By Eugene Makai
You have read and heard a lot about the turmoil in Congo 🇨🇩 in the 1960s and the coup against, capture and subsequent murder of its first Prime Minister Patrice Émery Lumumba on 17th January, 1961.
The underlying cause of this is hardly emphasized enough. Putting it bluntly it is Western Corporate greed, corrupt Congolese politicians, an inept United Nations and Western government’s fear of losing influence over a huge mineral resourced African country excused as an ideological war with the Soviet Union.
The chief culprits of course were the Belgian government, the Anglo-Belgian mining giant, the Union Minière du Haut-Katanga (UMHK) a joint venture by the Tanganyika Concessions Limited
and Société Générale de Belgique to mine mineral deposits in southern Katanga Province.
Lumumba a self confessed Socialist – to his detractors, a “Communist” – was a threat because he intended to nationalise the mineral wealth of this newly independent but highly underdeveloped country.
Today the company is called La Générale des Carrières et des Mines (Gécamines) after Dictator Joseph Mobutu aka Mobutu Sese Seko nationalised it anyway on 1st January 1967.
Meanwhile, the Katangese and in particular Moïse Tshombe leader of the Katanga based Confédération des associations tribales du Katanga (CONAKAT) political party was suspicious of Lumumba’s intentions.
Tshombe had personally benefited from his relationship with UMHK and saw the mineral wealth of Katanga as a basis to secede from Congo.
As soon as a mutiny broke out in the country after independence in early July 1960, he prepared himself and declared his own independence of Katanga on 11th July, 1960.
He was followed by Albert Kalonji Ditunga of South Kasai who declared his own independent state on 8th August 1960.
Tshombe had such disdain for Lumumba that he was the most convenient destination for Lumumba after his capture by the troops of Mobutu and President Kasavubu.
Tshombe had first proposed joining a Federation with Northern Rhodesia which he discussed with Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland Prime Minister Roy Welensky in early March 1960 before he unilaterally declared independence of Katanga.
Welensky and the mining companies saw it as an opportunity to entrench their interests and also to demonstrate co-existence with another mineral rich African state to the British government.
Welensky and his Party the United Federal Party (UFP), had argued that a continued Federal state in Central Africa was the way to go and that the fears of a South African type union were misplaced.
Welensky’s dalliance with Tshombe alarmed the Belgians who themselves needed Tshombe to hold onto their interests. On 4th March, 1960 the Belgian Ambassador to the United Kingdom asked British Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs Selwyn Lloyd about Welensky’s remarks to a journalist about Tshombe’s approaches.
Mr. Lloyd assured the Belgian diplomat that such an association would require Queen Elizabeth II’s assent and legislation in the British Parliament. This outrage by the Belgians formed part of the question Time in the House of Commons debate of 30th March, 1960.
In early October, 1961 more than 9 months after Lumumba was assassinated at the hands of the Katangese, Tshombe persisted in his dream of a union with the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland. To this effect he requested to see Welensky who was in Salisbury the Federal capital.
Tshombe flew to Salisbury with two of his Ministers for secret talks with Welensky which included Tshombe’s clashes with Indian UN peace keeping troops that erupted in Elisabethville (Lubumbashi).
On 19th November, 1962 Tshombe met with Northern Rhodesian African Nationalist Kenneth David Kaunda of UNIP in Kitwe. This was after the 30th October, 1962 general elections in which Kaunda’s party secured the most popular seats trailing the Welensky led UFP by a single seat.
Tshombe also met Harry Mwaanga Nkumbula of the ANC separately on the same day in Kitwe. However, this was not the first time Tshombe had met Nkumbula. He did so on a number of occasions.
The first time he met Nkumbula was in 1960 and a benefactor of his party, donating generously to the ANC a total sum of £25,000 by February 1962.
Nkumbula was warm to Tshombe’s idea of Federalism but Kaunda was suspicious of Tshombe.
Kaunda was outraged by Lumumba’s assassination and feared the chaos of Congo spilling in to Northern Rhodesia.
He also particularly was wary of Tshombe’s association with both Nkumbula and Welensky.
This was a very delicate time and Kaunda was aware of the secret alliance deal between the ANC and UFP to form government after the 1962 elections.
Lumumba was a threat to the economic, financial and political interest of diverse actors in and outside Congo. Though a firebrand and popular leader, he was greatly naive and a political novice who put all his cards on the table. This led to his assassination.
Kaunda greatly learnt from the Lumumba episode and he vowed NEVER to allow Northern Rhodesia to fall into the trap of its bigger Northern neighbour. He did not trust Tshombe who wanted to forge a greater Luba-Lunda nation with Northern Rhodesia because his end game and calculations were suspect.