Congo Crisis

The Congo Crisis

The Congo is a country in central Africa. David Livingstone was the first European explorer to enter the region. His reports resulted in King Leopold II of Belgium establishing the Congo Free State. Except for the sending of Christian missionaries to the area, little was done to prepare the country for independence.

In October, 1958, Patrice Lumumba founded the National Congolese Movement (MNC). He became president of the organization and the following year led a series of demonstrations and strikes against the Belgian colonial government. Lumumba called for the Congo to be granted its immediate independence from Belgium. Lumumba was arrested but after sustained demonstrations the authorities were forced to release him.

After parliamentary elections in May 1960 the MNC became the country's strongest party. Patrice Lumumba became the new prime minister and immediately talked about the need for social and economic changes in the country. His decision to adopt a non-aligned foreign policy resulted in the CIA becoming interested in the developments in the Congo.

The country was governed from Leopoldville (Kinshasa). In Kantanga, a rich mining province, was very much under the control of Moise Tshombe. In July 1960, Tshombe, supported by white mercenaries and the Belgian mining company Union Minière, declared Katanga independent. Lumumba appealed to the United Nations for help and Dag Hammarskjold agreed to send in a peace-keeping force to restore order.

The following month Colonel Sese Seko Mobutu, with the support of the United States and Belgium, led a military coup and ousted Patrice Lumumba from power. Lumumba was arrested by Mobutu's soldiers and transferred to Elizabethville, Katanga, where he was murdered on 17th January, 1961.

In September 1961 fighting erupted between Katanga troops and the noncombatant forces of the UN. In an effort to secure a cease-fire he arranged to meet President Moise Tshombe. On 17th September 1961 Dag Hammarskjold was killed when his plane crashed close to Ndola airport.

The UN Security Council passed a resolution demanding an inquiry into the circumstances of his death. This was rejected by Moise Tshombe but evidence emerged later that the Belgian government was behind the events in Katanga.

The fighting continued and independent regimes were established at different times in Katanga, Stanleyville and Kasai. For a while Tshombe lived in Europe but returned to become prime minister of the Congo Republic in July 1964. After holding corrupt elections he was forced to flee and went to live in Spain.

General Sese Seko Mobutu staged another military coup in November 1965. He placed Tshombe on trial for treason in his absence and was condemned to death. In July 1967 Tshombe was kidnapped and taken to Algeria. Moise Tshombe died in prison of a heart-attack on 29th June 1969.

Mobutu decided on a policy of Africanization and in October 1971 he changed the name of the country back to Zaire (the name of the country in the 14th century). Three months later a Nationality Law decreed the abolition of all European names for persons and places.

Despite this action Mobutu continued to arrange trading agreements with foreign companies engaged in exploiting the country's valuable copper deposits. He also received support from the United States who helped him develop a one party, anti-Communist, dictatorship.

Two further revolts took place in 1977 and 1978 and was only put down with the help of the French Army. Zaire continued to suffer from economic problems and in May 1997 rebel forces led by Laurent Kabila forced Sese Seko Mobutu to flee the country.