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Congo Crisis
Part of the Cold War
Congo Crisis Belgians at Kamina.jpg
Belgian paracommandos preparing for a hostage rescue operation, November 1964
Date June 1960 - November 1966
Location Republic of the Congo
Result Congo established as an independent, unitary state under Mobutu
Flag of Congo Kinshasa 1960.svg Congo (Eastern)

United Nations ONUC

Flag of Katanga.svg State of Katanga
Flag of South Kasai.svg South Kasai
Flag of Congo Kinshasa 1960.svg Congo (Western)

Zaire Mobutu government

Flag of Congo Kinshasa 1960.svg Patrice Lumumba 
Flag of Congo Kinshasa 1960.svg Pierre Mulele
Flag of Congo Kinshasa 1960.svg Antoine Gizenga

United Nations Jonas Wærn
United Nations Johnson Aguiyi-Ironsi
Cuba Che Guevara

Flag of Katanga.svg Moise Tshombe
Flag of South Kasai.svg Albert Kalonji
Flag of Congo Kinshasa 1960.svg Joseph Kasa-Vubu
Zaire Joseph-Désiré Mobutu
History of DR Congo

The Congo Crisis (1960–1966) was a period of turmoil in the First Republic of the Congo that began with national independence from Belgium and ended with the seizing of power by Joseph Mobutu. At various points it had the characteristics of anti-colonial struggle, a secessionist war with the province of Katanga, a United Nations peacekeeping operation, and a Cold War proxy battle between the United States and the Soviet Union. The Crisis caused the death of some 100,000 people.[1] It led to the assassination of Prime Minister Patrice Lumumba, as well as a traumatic setback to the United Nations following the death of UN Secretary General Dag Hammarskjöld in a plane crash as he sought to mediate.



Prior to the establishment of the First Republic in 1960, the native Congolese elites had formed semi-political organizations which gradually evolved into the main parties striving for independence. These organizations were formed on one of three foundations: ethnic kinship, connections formed in schools, and urban intellectualism.

The largest of these was Association des Bakongo (ABAKO), founded in 1950, which was an ethnic association which promoted the interests and language of the Bakongo (or Kongo) people, as well as Bakongo-related ethnic groups. ABAKO, led by Joseph Kasa-Vubu during the Crisis, was at the forefront of the more insistent demands for both independence and federalism. Other less successful ethnic associations included the Liboke lya Bangala, who championed the needs of the Bangala ethno-linguistic group (a grouping created by Western ethnographers), and the Fédékaléo – who included people from the Kasai region. Fédékaléo later split into several groups. Though these organizations represented ethnic groups from all over the Congo, they usually based themselves in Leopoldville (now Kinshasa), since one reason for their existence was the need to maintain ethnic ties after the mass migration to urban areas.

Another source of political groupings was the various Alumni Associations - whose membership came from former students of colonial Christian schools in the Congo. Most of the major politicians of the period were Alumni members, and the associations were used to create networks of advisors and supporters.

The third political tributary were the Cercles, urban associations that sprang up in the cities of the Congo, which were designed to foster solidarity amongst the évolués (the educated, westernized middle class). In the words of Patrice Lumumba, the head of the Cercles of Stanleyville (now Kisangani), the Cercles were created to "improve intellectual, social, moral and physical formation" of the évolués.

In 1958, together with Cyrille Adoula and Joseph Ileo, Lumumba founded the Mouvement National Congolais (MNC), a national independence party intended to be non-tribal. It later split into two, MNC-L led by Lumumba and the MNC-K led by Albert Kalonji in Kasai.


The thirty year plan

In the early 1950s Belgium came under increasing pressure to transform the Belgian Congo into a self-governing state. Belgium had ratified article 73 of the United Nations Charter, which advocated self-determination, and both superpowers put pressure on Belgium to reform its Congo policy. The Belgian government's response was largely dismissive. However, Belgian professor A.J. van Bilsen, in 1955, published a treatise called Thirty Year Plan for the Political Emancipation of Belgian Africa. The timetable called for gradual emancipation of the Congo over a thirty year period - the time Van Bilsen expected it would take to create an educated elite who could replace the Belgians in positions of power. The Belgian government and many of the évolués were suspicious of the plan — the former because it meant eventually giving up the Congo, and the latter because Belgium would still be ruling Congo for another three decades. A group of Catholic évolués responded positively to the plan with a manifesto in a Congolese journal called Conscience Africaine, with their only point of disagreement being the amount of native Congolese participation. The ethnic association ABAKO decided to distance themselves from the plan, in part because most of the Catholic évolués who wrote the Conscience Africaine manifesto were not from the Kongo ethnic group favoured by ABAKO, but also because they had decided to take a more radical, less gradualist approach to ending colonialism. ABAKO demanded immediate self-government for Congo.

This plan was never made official. All early political efforts were hampered because Belgium had made no plans for Congolese independence. There were less than 200 university degree holders, and no Congolese in the entire military with a rank higher than Sergeant.

1959 Leopoldville Riots

ABAKO gathered steam over the following few years, consolidating political control over much of the lower Congo and Léopoldville. By early 1959, much of the lower Congo was beyond the control of Belgian authorities. The Belgian authorities prohibited ABAKO from meeting and this caused widespread rioting in Léopoldville from January 4-7. On January 12 Joseph Kasa-Vubu was arrested and the Belgians stated that he would be released on March 13. Subsequently, the Belgian government announced constitutional reforms intended to bring more Congolese into government, but only in an advisory capacity. They also indicated that the end result of the process would eventually be independence. With this plan the Belgians hoped to satisfy the demands of the more moderate Congolese for inclusion in the political process while neutralizing the more extreme Congolese nationalists with the promise of eventual independence. The end result was the opposite of what was intended. There was a surge of political activity, over fifty political parties were registered, nearly all of them based on tribal groups. Nationalist demands grew more extreme as parties competed with each other. There was further rioting in Stanleyville in October after a meeting of Lumumba's MNC and he was arrested.

The Roundtable Conference, Brussels 1960

Faced with increasing instability, the Belgians held a "Roundtable Conference" in Brussels for the leaders of the different Congolese parties. The MNC demanded that Lumumba should be released from prison so he could attend. The Belgians agreed to independence but tried to negotiate for a transitional period of three to four years. The Congolese insisted that independence be granted immediately and the most that they would concede was a few months. In the end it was agreed to hold elections in May with a transfer of power one month later in June. The experience of the French in the ongoing Algerian War for independence was something the Belgians desperately wanted to avoid.

May 1960 elections

In order to create political institutions to govern Congo after its independence on June 30, 1960, elections were held in Congo in May 1960.

Only the two biggest parties presented themselves in more than one province:

  • The MNC-L (Patrice Lumumba) had won the elections: with about a quarter of the seats it ended first. It obtained a majority in the Eastern (Oriental) province.
  • The Parti National du Progrès or PNP, was second, was defeated as national party by the MNC-L. It was favored by the Belgians.

Every other party was based in only one province; their strongholds followed ethnic divisions:

  • In the province of Léopoldville, Parti Solidaire Africain or PSA (Antoine Gizenga) narrowly defeated ABAKO (Joseph Kasa-Vubu).
  • In the province of Katanga, Confédération des Associations Tribales de Katanga or (CONAKAT) led by Moise Tshombé narrowly defeated Association Générale des Baluba de Katanga or BALUBAKAT (Jason Sendwe).
  • In the province of Kivu, Centre de Regroupement Africain, CEREA (Anicet Kashamura) won but didn't obtain a majority; MNC-L came second.
  • In the province of Kasaï, MNC-L and MNC-K (Albert Kalonji, Joseph Iléo and Cyrille Adoula) fought a duel over the first place. MNC-L could count on two smaller parties (UNC and Coalition Kasaienne (COAKA).
  • In the Eastern province, MNC-L won a clear majority; the PNP was its only adversary.
  • In the province of the Equator, parties were very weak, but PUNA (Jean Bolikango) and UNIMO (Justin Bomboko) could be called the local parties.

In the national parliament, Lumumba could count on a coalition of (in order of loyalty) MNC-L, UNC and COAKA (Kasaï), CEREA (Kivu), PSA (Léopoldville) and BALUBAKAT (Katanga). It was opposed by PNP, MNC-K (Kasaï), ABAKO (Léopoldville), CONAKAT (Katanga), PUNA and UNIMO (Equator) and RECO (Kivu).

As part of a deal, on June 24, 1960, Kasa-Vubu was elected president and the Lumumba government obtained the confidence of Chamber and Senate.


The independent Republic of the Congo was declared on 30 June 1960, with Joseph Kasa-Vubu as President and Patrice Lumumba as Prime Minister. It shared a name with the neighboring Republic of the Congo to the west, a French colony that also gained independence in 1960, and the two were normally differentiated by also stating the name of the relevant capital city, so Congo (Léopoldville) versus Congo (Brazzaville).

Course of the Crisis

The First Republic

Independence day

On June 30, 1960, the country's first day as an independent nation, Baudouin I of Belgium, the King of the Belgians, arrived for the formal handover of power. What was intended to be a day of pomp and national celebration turned into a public relations disaster. This was clear almost from the moment the king stepped off the plane. On his way from the airport, a man snatched his ceremonial sword dancing around in the road with it. At his arrival in the parliament building on the following morning, the king was shown more respect. However he then made an ill-advised speech praising the "genius" and "tenacious courage" of his great uncle King Leopold II.[2] In the Congo, Leopold II is mainly remembered as the founder and sole owner of the Congo Free State, a private project undertaken by the King. The extraction of rubber and ivory in the Congo during this period relied on forced labour and resulted in the massacre and mutilation of millions of Congolese. President Kasa-Vubu altered his prepared speech to exclude ending remarks of praise for King Baudouin. Prime Minister Lumumba was not due to give a speech; according to some reports this was a deliberate exclusion. However, he rose and gave a speech which extolled the independence struggle "of tears, fire and blood". He attacked the Belgian Congo's "regime of injustice, oppression and exploitation". [3] Nous ne sommes plus vos singes (We are no longer your monkeys), Lumumba told Baudouin. [4].

This speech was well received by the Congolese who heard it. For many Congolese, hearing any European dignitary, let alone a king, being addressed this way was extraordinary. For the king and his entourage, this speech was an insult and they nearly decided to fly straight back to Belgium and skip the rest of the ceremonies. They stayed for the official lunch, at which Lumumba made a somewhat more conciliatory speech saying "At the moment when the Congo reaches independence, the whole Government wishes to pay solemn homage to the King of the Belgians and to the noble people he represents for the work done here over three quarters of a century. For I would not wish my feelings to be wrongly interpreted."[2] However, it was his first speech that was remembered and broadcast throughout the Congo.


Despite gaining political independence, the new country had few native military officers so it kept many foreign officers as it trained its own military leadership. There was resentment in the army (the Force Publique) whose privates and NCOs saw little opportunity for advancement in an army officered almost entirely by Belgians. Further discontent was caused by the decision by Lumumba to raise the pay of all government employees except the military. On 5 July 1960, the commander of the Force Publique, Lieutenant General Émile Janssens, called a meeting of the Léopoldville garrison. Janssens was not a man of diplomatic talent. In an attempt to remind the soldiers of their oaths of loyalty and obedience, he wrote on a blackboard, "After independence = before independence." This was not a message the rank and file members of the army were prepared to hear. By the end of the day the garrison had mutinied against its white officers and attacked numerous European targets. Armed bands of mutineers roamed the capital looting and terrorizing the white population. This caused the flight of thousands of European refugees to Brazzaville and Stanleyville. The credibility of the new government was ruined as it proved unable to control its own armed forces.

This led to a military intervention into Congo by Belgian forces in an ostensible effort to secure the safety of its citizens. Whilst the danger to Belgian citizens and other foreigners was real, the intervention of these forces was a violation of the national sovereignty of the new nation, as it had not requested Belgian assistance.

In the midst of the mutiny, the Congolese government decided to "Africanize" the army. All personnel were promoted by one rank and its name was changed to the Armée Nationale Congolaise or ANC.

The flight of officers left the 25,000 man force still armed but totally uncontrolled. This left the new country without an effective instrument of central control and was an important causative factor in the rapid descent of the country into chaos.

Secession of Katanga

On 11 July 1960, with the support of Belgian business interests and over 6000 Belgian troops, the province of Katanga in the southeast declared independence as the State of Katanga under the leadership of Moise Tshombe, leader of the local CONAKAT party. Tshombe was known to be close to the Belgian industrial companies which mined the rich resources of copper, gold and uranium. Katanga was one of the richest and most developed areas of the Congo. Without Katanga, Congo would lose a large part of its mineral assets and consequently government income. In defense of the decision to declare independence, Tshombe said Katanga was "seceding from chaos". In particular Tshombe believed if he allowed the mutinous ANC to enter it would result in lawlessness and bloodshed. With Belgian assistance Katanga's Gendarmerie was converted into an effective military force. At the core of the Katangan forces were several hundred European mercenaries many of which were recruited in Belgium. Almost from the beginning, the new state faced a rebellion in the north in Luba areas. This was led by a political party called Association of the Luba People of Katanga (BALUBAKAT). In January 1961, Katanga faced a secession crisis of its own when BALUBAKAT leaders declared independence from Katanga. Throughout the period of the secession, Katangan forces were never able to completely control the province.

UN military intervention

On 14 July 1960, in response to requests by Prime Minister Lumumba, the UN Security Council adopted Resolution 143. This called upon Belgium to remove its troops and for the UN to provide 'military assistance' to the Congolese forces to allow them 'to meet fully their tasks'. Lumumba demanded that Belgium remove its troops immediately, threatening to seek help from the Soviet Union if they did not leave within two days. The UN reacted quickly and established United Nations Operation in the Congo (ONUC). The first UN troops arrived the next day but there was instant disagreement between Lumumba and the UN over the new force's mandate. Because the Congolese army had been in disarray since the mutiny, Lumumba wanted to use the UN troops to subdue Katanga by force. Referring to the resolution, Lumumba wrote to UN Secretary General Dag Hammarskjöld, ‘From these texts it is clear that, contrary to your personal interpretation, the UN force may be used to subdue the rebel government of Katanga.’[5] Secretary General Hammarskjöld refused. To Hammarskjöld, the secession of Katanga was an internal Congolese matter and the UN was forbidden to intervene by Article 2 of the United Nations Charter. Disagreements over what the UN force could and could not do continued throughout its deployment, despite the passage of two further Security Council resolutions. Passed on 22 July, Security Council Resolution 145 affirmed that Congo should be a unitary state and strengthened the call for Belgium to withdraw its forces. On 9 August, Security Council Resolution 146 mentioned Katanga for the first time, and explicitly allowed UN forces to enter Katanga whilst forbidding their use to 'intervene in or influence the outcome of any internal conflict'.[6]

Secession of South Kasai

South Kasai created stamps by altering old Belgian Congo stamps.

The South Kasai region sought independence in similar circumstances to neighboring Katanga during the crisis. Ethnic conflicts and political tensions between leaders of the central government and local leaders plagued the diamond-rich region. On 14 June 1960, days before the colony was to become independent, officials declared the independence of Kasai (not of Congo) and proclaimed the Federal State of South Kasai. On 8 August 1960, the autonomous Mining State of South Kasai was proclaimed with its capital at Bakwanga. Albert Kalonji was named president of South Kasai and Joseph Ngalula was appointed head of government. Lumumba was determined to quickly subdue the renegade provinces of Kasai and Katanga. Dissatisfied with the UN, Lumumba followed through on his threat to request military assistance from the Soviet Union, who responded with an airlift of Congolese troops to invade Kasai. A bloody campaign ensued causing the deaths of hundreds of Baluba tribesmen and the flight of a quarter of a million refugees. Lumumba's decision to accept Soviet help angered the US who via the CIA, increasingly supported Mobutu and Kasa-Vubu.

Political disintegration

Territorial Control in Congo (1960-61)
Color Key
  • Yellow: National Government based in Léopoldville
  • Red: Rival National Government based in Stanleyville
  • Green: Katanga (Independent)
  • Blue: Mining State of South Kasai (Autonomous)

On September 5, state president Joseph Kasa-Vubu dismissed prime minister Patrice Lumumba and announced the decision over Leopoldville radio. In his place, he appointed Joseph Ileo, a respected moderate. Lumumba refused to accept his dismissal and in turn announced over the radio, that Kasa-Vubu was deposed. Ileo tried to form a new government but did not manage to get his new government approved by parliament. In contrast, Lumumba's position was confirmed by a parliamentary vote of confidence.

In order to instill calm, the UN closed all Congolese airports under their control along with the radio station in Leopoldville. This halted the Soviet supported airlift of Congolese troops to Kasai. Kasa-Vubu was able to continue broadcasts from Brazzaville across the border and made a further announcement on September 10 that the Lumumba government was dissolved.

On September 12, forces loyal to the Chief of Staff of the Army, Joseph Mobutu, placed Lumumba under house arrest at the prime minister's residence, however he was soon released by Congolese troops loyal to him.

On September 14, with CIA help, Mobutu seized power in a military coup, suspending parliament and the constitution. Mobotu declared Lumumba and Kasa-Vubu "neutralised" but left the latter in office. All Soviet advisors were ordered to leave. Lumumba was again placed under house arrest, but this time with a guard of UN troops for his protection.

Following the dismissal of Lumumba, his Vice Prime Minister Antoine Gizenga set up a rival government in the eastern city of Stanleyville with the help of pro-Lumumba forces.

There were now four different regimes in the former Belgian Congo:

Lumumba assassinated in Katanga

See: Death of Lumumba

On 27 November Lumumba left house arrest and attempted to reach his supporters in Stanleyville. On December 1 he was captured in Kasai by soldiers loyal to Mobutu.

Even in captivity, Lumumba was a threat to Mobutu. He was a figurehead for the regime in Stanleyville and Mobutu feared a pro-Lumumba coup. There was a mutiny (over pay) in Thysville barracks where Lumumba was being held and there were fears that he would turn the guards to his side. Belgian advisors convinced Mobutu that Lumumba was a liability that needed to be eliminated.

On 17 January 1961 Mobutu sent Lumumba to Élisabethville (now Lubumbashi), capital of Katanga. In full view of the press he was beaten and forced to eat copies of his own speeches. For the next three weeks, he was not seen or heard from. Then Katangan radio announced implausibly that he had escaped and been killed by some villagers. In fact he had been tortured and killed along with two others shortly after his arrival. It was soon clear that he had been murdered in custody. In 2001, a Belgian inquiry established that he had been shot by Katangan gendarmes in the presence of Belgian officers, under Katangan command. Lumumba was beaten, placed in front of a firing squad with 2 other allies, cut up, buried, dug up and what remained was dissolved in acid.[7]

UN authorized to use force

The UN Security Council met in the wake of Lumumba's death in a highly emotional atmosphere charged with anti-colonial feeling and rhetoric. The Soviet Government even went as far as to blame Hammarskjöld for Lumumba's death, calling for his dismissal. Hammarskjöld refused to resign and remained in office. On 21 February 1961 the Security Council adopted resolution 161, which authorised 'all appropriate measures' to 'prevent the occurrence of civil war in the Congo, including ... the use of force, if necessary, in the last resort'.[8] This resolution demanded the expulsion from the Congo of all Belgian troops and mercenaries, but did not explicitly mandate the UN to conduct offensive operations. This resolution was ultimately interpreted by the local UN forces to justify military operations to end the secession of Katanga. In death, Lumumba had finally succeeded in getting UN support for his campaign against Katanga. Despite this new resolution, during the next six months the UN undertook no major military operations, instead concentrating on facilitating several rounds of political negotiations.

Political negotiations, election of Cyrille Adoula

Cyrille Adoula in Bonn, 1964

Between January and May, 1961, several conferences were held to resolve the constitutional crisis brought on by the dismissal of Lumumba by President Kasa-Vubu. In January, roundtable talks were held in Leopoldville. In March a conference was held in Tananarive, Madagascar. The Tananarive conference was boycotted by pro-Lumumbist Antoine Gizenga. This conference recommended a loose confederation of states and was opposed by the central government in Leopoldville. A third conference was held in Coquilhatville, capital of the Equateur province. The leaders agreed to form a federal state of Congolese provinces. This plan was opposed by Tshombe, who wanted more independence for Katanga. In April, Tshombe was arrested for criticizing President Kasa-Vubu but was released in June after pledging to reunite Katanga with the Congo. On August 2, the parliament voted to elect Cyrille Adoula as Prime Minister, ostensibly bringing stability to the central government.

UN launches Operation Rumpunch

By the end of August, it was clear that Tshombe had no intention of implementing his pledge to reunite Katanga with the rest of the country. In particular, he had not complied with the UN security council resolution demanding the expulsion of foreign mercenaries. On August 28, under "Operation Rumpunch," UN forces started to disarm Katangan troops, capture key Katangan military assets and arrest all the foreign mercenaries who formed the core of the Katangan gendarmerie. This operation was initially successful, but stopped when the Belgian consul in Elizabethville persuaded the local UN officials that he would complete the operation. This was a ruse, however, as ultimately only regular Belgian officers and not mercenaries were expelled from the province. Many mercenaries who were repatriated found their way back into Katanga via Rhodesia.

UN launches Operation Morthor

On September 9, when it became clear that Tshombe's mercenaries were still in control of the Katangan gendarmerie, the UN launched "Operation Morthor" (Hindi for "smash") to again round up foreign mercenaries and political advisors. In addition the Congolese central government issued the UN with arrest warrants for Tshombe and other key Katangan officials. The UN was able to act on these warrants because the new government of Cyrille Adoula was the internationally recognized authority. Operation Morthor was a political and military fiasco. Originally intended as an arrest operation Morthor quickly escalated into open warfare, as blood was shed on both sides. It went badly from the start. The Katangan gendarmerie were forewarned and mounted resistance to UN attempts to gain control. The UN did manage to capture the post office and radio station, and arrested the Vice President, however, through miscommunication or confusion, the Presidential Palace was never secured and Tshombe was able to escape. At the end of the first day of the operation, the UN special representative announced over Katangan radio that the secession was at an end. This statement was premature and caused controversy because the UN was not specifically mandated to end the secession, only to prevent civil war and expel foreign mercenaries. On 13 September Tshombe fled to Ndola in Northern Rhodesia (now Zambia) from where he urged the gendarmerie to continue resistance. Reports of UN attacks on civilian installations came from Elizabethville and caused anger in Europe. A company of 155 UN troops from Ireland was attacked and trapped in Jadotville. Katangan forces made use of a Fouga Magister jet, piloted by a Belgian mercenary, to strafe the company and prevent resupply.

Death of Dag Hammarskjöld and military standoff

See: Death of Hammarskjöld

Dag Hammarskjöld

In the midst of Operation Morthor, UN Secretary General Dag Hammarskjöld decided to intervene personally and negotiate a ceasefire with Tshombe. On the night of 17-18 September his plane crashed en route to Ndola, killing him and fifteen others on board. The exact cause of this was never determined.[9] With death of the Secretary General, the fighting continued in Katanga. The next day the besieged Irish UN company at Jadotville, after holding out for 6 days, surrendered to the Katangan Gendamerie after running out of water and ammunition (See Siege of Jadotville). After these reversals the UN agreed to a ceasefire on poor terms, giving back public buildings and military posts to Katangan control. On September 20 Tshombe returned to Elizabethville. The Irish troops remained in Katangan custody until October 25 when a prisoner swap was agreed. On October 30, Congolese government forces attacked Katanga but were repulsed with heavy casualties.

UN Security Council Resolution 169, Operation Unokat

Irish ONUC troops (36 Bn) man a position over a road tunnel in Elizabethville during the Congo Crisis, December 1961.

On November 2, 1961, the UN General Assembly unanimously appointed U Thant as Secretary General to replace Dag Hammarsköld. Skirmishes involving UN forces continued in Katanga. On November 8, a party of Irish soldiers were ambushed and killed by Baluba tribesmen in Niemba, Northern Katanga. On November 24, UN Security Council Resolution 169 was adopted, “to take vigorous action, including the use of the requisite measure of force, if necessary,” to remove foreign military and other personnel not under the U.N. Command. The UN discovered that the Katangese gendarmerie were planning an offensive against them. The gendarmerie were setting up roadblocks in order to isolate UN units from one another. This prompted another major military operation called Unokat launched on December 5, to remove the roadblocks and take control of strategic positions around Elizabethville. After heavy fighting and casualties on both sides UN strategic objectives were achieved. Katangan military assets were neutralised including the newly created Katangan Air Force. In response Tshombe threatened to blow up the dams and copper mines around Kolwezi. On December 18, Tshombe agreed to unity talks which would last a year without reaching agreement.

Congolese forces re-conquer South Kasai

On December 30, 1961, after a four month military campaign, troops of the Congolese central government re-conquered South Kasai and arrested Kalonji, thus ending the South Kasai secession.

Gizenga deposed

Antoine Gizenga remained head of the breakaway Eastern (Orientale) province throughout most of 1961. After the death of Lumumba, several African and Eastern European governments recognized the Stanleyville government as legitimate. Gizenga's government also received arms from China. Following talks with Prime Minister Cyrille Adoula, Gizenga agreed to join the central government under the understanding that it would follow the policies of Lumumba, however relations broke down and on January 14, 1962 ANC forces defeated the Stanleyville gendarmerie and arrested Gizenga.

UN Operation Grand Slam ends Katanga secession

Throughout 1962, Tshombe maintained the independence of Katanga. In August, UN Secretary General U Thant proposed a plan that Katanga become an autonomous region in a federal state. Tshombe initially agreed with the proposal but agreement was never concluded. In December 1962 the UN launched "Operation Grand Slam" on Katanga's political and military infrastructure. This proved to be a decisive attack and by January, 1963 Elizabethville was under full UN control. This ended the secession of Katanga.

Rural Insurgencies in Eastern Provinces

In early 1964, a new crisis broke out as Congolese rebels calling themselves "Simba" (Swahili for "Lion") rebelled against the government. They were led by Pierre Mulele, Gaston Soumialot and Christophe Gbenye who were former members of Gizenga's Parti Solidaire Africain (PSA). The rebellion affected Kivu and Eastern (Orientale) provinces. By August they had captured Stanleyville and set up a rebel government there. As the rebel movement spread, discipline became more difficult to maintain, and acts of violence and terror increased. Thousands of Congolese were executed, including government officials, political leaders of opposition parties, provincial and local police, school teachers, and others believed to have been Westernized. Many of the executions were carried out with extreme cruelty, in front of a monument to Lumumba in Stanleyville.[10]

In July 1964, Moise Tshombe replaced Cyrilla Adoula as Prime Minister of a new national government with a mandate to end the regional revolts. Tshombe had been the leader of Katanga when that province tried to secede. It was therefore highly ironic that he was chosen to lead the Congolese central government in a war against another rebellious province. Among his first moves, Tshombe recalled the exiled Katangan gendarmerie and recruited white mercenaries, integrating them with the ANC. Many of these mercenaries had fought for Katanga when Tshombe was leader of the breakaway province.

By early August 1964 Congolese government forces, with the help of groups of white mercenaries under their own command, were making headway against the Simba rebellion. Fearing defeat, the rebels started taking hostages of the local white population in areas under their control. Several hundred hostages were taken to Stanleyville and placed them under guard in the Victoria Hotel.

Operation Dragon Rouge

Belgian soldier lying in front of dead hostages, November 1964 in Stanleyville

The Congolese government turned to Belgium and the United States for help. In response, the Belgian army sent a task force to Leopoldville, airlifted by the 322nd Air Division United States Air Force.

Washington and Brussels tried to come up with a rescue plan. Several ideas were considered and discarded, while attempts at negotiating with the Simbas failed.

A hostage is hysteric as she is transported to a departing airplane.

The task force was led by the Belgian colonel Charles Laurent.[11] On 24 November 1964, five US Air Force C-130 transports dropped 350 Belgian paratroopers of the Para-Commando Regiment onto the airfield at Stanleyville.[12] Once the paratroopers had secured the airfield and cleared the runway they made their way to the Victoria Hotel, prevented Simbas from killing all but some 80 of the 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.

The operation coincided with the arrival of ANC and other mercenary units at Stanleyville which was quickly captured. It took until the end of the year to completely put down the remaining areas of rebellion.

Tshombe's prestige was damaged by the joint Belgian-US operation which saw white mercenaries and western forces intervene once again in the Congo. In particular Tshombe had lost the support of both Kasa-Vubu and Mobutu.

Shortly after Dragon Rouge, Cuban revolutionary Che Guevara addressed the UN General Assembly on December 11, 1964, publicly denouncing the operation as an "unacceptable intervention […] A case without parallel in the modern world,” that illustrated “how the rights of peoples can be flouted with absolute impunity and the most insolent cynicism.” [13]

In April 1965, Guevara himself, along with a small unit of Cuban fighters, arrived in Dar es Salaam and made their way across Lake Tanganyika to the Congo, where they were to lead rebellions against the Kasavubu-Tshombe central government for six months, until their retreat on November 20. [14]

Mobutu seizes power

On 25 November 1965, with the help of the CIA, Mobutu seized power from President Kasa-Vubu. Mobutu had the political and military support of Western countries, who saw him as an ally against communism in Africa. He established a one-party state, banning all other political organizations except his own. Tshombe was charged with treason and fled the country once again, this time to Spain.

Kisangani Mutinies

Although Mobutu succeeded in taking power, his position was soon threatened by the Kisangani Mutinies, also known as the Stanleyville Mutinies or Mercenaries' Mutinies, which were a direct continuation of the Congo Crisis and involved the same political actors. The First Kisangani Mutiny was in 1966, the Second was in 1967.

Amid rumours that the ousted prime minister Tshombe was plotting a comeback from his exile in Spain, some 2,000 of Tshombe's former Katangan gendarmes, led by mercenaries, mutinied in Kisangani (formerly Stanleyville) in July 1966. The mutiny was unsuccessful and was crushed.

Exactly a year after the failure of the first mutiny, another broke out, again in Kisangani, apparently triggered by the news that Tshombe's airplane had been hijacked over the Mediterranean and forced to land in Algiers, where he was held prisoner. Led by a Belgian settler named Jean Schramme and involving approximately 100 former Katangan gendarmes and about 1,000 Katangese, the mutineers held their ground against the 32,000-man Congolese National Army (Armée Nationale Congolaise; ANC) until November 1967, when Schramme and his mercenaries crossed the border into Rwanda and surrendered to the local authorities. The country settled into a semblance of political stability for the next several years, allowing Mobutu to focus on his unsuccessful strategies for economic progress.


Mobutu and the Second Republic

Over the next three decades, Mobutu led one of the most enduring regimes in Africa; it was also one of the most dictatorial and corrupt.

Despite the country's obvious natural resources, including copper, gold and diamonds, much of Zaire's population sank further into poverty. Mobutu amassed a personal fortune estimated to be as much as USD$5 billion, while what infrastructure the country had was left to decay.

After changing the country's name to Zaire in 1971, Mobutu also pursued a policy expunging remnants of colonialism. In addition to changing the names of the country and many of its cities, major industries were nationalized.

End of Mobutu era

As the Cold War waned in the early 1990s, so did Western support for Mobutu. In light of allegations of human rights abuses and rampant corruption, Belgium, France and the United States all suspended military and financial assistance to the regime.

As the economic and political situation worsened, Laurent Kabila, began a military drive from eastern Zaire in October 1996 to depose Mobutu. As the rebels advanced, Mobutu - who had been out of the country receiving medical treatment - returned to Zaire, vowing to crush the rebellion.

But by May of the following year, with his regime in shambles, Mobutu fled, first to Togo and then to Morocco. He had reportedly requested permission to travel to France for medical treatment, but the French government refused. Less than four months after he was forced into exile, Mobutu died in September 1997 in Morocco.

See also


  1. ^ Twentieth Century Atlas - Death Tolls
  2. ^ a b "Guardian Article on Independence Day Speeches". Guardian Unlimited.,,766933,00.html. Retrieved August 3 2006.  
  3. ^ "Patrice Lumumba's Independence Day Speech". Africa Within. Retrieved August 3 2006.  
  4. ^ Oliver, Roland & Atmore, Anthony (1994). Africa Since 1800. Cambridge University Press. p. 232.  
  5. ^ "The UN in the Congo". Keith Kyle. Retrieved September 12 2006.  
  6. ^ "Security Council Resolutions 1960". United nations. Retrieved September 20 2006.  
  7. ^ De Witte, Ludo: The Assassination of Lumumba, Verso, 2001.
  8. ^ "Security Council Resolutions 1961". United Nations. Retrieved September 20 2006.  
  9. ^ United Nations General Assembly session 17 Report of the Commission of investigation into the conditions and circumstances resulting in the tragic death of Mr. Dag Hammarskjold and members of the party accompanying him. on 24 April 1962(direct link:
  10. ^ M. Crawford Young. Post-Independence Politics in the Congo.  
  11. ^
  12. ^ Dragon Operations: Hostage Rescues in the Congo, 1964-1965, Maj. T. Odom, Combat Studies Institute, accessed January 2009
  13. ^
  14. ^ Pasajes de la guerra revolucionaria: Congo, 1965. Republished Sperling & Kupfer, Milan, 1999.


  • Cruise O'Brien, Conor (1962) To Katanga and Back, London, Hutchinson.
  • De Witte, Ludo. (2001) The Assassination of Lumumba, Verso. Publication of book resulted in Belgian parliamentary commission and official apology from Belgium for role in the assassination of Lumumba.
  • Epstein, Howard (ed). (1974) Revolt in the Congo, 1960-1964, Armor Books. Essays by various authors.
  • Gondola, Ch. Didier. (2002) The History of Congo, Greenwood Press, ISBN 0-313-31696-1.
  • Kanza, Thomas. (1979) The Rise and Fall of Patrice Lumumba, Schenkman.
  • Legum, Colin. (1961) Congo Disaster, Penguin Books.
  • Lemarchand, René, (1964) Political Awakening in the Belgian Congo, University of California Press.
  • Lumumba, Patrice. (1962) Congo, My Country, Pall Mall Press. Speeches and selected writing by Lumumba.
  • Meredith, Martin. (2005) The State of Africa: A History of Fifty Years Since Independence, The Free Press. ISBN 978-0743232227
  • Oliver, Roland & Atmore, Anthony. (1994) Africa since 1800, Cambridge University Press
  • Weiss, Herbert. (1967) Political Protest in the Congo: The Parti Solidaire Africain during the Independence Struggle, Princeton University Press.
  • Weissman, Stephen R. (1974) American Foreign Policy in the Congo, 1960-1964, Cornell University Press.
  • Young, Crawford (1965) Politics in the Congo, Princeton University Press

External links


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