The United Nations (UN) peacekeeping efforts in the Democratic Republic of Congo between 1960 and 1964 lives in infamy as one of the deadliest losses for the forces of frith.
April 28, 1961, is definitely a day that Ghanaians, and not just Congolese, will remember. Ghana, then just a four-year-old independent nation, contributed soldiers to the UN’s aim of keeping the peace in Congo.
Patrice Lumumba‘s thankless work of fighting for Congolese sovereignty from Belgium in 1960 culminated in his assassination in January of 1961.
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No one has been held accountable for the brutal murder of Lumumba who was shot dead with two of his ministers, Joseph Okito and Maurice Mpolo, after they had been arrested.
However, many fingers point to European imperialists who sanctioned the elimination of one of Africa’s bravest politicians and independence heroes. The theory goes that Lumumba, if not stopped, could have derailed Western interests in Africa.
Be it as it may, the proper henchman side of things was handled by Congolese themselves.
In September of 1960, the Congolese president, Joseph Kasavubu, dismissed Lumumba as Prime Minister. Some say Kasavubu’s move was ordered in a telegram from Belgian prime minister, Gaston Eyskens.
Lumumba, not going down without a fight, also declared Kasavubu deposed.
The instability ushered in a takeover by the army chief, Colonel Mobutu Sese Seko who placed Lumumba under house arrest and guarded by his troops and the United Nations troops.
Lumumba temporarily escaped arrest but he was caught afterward. The writing was on the wall for him.
DR Congo was plunged into a conflict that pitched the military against the UN-backed civilian leadership. This was also laced with ethnic and regional tensions in the country.
By February 1961, peacekeepers were in the thick of affairs.
In April, the Interior minister, Emery Wafwana went to Port Francqui, a base of the UN soldiers in the northwestern Kasai province.
In a speech, Wafwana accused the Congolese army forces of “being anti-Lulua (an ethnic group) and a source of unrest in the ethnic conflict rocking northern Kasai”, writes a former Deputy Force Commander of the United Nations Operation in Côte d’Ivoire, Brigadier-General Benjamin Kusi.
Wafwana, doubly sure of the UN’s capabilities, warned that peacekeepers would subdue the Congolese army if the latter continued in its perceived ways.
The Mobutu-led army did not take kindly to these threats. The army blamed the UN, accusing the international body of partiality.
Only a day after Wafwana’s speech, Mobutu’s army mounted an offensive on Port Francqui. The garrison, manned by some 90 Ghanaian men and others in the peacekeeping service, was unprepared for the attack.
The battle-ready Congolese army killed 47 soldiers, among which were 43 Ghanaians. At the time, it was the deadliest UN peacekeeping mission.
Investigations confirmed that the Congolese army had reacted to Wafwana’s speech. But the Congolese never officially apologized to Ghana for the harm done.
About six decades on, Ghana’s willingness to partake in peacekeeping efforts has not been affected by its most unfortunate loss in international warfare. The country remains the UN’s most preferred peacekeeping partner on the continent.
There is fragile peace in Congo too now.