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Chronology of the Democratic Republic of Congo/Zaire (1960-1997)

Last modified: 6 April 2010
Olivier Lanotte

April 2010

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Olivier Lanotte, Chronology of the Democratic Republic of Congo/Zaire (1960-1997), Online Encyclopedia of Mass Violence, [online], published on 6 April 2010, accessed 24 November 2014, URL : http://www.massviolence.org/Chronology-of-the-Democratic-Republic-of-Congo-Zaire-1960-1997, ISSN 1961-9898

 2 THE POPULAR REBELLIONS (1963-1965)

General Presentation

With the end of the Katangese secession and unity restored, political disputes resumed with a vengeance in Leopoldville – and all the more bitterly because the activities of the Adoula government were increasingly run by members of the ‘Binza Group’ favorable to the West and, with successive government reshuffles, the nationalist current was gradually reduced to a minimum. On 29 September 1963, President Kasa-Vubu dissolved Parliament to put an end to the attacks of the nationalist opposition, which constantly troubled the government of Prime Minister Adoula. This decision provoked an extraordinary assembly of nationalist parties to organize secretly and to opt for the path of armed insurrection. On 3 October, meeting in Brazzaville, the unitarian parties organized themselves into a coalition, the National Liberation Council (CNL), led by Christophe Gbenye. Its objective was a ‘second independence’ – in other words, the overthrow of the ‘neo-colonial’ regime of Leopoldville and the establishment of the ‘revolution’, which were to constitute the advent of the total and genuine decolonization of the Congo and the reign of ‘economic prosperity’, ‘equal shares’, peace, ‘complete freedom and democracy’. To do this, it was now necessary to fight not the Belgians or Americans, but the fellow countrymen in their pay – the ‘neo-colonialists’, the ‘lackeys of imperialism’, ‘those who have sold the Congo to the Americans’ and who are called the ‘PNP’ (Pene pene na mundele ), with reference to the National Party of Progress (PNP), ironically dubbed ‘Party of Paid Negroes’ on account of its accommodating positions towards Belgian interests. This rupture consummated the long deterioration in the relations between radical Lumumbists and the moderates of the MNC (Ndaywel, 1997: 536, 606-611).

In January 1964, the deputy Pierre Mulele (Minister of Public Education in the Lumumba government) and Théodore Bengila, who had gone underground some weeks earlier, unleashed the first major peasant uprisiing of independent Africa in Kwilu. In April 1964, Louis Bidalira, and then Gaston Soumialot, Nicolas Olenga and Laurent-Désiré Kabila, launched a second revolutionary movement in the Fizi-Uvira region in Eastern Congo. This rebellion rapidly expanded to encompass North Katanga (June), Kivu-Maniema (July), Sankuru (August), and reached its apogee with the capture of Stanleyville (August), which soon became the capital of a ‘Popular Republic of the Congo’ led by Christophe Gbenye. Over and above their points of ideological convergence (myth of a ‘second independence’), these various rebellions shared the common characteristics of using esoteric practices to make fighters believe that they were invulnerable to enemy bullets. To do this, fighters were summoned to celebrations in which initiates were sprinkled with a holy water. However, the effectiveness of these magical practices and incantations (‘dawa’) was subject to a series of rules so restrictive that any failure in the mechanism of magical protection could always be explained by the non-observance of the countless rules of behavior imposed on the Simba fighters.

In September 1964, as Moïse Tshombe was recalled to Kinshasa and became Prime Minister, Leopoldville launched a counter-offensive to retake control of the territory in CNL hands in the east of the country. It was carried out with the support of mercenaries, former Katangese gendarmes (the ‘diabos’), anti-Castro Cuban pilots from the CIA, and Belgian officers and non-commissioned officers commanded by Colonel Vandewalle. This re-conquest caused a very high number of casualties among the civilian population and in the ranks of the Simba. «Where they [the columns of mercenaries and Congolese soldiers] pass through,’ notes an observer, ‘nothing is going to survive: not a man, not a woman, not a child, not a pig, a chicken, a dog, not a house.» The mercenaries, whose ranks contain former SS soldiers, are merciless, not hesitating in numerous places to systematically spray every hut with machine-gun fire before routinely setting them ablaze (Honorin, 1980: 45; Lantier, 1969: 202-211; Le Bailly, 1967: 242-243).

As in the case of Kwilu (cf. below), the esoteric practices employed by the leaders of the People’s Liberation Army (APL) to get young people high on cannabis, and armed simply with assegais and bows and arrows, to throw themselves into attacks on ANC forces and mercenaries underlay bloody defeats in Simba ranks throughout the east of the country, as at Kamanyola in Kivu in June 1964. In most cases, these pitched battles turned into carnage. Persuaded by their leaders that they were invulnerable to bullets, the Simba advanced defenseless before the machine guns of the mercenaries, who mowed them down in successive waves. As for the survivors of these predictable ‘massacres’, they were invariably summarily executed by the mercenaries or ANC forces (Gérard-Libois, Van Lierde, 1965: 72-74; Hoare, 1967: 83; Honorin, 1980: 45; Kestergat, 1965: 61-77).

On 28 October, in face of the unstoppable advance of the ANC and mercenaries, President Gbenye declared all foreigners living in his zone of influence hostage and threatened to execute them if the United States of America and Belgium did not suspend their aid to the central government in Leopoldville. This taking hostage of all foreigners by the Stanleyville government served as a pretext for direct intervention by Belgium and the United States. On 24 November 1964, three days after the appeal for help by Moïse Tshombe, Belgian soldiers, ANC troops and ‘special volunteers’ commanded by Jean Schramme seized Stanleyville through a dual intervention by air and land (Operations Dragon rouge and Ommegang ) and freed 2,000 Europeans. The same operation was repeated a few days later with the capture of the town of Paulis (Dragon noir ). In the weeks and months that followed, as the popular rebellions crumbled and their principal leaders fled abroad, the ANC and white mercenaries progressively ‘liberated’ the whole of Eastern Congo.

This period of rebellions was especially conducive to mass violence committed by the different protagonists. The available documentation – which contains few if any ‘on the spot’ inquiries, and is essentially composed of research work and accounts constructed on the basis of testimony collected after the event – does not permit of an exhaustive inventory of the countless murders, or even precise, verifiable information on all the events of which history has preserved a trace and that are mentioned below.

The multiple killings committed by the rebels involved at least 20,000 victims. They literally decimated the elite and the middle class of the regions controlled by the rebellions (Young, 1965: 30). According to Benoït Verhaegen, the mass violence attributable to the rebels can be divided into four major categories: (1) killings that immediately followed the capture of a locality; (2) organized public executions; (3) sporadic, uncontrolled assassinations; and finally (4) organized, non-public executions.

The first two categories were most often perpetrated by Simba, who came from outside and therefore did not personally know their victims, who were generally handed over by nationalist youth. In some localities, lists of people to be eliminated were drawn up. The aim of these killings was to strangle any opposition at birth and impose the regime through terror, showing populations the fate that awaited all those who sought to oppose the Simba. It was also a question, explains Benoït Verhaegen, of ‘creating among the masses a concrete image of the rebel ideology by denouncing and eliminating certain categories of person presented as the enemies of the rebellion’. With that in mind, ‘the initial executions almost always involved three sorts of condemned person: officers of the regular army (accused, with the politicians, of having killed the national hero Patrice Lumumba), thieves and politicians – in particular, members of the National Progress Party (PNP), close to Belgian interests – or senior civil servants’, accused of having sold the Congo to the Belgians and Americans. ‘Thus, political crimes were merged with common law crimes; politicians and civil servants who had got rich seemed to be merely a particular species of thief.’ This policy of terror very often continued for weeks on end, in increasingly anarchic fashion. Alongside organized killings, the captured regions were the scene of numerous sporadic, uncontrolled assassinations, carried out arbitrarily for tribalist reasons or simply for purposes of personal revenge.

The anarchical continuation of executions soon generated disgust among the populations. Popular participation, ‘plentiful at the outset, but obligatory’, often declined as the weeks passed – to the extent that, from October 1964, the increasingly obvious disillusionment of local populations prompted rebel leaders to favor non-public executions, carried out at night or in remote places (Verhaegen, 1967: 355-356).

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