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The First Republic, 1960-65

Much of the history of the First Republic revolves around two critical issues: the abortive efforts of the central government to negotiate the end of the Katangan secession and the reentry of Katanga into the framework of a united Congo, and the threats posed to the survival of the republic by the 1964 outbreak of major rebellions in Kwilu (some 400 kilometers east of Leopoldville) and the eastern region. Not the least of the ironies brought to light in the course of this tormented era in the country's history is that the man who once stood as the standard-bearer of the secession of Katanga ended up as the key figure in the struggle of the central authorities against rebel forces. With the appointment of Tshombe as prime minister in July 1964, following the resignation of the government of Cyrille Adoula, the First Republic entered the last phase of its brief and tumultuous existence.

In early 1961 several conferences were held between the representatives of the central caretaker government and the Katangan authorities for the specific purpose of reaching agreement on the constitutional framework of a reunified Congo. These meetings included the Leopoldville Round Table (January-February 1961), the Tananarive Conference (in Madagascar in March), and the Coquilhatville Conference (Coquilhatville is now Mbandaka, April-May).

The Tananarive Conference called for a confederated form of government, but the notion of confederation met with strong opposition in Leopoldville. By contrast, the Coquilhatville Conference recommended the establishment of a federal system as the future form of government. Tshombe opposed this plan.

From January to August 1964, rural insurgency engulfed five provincettes out of twenty-one and made substantial inroads into another five, raising the distinct possibility of a total collapse of the central government. The extraordinary speed with which the rebellions spread among the rural masses attests to the enormous insurrectionary potential that had been building up in previous years. Prolonged neglect of the rural sectors, coupled with the growing disparities of wealth and privilege between the political elites and the peasant masses, inefficient and corrupt government, and ANC abuses, created a situation ripe for major uprising.

Further aggravating the frustration of the rural masses, the promise of a life more abundant made at the time of independence had remained unfulfilled. It seemed to many, especially disaffected youths, that nothing short of a "second independence" would bring them salvation.

Among the several factors that combined to precipitate rebellion, none was more consequential than the dissolution of parliament in September 1963, a move spurred by the incessant divisions and bickerings among deputies. The immediate result was to deprive the opposition of the only remaining legitimate avenue for political participation. Faced with this situation, several deputies affiliated with the MNC-Lumumba, among them Christophe Gbenye and Bocheley Davidson, decided to move to Brazzaville, in the former French Congo, and organize a National Liberation Council (Conseil National de Liberation—CNL). In time the CNL became the central coordinating apparatus for the eastern rebellion.

Another major factor behind the insurrection was the anticipated withdrawal of the UN forces by June 30, 1964. The prospective elimination of the only reliable crutch available to the central government acted as a major incentive for the opposition to mobilize against Adoula.

Finally, with the arrival in the Kwilu area of Pierre Mulele in July 1963, a key revolutionary figure entered the arena. Once affiliated with Antoine Gizenga's PSA, Mulele traveled widely in Eastern Europe before reaching China, where he received sustained training in guerrilla warfare. Upon arriving in Kwilu, Mulele proceeded to recruit a solid phalanx of followers among members of his own ethnic group, the Mbunda, as well as among Gizenga's kinsmen, the Pende, both of whom had long been the target of government repression. The Kwilu rebellion began in January 1964, when Mulelist insurgents attacked government outposts, mission stations, and company installations. On January 22 and 23, four European missionaries were killed, and on February 5 the chief of staff of the ANC was ambushed and killed. Troops were immediately sent to the area, and by April a measure of stability had been restored. The Kwilu rebellion did not finally end until December 1965, however.

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Page last modified: 22-06-2015 21:02:03 ZULU