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“The Second Independence”: a Case Study of the Kwilu Rebellion in the Congo*

  • Renée C. Fox, Willy de Craemer and Jean-Marie Ribeaucourt


The particular rebellion in the Congo with which we are concerned in this article is the one that began in the Kwilu Province in January 1964 and, as such, was the first in a chain of rebellions that have erupted in the Congo in the course of the past year.



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1 The Kwilu Province was created by the law of August 14, 1962, on the base of the former district of Kwango-Kwilu, which covered the territories of Kikwit, Idiofa, Gungu, Masi-Manimba, and Banningville, formerly part of the Province of Leopoldville. It is one of the 22 provinces in the Congo of 1964.

2 Jean-Marie Ribeaucourt is an Oblate missionary priest who was a professor in the minor seminary of Laba from 1952 until January 1964. He was also chaplain of the so-called Savoir-Vivre movement in the area of Laba. This movement for rural community development was begun at the end of 1960 by a young carpenter of the village of Impini and some of his comrades. Savoir-Vivre, as we shall see, is dynamically related in certain respects to the Kwilu rebellion. — Willy De Craemer is a Jesuit priest, professionally trained as a sociologist in Belgium and in the United States. His first séjour in the Congo was from 1951 to 1954. Since 1962 he has been conducting systematic sociological research there, in the beginning, as a staff member of the Center of Sociological Research in Leopoldville, created by the Episcopate of the Catholic Church in the Congo, and now, as its Director. — Renée C. Fox is an American sociologist, Associate Professor of Sociology at Barnard College, Columbia University, who began doing research in the Congo in 1963. She is currently spending a sabbatical year of leave there, her research activities being sponsored by the Joint Committee on African Studies of the Social Science Research Council.

3 Weiss, Herbert and Verhaegen, Benoit, Parti Solidaire Africain: Documents 1959–1960 (Brussels, Centre de Recherche et d'Information Socio-Politiques, 1963).

4 Nicolaï, Henri, Le Kwilu: Etude géographique d'une région congolaise (Brussels, Edition CEMUBAC, 1963).

5 Ilunga, A.-R. and Kalonji, B., “Les événements du Kwilu”, Etudes Congolaises, Vol. VI, No. 3 (March 1964), p. 4.

6 Willame, J. C. and Verhaegen, B., “Les Provinces du Congo: Structure et Fonctionnement, 1: Kwilu-Luluabourg-Nord Katanga-Ubangi”, Cahiers Economiques et Sociaux (Institut de Recherches Economiques et Sociales, Universite Lovanium, Leopoldville), No. 1 (May 1964), pp. 1922. Some of the other tribes in the Kwilu are: BaKwese, BaLunda, BaLori, BaNgoli, BaNgongo, BaPindi, BashiLele, BaSonde, BaSongo, Ba- Tshok and BaWongo.

7 Nicolaï, op. cit., pp. 140–143.

8 Ibid., p. 332.

9 Field notes of W. De C. kept in 1962 as part of a survey he conducted in the diocese of Kikwit.

10 Nicolaï, op. cit., pp. 355–357.

11 Ibid., p. 332.

12 Ibid., p. 345. For this he would have to work at least four or five hours a day at full capacity, at this hard physical labor, filling at least 25 cases of fruit per month, each containing 35 kilograms of fruit. See p. 347.

13 See Nicolaï, op. cit., pp. 325–327, and J. C. Willame and B. Verhaegen, op. cit., pp. 22–23.

14 Braekman, E. M., Histoire du Protestantisme au Congo (Brussels, Editions de la Librairie des Eclaireurs Unionistes, 1961), pp. 241249. Still another Protestant mission was founded in this area in the 1920's, the Unevangelized Tribes Mission, but in 1953 this mission ended its activities in the Congo.

15 From a personal interview conducted at the Congo Protestant Council in Leopoldville.

16 For three especially rich works on the origins, content, structure and consequences of such movements, see Balandier, Georges, Sociologie Actuelle de I'Afrique Noire: Dynamique des changements sociaux en Afrique centrale (Paris, Presses Universitaires de France, 1955); Lanternari, Vittorio, The Religions of the Oppressed: A Study of Modern Messianic Cults (New York, Alfred A. Knopf, 1963); and Thrupp, Sylvia L., ed., Millennial Dreams in Action: Essays in Comparative Study (The Hague, Mouton & Co., 1962).

17 Lanternari, op. cit., p. 10.

18 Willame and Verhaegen, op. cit., p. 22.

19 The word ngunzi means “prophet”.

20 Nzambi-Malembe means “God who is good and gentle”.

21 Willame and Verhaegen, op. cit., p. 22.

22 The word Kongo here does not refer to the present-day Democratic Republic of the Congo but to the Kingdom of Kongo that existed in the sixteenth century before white men arrived in these parts of Africa. Its capital was located in what was later called the city of San Salvador in Angola.

23 For extensive discussions and analyses of Kimbanguism, see Andersson, E., Messianic Popular Movements in the Lower Congo (Uppsala, 1958); vanWing, J., “Le Kibanguisme vu par un temoin”, Zaire, Vol. XII, No. 6 (1958); Balandier, op. cit., pp. 428481; Lanternari, op. cit., pp. 11–19.

24 Lanternari, op. cit., p. 24.

25 Willame and Verhaegen, op. cit., p. 22.

26 See Weiss and Verhaegen, Parti Solidaire Africain, pp. 11–18 for the basic documents in which the first statutes and program of the P.S.A. are contained.

27 Quoted from a campaign poster of the P.S.A. (printed in French and Ikeleve) reproduced in Weiss and Verhaegen, op. cit., p. 9.

28 From the personal recollections of J.-M. R., W. De C. and several interviewees.

29 Weiss and Verhaegen, op. cit., p . 272.

30 Ibid., p. 274.

31 For more details of the foregoing period in the history of the P.S.A. and the Kwilu see, Willame and Verhaegen, op. cit., and Verhaegen, B., Congo, 1961 (Brussels, Centre de Recherche et d'Information Socio-Politiques, 1961).

32 Jacques Meert, “Une semaine dans les villages Laba. Le mouvement Savoir-Vivre: Expérience de développement communautaire rural”. Working Paper, 62–24.

33 Ibid., p. 13. A pagne is the long, draped skirt traditionally worn by Congolese women. This quote comes from one of Mulele's lectures to primary school teachers.

34 Field notes of W. D e C.

35 For details of some of the problems of the early post-Independence years and the reactions of the populace to them, see not only Meert, op. cit., but also Noirhomme, G., deCraemer, W. and d'Estmael, M. de Wilde, L'Eglise au Congo en 1963: Rapport d'une Enquête Socio-Religieuse (Leopoldville, Centre de Recherches Sociologiques, 1964). The latter is a monograph which grew out of a sociological survey of all the Catholic dioceses of the Congo.

36 For a fine discussion of the concept of relative deprivation and its relationship to millennial movements, see David F. Aberle, “Note on Relative Deprivation Theory as Applied to Millenarian and Other Cult Movements”, in Thrupp, op. cit., pp. 209–214.

37 Molotov cocktails are ordinary bottles of beer or of Vital'O (a brand of soda water) filled three-quarters full with gasoline and a little resin, in contact with a net of gauze, braided and reinforced with thread, which is pulled through a bamboo reed that has been inserted in the neck of the bottle. The gauze extends five or six centimeters beyond the reed and is lit just before the bottle is thrown.

38 Ilunga and Kalonji, op. cit., pp. 13–15. These instructions were originally published by Kamitatu under the title, Ordre de Mission des Partisans.

39 Meert, op. cit., pp. 5–6.

40 Mulele has been reported as dead in battle in the Kwilu, and a body surrounded by what are presumed to be his possessions, tentatively identified as his. But the rebels still believe that he is alive and hiding somewhere in the Kwilu. This could be a mythical belief, but our informants tell us it is probably true that Mulele lives and is still in the region.

41 Reports from persons we have interviewed about the behavior of the rebels in other areas of the Congo suggest that their system of magic-accompanied norms and taboos was more elaborate than in the Kwilu. For example, rebels in certain regions are described as having an incision in the center of their foreheads made by sorcerers who are members of their bands. In these incisions the sorcerers place a powder, presumed to endow the partisans with the coveted powers of invulnerability. The efficacy of this powder is supposed to last for five days. During that five day period, rebels are not supposed to bathe, look at women or be with women, and in general, heir food is supposed to be cooked only by girls of pre-puberty age. Any violation of hese norms will cancel out the invulnerability of the rebel in question, unless he goesto the sorcerer, tells him he has not lived up to a certain norm, and gets his powder renewed. Another common magical practice is the so-called “bath of purification”, administered to rebel partisans by their sorcerers.

42 Another story about the influence of this same man with regard to the rebellion in the Kwilu has just reached us — a story that at once complements and contradicts the one recounted above. This version has it that once in Brazzaville, the man under discussion joined the Comité National de Liberation, the political headquarters of all the rebellions in the Congo. Earlier, this Committee condemned Mulele and Mulelism on the grounds of its use of terror and violence. This man, the new story goes, wrote to his village from Brazzaville, advising them not to join forces with the Mulelists. The village obeyed and even is supposed to have saved the life of an Oblate Father. Like so many other reports and interpretations of events connected with the rebellion, it is difficult to ascertain which of these stories is valid. It is even possible that both stories are true, for the man may have first supported Mulelism, and later opposed it. This is not an uncommon pattern.

* A French version of this article has appeared in Etudes Congolaises, vol. VIII, no. 1 (1965), pp. 1–35

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