Case studies: Kenya and Congo Kenya

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Case studies: Kenya and Congo

patrice lumumba, first prime minister of the republic of congo
Patrice Lumumba, first Prime Minister of the Republic of Congo

Kenya, during the 1950s, was dominated by the Mau Mau uprising against the British. A central feature of this revolt was a desire on the part of the Kikuyu, along with some Embu and Meru people, for land taken by the Europeans.

The Mau Mau uprising also marked a turning point in the struggle for independence. Kikuyu resistance to European colonisation was well established before the Second World War. The Kikuyu Central Association was active in the 1930s under Jomo Kenyatta who campaigned energetically for the Kikuyu in Europe.

In 1951, Kenyatta was arrested and imprisoned by the British for being a leading light in the Mau Mau movement. With his detention Mau Mau expanded.

In October 1952, the British declared a state of emergency, which continued until 1960. The State of Emergency was in response to an increase in attacks on the property and persons of white settlers, as well as African chiefs who were seen as collaborators.

There was also an increase in oath taking. This was a ceremony, affirming loyalty to the Mau Mau cause and war against the Europeans. About 2,000 Kikuyu were killed by Mau Mau fighters for refusing to take the oath. Private secretary J.M. Kariuki was one of the few people in post-independent Kenya prepared to speak in favour of oath taking.

A far larger amount, about 13,000, were killed fighting the British, and a further 80,000 were kept in detention camps. The number of Europeans who died in the course of the emergency totalled just 32. The number of original Mau Mau fighters was hugely increased by Kikuyu squatters who were expelled from European land after 1952.

The main military leaders were Dedan Kimathi and Warihu Itote, also known as General China. Dedan Kimathi was captured and executed in 1956. General China was eventually released.

Kenyatta was not released until 1961. The Kenyan African National Union (KANU) had voted him their President while he was still in prison.

The other main party to emerge in the run up to independence was the Kenyan African Democratic Union KADU. In the event, KANU gained a majority in the Legislative Assembly and Jomo Kenyatta led Kenya to independence in December 1963.
Democratic Republic of Congo

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 organisations like ABAKO, Association des Bakongo and the Lulua-Freres, emerged in the 1950s.

But it was the attitude of the Belgians which bred a new political consciousness in the 1950s. In the first place, the Belgians like the Portuguese, were resolutely untouched by the drive towards independence in the early 1950s. De-colonisation 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.


Following widespread rioting in 1959, the Belgians to the surprise of all the nationalist leaders said elections for independence could go ahead in May 1960. This in itself caused confusion and a rush to form parties. In the event 120 different parties took part, most of them regionally based. Only one, Mouvement National Congolais or the MNC, led by Patrice Lumumba , favoured a centralised government and had support in four of six provinces.

The actual independence day was a mixture of huge excitement and bad temper on the part of the former colonial power. King Baudouin of Belgian made a patronising speech; and Patrice Lumumba's speech was spirited.

Within days things fell apart. The army mutinied against Belgian officers. The main mining area, Katanga, declared itself a separate state under Moise Tshombe, but with strategic support and encouragement from Belgian mining interests. Belgian troops then intervened unasked; Lumumba invited UN peacekeeping forces to help but they steered clear of fighting Tshombe's Katanga regime.

Death of Lumumba

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 authorised 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 1950s, 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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