The Moment the Future Changed in Congo

The Moment the Future Changed in Congo

On 14 September 1960 Colonel Joseph-Désiré Mobutu seized power in the newly independent Congo in a bloodless coup.  Ostensibly, as Mobutu claimed on his radio broadcast explaining the event, the coup was undertaken to break the impasse the Congolese government had reached.  Mobutu characterized it as a “cooling off” period, in which the government would be run by a group of “technicians”.  These technicians were later identified as a group of Congolese university graduates.  

Police in Leopoldville on 15 September 1960, the day after Mobutu’s bloodless coup.

The controversial Prime Minister, Patrice Lumumba, was placed under house arrest and the 1000 Soviet advisors he had brought into the country in an effort to quell rebellion in two of Congo’s provinces were all ejected. 

Patrice Lumumba in Belgium, January 1960. It was in January 1960 that a date for Congo independence was set.

They were momentous events, and they were not even the most momentous events that would occur in the coming five years of the Congo Crisis.

Before independence, Congo had been a lightning rod of controversy over King Leopold II’s violent rule.  Some of the first international human rights protests were held to decry Belgian treatment of the Congolese.  

The Congolese would eventually get their independence, but within five days the civil unrest would begin, and before the first month was out, the Congo would be engaged in a full-fledged civil war (although United Nations Operations in the Congo documents state to “prevent” civil war, the death toll seems to point to a civil war being in full force).

A child soldier in Kindu, site of a bloody massacre and desecration of Italian pilots flying for the United Nations.

The Congo Crisis would place the Congo squarely in the crosshairs of the Cold War, and it would become one of the Cold War’s bloodiest battlefields.  The fighting would end in 1965 when Colonel Mobutu took power, but the killing did not.

Mobutu Sese Seko, kleptocratic dictator of the country that would become Zaire.

For more information on the Congo Crisis, please read our article A Defining Crisis.


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