Decolonization Case Study: Democratic Republic of Congo (Zaire)



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Decolonization Case Study: Democratic Republic of Congo (Zaire)
Independence for Congo followed a strange course of events unlike anything else in the rest of Africa. The Belgian Congo was huge and underdeveloped. After the war, new cultural organizations like ABAKO, Association des Bakongo and the Lulua-Freres, emerged in the 1950's.
But it was the attitude of the Belgians which bred a new political consciousness in the 1950's. In the first place, the Belgians like the Portuguese, were resolutely untouched by the drive towards independence in the early 1950's. De-colonization was first discussed in 1956, but seen as something that would happen thirty years into the future.
On the eve of independence, the Congo, a territory larger than Western Europe, bordering on nine other African colonies/states, was seriously underdeveloped. There were no African army officers, only three African managers in the entire civil service, and only 30 university graduates. Yet Western investments in Congo's mineral resources (copper, gold, tin, cobalt, diamonds, manganese, zinc) were colossal. And these investments meant that the West was determined to keep control over the country beyond independence.
The formation of the French Fifth Republic in 1958, the independence of Guinea, and political activity in other French colonies like Congo-Brazzaville stimulated political activity in the Belgian Congo. In addition, members of the Congolese elite attended the 1958 World's Fair in Brussels as part of the Belgian delegation, where they met other Africans, including some from independent countries.
A civil servant from Stanleyville named Patrice Lumumba formed the first nationalist political party, the Mouvement National Congolais (MNC), in 1958. He faced opposition from parties organized along regional or ethnic lines, including the largest, ethnic group, the Association pour la Sauvegarde de la Culture et des IntĂ©rĂȘts des Bakongo (ABAKO).
Riots in Leopoldville in January 1959 and October 1959 led to a hasty decision by the Belgian government to grant independence on June 30, 1960. Patrice Lumumba won an election that took place only one week before independence, and tried to form the first government. The Force Publique rebelled against their officers on July 8, 1960, killing some and inciting thousands of Europeans to flee the Congo. The next day, Katanga province seceded from the Congo and asked for Belgian military assistance.
Lumumba and the national government interpreted this as an attempt by Belgium to retain control of the richest part of the country. On July 13, 1960, the Congolese government asked for UN assistance to expell the Belgians. The USA refused to participate, but did not block it in the Security Council, and a multi-national force headed by Ghana, went to the Congo. The UN occupied Leopoldville and prevented the Katangan secession.
Americans followed events closely. Lumumba's great speechmaking skills and his contacts with the Soviet Union all conspired to turn the Americans against him. He was described by Alan Dulles, chief of American Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), as a "mad dog" and President Dwight Eisenhower authorized his assassination. This was carried out through Lumumba's opponents in the Congo. In November 1960 he was kidnapped and taken to Katanga. In January 1961 he was shot in Elizabethville; his body was then dumped by a CIA agent. Tshombe eventually became Prime Minister, but not for long.
In 1965 Joseph Mobutu seized power with American backing in a bloodless coup. He had waited in the shadows for his opportunity since the late 1950's, all the while cultivating his pro-West image for the Americans. Once in power he began a 32-year reign of greed and corruption, indulged by America and the West in return for a solidly anti-Soviet pro-western stance.


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