Zaire Table of Contents
The mutiny quickly spread throughout the country; soon the Force Publique was in full-scale revolt. Prime Minister Patrice Lumumba promised a one-grade promotion for all army personnel, but this action failed to mollify the mutineers. As reports circulated concerning ugly incidents perpetrated by mutinous black soldiers against European residents, panic gripped the white population, and several thousand fled the country. Brussels put its military on alert and decided that it must act unilaterally. Early on the morning of July 10--the tenth day of independence--Belgian troops intervened in Élisabethville (now Lubumbashi), where they quickly brought the situation under control, but disorder spread to other parts of the country. Belgian paratroopers dropped into several key areas to restore order. Although temporarily effective, the greatest impact of this intervention was to convince the newly independent country that Belgium was trying to reassert its colonial control.
Within days Lumumba removed the more than 1,000 European officers from the command structure, although a few remained as advisers, and replaced them with Congolese NCOs. These new officers were chosen mainly on the basis of seniority, but some were elected. Lumumba appointed two political followers with prior military experience to head the army. Victor Lundula was promoted to major general and named commander of the army to replace General Janssens, and Mobutu was promoted to colonel and made chief of staff. Lumumba also changed the name of the Force Publique to the Congolese National Army (Armée Nationale Congolaise--ANC). But within two weeks of independence, the newly named army had degenerated, in many cases, into armed gangs of renegades whose loyalties were to local strongmen, ethnic groups, or regions rather than to the national government.
This process was aggravated further when eleven days after independence, Katanga, the country's richest province, seceded. Although Belgium declined to grant diplomatic recognition to the new state, it did supply military assistance and may have seconded officers and NCOs to Katanga's military force, the Katangan Gendarmerie (Gendarmerie Katangaise). In addition, other Belgian functionaries remained at their posts, and the European sector in general lent crucial support to the rebels. Soon after, the southeastern portion of the diamond-producing province of Kasai, corresponding to the southern portion of what is now the KasaiOriental Region, also seceded. As a result, by August 1960 the new state had lost the two areas that had produced over half its revenues and foreign exchange and faced the threat of permanent disintegration.
Because of the general breakdown of law and order and to prevent the complete overthrow of authority, President Joseph Kasavubu and Lumumba appealed for United States, United Nations (UN), and Soviet assistance in July 1960. An uneasy international accord arranged that the UN would provide assistance, and within three months the UN had established a force in the country that numbered 20,000 at its peak. Once the UN force was present, the Congo in effect had several armies competing for power: the UN force, two secessionist forces, and the ANC. Furthermore, the splintered loyalties of the ANC meant that there were a variety of other competing military organizations as well.
The armed forces became as much a threat to state authority as an instrument of it. The various units were, at best, uncertain weapons in the hands of various contenders for power. In the capital and the surrounding area, Mobutu, rather than the central government, commanded the loyalty of ANC personnel. The ANC troops in Kasai supported the secessionist movement led by Albert Kalonji. Lumumba, dismissed by the president in September, later fled toward the northeastern Congo, but was captured en route and subsequently killed by Katangans. The February 1961 announcement of his death sparked an uprising in the northeast Congo and particularly in the Stanleyville (now Kisangani) area where the ANC and General Lundula backed Antoine Gizenga, who claimed to represent the only legitimate government of the republic (see fig. 5; The Center No Longer Holds, ch. 1). In Katanga, Moïse Tshombe had his own force of Belgian-advised gendarmes. Since these forces were concerned primarily with maintaining the positions of their patrons, the UN provided the main element of security in the country. Furthermore, in this competition, the capacity to pay troops was instrumental to any semblance of control. Here Mobutu had a major advantage, primarily because he had access to the disorganized national treasury.
The central government defeated the Kasai secession--as well as the northeastern regime led by Gizenga, which sought national power--relatively quickly, but the larger insurgency in Katanga proved more difficult. It was not until January 1963 that UN forces were able to end the Katanga secession. Peace was, however, shortlived . A wave of rebellions broke out again in various parts of the republic in late 1963. Soon after the departure of UN forces in June 1964, these rebellions controlled roughly one-third of the country (see fig. 6; Rural Insurgencies: The "Second Independence," ch. 1).
The most interesting of these rebellions was the Kwilu uprising in the area around Kikwit led by Pierre Mulele. Mulele is credited with organizing the first large-scale peasant insurrection in an independent African state, espousing a combination of Marxism and Maoism heavily imbued with magico-religious overtones. The Kwilu revolt continued until December 1965, and the threat of Mulele to the central government did not end until his execution in October 1968.
To help deal with the insurgencies, former Katangan secessionist leader Moïse Tshombe was brought back as national prime minister in mid-1964. Tshombe mobilized his Katangan gendarmes, recalling them from exile in Angola, recruited white mercenaries, and obtained aid from Belgium and the United States to turn back the insurgents. Although the latter received Chinese and Soviet assistance and also, for several months in 1965, help from a Cuban contingent under Ernesto "Che" Guevara, government forces eventually gained the upper hand. Nevertheless, several months passed before the government could reestablish a tenuous authority in many affected areas.
The defeat of these rebellions took a great toll on both the government and the military. The army had performed poorly and was clearly unable to maintain order without external reinforcement. After defeating the insurgents, the army took out its humiliation on those it suspected of aiding them. These episodes combined to implant in the populace an indelible fear of disorder and insecurity and a deeply ingrained suspicion and distrust of the military, which continued in the early 1990s.
During 1965 the political situation deteriorated. General Mobutu had become commander in chief of the ANC, and, as the individual controlling the largest number of loyal troops, he staged a bloodless coup d'état on November 24, 1965, becoming president of the country (see Mobutu's Second Coming , ch. 1).
Data as of December 1993
Zaire Table of Contents