. The collapse of the Congolese government and virtual disintegration of the republic in the last two years, accompanied by a catastrophic decline in its finances and economy, nevertheless presents an unfavourable contrast with the relatively smooth transfer of power in some of the former French and British possessions and therefore calls for an explanation.
Of the various factors which differentiate the situation in the Congo from that of other African territories, by far the most im . portant is geography. It is also the factor most often ignored. Whoever it was that advised against the use of small scale maps would have found in much of the discussion about the Congo an apt illustration for his warning. On a map of Africa the Congo may not look very large, but superimposed on one of Europe it covers the whole continent from the Atlantic to the Russian frontier with the exception of Spain, the British Isles and Scandinavia. From Elizabethville to Leopoldville is as far as from Bukharest to London and between the inhabitants of Katanga and those of the Bas Congo there is about as much resemblance as between a Rumanian peasant and a cockney. With its two hundred tribes speaking a score of dialects, some of them separated by immense distances and great differences of environment and history, the Belgian Congo was less a colony than an empire. Had that been better appreciated much misunderstanding would have been avoided.
In no other part of Africa has anyone tried to hold together such an enormous and diverse territory under one government, once the unifying force of colonial power had been removed. Only in the Congo has this impossible feat been attempted, with the inevitable consequences of disruption and civil war. And if the Belgians are to be blamed for attempting it, a still greater responsibility rests with the United Nations for persisting in the attempt even after experience had demonstrated its folly it is to this fundamental blunder, rather than the unpreparedness of the Congolese for independence (for which they are neither less nor more fitted than many other African peoples) that we need to look for the causes of what has occurred in the Congo.
The other major factor has, of course, been foreign intervention. In spite of being saddled with an unworkable constitution, the Congo might still have avoided the worst had it been left alone to work out its own destiny. The Loi Fondamentale, which provided for the continuance of centralized administration, was never meant to be more than a stop gap. The definitive constitution was to have been drawn up by the Congolese Parliament sitting as a constituent assembly. Had this been permitted, it is conceivable that a new constitution would have been devised by agreement on a federal or confederal basis more in keeping with political reality, and that the various acts of secession and the civil war which followed could thus have been avoided. It was prevented by the mutiny of the Force Publique, largely engineered outside the Congo, which resulted in the collapse of all government except in Katanga, and led to an internal struggle for power sustained by foreign partisans which has continued up to the time of writing.
In this conflict, in spite of all the confusion, it is possible to distinguish broadly four phases which, at the risk of over simplification, may be described as (1) The Communist Bid; (2) Disintegration of the Congo; (3) The Counter Revolution; (4) The Intervention of the United Nations.
The Communist Bid
On the African sector of the cold war front the Belgian Congo was the richest prize to be won or lost. Not only economically, but also strategically, the Congo holds the key position in Central Africa. Whoever controlled it effectively could exert a powerful influence on all the neighbouring territories Angola, N. Rhodesia, Tanganyika, Uganda, Congo (Brazzaville). It was therefore scarcely to be expected that the communists would let it go without a fight.
Before the grant of independence the communist task was simple: to encourage the more extreme of the nationalists in their insistence on immediate self government. They found a ready tool in Patrice Lumumba. Although the leader of the M.N.C. always denied probably with sincerity that he was a communist, he was willing to accept money from communists, and most of the funds raised for his successful electoral campaign in the spring of 1960 came from the Soviet bloc or militant Afro Asian sources. A Belgian journalist, M. Pierre Houart (Houart, Pierre, La Penetration Communiste au Congo - Centre de Documentation, Brussels) has supplied particulars of some of these payments, and also of a secret report of the Belgian Communist Party, prepared in June 1960, on its action in the Congo, the main object of which was to prevent the republic joining up with the west.
To achieve this aim the easiest way was to destroy the link with Belgium by driving the Belgians out of the Congo. There were about 90,000 of them living in the colony before independence, most of whom proposed to remain, since frequent assurances had been given by the Congolese that they would be welcome and their lives and property protected. A high proportion were employed in the administration and public services, as civil servants, doctors, teachers, engineers. Others worked for the big companies or in their own businesses. Without a nucleus of such people to keep the government and the economy going, the Congo could not run by itself for a day. Their expulsion was therefore calculated to bring the country to a standstill, produce a state of anarchy and pave the way for a communist take over.
The weapon chosen for their elimination was the Force Publique. This was in the classical tradition of revolutionary tactics, and although the mutiny of the army surprised both the Congolese and the Belgians, in retrospect it appears as the obvious point where trouble could both be most easily started and have the maximum disruptive effect. During the campaign for independence and the May elections the politicans had painted in extravagant colours the benefits which would accrue from uhuru: new jobs, promotions, more money for everyone. It was apparent, however, that as far as the Force Publique was concerned, independence would make little difference. No Congolese officers had as yet been trained, the army would continue under its Belgian officers, and as its commander, General Janssens, pointed out in a broadcast, the need for discipline would be no less than before. Thus it seemed that only the soldiers were being excluded from the treat.
During the last weeks of Belgian control this idea was sedulously spread among the rank and file. Communist pamphlets printed in Antwerp were secretly circulated in the camps, while civilian agents waited for the soldiers at bars and cafes outside and plied them with beer and women. They argued that there would be no real independence until the Belgian military command was replaced by Congolese, and all the European officers evicted. In the administration and public services there were already Congolese serving in the highest posts, but in the army they were still being told they were incapable of commanding a platoon. 'Will you soldiers and N.C.O.'s consent', the question was asked, 'to continue to obey white officers, when other blacks are becoming ministers, senators and deputies?'
It was thus a very understandable grievance, skilfully exploited by agitators, which plunged the Congo into chaos in July, 1960. Although the mutiny took the form of arresting and ill treating white officers looting their property and raping their wives, it was an expression not so much of anti Belgian feeling as of discontent over what was considered a raw deal for the army as compared with the treatment of civilians. It was primarily therefore, a movement against the Congolese Government, the politicians and their favoured friends.
For the people behind it, however, the main object was to liquidate the Belgians, and this was largely achieved, thanks to excellent organization.
Throughout the Congo [an eye witness wrote] the mutiny broke out on almost the same day without anything occurring locally to give warning of it. To the question 'Why have you mutinied? the mutineers would reply, 'Because we were ordered to.' All the dispositions were taken previously; precise orders were given from the centre. The methods used by the leaders were everywhere the same: arrest of the officers, accompanied by humiliating acts to destroy their prestige, violation of their women, sadism, and terrorism of the children. The uniformity of the system proves that careful instructions had been given and were scrupulously carried out. (Lieutenant Colonel Duwez, Revue Congolaise Illustree, August 1960)
The fact that except in Elizabethville where seven Europeans were shot in their cars nobody was killed, is significant. A general massacre of Belgians would have influenced world opinion in their favour. The rape of a hundred of their women most of them repeatedly and often in the presence of their children caused no such reaction. But it was sufficient to cause a wholesale exodus of whites, with the consequence that a large part of the Congo was left without any effective administration, and with a leaderless and completely undisciplined police force, incapable of restoring the order its own action had destroyed. Only the communists and their friends stood to gain by such conditions.
Although the government formed by Lumumba was a coalition in which all parties were represented, most of the key posts were held by members of his own party. As Minister of Defence he himself was responsible for the Force Publique; the Vice Premier (Gizenga), the Minister of Interior (Gbenye), and the Ministers of Economic Co ordination, Communications and Land were all M.N.C. men, while the Minister of Information, Kashamura, was another extremist.
The ascendancy of this group and their pro communist leanings was shown in the first days of independence. On 4th July the Parti National du Progre's (P.N.P.), a moderate group favoured by the Belgians, publicly declared that 'in view of the communist neo colonialism which threatens the nation, the deputies and senators of the P.N.P.' will denounce systematically any foreign attempt to seize control of the country'. The true nature of the struggle to come was thus already clear enough.
On the same day soldiers at Camp Hardy, Thysville, in the Lower Congo, threatened their officers, broke into the magazine and armed themselves with rifles and machine guns. The next morning the same thing happened at Camp Leopold, Leopoldville. During the following days soldiers streamed through the streets of the capital, holding up whites to search and rob them, and breaking into houses to look for arms. Thousands of Belgians fled to the river, where they waited in terror for boats to ferry them to Brazzaville. Contradictory orders, now forbidding now permitting all departures, added to their anguish and confusion. simultaneously, throughout the Congo, there were similar scenes.
The first reaction of the Lumumba Government was to appease the mutineers. The Prime Minister, accompanied by the Head of State, M. Kasavubu, visited the two camps, promised to redress all grievances and as a first step announced the promotion of every man to the rank above thus leaving the army without a single private soldier. He then pleaded with the mutineers to obey the Government. It soon became clear, however, that the situation was out of control and that the only way to save it was to place himself at the head of the rebels and divert their anger from the Government to the colonialists. In a broadcast speech on 6th July he denounced the Belgians as the authors of all the trouble, and promised severe measures against the 'European officers and noncommissioned officers who are responsible for the agitation of the Congolese soldiers'. This was simply throwing fuel on the fire, and from then on it was kept alight by a stream of inflammatory propaganda poured out on the air by the Minister of Information, Kashamuru, including accusations that the Belgians were plotting to reannex the Congo.
Faced with this situation the complete collapse of all authority, a concerted anti Belgian propaganda campaign, and imminent danger of violence to thousands of Europeans the Belgian Government took the only possible decision, which was to send troops to their rescue. Orders were given to the garrisons at Kitona and Kamina to intervene, and within a few hours the first paratroops flew into Leopoldville and started to restore order. Other units were moved to centres where refugees were collecting, and arrangements made for a mass evacuation, mainly by air. Reinforcements were also sent from Belgium.
The salvage operation was carried out almost without casualties, except at Matadi, where on 10th July a naval force landed to rescue 400 Europeans held by the mutineers. By the time it arrived the prisoners had been released, but the force nevertheless fired on the Congolese, killing about twenty. This incident was disastrous, as it enabled the story to be spread that the Belgians were engaging in wholesale massacre. It was unscrupulously exploited on the wireless by Kashamuru, who also issued faked photographs of Belgian 'atrocities', and resulted in a wave of anti Belgian feeling which till then had not existed. It was after and as a result of this campaign of incitement that the worst outbreaks of violence against the Belgians occurred.
In the prevailing conditions of utmost disorder, any responsible government would have welcomed the arrival of disciplined troops, if only in the interests of their own safety, and co operated with them in restoring order. Lumumba's response was to scream with rage, and launch appeals in all directions for help in ending Belgian 'aggression'. On 12th July, after a request to America had been turned down, a telegram was sent to the Secretary General of the United Nations describing the presence of Belgian troops as a treaty violation and requesting military aid to protect the national territory against the present external aggression.'
Hastily summoned two days later to consider this request, the Security Council adopted a resolution concocted by the AfroAsian bloc calling upon 'the Government of Belgium to withdraw their troops from the Republic of the Congo', and authorizing the Secretary General 'to take all necessary steps in consultation with the Congolese Government to provide it with such military assistance as may be necessary.'
Considering what had happened to Europeans in the Congo, and would still have been happening but for the arrival of the Belgian troops, the demand for their withdrawal was a disgraceful irrelevance, and it is to the lasting shame of the British and American Governments that, for fear of offending the majority, they both voted for it unconditionally, to the shocked disgust of the Belgians. It was thus from the outset that the United Nations operation was given a false and vicious direction. Instead of being a mission of mercy and justice: to protect the innocent, punish the guilty or at least render them harmless put down violence and restore order the last being of even more importance to the Africans who had to live in the Congo than to Europeans who could leave it the operation took on the character of an anticolonialist crusade to rid the country of Belgians.
This was an utterly irresponsible attitude since it was not the presence but the withdrawal of the Belgians as events were soon to demonstrate even more strikingly and the transfer of their authority to the Congolese, which led to the collapse of government and occasioned the need for intervention. By refusing to face up to that fact, by accepting instead a perversion of the truth which represented the Belgians not as victims acting in legitimate defence but as aggressors, and by passing resolutions inspired less by the desire to preserve peace and assist the Congolese than by determination to pillory colonialists, the United Nations betrayed at the start its own impartiality and thereby condemned itself to commit the tragic mistakes for which the Congo is still paying.
The Disintegration of the Belgium Congo
The strength of the anti centralist and anti communist opposition became apparent on 11th July when M. Moise Tshombe, leader of the Conakat, its major political party, declared the province of Katanga to be an independent state. Two days before units of the Force Publique stationed at Elizabethville had obeyed the order to mutiny, but a handful of Belgian officers had been able to contain the rising for twenty four hours until the arrival of paratroops from Kamina base, when it was easily suppressed. Subsequently the force was disbanded and reformed under the same officers as the Katangan Gendarmerie, after the troublemakers, most of whom came from other provinces, had been sent home or deported.
The declaration of independence should have surprised nobody who knew the history of Katanga. From the early days of the Free State it had been considered as a separate colony, administered from Brussels, and it was only in 1934 that it was brought under the authority of the Governor General in Leopoldville. The richest province of the Congo, it provided about half the revenue of the colony and complained that little of this came back. It also resented the appointment to its local administration of Congolese from other provinces whom it regarded as foreigners. At the Round Table conference in January 1960 the Katangan representatives, with those of the Bas Congo, were the strongest advocates of federalism, and were only induced to accept the provisional constitution on the condition that it would be replaced as soon as the Congo became independent. The ground was therefore well prepared when the complete collapse of central government in the first week of independence, and the need to prevent anarchy spreading to Katanga, provided a pretext for breaking away, which could also be justified in self defence as the only effective means of maintaining law and order.
The secession of Katanga, although it attracted most attention then and since, was only one of several moves in a general process of disintegration. On 7th August the central committee of Abako, the dominant party in the province of Leopoldville, which extends from Port Francqui in the heart of the Congo to the Atlantic coast, voted a motion of non confidence in the central government and demanded the replacement of the provisional constitution by a confederation of the six provinces. On the following day the P.U.N.A., representing the province of Equator, passed a similar resolution; while on 9th August 'The Mining State of South Kasai, declared for independence under its leader, Chief Albert Kalonji. Thus within barely five weeks of the Congo becoming independent, three and a half of the six provinces had rejected unitary government and declared for regional autonomy.
The rapid build up of the UN force, of which the advance guard arrived on July 15th, made possible the withdrawal of the Belgian troops, the last of which left Katanga on 14th August. This was not fast enough for Lumumba, who had already quarrelled violently with the UN command for failing to do anything about Katanga, where on 12th July he had been refused permission to land. In an orgy of fanatic activity he flew to New York to denounce Belgium and rally support for his government, violently attacked Mr Hammarskjold, and on his return to Leopoldville decreed martial law and ordered the wholesale arrest of his opponents. Finally, on 15th August, he took the decisive step of formally requesting military aid from Russia, chiefly for the purpose of subduing Kasai and Katanga.
Russian and Czech 'technicians' started to pour into Leopoldville, and on 3rd September nineteen Ilyushin planes arrived with lorries and other equipment, which were used to transport Lumumbist troops to Kasai. With this assistance they overcame all resistance in S. Kasai and massacred about 3,000 Baluba tribesmen. At Bukwanga, capital of the 'mining state', M. Jacques Omonomba, a brother in law of Lumumba, who had done a sixmonth course with the security police in Moscow, was installed as political commissar. Some 300 local notables, evolues and tribal chiefs, were executed by his orders.
Advancing on Katanga the troops engaged with the Katangan Gendarmerie, but were repulsed near the frontier. At the same time tribal risings in the centre and north of Katanga, provoked by Lumumbist agents, were put down with great severity. This was the high water mark of the communist bid, and the beginning of the end for Lumumba. By his demagogic genius he had called up a Frankenstein, which had then enslaved its creator and was soon to destroy him.
The Counter Revolution
The counter revolution which destroyed Lumumba and drove the communists back into the north east corner of the Congo was an uncoordinated movement which arose spontaneously in half a dozen places Katanga, Kasai, Leopoldville, Equator. It received little assistance from outside but was naturally supported by all
Europeans in the Congo, who were not communists or fellow travellers, including the big companies whose existence was at stake. In Katanga it was also helped by volunteers, of Belgian and other nationalities: the famous mercenaries so much castigated by the United Nations, but without whom the communist bid might
well have succeeded.
The turning point for Lumumba, as we have seen, was the defeat of his troops in Katanga. But his star had already started to wane with the appeal to Russia, and his attempt to set up a dictatorship in Leopoldville, where his henchmen for several weeks exercised a reign of terror, united all men of good will against him. On 5th September M. Kasavubu, as President of the Republic, dismissed the Prime Minister, and invited a moderate, M. Ileo, to form a government.
Arrested en route for Stanleyville, Lumumba was brought back to Leopoldville and kept a prisoner until January, when with two companions he was put on an aeroplane bound for Katanga. Badly beaten up on the way by his guards, he arrived more dead than alive at Elizabethville, was taken to a villa and probably shot the same evening the exact circumstances have never been established. It was nearly a month later, on 11th February, that the Government of Katanga announced the death of the three men at the hands of tribesmen while attempting to escape. Lumumba's assassination, although deplorable, might be compared with that of Marat or the last attempt on Hitler. It undoubtedly saved the Congo from a fate worse even than that which it has suffered.
Meanwhile a new figure had appeared on the scene in the person of Colonel Mobutu. A former army clerk, Mobutu was appointed by the President as Commander in Chief on 14th September; shortly after he proceeded to dismiss the Government, and appoint a 'college of commissioners' consisting of university graduates. At the same time he ordered the closing of the Russian and Czech missions, and requested the withdrawal from the United Nations force of the contingents of Ghana and Guinea, whom he accused of distributing arms to the Lumumbist faction. Discomfited the communists retired to Stanleyville.
Thus in a few weeks the ex clerk, soon to be promoted General, had made a clean sweep of Lumumbaism and its foreign supporters without even a whiff of grape shot. Approved by the overwhelming majority of Congolese able to follow events, his action, combined with that taken in Katanga, arrested for at least a time the slide towards anarchy. At this point there was broad agreement among all the party and regional leaders to decentralize the constitution and make a common front against communism, with only the eastern provinces of Oriental and Kivu standing outside.
In Stanleyville M. Gizenga, after escaping from Leopoldville, had carried out a coup d'etat, deposed the provincial authorities, and as self styled 'heir to Lumumba' had set up with the help of his communist advisers what he claimed to be the only legitimate govermnent of the Congo. All political opponents were rounded up and brutally punished, particular savagery being shown to former members of the M.N.C. who had repudiated the actions of its leader.
Although recognized by the Soviet bloc, Gizenga's claim was decisively rejected by the United Nations on 10th November, when President Kasavubu successfully asserted his title as legal Head of State. It could be said, therefore, that by the end of the year over at least three quarters of the Congo the counterrevolution had succeeded without any substantial foreign aid, and that in the other fraction it was only checked by a self appointed dictator dependent on subsidies from abroad.
On 8th March a conference of all the party leaders except Gizenga opened at Tananarive in Madagascar. They included among others, Kasavubu, Ileo, Adoula, Bomboko, Kalonji, Kamitatu and Tshombe. The meeting opened in an atmosphere hostile to the United Nations. Its chief representative in the Congo, the Indian Dayal, was regarded as favouring the Lumumbists, and the latest resolution of the Security Council, passed on 21st February, which called for the removal of foreign political and military advisers, and the reorganization and disciplining of the Congolese army, was resented as interference. There had been attacks on UN personnel in Leopoldville, and at the ports of Matadi and Banana Point UN forces had been forced to withdraw, leaving their supply lines unguarded. Tshombe, who had opposed the entry of U.N. troops into Katanga, thus appeared as the champion of the Congo against an international tutelage. At the end of the conference it was announced that complete agreement had been reached on a confederal constitution proposed by himself. It was also decided to reject the Security Council Resolution and to demand the early withdrawal of all U.N. troops from the Congo.
The UN Bid
Until the spring of 1961 the role played by the United Nations was relatively passive, its troops had replaced the Belgians as a safeguard against violence, but had in fact done little to guarantee security. The troops were concentrated in a few main centres and unless specifically requested seldom acted to protect life or property. A resolution of the Security Council of 8th August 1960, had laid down that the United Nations force' would not be a party to or in any way interfere in or be used to influence the outcome of any internal conflict, constitutional or otherwise'. This was interpreted to mean that it could not intervene when, for example, the legal President and several ministers of the Provincial Governrnent of Kivu were kidnapped by Gizengist troops and Europeans beaten up in Bukavu and Stanleyville.
After the Tananarive Conference, however, there was a marked change of policy away from neutrality and in favour of intervention against Katanga. For this there were various reasons. As the most pro Western of Congolese politicians, Tshombe was Enemy No. One not only for the communists, but also for the neutralists and anti colonialists everywhere. He had shown that a country given independence prematurely could still make a success of it by retaining the services of the former colonists to run things until sufficient Africans were trained to take their place. He had also demonstrated that, given mutual good will, a multi racial society under an African Government was perfectly possible. As a result, such part of Katanga as was controlled by his administration, which included the whole of the mining area, was the only portion of the Congo where life continued normally, Europeans could live in safety, and the economy was unaffected. (Copper production, on which its prosperity depended, had just beaten all records.)
But because he was not an aggressive nationalist, did not make speeches denouncing colonialism, and sensibly employed Belgians whose experience of the Congo made them indispensable, he was dubbed as an 'imperialist tool' by the communists and racialists, and dismissed as a 'Belgian puppet' even by those in the West who should have known better. In fact successive Belgian Governments had consistently refused to give him any encouragement.
It was also objected against him that Katanga's secession imperilled the Congo's economy, by depriving it of nearly half its revenue. Most of this came from the taxes, royalties and dividends 3 paid by the Union Miniere, all of which were claimed by the
Katangan Government. The same argument could, of course, be applied to any small but rich unit which leaves a larger to Czechoslovakia, for example on the break up of the Austrian Empire, or to Northern Rhodesia for wishing to leave the Central
A complaint against Tshombe was that he employed foreign mercenaries who were supposed to influence his policy.
This was putting the cart before the horse. The mercenaries had been engaged after the policy was determined, when the Belgian Government, at the request of the United Nations, started to withdraw the Belgian officers from the Katangan Gendarmerie, They were needed to train and lead troops which, as experience had shown, tended to become a rabble without white officers. Most of them were adventurers attracted by the money, but not a few were genuine volunteers fighting for a cause they believed in, and who with some reason regarded Katanga as a bulwark against communism, racialism and anarchy.
A mandate to remove the mercenaries, as well as all 'political and military advisers', (loosely interpreted to include any European employed by the Katangan Government) was given to the Secretary General in the Security Council's resolution of 21st February 1960. It did not, however, authorize for that purpose the use of force, which was only to be used 'in the last resort to prevent civil war'. There is no doubt that Mr Hammarskjold himself was anxious to avoid a clash with Katanga, which could only produce further chaos, but he was under heavy fire from the Russians, who were demanding the dismissal of the Secretary General and his replacement by a triumvirate, or troika. It was, therefore, necessary to do something to reduce the pretensions of Tshombe, especially after he had emerged at Tananarive as the potential saviour of the Congo.
Early in April two special representatives of the SecretaryGeneral arrived in Leopoldville for consultations with President Kasavubu. Shortly after, it was announced that the Central Government had agreed to co operate with the United Nations in implementing the Security Council resolution of 21st February, and in return would receive financial assistance. This amounted to a complete repudiation of the Tananarive Agreement, and was denounced by Tshombe as a betrayal, when he and the other leaders met again at Coquilhatville on 23rd April. Tshombe then walked out of the Conference to return to Elizabethville, but was arrested at the aerodrome, taken to Leopoldville, and held prisoner for the next two months, until by the intercession of General Mobutu he obtained his release.
Thus by the action of the United Nations the situation reached in March had been reversed. Then it was Gizenga and the communists who had been isolated; now a plan was being laid to bring them back to the fold and instead to isolate Katanga. This was facilitated by jealousy of Tshombe, and of the relative prosperity enjoyed by Katanga as a result of his government's success in maintaining order in the mining area. The summoning, under United Nations aegis, of the Congolese Parliament in June, the formation of the Adoula Government, and the offer of key posts in it, the Vice Premiership and Ministry of Interior, to the two leading Lumumbists, Gizenga and Gbenye, who in return agreed to liquidate their own government in Stanleyville, were further steps in the same direction. Its first consequence was a massive return of foreign communists to Leopoldville, and the reopening of the Russian and Czech missions, which had been closed six months before on the orders of General Mobutu.
By the beginning of August it was clear that having succeeded in isolating Tshombe politically, the next objective of the United Nations was to bring Katanga to heel, if necessary by force. The first move was made on 26th August, when Mr Conor Cruise O'Brien, senior United Nations representative in Elizabethville, delivered a virtual ultimatum to Tshombe to make his submission to Leopoldville. Two days later U.N. troops peaceably occupied various strategic posts in the city and proceeded to arrest about a hundred Europeans, including both civilians and military personnel. As this had little effect on the situation, a second attempt was launched on 13th September. But this time the seizure of strategic points was resisted and resulted in fierce fighting which continued for several days. While the ostensible object of the U.N.' action was to round up the remaining mercenaries, Dr O'Brien's premature statement that the 'secession of Katanga is ended' and the attempt to arrest various Katangan ministers, betrayed that the real aim was to overthrow the Katangan Government and replace it by one submissive to Leopoldville. The arrival at Elizabethville airport on the morning of the 13th of a communist politician, M. Bocheley Davidson, as commissionergeneral of the Central Government armed with full powers, also made it clear that the operation was concerted with Leopoldville and that had it succeeded a communist type regime would have ensued in Katanga, accompanied by a mass exodus of Europeans, and a plunge into anarchy which the United Nations force would have been quite unable to control.
The savagery of the United Nations attack, in which Gurkha troops provided by India played a leading part, shocked Western opinion. Notwithstanding the legalistic arguments in any case extremely dubious which were advanced to justify it, the spectacle of an international police, which was supposed to be in the Congo to keep order, so far departing from neutrality as to take sides in an internal conflict in defiance of its own mandate, and to use force to impose a political solution, thereby importing war into the only peaceful part of the Congo, produced a widespread feeling of disgust and disillusionment. On purely practical grounds it was obvious that the operation, even if it achieved the object of overthrowing the Govermnent in Elizabethville, would not solve anything: the United Nations had nothing to put in its place, while any attempt by the Central Government to set up an alternative administration would have been resisted by guerrilla warfare, which could be carried on indefinitely from the bush.
Mr Hammarskjold, who had just arrived in Leopoldville and had apparently not been informed by his subordinates of their plans, (See 'My Case', by Conor O'Brien, Observer, 17th December 1960) evidently realizing that a blunder had been made, agreed to meet President Tshombe with a view to arranging a cease fire. His death in the early hours of 17th September, when the aircraft carrying him to Ndola, N. Rhodesia, crashed as it was approaching the airport, prevented this encounter, but subsequently a cease fire was arranged with another U.N. representative.
The truce which followed was only a respite, since neither the politicians in Leopoldville nor the United Nations command were prepared to admit defeat at the hands of Katanga. On 13th October M. Mahmoud Khiari, the Tunisian chief of civilian operations, made it clear that in the view of the United Nations the mandate to prevent civil war did not apply to an attack by the Central Government on Katanga. Encouraged by this assurance the socalled 'national' army advanced across the frontier from Kasai, but was easily routed by the Katangan Gendarmerie. An invasion from the north by troops from Stanleyville was more successful, thanks largely to assistance given by the local U.N. commander, and resulted in the occupation of Albertville on 10th November. Members of the Baluba Jeunesse, a terrorist organization of the Mau Mau type, accompanied the troops and joined with them in looting the town. The same people were afterwards responsible for the massacre at Kongolo, on 1st January 1962, of twenty two Catholic missionaries. These and similar incidents were among the more unfortunate consequences of Dr O'Brien's policy of encouraging the Baluba rebellion in order to weaken the Katangan Government.
On 24th November the Security Council met once more, and against the opposition of the American, British and French delegates none of whom, however, was prepared to use his veto passed a resolution authorizing still more drastic action against Katanga. This made a renewal of hostilities inevitable; and on 5th December, on the pretext of removing a road block, the United Nations troops who had been heavily reinforced in disregard of the cease fire agreement, launched a second attack on Elizabethville. Further reinforcements were transported in American aircraft.
The ensuing battle went on for a fortnight, during which many civilians were killed, houses and hospitals hit by machine gun and mortar fire, and extensive damage done to industrial plant at Kolwezi, 200 miles away, by bombardment from the air. The Union Miniere hospital for Africans at Shinkolobwe, 100 miles outside the city, was attacked by jet planes firing rockets, which were also used against the main offices of the company in Elizabethville, setting the building on fire. The damage, estimated at several million pounds, would have been much greater but for the refusal of the British Government, under pressure from Conservative back benchers, to accede to a United Nations request to supply 1,000 lb. bombs.
It was also the British Government, who, for the second time, intervened to procure a cease fire. This was arranged after President Tshombe had agreed to meet M. Adoula, Prime Minister in the Leopoldville Government, at a neutral rendez vous, the former Belgian base of Kitona. When the fighting stopped, United Nations troops were in control of Elizabethville but nothing else, the Katangan Gendarmerie was still intact, and the position of the Katangan Government, as a result of its second successful resistance, was probably stronger than before. As for the mercenaries, who had provided the cams belli, they remained as elusive as ever.
All empires, when the imperial power is removed, fall apart under the pressure of self determination exerted by their component peoples, unless a new force arises within them, a Washington or a Lenin, to induce or impose a different kind of unity. Inside the Congo there was no such force, and the attempts to supply it from outside, first by the communists and then by the United Nations, were therefore doomed to failure. During 1962 there were signs of a gradual awakening to this truth. Only when policies are shaped accordingly will peace and prosperity return to the Congo.
The European Presence in Africa
This is a tale of horror and tragedy in the Congo, beginning with the brutal and exploitative regime of King Leopold II of Belgium, and culminating with the downfall of one of Africa’s most influential figures, Patrice Lumumba. The Congo is but one example of the greater phenomenon of European occupation of Africa. The legacy of this period gives rise to persistent problems in the Congo and throughout Africa. Understanding the roots and causes of this event, as focused through the lense of the Congo, is the subject of this paper.
Primarily this paper will investigate the massacre of more than 10 million the Congolese by Leopold from 1885 and 1908. Although this is a massacre on the scale of the Jewish Holocaust dimensions, which began only thirty years later, little is told today about the injustices that took place. This event is not discussed within the standard litany of our world’s horrors because it exemplifies the worst of European colonial expansion into Africa.
The Belgians, under the rule of Leopold, assumed control over the Congo, and exploited its resources and its inhabitants for material gain. Leopold instituted a virtual slave labor system that used the Congolese as tools to extract wild rubber, ivory, and other natural resources from the Congo for the benefit of private enterprises owned or controlled by Leopold. He exploited the vulnerability of the Africans, in an effort to amass enormous wealth and fortune. The question investigated here is whether the European’s reactionary self-proclaimed superiority complex over those who are darker, provided the impetus for the massacre. The investigation will also show that colonization was simply the byproduct of the entrenched European racism, and that it is used today to justify the actions of not only Belgium in the Congo, but European nations throughout Africa on the basis of a theory of cultural Darwinism premised upon the idea of “might makes right” and the “ends justify the means”.
Since as early as the fifteenth century and continuing to the present day, European colonies have always viewed Africa as an economic object with a wealth of resources waiting to be extracted and exploited through colonization or by what ever means necessary. The recent history (500 years) of the world justifies the conclusion that Europeans have always sought to assert superiority over people of darker pigmented complexions (all of who just happen to be non-Europeans) by the free and unrestrained assertion of their will and authority, unfettered by any moral constraints on human conduct. As a substitute for any notion of a “humane” code of conduct, the European psychology operated a regime based upon the principles and practices used to control and domesticate lower forms of animal life. In the beginning, the slave trade was the main attraction of these European nations because they saw a law filled with cheap labor and always felt that Africa was uncivilized country begging for colonization. There was undeniable thirst for Africa, deeply rooted in racism. The European nations saw Africa as empty and undiscovered land simply because there were no Europeans present. Judging by the particularly heinous treatment of the Congolese people, it is far to posit that these Europeans believed there were no humans present, only varieties of wild animal life to be domesticated. The 1885 Berlin Conference is perhaps the most notorious example of this self-proclaimed superiority complex. It was at this conference that the European powers met to partition Africa and resolve any territorial conflicts. It was at this conference that the future of Africa was decided; yet no Africans were present to help decide it.
In The Partition of Africa, by Robert Collins, the author proposes a similar perspective to this European self-proclaimed superiority complex. Collins argues that the military and economic disparity that existed between the European and African nations precipitated the exploration of Africa and instilled a definite arrogance and confidence. The nineteen-century was marked by not just European territorial expansion, but European expansion with regards to technological innovation of the material world. Advancements were being made continuously in the technological and science fields that “upset the balance of power between Europe and Africa” (Collins 2) Collins asserts that these advancements gave the European powers a false sense of superiority over Africans, and thus was one contributing factor in the colonization of Africa. “The expansion of knowledge, the triumphs of science and technology, and the improvement in the standard of living of the many produced a cultural self-confidence in Europe that found popular and political expression in nationalism.”(Collins 2) Thus, Europeans felt that their financial and alleged “mental” superiority gave them an excuse for conquering a group of people. He then continues to show that the self-proclaimed superiority gave them a defining arrogance, which helped to propel them through their conquest of Africa and its people. It is of course fair to reverse the argument and claim that our ability to physically dominate and destroy and kill justifies the assertion that one is superior.
“Technological superiority was often confused with national superiority, and it certainly helped to created a rationale for conquering technologically primitive peoples and an Olympian confidence in the superiority of European rule over them. National self-confidence was characteristic of all the European powers...” (Collins 2-3)
This “national self-confidence” laid the foundation for many of the colonial problems that would later be encountered within Africa. Thus this confidence was a racist arrogance disguised as nationalism, which empowered these European nations with a feeling of entitlement to the land in Africa. “During the nineteenth-century European drive for possessions in Africa... people justified colonialism in various ways, claiming that it Christianized the heathen or civilized the savage races or brought everyone the miraculous benefits of free trade.”(Hochschild 38) This further reveals that the European imperialism in Africa was motivated the sense of superiority given that these European powers deemed its inhabitants to be inferior. Even some researchers have explored the idea that Europe’s occupation of Africa was rationalized by a arrogant thinking that these nations had a duty and an obligation to explore and colonize this continent. . “Africa was no longer viewed as a bottomless reservoir of slaves for the plantations of the New World. Africa was viewed as an untapped source of raw materials for European industries and the target of Europeans God-given mission to spread the gospel of civilization.”(Gandola 16)
In the grand scheme, the European presence in Africa did not help to improve the well being of the people nor did it help to improve the societies already in place, but instead slowed both the political and economic growth of the countries. In fact, there was never any pretext at improving the lot of the African nations. As a result, many African countries, such as the Congo, are still experiencing problems today which stem from the European occupation. The African countries were merely exploited by these foreign nations in order for them to amass an even greater wealth and fortune. “The partition of Africa did not create a set of uniform colonies each resembling the other in a constitutional stereotype. On the contrary, the establishment of colonial rule was varied and pragmatic.” (Birmingham)
The Reign of Leopold
The Congo possessed an uncharacteristic wealth that made it the desire of many European countries. It had an abundance of natural resources such as cooper, gold, diamonds, rubber, cobalt, among others that made it the desire of many trading corporations and companies. “Once European powers took possession of the Congo, its people were almost perennially hungry, and its mineral wealth enriched only politicians and foreign corporations.”(Edgerton, xii) At the Berlin Conference in 1885, King Leopold was granted to the exclusive right to privately exploit the Congo. Once in the Congo, Leopold devised an economic system in which the Congo was sectioned into different areas leased to different European corporations that paid Leopold 50 percent of the extracted wealth. “In setting up this structure, Leopold was like the manager of a venture capital syndicate today. He had essentially found a way to attract other people’s capital to his investment schemes while he retained half the proceeds.” (Hochschild 117)
Leopold entered the Congo under the cloak and façade of a humanitarian by making hollow promises detailing his intentions to improve the quality of life in the Congo. Leopold promised to build schools, homes, and to liberate the Congolese people from Arab slave traders. But under the rule of Leopold, very little was done to improve the well being of the citizens, and instead a regime was instituted that operated solely through force of might. People were tortured and forced to sign treaties that according to Leopold “…must grant us everything”(Hochschild 71), which includes the rights to all land and resources therein. Thus for a 20 year period, Leopold was able to operate with impunity, and in the process 10 million people were murdered. During his reign, women and children were brutally raped and murdered and treated like animals. “They were fed-and slept-in the royal stables.”(Hochschild 176) They were even hunted like animals for fun and for sport. Limb amputation was a joy of many Belgium soldiers; hands, heads, and other body were severed for not only proof of kill, but for the cannibalistic needs of these Belgium soldier. Even the homes of some Belgium officers were lined with the skulls of the Congolese people for decoration. “For each cartridge issued to their soldiers they demanded proof that the bullet had been used to kill someone, ‘not wasted’…” (Hochschild 165) Many more died from starvation and exhaustion resulting from the inhumane living conditions present in the Congo.
During the two decades of Leopold’s reign in the Congo, thousands of outsiders visited the Congo, but only a few spoke publicly about the atrocities witnessed. One figure of particular importance in the campaign against Leopold was George Washington Williams, a journalist and historian, known prominently as “the first heretic”, because he was the first outspoken critic of Leopold’s regime, and the first to attempt bring the problems to the world stage. Williams first visited the Congo in the early years of Leopold’s regime, and saw that the Congo was far from the utopian society that Leopold had once spoke about, and instead was a society void of the rich culture and spirit that it once possessed. Williams wrote letters to the President of the United published articles in many newspapers in a futile attempt to bring attention to the carnage. Little accord or credence was given to his accusations given that he was not European (Williams was African-American), and as a result, change would not come for more than 15 years with the emergence of E.D. Morel.
Morel began the Congo Reform Association and began a campaign to end Leopold’s power over the Congo. Articles were published in newspapers and magazines throughout European nations in an attempt to bring the horrendous situation in the Congo to world attention “Morel was also editing a special monthly supplement to the newspaper, devoted solely to exposing injustice in the Congo.”(Hochschild 187) In response to these accusations, Leopold led a Commission of Inquiry into the Congo massacres to salvage his reputation, but even they were too horrified to lie for Leopold. The combination of these efforts led other European nations to pressure the Belgium government to assume control from Leopold. The government, however, did not posses the legal authority to divest Leopold of his fiefdom, and thus was forced to purchase the Congo from Leopold. In addition, Leopold also received annual payments “as a mark of gratitude for his great sacrifices made for the Congo”(Hochschild 259). Even future history textbooks in Africa praised Leopold as “…Soviet schoolbooks praised Lenin.” (Hochschild 299)
“The Congo offers a striking example of the politics of forgetting. Leopold and the Belgian colonial officials who followed him went to extraordinary lengths to try to erase potentially incriminating evidence from the historical record.” (Hochschild 294)
Both Belgium and Leopold feared the exposure of the atrocities committed in the Congo. “The Congo offers a striking example of the politics of forgetting. Leopold and the Belgian colonial officials who followed him went to extraordinary lengths to try to erase potentially incriminating evidence from the historical record” (Hochschild 294) Shortly before the impending takeover, Leopold ordered for statewide burring of historical records, because he believed that people should “have no right to know what I did there.” (Hochschild 294) But in the following years, Belgium’s image changed from conqueror to victim given the violence and abuse they would soon encounter from Germany in World War I. “And so the full history of Leopold’s rule in the Congo and of the movement that opposed it dropped out of Europe’s memory, perhaps even more swiftly and completely than did the other mass killings that tool place in the colonization of Africa.” (Hochschild 296)
The Aftermath of Leopold
After King Leopold relinquished his position in the Congo, the Belgium parliament assumed legal control of the country, but the trading corporations and companies of Belgium and other European countries continued to dominate the course of events in the Congo. “The one major goal not achieved, he (Morel) acknowledged, was African ownership of land.” (Hochschild 273) The Congo’s wealth of natural resources had always been the main attraction of Belgium, and with Leopold removed, the corporations were given more control and influence over the economy in the Congo. The United Mines of Upper Katanga (UMHK) was founded shortly after Leopold’s reign ended and for the next fifty years, this corporation exercised the greatest influence and control over the economy and the resources with the Congo. It “controlled about 70 percent of the economy of the Belgian Congo...and controlled the exploitation of cobalt, copper, tin uranium and zinc in mines which were among the richest in the world.”( Hochschild 31) During this time period, the Congo was one the world’s largest copper-producing countries and the “cobalt extraction in Katanga represented 75 percent of the entire world production.” (Hochschild 31)
In June of 1960, the Congo was granted independence, which threatened the future of European economic control of this profitable source of revenue. The United Nations granted independence to the Congo because of pressure from the worldwide anti-colonial movement that touched Africa in the 1950s. But shortly after the Congo’s independence, Belgium immediately sent troops to the country in order to protect Katanga, that possessed a wealth of resources and was the primary export site for these corporations. With this military presence, the corporations continued their production in Katanga, and surprisingly, production even increased in the year of independence. This military presence remained in the Congo for years, thus showing the Congolese people were never truly granted “independence”. This post-independence presence in the Congo helps to strengthen the argument that the European self-proclaimed superiority complex over those who are darker provided the impetus for their actions in Africa. These European nations regarded independence as an insignificant barrier in their continued occupation and economic exploitation of the land. The entitlement complex of Belgium is further revealed here because Belgium believed that they possessed personal ownership of the land in the Congo, and that the citizens of the Congo did not warrant independence. Belgium regarded the citizens of the Congo as an inferior people who lacked civilization; they believed that the occupation was justified. As a Belgium official is quoted as writing, “A sector of humanity has inherited no civilization, no energy, no ideas, no interests to defend…The black race has noting behind it. It is a people without writing, without history, without philosophy, without any consistency.” (Hochschild 32) This comment is indicative of the entire nature and character of the Belgium and further exposes the contempt that they possessed towards African people.
The Emergence of Lumumba
The emergence of an independent Congo on June 30, 1960 marked the beginning of a new era of colonialism by the Western powers. On this day, Patrice Lumumba became Prime Minister of the Congo, and in six months he would be assassinated. He was an extraordinary politician, motivator, and visionary, and one of the most influential figures throughout Africa during his term. He is now enshrined as an historical figure against the fight of injustice because of his outspokenness against the colonization of Africa by European powers. He came to power at a time in which the anti-colonial movement was most intense worldwide; this propelled his general regard as a worldwide leader of this movement. The period “…from 1960 to 1965, was the West’s ultimate attempt to destroy the continent’s authentic independent development.” (Kanza xxv)
Before serving as Prime Minister, Lumumba was the president of the National Congolese Movement, a party formally constituted in 1958. He was an ambitious man and envisioned a promising future for the Congo; a future void of European involvement and one in which the Congolese people had absolute power. He was already a prominent figure in the political scene within the Congo, having amassed a following through his writings and speeches advocating sovereignty and the fight against European injustice. Lumumba would eventually become prime minister through democratic elections, but his government only lasted for a very difficult period of two months during which time Belgium launched many attempts to reoccupy and subvert the independence movement.
Patrice Lumumba represented a formidable opponent against the colonization forces in Africa. By advocating sovereignty and de-colonization in Africa, he represented everything that the Western powers feared. He was a man capable of affecting change throughout not only the Congo, but across Africa by promoting a self-sustained economy that was entirely independent from the European nations.. He opposed the forces of colonialism throughout Africa. The riches of the Congo and the presence of Lumumba’s movement could not be allowed to coexists in the view of the United States and European political and business interests. Lumumba eventually became the victim of a coup funded primarily by the United States and Belgium, under the protection of the United Nations. Although the United States and Belgium were the primary opponents of Lumumba, they were acting on behalf of European countries throughout the world because Lumumba personified the anti-colonial movement that everyone feared. “It is a staggering example of what the Western ruling classes are capable of when their vital interests are threatened. Assassination then becomes a useful measure, a possible solution.” (Kanza xxv)
The assassination of Lumumba reinforces the claim that the European self-proclaimed superiority complex provided the impetus for many of their actions within Africa. They feared Lumumba not simply because he was a man that represented the anti-colonial movement, but because he was an African man that had become too powerful and had the potential to gain the loyalty and attention of his people and focus their goals on true independence and real control of their own resources. “The Congo crisis is due to just one man, Patrice Lumumba” (Hochschild 49) He had the potential to change the entire social structure of Africa and possessed the ability to affect change throughout the world by promoting democracy and equality.
“Lumumba…advocated a complete decolonisation that would benefit the population as a whole. He had, therefore, to be stopped.”(Kanza xvii) Belgium rationalized their intervention in the Congo by asserting that they were protecting Africa from Soviet influence. Lumumba was labeled a communist and compared to Castro in effort garner world support against Lumumba and his efforts. “Leaflets were scattered in the cites of Leopoldville warning: ‘Congolese, Lumumba will sell your women to Russia’, or ‘For Lumumba thousands of diamonds, for our women millions of tears’” (Hochschild 18) Eighty years earlier under Leopold, Belgium, used the same tactics in rationalizing their colonization and invasion of the Congo. Claiming that they were liberating the Congolese from slave traders and helping to improve the life of the citizens in substance, but only in outward appearance
For the next thirty years following the death of Lumumba, the Congo was the victim of a centralized government with the majority of the power concentrated in one man, General Mobutu, who was an instrumental Congolese collaborator with the Western interests in promoting the coup leading to the assassination of Lumumba
“He created a rigidly centralized administration reminiscent of Belgian rule, topped by a single authority figure that Mobutu claimed to be in the African political tradition. Governing by decree, his words literally were law. His power was absolute, anchored in a constitution of his own inspiration that made him head of the legislative, executive, and judiciary.“(Kaplan 59)
This was not the type of free democratic society that Lumumba had envisioned, but instead one that still allowed many European nations to exercise the authority and influence that Lumumba vehemently opposed. “The United States gave him well over a billion dollars in civilian and military aid during the three decades of his rule; European powers- especially France-contributed more.” (Hochschild 303) Mobutu did little to improve the quality of life of his citizens, and instead exploited his own citizens for his material and economic gain.
Even after independence, the Congo was still the economic colony of Europe that existed under the control of Belgium. The European and American corporations and investments were still intact with Mobutu in control. The Congo was now operating as a puppet government in which the United States used Mobutu to affect both economic and political decisions in an effort to stabilize its investments and operations in the country. It estimated that at the end of his reign, he was of the world’s wealthiest men; “his personal peak was estimated at $4 billion.” (Hochschild 303) And very little of his fortune went to the people of the Congo. Even still today, there are many internal economic and political problems, stemming from the Belgian occupation. The government still lacks political and economic stability, although it is believed that within the next year, the Congo will finally hold democratic elections.
As we look to the future, we see a European world that has evolved from the colonial mindsets of its ancestors, and adopted a more enlightened venir to is public outlook on the world. No longer is the self-proclaimed superiority complex a motivating factor in their actions and behavior with other nations. The Lome convention is a primary indicator of this evolution of thought adopted by these powers. This was a series of meetings between the African Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) states, along with the European Union; it helped to resolve any conflicts that existed between nations. It is an international trade and aid agreement, which aims to promote the economic and social development of these ACP nations. The agreement further promotes both regional and social cooperation, which is a drastic change from the colonial era of years past. But as these European nations are changing, it is possible that the United States is currently evolving into the colonial power that Europe once was.