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The Secession of Katanga

Katanga had always been a special case, administered until 1910 by the privately owned Special Committee of Katanga (Comite Special du Katanga). In 1910 administration of Katanga was placed in the hands of a vice governor general, still separate from the rest of the Belgian Congo. The administrative reorganization of 1933, which brought Katanga administratively in line with the rest of the provinces under the central colonial authorities in Leopoldville, was strongly resented by Katangan residents, both local and foreign.

The predominant role Katanga played in the country's economy reinforced this regional pride and sense of separateness. In the months preceding independence, pressure to restore Katangan autonomy grew.

In 1960, ten percent of the copper, sixty the cobalt, and most of the radium for the world came from Katanga. Union Miniere du Haut-Katanga with sales of over $200 million was the world's third largest copper producer. Katanga also provided half the metals for non-communist countries jet engines and radars. It was the economic heart of the Congo and a Western area of interest.

On 9 July Belgians unilaterally flew reinforcements into Kitona and Kamina. They moved out into Elisabethvilie, the port of Matadi, Leopoldville, and Jadotville secured the European quarters and restored order on 10 July. The breakdown of central authority offered Tshombe an ideal pretext for proclaiming the long-planned independence of Katanga on July 11, 1960. Although Brussels withheld formal recognition, through the legal fiction that any province could receive Belgian technical assistance if it so desired, the Belgian government played a crucial role in providing military, economic, and technical assistance to the secessionist province.

Tshombe's declaration was, however, opposed by the Baluba tribe of Northern Katanga. The Baluba tribe was split by the Northern Katanga border and Southern Xasal province. In August the Baluba of Kasai also declared their secession.

Katanga separatism was regarded by the Central Government, other Africans, and the neutrals as a successful effort by Western commercial interests to retain a “neocolonial” position in Katanga and thus to prevent the full independence of the Congo. Adoula was under considerable pressure to show progress toward the integration of Katanga under the Central Government. In order to preserve his own political position in Leopoidville, he must have, as an absolute minimum, recognition by Tshombe of the formal civil and military authority of the Central Government and assured access to Katanga revenues.

Tshombe’s purpose was to maintain his position in Katanga and to retain for Katanga as much of its present autonomy as possible. He recognized the various pressures upon him to integrate his province with the rest of the Congo. None of these, however, persuaded him that he must make more than minor concessions. He recognized that the UN with its representatives and military forces in the Congo, the US Government, the Afro-Asians in the UN and elsewhere are all against his maintaining Katanga as a near-independent state. On the other hand, Tshombe felt that he had the direct backing of Belgians and other Europeans in Katanga and the support of important influences in Europe and America.

Belgium’s interest in the Congo tend to be dominated by its large economic investment, significant part of which was in the Katanga. It had also been powerfully influenced by the blame and opprobrium which were heaped on it as the “imperialist” power responsible for the chaotic international mess which the Congo became in 1960-1961. The powerful mining interests, while showing some awareness of the need for a Katanga settlement, essentially supported Tshombe against both the Central Government and the extremists in his own regime. They tended to discount the problems of the Central Government and the dangers in the situation which might follow the downfall of Adoula.

The government in Brussels, however, was increasingly disposed to think of the problem in terms of the future of the Congo as a whole, though it is frequently unable to influence the Union Miniére du Haut Katanga or the UMHK’s representatives in Katanga. When it was able to carry the UMHK people in Brussels, they were not always able to persuade their representatives on the spot to carry out instructions.

Under Belgian supervision, immediate steps were taken to convert the Katangan Gendarmerie into an effective security force. Recruitment agencies were set up in Brussels for the enlistment of mercenaries. A variety of Belgian advisers surfaced in various administrative organs of the breakaway state. Professor Rene Clemens, of the University of Liege, was invited to draft the Katangan constitution.

That the secession lasted as long as it did (from July 11, 1960, to January 14, 1963) is largely a reflection of the efforts of Belgian civilian and military authorities to prop up their client state. Yet from the very beginning, the operation ran into serious difficulties.

A major handicap faced by "authentic Katangese" stemmed from their inability to come to terms with the Balubakat-instigated revolt in the north. Despite the numerous military expeditions against northern "rebels," at no time was the Tshombe regime able to claim effective control of the Luba areas. Further discredit was cast on Tshombe when, in January 1961, Balubakat leaders proclaimed the secession of their own northern province, presumably out of loyalty to the principle of a united Congo. Balubakat seceding from the secessionists for the sake of unity was a painful logic for Conakat to assimilate.

Diplomatic isolation was another major weakness. In spite of countless demarches, overtures, bribes, and promises, the secessionist state never gained international recognition. Even Belgium never officially recognized Katanga. But perhaps the most serious diplomatic blow against the Tshombe regime came on February 21, 1961, when the UN Security Council passed a resolution urging the UN "to take immediately all appropriate measures to prevent the occurrence of civil war in the Congo, including arrangements for cease-fire, the halting of all military operations, the prevention of clashes, and the use of force, if necessary, in the last resort."

The UN Security Council's February 1961 resolution was an attempt to check the trend toward total anarchy in the Congo and to bring about international pressure for reintegration of the Congo. The resolution gave the UN forces greater authority to act in order to prevent civil war and called for the removal of foreign advisers and mercenaries attached to the Congo governments, the convening of parliament, and the reorganization of the ANC.

This entirely new construction of the UN mandate, allowing the use of force as a last resort, was the direct, though largely unanticipated, outcome of Lumumba's death. The worldwide commotion caused by Lumumba's death had an immediate repercussion in the UN General Assembly. The new mandate given to the UN forces in Zaire did litde more than articulate in legal terms the sense of shock and anger of most developing nations in the face of the cold-blooded murder of the man who best symbolized the struggle of African nationalism against the forces of neocolonialism.

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Page last modified: 22-06-2015 21:02:35 ZULU