Reconciliation in Congo Part 2

by Michael Patrick O'Leary

This article appeared in The Nation on Sunday January 11 2013

In 1962, I experienced a strange concatenation. I was staying at Grand Union Hotel in Casement Square, Cobh, County Cork. The Square was named after Sir Roger Casement who exposed Belgian atrocities in the Congo and was hanged by the British for rebelling against the Ireland oppression. The Hotel, in the 1960s owned by the Allen family, long ago succumbed to recession and subsidence. Captain Allen of the Irish Army was in 1962 at home on leave from service with the UN force in the Congo. He gave us a slide show presentation about the Congo.


Despite its puny size, Belgium punched above its weight in colonial oppression (see: and was reluctant to let go of the Congo. Belgium made no plans for Congolese independence. There were only nine university degree holders in the entire vast territory and no Congolese in the entire military with a rank higher than Sergeant.


On June 30, 1960, Belgian King Baudouin arrived for the formal handover of power. The day was a public relations disaster. Baudouin made an ill-advised speech praising the “genius” and “tenacious courage” of his great-uncle Leopold II. Prime Minister Patrice Lumumba gave a speech attacking Belgium’s “regime of injustice, oppression and exploitation”. – cite_note-speech-13 “Nous ne sommes plus vos singes” (We are no longer your monkeys).


In July first week, the Congolese army mutinied and Europeans were attacked. The Belgian government illegally sent paratroopers to protect the 100,000 Belgians. On July 11, 1960, with the support of Belgian business interests and over 6000 Belgian troops, the south-east province of Katanga declared independence. Katanga received assistance from foreign mercenaries, mostly white South Africans, Belgians and other Europeans including the Irish right-wing fighter Major Mike Hoare and his “4 Commando” unit. South Africa’s apartheid government facilitated mercenaries to aid the Katangese cause.


The secessionist war was exacerbated by colonial proxy conflicts between the USA and the USSR. Katanga had the potential to make Congo wealthy, but without it the new nation would remain poor. Katanga produced gold, copper, 60% of uranium and 80% of world’s industrial diamonds. The secessionist leader Moise Tshombe was backed by the European mining companies that made considerable profits from Katanga.


Lumumba asked the UN for help and 10,000 UN troops were tasked to: restore and maintain law and order; stop other nations from getting involved; assist in building the economy and restore political stability. A total of 6,000 Irishmen represented the UN in the Congo from 1960 until 1964. On July 28, 1960, Lt Col Murt Buckley led the 32nd Irish Battalion to the Congo. This was the most costly enterprise for the Army since Irish Civil War and 26 Irish soldiers lost their lives. At the Siege of Jadotville, 150 Irish soldiers were attacked by 4,000 Katangese troops as well as French, Belgian and Rhodesian mercenaries supported by a trainer jet.


UN Secretary-General, Dag Hammerskjöld rejected Lumumba’s request to crush Katanga. To Hammarskjöld, the secession of Katanga was an internal Congolese matter and the UN was forbidden to intervene by Article 2 of its Charter. Lumumba accused the UN of siding with Tshombe because of Katanga’s rich mineral reserves and the influence of European mining companies. The Soviet Union provided Lumumba with military equipment to attack Katanga. This attack failed and President Kasavubu dismissed Lumumba and made Colonel Mobutu the new Prime Minister. Lumumba set up a rival government in Stanleyville in the east of the country. His assassination by mercenaries removed him from the equation.


For the first six months of 1961, four groups claimed to lead the Congo:  Mobuto’s government in Leopoldville; Lumumba’s supporters in Stanleyville; Tshombe’s ‘government’ in Elizabethville; and a breakaway ‘government’ in Kasai province led by King Albert Kalonji .


Three of the four groups met to form a new parliament in Leopoldville headed by Cyrille Adoula. The only outside group of the coalition is Tshombe’s. Adoula asked the UN to provide military support for an attack on Katanga. In August 1961, 5,000 United Nations troops attacked Katanga. Though they captured key points in the province, they did not get Tshombe as he had fled to Rhodesia.

Dag Hammerskjöld flew to Rhodesia to see Tshombe but was killed when his plane crashed under suspicious circumstances


He was replaced by U Thant who agreed to another attack by UN troops on Katanga in December 1961. As a result, Tshombe agreed to meet Adoula to discuss issues. The talks lasted for nearly a year and achieved very little. In late 1962, the UN force in the Congo attacked Katanga again. In January 1963, Katanga was re-united with the rest of the Congo. The Congo has paid dearly for the curse of resources. In Leopold’s time, it was rubber and ivory. In Tshombe’s day, it was gold, copper, uranium and diamonds. Some 100,000 people died (some claim 200,000). Today people are dying because of craving for coltan for mobile phones and PCs.


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