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The Mutiny of the Force Publique

Maintaining stability in the provinces would have been difficult enough with the help of a reliable security apparatus; the mutiny of the Force Publique rendered the Lumumba government utterly impotent. The first acts of indiscipline were recorded in the capital on July 4; as other units were called in from Thysville (now Mbanza-Ngungu) to attend to the situation, they turned against their European officers. On July 5, bands of mutineers could be seen roaming through the streets of the capital, causing panic among both Africans and Europeans.

This extraordinary situation was, in large part, caused by Force Publique commander Lieutenant General Janssens, who had persistently refused to Africanize the officer corps, and who, on the very day that the mutiny broke out flatly declared that the Force Publique would continue as before. But with the mutiny in full swing, urgent and sweeping changes were needed to restore a measure of order. On July 6, Lumumba dismissed General Janssens, and the following day the entire officer corps was Africanized, with only a small number of European officers retained as advisers.

Shortly thereafter, the decision was made to promote all enlisted men to the next higher rank, thereby eliminating all privates from the army. On July 9 Lumumba promoted Victor Lundula to major general and commander in chief of the renamed Congolese National Army (Armee Nationale Congolaise—ANC), with Joseph-Desire Mobutu (later Mobutu Sese Seko) as chief of staff.

Unrest nonetheless persisted. By July 9 the mutiny had reached Equateur and Katanga provinces; panic-stricken Europeans began to arrive in Leopoldville, telling their own grisly stories. Ostensibly to protect Belgian lives, Brussels sent in two companies of paratroopers, in turn causing Lumumba to denounce Belgian intervention as an unwarranted aggression. The troop landings — a breach of the Treaty of Friendship and Cooperation signed by the two countries the day before independence — convinced the Congolese authorities that Belgium was attempting to reoccupy the country.

Meanwhile, on July 11 Belgian naval forces took the unfortunate step of bombarding Matadi, which by then had already been evacuated by Europeans. On the same day, Katanga formally proclaimed its independence, an act supported by Belgians in Katanga. As tension rapidly mounted between Brussels and Leopoldville, Lumumba and Kasavubu agreed for once to send a formed cable to the UN secretary general on July 12 to solicit "urgent UN military assistance" in the face of Belgian aggression and support of the secession of Katanga.

A United Nations Security Council resolution on July 14, 1960, responding to the Congo government's request for aid, called for the withdrawal of Belgian troops and authorized Secretary General Dag Hammarskjold to take the necessary steps, in consultation with the Congo government, to provide military and technical assistance for the Congolese security forces. Although the first UN troops landed in Leopoldville the next day, Kasavubu and Lumumba were dissatisfied with the pace of UN action and threatened to request Soviet help unless Belgian troops were withdrawn in two days. By July 20, the UN force had several thousand troops under its command, and Lumumba withdrew the threat when Belgium agreed to remove its troops from Leopoldville.

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