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Republic of the Congo in 1960

Exuberantly proclaimed on June 30, 1960, the Republic of the Congo faced internal conflicts almost immediately.

On January 20, 1960, a conference on the progress of Congo independence opened in Brussels. Presided over by Albert Pilar, Deputy Prime Minister of Belgium, the conference brought together 10 members of the Belgian Parliament appointed from among the government and opposition parties and 44 Africans, including tribal chiefs and party leaders. At the end of the conference, Patrice Lumumba said that the Africans had achieved all their aims. A crown council of cabinet ministers and ministers of state regarded the outcome of the conference as logical. The Congo would become independent on June 30 after provincial and general elections, the formation of a government, and the election of a head of state.

A native chieftain of the Baluba tribe wears a sign saying "Hail Congo, Hail Independence, Hail Great Leader Kalomji" (referencing Albert Kalomji, political leader).
Baluba chieftain

King Baudouin salutes as he passes through the streets of Elisabethville after concluding discussions preparatory to independence.
King Baudouin being greeted

It was decided that the Congolese legislature would consist of a House of Representatives with one Representative for every 100,000 citizens, elected by universal adult male suffrage and a Senate formed of members designated by the six provicincial assemblies on the basis of 14 for each province, of whom at least 3 would be tribal chiefs or leaders. The central government would control external relations, defense and national police forces, finances, and foreign trade. The provincial governments would organize the local police, as well as grant mining, agricultural, and forestry concessions. An economic conference was held in Brussels April 26 to May 16 to organize economic, financial, and social cooperation between Belgium and the Republic of the Congo. King Baudouin signed the provisional constitution for the Congo on May 19.

Map showing the six provinces of the new Republic of the Congo.
map of Congo showing the six provinces

In the elections for the provincial assemblies Lumumba and his supporters won 27% of the seats. His party, the Congolese National Movement (M.N.C.) also won 74 of the 137 seats in the House of Representatives. The posts of president and two vice-presidents of the House were filled by his supporters but leadership of the Senate was won by Joseph Ileo, an ally of Joseph Kasavubu, Lumumba's principal rival. The first Congolese government was formed on June 24, with Lumumba as Prime Minister and Kasavubua as head of state. A Belgian-Congolese treaty of friendship was signed on June 29, and the independence of the Republic of the Congo was formally proclaimed by King Baudouin at ceremonies in Léopoldville on June 30.

King Baudouin is surrounded by cheering Congolese troops following independence ceremonies.
King Baudouin after independence ceremonies

Serious internal troubles began almost immediately after the declaration of independence. Tribal violences flared up at Luluabourg between the Lulua and Baluba tribes and within a week a mutiny broke out in the Belgian-officered Congolese army; the mutiny was soon joined by police. Officers were injured, looting began, Belgians were attacked, and Belgian women were raped. Lumumba dismissed Major General Emil Janssens and other Belgian officers whom he accused of being responsible for the mutiny, and appointed Congolese Sergeant-Major Victor Lundula Commander of the Army.

Congolese mourn comrades killed in rioting and fighting at Matadi in July.
Congolese mourning comrades killed in rioting

An airlift for the departure of Belgians had already begun in June, and after the disorders broke out about 15,000 Europeans fled. Belgian forces stationed at the bases in Kitona, at the mouth of the Congo River, and Kamina, in the Katanga province, reinforced by troops sent from Belgium, intervened to protect Belgian residents. The Congolese government appealed to Ghana for military aid and broke off official relations with Belgium. A month later the Belgian ambassador was expelled from Léopoldville.

Elisabeth, Queen Mother of Belgium, greets and comforts, at Brussels airport, a victim of the uprising of Congolese troops against European residents shortly after independence.
early victim of violence being comforted by Queen Elisabeth

Nuns and other Europeans take shelter during gunfire at Léopoldville airport, July 15.
Belgians taking shelter at Leopoldville airport

A boatland of Europeans escape from Léopoldville to Brazzaville.
a boatload of Europeans escape Leopoldville

Lumumba asked the United Nations to intervene and on July 14 the Security Council voted to organize and send a U.N. force to Congo. Ghana put two battalions at U.N. disposal. Other units were sent by Sweden, Morocco, Guinea, Tunisia, Ethiopia, the Republic of Ireland, Canada, and the United Arab Republic, all of which were placed under the command of Major-General Carl von Horn of Sweden. U.N. Secretary-General Dag Hammarskjöld, who visited the Congo in July and August, was represented in Léopoldville first by Ralph Bunche of the United States and after August 20 by Rajeshwar Dayal of India.

A U.N. policeman from Ghana maintains order on the streets of Léopoldville, August 9.

A detachment of Swedish troops soon after landing at Léopoldville, August 12.
UN forces arrive

U.N. troops, clockwise from upper left: Canadian, Guinean, Tunisian, Ghanian.
U.N. soldiers

Arrival of Major-General Carl von Horn at Elisabethville.
Major-General Carl von Horn

Belgian forces began withdrawing after a decision by the Security Council, but a number of officers remained as technicians at the request of Moishe Tshombé, who had declared the independence of Katanga on July 11. Katanga's independence was not recognized by any country, however. The presence of Belgian technicians in Katanga caused friction between the Belgian government and Hammarskjöld in October. Secession also took place in Kasai province.

Machine guns are trained on Congolese soldiers captured in Elisabethville, Katanga, by Belgian troops serving Moishe Tshombe, secessionist leader, on July 10.
machine guns guard Congolese soldiers

The main political crisis started on September 5, when President Kasavubu dismissed Lumumba. Lumumba, who had the support of the Soviet Union and Soviet-backed African nations, declared that he was still Prime Minister, however, even after Kasavubu appointed Senate President Joseph Ileo as Prime Minister. There were now two rival governments operating in the Congo, with some ministers serving both. On September 14, Army Chief Colonel Joseph Mobutu suspended President Kasavubu and both Prime Ministers and established a committee of students to run the administration. He also expelled the Soviet and Czechoslovak embassies. In November, Lumumba was arrested. Political confusion continued through the end of the year.

Government troops firing on secessionist Baluba tribesmen of Kasai province in September.
government troops firing on secessionists

Bangala tribesmen being rounded up by government troops after a demonstration in Léopoldville in September against Prime Minister Patrice Lumumba.
Bangala tribesmen being rounded up

Congolese soldiers "stand guard" as the Soviet flag is being taken down by embassy personnel.
closing Soviet embassy

Soviet embassy personnel board a plane for home after the closure of the Soviet embassy.
Soviet personnel boarding a plane

Soviet Ambassador M.D. Yakovlev is being pursued by a news photographer as he walks toward a plane for a flight back to the Soviet Union.
Ambassador Yakovlev

Nathaniel Welbeck, chargé d'affaires from Ghana, was also ordered to leave the Congo because of his support of deposed Prime Minister Lumumba.
Nathaniel Welbeck

Moise Tshombé, Premier of the secessionist province of Katanga, joined with Mobutu in suport of President Kasavuvu in September.
Moise Tshombe

Deposed Prime Minister Patrice Lumumba being brought back a prisoner to Léopoldville on November 28 after escaping house arrest.
Patrice Lumumba

Colonel Joseph Mobutu led the September 14 coup against Lumumba and was serving as virtual dictator of the Congo at year's end.
Joseph Mobutu


Britannica Book of the Year 1961 Chicao: Encyclopćdia Britannica, Inc., 1961

See Also

King Baudouin
Dag Hammarskjöld
Ralph Bunche
Joseph Mobutu

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The Robinson Library >> Congo (Zaire)

This page was last updated on 09/05/2018.