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Patrice Lumumba
Case Study: Congo


DR CONGO
(FORMERLY ZAIRE, BEFORE THAT, BELGIAN 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 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-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.

HANDOVER

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.

Listen to Patrice Lumumba's announcing Belgian Congo's independence followed by an Independence cha-cha-cha

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 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.