Dawn of A New Era
THE YEAR 1960 was one of the most important in the history of Africa. It was the year when
the largest number of African countries won independence.
A total of 17 countries won independence that year, mostly from France. It was a feat that
was not duplicated in any of the following years and 1960 was declared Africa's Year by the United Nations because of the
unprecedented number of countries which won independence in that year.
The countries which won independence in 1960 were:
Dahomey (renamed Benin), 1 August 1960; Upper Volta (now Burkina Faso), 5 August 1960; Cameroon,
1 January 1960; Central African Republic, 13 August 1960; Chad, 11 August 1960; Congo-Brazzaville, 15 August 1960; Congo-Leopoldville
(renamed Congo-Kinshasa, Zaire, and now the Democratic Republic of Congo), 30 June 1960.
Gabon, 17 August 1960; Ivory Coast (renamed Cote D'Ivoire), 7 August 1960; Madagascar, 26 June
1960; Mali, 20 June 1960; Mauritania, 28 November 1960; Niger, 3 August 1960; Nigeria, 1 October 1960; Senegal, 20 August
1960; Somalia, 1 July 1960; and Togo 27 April 1960.
They were all former French colonies except Nigeria and Somalia. Nigeria won independence from
Britain. Somalia was an amalgamation of British Somaliland in the north and Italian Somaliland in the south. The two colonies
agreed to unite and emerged from colonial rule as one country, Somalia.
But while 1960 was hailed as Africa's Year, and Africans across the continent celebrated the
dawn of a new era heralded by the achievement of independence by a large number of countries, marking the beginning of the
end of colonial rule on the continent, the year was also marred by some of the bloodiest events in the history of the continent.
The initial euphoria of independence was dampened when the former Belgian Congo descended into
chaos just a few days after the country won independence, turning this giant African nation into the bleeding heart of Africa.
"It was the best of times and the worst of times," to quote Charles Dickens. And Africa has never fully recovered from the
convulsions caused by the Congo crisis in the turbulent sixties.
In a very tragic way, the Congo crisis demonstrated how vulnerable Africa was to foreign intrigue,
with foreign powers turning the continent's potentially richest country into a playground and combat theatre in their contest
for control of the continent.
Africans couldn't do anything about it.
While ethnic and regional rivalries fueled and may even have helped to ignite the conflict
in the Congo, there is no question that the crisis was largely engineered by Western financial, economic and political interests
led by the former colonial power, Belgium, and the United States, the leader of the Western world.
And while Lumumba was a staunch nationalist and Pan-Africanist and wanted the Congo to be genuinely
independent without being dominated by either the East or West, he was not anti-Western as he was portrayed in the western
media. He even sought assistance from the West to help contain the situation and restore stability to the Congo but was rebuffed
by the United States and other western powers; and for good reason, of course, since they were the ones who had engineered
the whole thing.
Lumumba's predicament reminds one of what happened to Sekou Toure when he also sought assistance
from the West. After the French cut off economic aid to Guinea, Sekou Toure asked for assistance from the United States but
was rebuffed. President Dwight Eisenhower dismissed him as a dangerous leftist and a Soviet ally who did not deserve help
from any Western country. But unlike Lumumba, he survived assassination and coup attempts through the years.
When Lumumba was assassinated, Africa entered a new era. It was a turning point in the history
of the continent.
The assassination of Lumumba, and subsequent chaos that ensued following his assassination
and Western intervention in the Congo, was one of the biggest tragedies in the history of Africa since the advent of colonial
rule. And it still haunts the continent today almost 50 years after the Congo won independence from Belgium in June 1960.
Once Africa's great hope as its richest country, richer than South Africa in terms of minerals
and agricultural potential right in the heart of the continent, the Congo became the bleeding heart of Africa because of foreign
intervention. And it is still bleeding today.
At the centre of this maelstrom was the United States and Belgium, the most active and most
prominent players on the Congo scene in the sixties and thereafter. In fact, for decades until the fall of Mobutu in May 1997,
the largest CIA station in Africa was in Congo's capital, Kinshasa. The country was then known as Zaire, renamed by Mobutu
Lumumba's fate and that of the Congo would not have turned out the way it did had Western countries
not intervened in the Congo, wreaking havoc on an unprecedented scale since Congo's independence in 1960 well into the 1990s
and beyond at a cost of more than 4 million lives.
The civil wars which broke out in the nineties, tearing the country apart, were largely a result
of that, with the West having propped up a rotten regime under Mobutu for more than 30 years, triggering an uprising against
his kleptocratic, despotic and blood-soaked reign during which he and his Western masters bled the country to death, leaving
it an empty shell. One of Africa's richest countries became of of the poorest. And it all started because Western countries,
led by the United States, did not want Lumumba to remain in power and lead the Congo.
Lumumba was a strong nationalist and Pan-Africanist leader who was determined to lead the Congo
as a truly independent country. And that was anathema to the West led by the United States. Western countries were equally
determined to secure, maintain, and perpetuate their hegemonic control over the Congo and the rest of the continent in order
to preserve, protect and promote their own interests to the detriment of Africans, and largely succeeded in doing so.
In many fundamental respects, the Congo became a test case of what the West intended to do
to African countries after they won independence. And that was to neutralize them and render their independence meaningless
by turning them into client states of the West or by simply destroying them if they resisted Western intervention. Lumumba
and his country the Congo became the first casualties.
The downward spiral started with the secession of Katanga Province led by Moise Tshombe. He
used the chaos that ensued soon after the country won independence as an excuse to seek assistance from Belgium to restore
law and order in his province. Belgian paratroopers flew into Katanga but with a larger mission in mind to support the secession
of the mineral-rich province.
As the chaos spread across the country, Lumumba sought UN assistance and the
United Nations created a peacekeeping force for the country. But just before the arrival of UN peacekeeping forces which had
the mandate to make arrangements for the withdrawal of Belgian troops as requested by Lumumba, Tshombe declared independence
for his province. The UN forces arrived on July 15th.
Katanga seceded from the rest of the Congo on 11 July 1960, only a few days
after the country won independence on June 30th under the leadership of Patrice Lumumba as the first democratically elected leader of this
vast country of more than 200 ethnic groups.
Just a few days after Katanga seceded, Tshombe ordered mobilization of his forces
on July 20th to resist UN intervention and went on to
recruit mercenaries to bolster his defence, making the situation worse for Lumumba as the legitimate leader of the Congolese
government which wanted to keep the country united.
Lumumba assumed power as prime minister after winning a plurality of votes and
was endorsed by the national parliament composed of representatives of different political parties all of which were regionally
entrenched except Lumumba's Congolese National Movement - Mouvement National Congolaise (MNC) - which transcended ethno-regional loyalties and had support in all parts of the country.
The MNC was founded on 5 October 1958 and Lumumba was one of its founding members and later its president.
His political base was in Stanleyville, in his home region of eastern Congo, but as a leader
of a supra-tribal party, he did not see that as his only strength. He had loyal followers across the country.
Formed less than two years before the Belgians formally relinquished power, the MNC was the
driving force behind the independence movement. In mid-1959, the party split into two groups.
One was more militant and was led by Lumumba, a situation similar to what happened in Ghana
during the independence struggle when Kwame Nkrumah left the conservative United Gold Coast Convention (UGCC), of which he
had served as secretary-general, and went on to form the more radical Convention People's Party (CPP) in 1949 which led the
country to independence by campaigning on the slogan, "Independence Now."
Lumumba pursued the same goal, invoking virtually the same slogan. And his party won support
across the country in a relatively short time.
The other faction of the Congolese National Movement was led by Joseph Ileo, Cyrille Adoula
and Albert Kalonji. It was a moderate group and all three leaders went on to play important roles in the country soon after
independence and after Lumumba was assassinated.
Ileo and Adoula each served as prime minister at different times; and Albert Kalonji - a conservative
who once served as Lumumba's minister of agriculture - is remembered probably more than anything else as the leader who led
another secessionist province, South Kasai, thus threatening the territorial integrity of the Congo. Among all these leaders,
Lumumba emerged as the only true nationalist leader transcending tribal and regional loyalties.
And the fact that he came from a small tribe or ethnic group, the Batatele, native to Province
Orientale in eastern Congo - which includes Stanleyville, now called Kisangani - and to North Kasai where he was born, was
a factor that made him more acceptable to many smaller ethnic groups across the country who feared domination by larger groups.
The large ethnic groups included the Bakongo whose most prominent son was President Joseph
Kasavubu; the Lunda, of whom Moise Tshombe was its most well-known leader who was also related to the royal family of this
large ethnic group. The son of a successful business man in Katanga, Tshombe was the son-in-law of the emperor of the Lunda
And then there was the Luba, another large ethnic group dominant in Kasai Province whose most
prominent member was Albert Kalonji. And there were other fairly large groups, bigger than Lumumba's ethnic group, the Batatele.
President Kasavubu was the leader of the Alliance of the Bakongo (ABAKO), a party with an ethnic
base solidly anchored among his people who constituted the largest ethnic group in the country and after whom the country
itself and River Congo were named.
But Lumumba's status as a member of a small ethnic group was also a liability since it did
not provide him with a strong ethnic base from which he could derive and mobilize support the way Kasavubu did from the Bakongo;
and even the way, for example, Etienne Tshisekedi did years later from the Luba, his people, when he sought the presidency
in the 1990s and beyond long after Lumumba was killed.
Although Lumumba did not come from a large ethnic group, the MNC faction he led emerged victorious
in the first legislative elections of May 1960 and won the largest number of votes among all the parties in the country.