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The Center No Longer Holds

In this rapidly deteriorating situation, mistrust, suspicion, and bitterness increased between the Congolese and the Belgians and among different factions of Congolese. The new government, preoccupied with soliciting external aid, had been unable to attack the massive problems of organizing its administration, and administrative problems were compounded by the mass departure of Belgian civil servants and technicians. In the meantime, the Katangan secessionist regime was consolidating its position.

Between the outbreak of the Force Publique mutiny and the overthrow of the Lumumba government on September 14, a situation of near anarchy spread through much of the country, reflecting the total breakdown of authority at the center. Adding to the confusion created by the collapse of the security forces and the intervention of the Belgian paratroopers, the constitutional impasse arising from the fundamental opposition between president and prime minister brought the machinery of government to a virtual standstill.

Several factors lay at the root of the conflict between president and prime minister, including a personality clash, their different bases of support, and their diametrically opposed conceptions of the ultimate character of the Congolese polity. What precipitated the crisis was growing opposition to Lumumba's policies toward Belgium, the UN, and the secessionists in Katanga and Kasai. Particularly divisive were Lumumba's insistence on converting the newly arrived UN forces into a military instrument for bringing Katanga and Kasai back into the fold of the central government (despite the fact that the UN mandate did not permit the organization to interfere in the Congo's internal conflicts) and his eventual decision to use those units of the ANC that were loyal to him to launch a major offensive against both Katanga and Kasai. Although Congolese units never made it to Katanga, their attack on Kasai in August 1960 led to a large-scale massacre of the Luba.

Against the warning of a number of his colleagues, Lumumba made a trip abroad with a number of his officials from July 21 to August 8, a critical time for the country and the new government. After his return, Lumumba intensified his quarrel with the UN authorities, especially when he failed to secure UN aid to force the end of the secession of Katanga. In late August, amid more intense opposition, Lumumba declared martial law for six months and arrested a number of his political opponents.

Lumumba's greatest affront, however, was his decision to accept substantial Soviet aid in order to attack the secessionist areas. This move brought to a climax the issue of communist influence, which had been a source of growing concern to the West and to more moderate Africans alike. As a result, on September 5 President Kasavubu announced the dismissal of Lumumba, Vice Prime Minister Antoine Gizenga, Minister of Information Anicet Kashamura, and several others from the government. At the same time, Kasavubu also appointed Mobutu as head of the ANC. Joseph Ileo was chosen as the new prime minister and began trying to form a new government.

Lumumba and his cabinet responded by accusing Kasavubu of high treason and voted to dismiss him. Parliament refused to confirm the dismissal of either Lumumba or Kasavubu and sought to bring about a reconciliation between them. After a week's deadlock, Mobutu announced on September 14 that he was assuming power until December 31, 1960, in order to "neutralize" both Kasavubu and Lumumba.

Mobutu emphasized from the beginning that his action was not an army coup but was rather a "peaceful revolution" during which the country would be run by a group of technicians. Mobutu's first acts were an ultimatum demanding the departure within forty-eight hours of Soviet and East European diplomatic personnel and the release by troops loyal to him of political prisoners.

But the period of government by the so-called College of Commissioners (made up of recent university graduates, students, and a few members of Lumumba's cabinet under the leadership of Justin-Marie Bomboko), formally installed on September 29, was marked by constant political conflict. The legitimacy of the government was challenged by political factions within the Congo and by the more radical African nations and communist countries. Relations between the college and the UN became progressively worse. In the meantime, the inability of the central government to regain any significant amount of authority enabled the secessionists to strengthen their administrative arrangements and armies.

As the process of fragmentation set in motion by the secession of Katanga reached its peak, the former Belgian colony essentially had broken up into four separate fragments. The "unitarists" found themselves divided into two separate political arenas. The Lumumbist radicals joined forces with Antoine Gizenga, who was head of the African Solidarity Party (Parti Solidaire Africain—PSA), who had moved his forces to Stanleyville (now Kisangani). The moderates rallied to the Mobutu government in Leopoldville. South Kasai and Katanga, headed, respectively, by Albert Kalonji and Moi'se Tshombe, were left in the hands of ethno-regional separatists.

The major event leading to the move by the Lumumbists to establish themselves at Stanleyville, the area of Lumumba's strongest support, was the recommendation by the United Nations Credentials Committee on November 10 to seat the delegation to the UN appointed by Mobutu. Gizenga left for Stanleyville on November 13 to form a rival national government. Soon thereafter, Lumumba, who had been under house arrest since his dismissal by Kasavubu, also left for Stanleyville to join Gizenga. But Lumumba was arrested, transferred to Katanga, and assassinated in January 1961.

The assassination, when announced on February 13, 1961, prompted anarchy in many areas. But the incident helped Gizenga consolidate his regime, and a number of African and East European countries accorded it official recognition. The Tshombe government, on the other hand, remained utterly isolated diplomatically. And yet it was in Elisabethville, not Stanleyville, that the central authorities and the UN encountered their most serious challenge.

During the prolonged crisis after Lumumba's arrest and death, a new government was finally established in Leopoldville. On February 9, 1961, the College of Commissioners was dissolved, and a provisional government formed by Joseph Ileo. The events of February had so weakened Leopoldville 's position, however, that the provisional government was unable to exert its authority much beyond the provinces of Leopoldville and Equateur.





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