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Lumumba and Territorial Nationalism

In the welter of political formations that appeared after the Belgian declaration of January 13, 1959, at least one party stood as the standard-bearer of pan-territorial nationalist aspirations: the Congolese National Movement (Mouvement National Congolais — MNC). Technically, the MNC was formed in August 1956. Its declared objective was to "pursue the political emancipation of the Congo," while fostering among its members "a consciousness of their national unity and responsibilities." Although the party never disavowed its commitment to national unity, not until the arrival of Patrice Lumumba in Leopoldville in 1958 did it enter its militant phase.

There can be little doubt that the MNC owed a great deal of its success to Lumumba's charisma, to his uncanny ability to galvanize crowds, never more impressive than when venting the collective grievances of his followers against Belgian colonialism. His undeniable talent as a political organizer and an activist, coupled with his passionate commitment to the idea of a united Congo — perhaps reflective of his Tetela origins, the Tetela being a relatively small group located in Kasai—were critical factors as well behind the rapid extension of the MNC in at least four of the Belgian Congo's six provinces.

On the other hand, his well-known propensity to arrogate to himself unfettered control over the affairs of the party led to serious frictions within its leadership. Internal dissension came to a head in July 1959 when Joseph Ileo, Cyrille Adoula, and Albert Kalonji decided to set up their own moderate wing, from then on known as the MNC-Kalonji. The result was to deprive the main part of the party of some of its most capable leaders and to considerably narrow its bases of support in Kasai and Katanga.

In spite of these handicaps, the MNC-Lumumba was to claim the largest number of votes (though not a majority) in the May 1960 national elections, leaving the Belgian authorities no choice but to formally recognize Lumumba as prime minister of the new country. The subsequent election of the Abako leader, Joseph Kasavubu, as president in June 1960 institutionalized in particularly awkward fashion a latent conflict between the two radically different brands of nationalism. Behind the constitutional crisis that developed in the weeks following independence, on June 30, 1960, loomed a more fundamental crisis of legitimacy, reflecting diametrically opposed conceptions of the Congolese polity.





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Page last modified: 22-06-2015 21:02:02 ZULU