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Nationalist Awakenings

The area now comprising the Democratic Republic of Congo was officially colonised in 1885 as a personal possession of King Leopold II of Belgium and was known as the Congo Free State. The administration of the territory was subsequently transferred from King Leopold to the Belgian Government in and renamed the Belgian Congo.

Congolese resistance to Belgian rule has a long history, traceable to the countless uprisings against Belgian rule instigated by local chiefs—as among the Babua in 1903, 1904, and 1910, and the Budja in 1903 and 1905—and the mutinies of the Force Publique in 1895 and 1897. To these early "primary resistance" movements must be added the various independent African religious movements that flourished in the 1920s and 1930s. The Kimbanguist Church, founded by Simon Kimbangu in 1921, upheld a vision of spiritual salvation that attracted thousands of followers among the Kongo people and that the Belgians perceived as a threat.

Much the same kind of messianic message was conveyed through other indigenous African religions, such as the Kitawala movement, which first appeared in the urban centers of Katanga in the 1920s. Although immediate measures were taken by Belgian officials to repress activities of these groups and to exile their members to distant areas, there can be little doubt that each of these early, proto-nationalist movements played an important role in forcing social protest into religious channels, and, in the case of Kimbanguism, into a powerful ethno-religious framework that helped structure and legitimize the nationalist aspirations of subsequent generations of Kongo politicians.

Under Belgian rule, Congolese political activity was forbidden. Radical Congolese people formed political groups but called them “cultural associations”, which included the Alliance des Ba-Kongo (ABAKO), led by Joseph Kasavubu. Following a violent demonstration organised by ABAKO in January 1959, the Belgian Government, alarmed at the prospect of involvement in a prolonged colonial war, adopted a policy of quickly granting the country independence.

It seemed doubtful that the primary objective of the Soviet Union in the Congo was actually to establish a Communist regime in all or part of its territory. While the Soviets would naturally seize any favorable opportunities to pave the way for this ultimate eventuality, they must know (1) that there is little physical possibility of providing their stooges with sufficient arms to achieve this objective at this time; (2) that if their intervention became large, the US could and would block it; (3) that a large Soviet intervention would frighten even their African allies, who in their own self-interest do not wish to see Africa communized. In any case, they are well aware that isolated they are helpless in Africa; only in association with African states are they formidable.

It seemed more probably the Soviet intention was to exploit the passions and anti-colonial sensibilities aroused in Africa to further much broader and more serious objectives: (1) to strengthen their relative position and influence vis-a-vis the West in Africa as a whole, first among the nationalist Casablanca states, second among states with at present more moderate governments such as Nigeria, Tunisia and the Sudan and eventually even in the French Community States and the British territories; (2) to weaken materially African support for the UN in order either to "reform" or otherwise to destroy the usefulness of that organization.

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Page last modified: 23-06-2015 20:53:24 ZULU