Today, 30th June, is Independence Day in the Congo. Thought I'd give a little run down on the events leading up to and following on from that date. There was quite an Irish involvement- 6,000 Irish troops served there with the UN, Roger Casement was instrumental in ending the Congo Free State in the early 1900s, Mike Hoare from Dublin was a Katanga mercenary and Conor Cruise O'Brien was the UN Sec General's man in Katanga during the early years of the Congo Crisis.
1908- The Congo became a Belgian colony. Prior to that it had been the personal property of King Leopold II of Belgium run since 1885 through a dummy corporation of which he was chairman and sole shareholder. The purpose of this was the rape of the country’s natural resources. Sir Roger Casement as British Consul in Leopoldville investigated human rights abuses in the Congo in 1904.
1955- Prof A J Van Bilsen published a treatise called Thirty Year Plan for the Political Emancipation of Belgian Africa. Belgium had been called on for some years now to free the Congo under Article 73 of the UN Charter.
1959- Riots in Leopoldville (now Kinshasa)in January. Joseph Kasa Vubu arrested. Further rioting in Stanleyville in October leading to the arrest of Joseph Lumumba.
1960- Faced with increasing instability in the country, a conference was convened in Brussels involving all the Congolese parties. The Belgians wished to avoid the same problems as France was facig in Algeria at this time. Lumumba was released from prison to attend. The Belgians conceded independence but wanted a 3 to 4 year lead in period. The Congolese demanded immediate independence and elections were scheduled for May.
May 1960- Elections. Lumumba’s MNC-L Party won a quarter of the seats nationally, followed by the PNP (The Parti National du Progrès). The PNP was supported by the Belgians. These were the only two parties to fight elections in more than one province. The others were organised on tribal lines and gained some power in their own provincesas follows;
Leopoldville- Parti Solidaire Africain (PSA led by Antoine Gizenga).
Kasa-Vubu’s ABAKO (Association de Bakongo) was runner up by a narrow margin.
Katanga- Confédération des Associations Tribales de Katanga (CONAKAT led by Moishe Tshombe) defeated Jason Sendwe’s Association Générale des Baluba de Katanga (BALUBAKAT)
Kivu- Centre de Regroupement Africain (CEREA led by Anicet Kashamura) defeated Lumumba’s MNC-L
Kasai- MNC-L and MNC-K were neck and neck with MNC-L winning the support of UNC and COAKA (Coalition Kasaienne)
Eastern Province- MNC-L won a clear majority defeating PNP.
Equator Province- PUNA (Jean Bolikango) and UNIMO ( Justin Bomboko) shared a narrow victory.
In the national parliament, Lumumba formed a coalition of MNC-L, UNC and COAKA (Kasaï), CEREA (Kivu), PSA (Léopoldville) and BALUBAKAT (Katanga). In opposition were PNP, MNC-K (Kasaï), ABAKO (Léopoldville), CONAKAT (Katanga), PUNA and UNIMO (Equator) and RECO (Kivu).
24 June 1960- In a deal to form a government Joseph Kasa-Vubu was elected President and Patrice Lumumba elected Prime Minister.
30 June 1960- The Republic of the Congo becomes an independent country. King Baudouin of Belgium arrives in the country to formally hand over power. The entire thing became a PR disaster.
5 July 1960- Army mutiny in Leopoldville. The army was still officered by Belgians because there were no qualified Congolese. This caused resentment amongst the rank and file, not helped by the fact that their GOC, Lieutenant General Émile Janssens, was a neo-fascist. To add to their woes the government gave everybody in the public service a pay rise- except for the army. The soldiers mutinied and attacked their officers and any European they came across. Thousands of refugees fled to Brazzaville and Stanleyville. The Belgians sent their army in to protect the refugees which the Congolese said was a violation of their sovereignty. To quell the army, everybody was promoted by one rank. But now they had nobody in command.
11 July 1960- The Province of Katanga seceded from the country under Moishe Tshombe. Tshombe was backed in this secession by Belgian businessmen, 6,000 Belgian troops and white mercenaries hired by his government. Among the mercenaries was 4 Commando, commanded by Dubliner Mike Hoare. The stated reason for secession was to escape the chaos in the rest of the country but the real reason was that Katanga was the location of most of the Congo’s mineral wealth in copper, cobalt and uranium (which was used in the Hiroshima and Nagasaki atomic bombs).
14 July 1960- The UN Security Council adopted Resolution 143 demanding the withdrawal of Belgian troops and calling for UN military support for the Congolese Army. Amongst those requested to provide that support was Ireland. Backed by the UN Lumumba demanded the immediate removal of Belgian forces and threatened to seek assistance from the Soviet Union if they did not leave.
15 July 1960- 1200 UN troops had arrived in the country. Within a month they would number 14,000 from 24 countries. They only add to Congo’s problems because they have no firm mandate. Lumumba assumes that they are to be used to invade and subdue Katanga. The UN Secretary General Dag Hamerskjold, refuses t allow this since the secession of Katanga is an internal Congolese matter and UN intervention is forbidden under Article 2 of the UN Charter.
19 July 1960- Dáil Éireann passes the Defence Amendment No 2 Act 1960, to allow armed Irish troops serve overseas.
22 July 1960- The UN SC adopts Resolution 145 affirming that Congo should be a unitary state and again calling for Belgium to withdraw its forces.
27 July 1960- 32nd Irish Battalion departed Baldonnel Aerodrome for the Congo. The United States Air Force provided the transport. The poor soldiers were sent off to equatorial Africa in the same wool uniforms that saw them through Irish winters.
8 August 1960- South Kasai seceded from the Congo calling itself, the Mining State of South Kasai with Albert Kalonji as President and Joseph Ngalula as PM. The capital was Bakwanga. South Kasai is rich in diammonds by the way. Lamumba requested assistance from the USSR who provided aircraft to airlift troops into Kasai. In a bloody campaign thousands died and quarter of a million refugees fled the area.
9 August 1960- The UN SC adopts Resolution 146 which allowed UN forces to enter Katanga whilst forbidding their use to intervene in or influence the outcome of any internal conflict.
5 September 1960- President Kasa-Vubu sacked Lumumba on state radio. Lumumba responded by sacking the President. Kasa-Vubu appointed Joseph Ileo as PM but parliament supported Lumumba. The UN closed down the airports it controlled as well as the radio station. This at least halted the movement of troops to South Kasai.
12 September 1960- The forces of Joseph Mobutu (who the US was now backing following Lumumba’s cosying up to the Soviets) placed Lumumba under house arrest. He was quickly freed by the army.
14 Sept 1960- Joseph Mobutu (with CIA assistance)seized power in a military coup. Parliament and the constitution were suspended and Lumumba placed under house arrest with UN protection. All Soviet advisors were expelled. In response Vice PM Antoine Gizenga formed a pro-Lumumba government in Stanleyville. The Congo had now split into 4 regimes- Mobutu in the west, Gizenga in the east, Tshombe in Katanga and Kalonji in Kasai.
3 October 1960- CS Felix Grant from Clonmel becomes the first soldier of the Irish army to die on overseas service.