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Settler Politics in Katanga

The major challenges posed to the MNC in its early years were the rise of ethno-nationalism and the threat of regional separatism in Katanga. Settler interests played a determining role in manipulating the regional balance of power to the advantage of secessionist forces. Because of its industrial base and comparatively large European population, Katanga differed in some essential ways from other regions. By 1956 it claimed a non-African population of approximately 34,000, about 31 percent of the total European population of the colony. Many Europeans became active members of the Union for the Colonization of Katanga (Union pour la Colonisation du Katanga—Ucol-Katanga), a setder organization founded in 1944 for the specific purpose of "securing for the white population of Katanga the liberties granted by the Belgian constitution, and to promote, by all available means, the growth of European colonization."

Yet, as it became increasingly clear that self-government under settler rule was not a viable option, and as the extension of the vote to Africans in 1957 brought into existence a new constellation of political forces, settler politics took on a radically different objective. The aim was no longer to prevent Africans from gaining power, but to work toward a close political collaboration with those Africans who shared both the settlers' distrust of centralized control and their separatist goals.

The most likely catalyst for this collaborative partnership was the Confederation of Katanga Associations (Confederation des Associations du Katanga—Conakat), headed by Moise Tshombe.

Describing themselves as "authentic Katangese," Conakat supporters were essentially drawn from the Lunda and Yeke peoples of southern Katanga, that is, from those elements who were most resentful of the presence of Luba immigrants from Kasai, many of whom found employment in the mining centers. The decisive victory scored by these "strangers" during the 1957 urban council elections sharply intensified the animus of Conakat leaders toward immigrants from Kasai, while bringing into clearer focus the common aspirations of European settlers and "authentic Katangese."

As time went on, however, another threat to Conakat emerged from the north, not from Luba-Kasai but from Luba elements indigenous to northern Katanga. Led by Jason Sendwe, they eventually set up their own political organization, the Association of the Luba People of Katanga (Association des Baluba du Katanga—Balubakat), soon to enter into an alliance with Lumumba's branch of the MNC. Despite strong cultural affinities between the two groups, the Luba-Kasai went their own way, directing their loyalties to the Federation of Kasai (Federation Kasaienne—Fedeka).

Their political aloofness was in large part motivated by the rift in Kasai between the MNC-Lumumba and the MNC-Kalonji, identified, respectively, with Lulua and Luba elements in the Kasaian arena. Thus, the alliance of Balubakat with the MNC-Lumumba made it highly unlikely that a similar rapprochement would ever materialize between Balubakat and Fedeka. The split between Kasaian and Katangese Luba thus played directly into the hands of Conakat and its European partners.

The victory of the MNC-Lumumba in the May 1960 national legislative elections transformed the alliance between European settlers and Conakat into an increasingly close partnership, and Conakat' s relationship with Balubakat into a protracted trial of strength. The conflict with Balubakat began with the provincial elections of May 1960, when Conakat won twenty-five seats, Balubakat twenty-two, and independents the remaining thirteen.

Although Balubakat appealed the results, the Belgian magistrate rejected the appeal, and after the thirteen independents joined Conakat, the latter emerged with a solid majority in the Katangan provincial assembly. On June 1 , the Balubakat deputies walked out of the assembly, depriving it of the necessary quorum to start its deliberations. At this point, the provincial governor, yielding to the urgings of European settlers, appealed to Brussels to promulgate an amendment to the constitution, the Fundamental Law (Loi Fondamentale), which had been enacted on May 19. OnJune 15, despite the prophetic warning of Balubakat that "the promulgation of (the amendment) would inevitably lead to civil war after June 30," the Belgian parliament nevertheless enacted the amendment, thus making it legally possible for Conakat to gain full control of the provincial institutions. On July 11, Tshombe formally declared Katanga an independent state.

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