Congo’s first prime minister and patriot, Patrice Lumumba, died in seeking to keep the mineral rich Katanga province as part of the newly formed republic. However, his foes including Moise Tshombe advocated an independent but federal Congo under his control.
Lumumba’s insistence that all that was inside the bowels of the earth belonged to neither the Belgians nor the Americans, but rather the Congolese people cost him his life when he nationalized the mines.
The Congo was the provider of more than half of the world’s copper and cobalt to the USA and USSR or The Soviet Union. The minerals were necessary for these superpowers weapons-guide systems and it is why the Congo even when it moved from being a personal asset of the Belgian king, Leopold II was never allowed to be free to develop and better the lives of its people.
After parliamentary elections in May 1960, Lumumba became the prime minister. However, by July 1960, Tshombe, a rival political figure supported by white mercenaries and the Belgian mining company Union Minière, declared Katanga independent. Lumumba appealed to the United Nations for help and Dag Hammarskjold agreed to send in a peace-keeping force to restore order. However, certain actions of the UN led many to wonder if their neutral stand hadn’t been compromised.
The following month President Kasavubu and Colonel Sese Seko Mobutu, with the support of the United States and Belgium, led a military coup and ousted Patrice Lumumba from power. Lumumba was arrested by Mobutu’s soldiers and transferred to Elizabethville, Katanga, where he was murdered on 17th January, 1961.
In September 1961 fighting erupted between Katanga troops and the noncombatant forces of the UN. By this time his pay masters were finding it difficult to reign in Tshombe as he was set to massacre the UN noncombatant force made of Irish men in Jodotville. In an effort to secure a cease-fire, Dag Hammarskjold, the UN secretary general arranged to meet President Tshombe. On 17th September 1961 Hammarskjold was killed when his plane crashed close to Ndola airport.
The UN Security Council passed a resolution demanding an inquiry into the circumstances of his death. This was rejected by Tshombe, but evidence emerged later that the Belgian government was behind the events in Katanga.
For a while Tshombe lived in Europe but returned to become prime minister of the Congo Republic in July 1964 on the invite of President Kasavubu nonetheless after holding corrupt elections he was forced to flee and went to live in Spain.
General Sese Seko Mobutu staged another military coup in November 1965. He placed Tshombe on trial for treason in his absence and condemned him to death.
The secession of Katanga was halted in 1963 when the UN troops defeated the Katangese forces. In July 1967, Tshombe was kidnapped and taken to Algeria. Tshombe died of a heart-attack on June 29, 1969 while under house arrest near Algiers. He is often accused of being a pawn of foreign commercial interests.
Rene Faulques, the French mercenary who led the siege against the UN noncombatants force will go on to lead other military coups in Africa as well as the Middle East. Curiously, he is one of France’s most honored legionnaires.