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The Continuing Struggle for National Liberation in Zaïre

  • Nzongola-Ntalaja


The purpose of this article is to elucidate the factors underlying the rise of political opposition against the régime of Mobutu Sese Seko, and this should help clarify the background to the Shaba wars of 1977–8. The major argument is that these factors are intimately related to two major aspects of a continuous political crisis in Zaïre today, namely: the democratic struggle against Mobutu's dictatorship and reign of terror, and the popular movement for a ‘second independence’. In order to substantiate this argument, the article traces the growth of organised opposition to four interrelated phenomena: (1) the ideological split in the anti-colonial nationalist movement between ‘radicals’ and ‘moderates’, (2) the leadership struggle among the moderates themselves, (3) the neo-colonial character and tasks of the post-colonial state, and (4) the autocratic nature of Mobutu's oppressive rule.



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page 595 note l The underlying class contradictions of the nationalist movement are discussed in Nzongola, Georges N., ‘The Bourgeoisie and Revolution in the Congo’, in The Journal of Modern African Studies (Cambridge), VIII, 4, 12 1970, pp. 511–30.

page 596 note 1 For the basically reformist ideological positions of the nationalist petty bourgeoisie as a whole, see in addition to ibid. pp. 523–9, Sartre's, Jean-Paul preface toLa Pensée politique de Patrice Lumumba, edited by Lierde, Jean van (Paris, 1963), and Verhaegen, Benoît, ‘Patrice Lumumba: Martyr d'une Afrique nouvelle’, in Jeune Afrique (Paris), 1 02 1978.

page 596 note 2 It was in July 1959 that the split was initiated by Joseph Ileo and Joseph Ngalula, who wanted Kalonji, head of the M.N.C. in Kasai, to replace Lumumba as the National President. There emerged instead two separate organisations: Mouvement national congolais/Lumumba (M.N.C./L.) and Mouvement national congolais/Kalonji (M.N.C./K.).

page 596 note 3 Kasavubu's nomination was surprising because the M.N.C./L. had 33 of the 137 seats in the House of Representatives, and Lumumba was capable of producing a working majority with his coalition partners, notably Gizenga's P.S.A., Kashamura's Cerea, and Jason Sendwe's Balubakat.

page 597 note 1 Weissman, Stephen R. has produced the best account so far of U.S. responsibility in Lumumba's assassination in his American Foreign Policy in the Congo, 1960–1964 (Ithaca, 1974), and especially in his more recent ‘The CIA and U.S. Policy in Zaïre and Angola’, in Lemarchand, René (ed.), American Policy in Southern Africa: the stakes and the stance (Washington, D.C., 1978), pp. 381432, where he also makes a critique of the way in which the Church Committee's report obscures the C.I.A. rôle in Lumumba's murder. For details and some of the strange conclusions of this report, see Congress, U.S., Senate, , Select Committee to Study Government Operations with Respect to Intelligence Activities. Interim Report: alleged assassination plots involving foreign leaders, 94th Congress, 1st Session, 20 11 1975, pp. 1370.

page 597 note 2 Artigue, Pierre, Qui sont les leaders congolais? (Brussels, 1961), pp. 92, 114, 218–19, and 363. Léopoldville and Elisabethville were the colonial names of Kinshasa and Lubumbashi, respectively. Bakwanga (now Mbuji-Mayi) was then the capital of the ‘Autonomous State of South Kasai’.

page 597 note 3 Chomé, Jules, L'Ascension de Mobutu (Brussels, 1975), p. 112.

page 597 note 4 The whole process was ‘really a U.S. operation but using outstanding U.N. personalities’, according to an Embassy official quoted in Weissman, op. cit. p. 147.

page 598 note 1 See Young, Crawford, Politics in the Congo (Princeton, 1965), pp. 379–80, for a description and nature of the Binza Group, although he does not discuss its external linkages.

page 598 note 2 Weissman, op. cit. p. 208.

page 598 note 3 G.Mennen Wiffiams, the ‘New Frontier/Great Society’ Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, spares no words in his praise of the anti-Communist efforts of Tshombe, Adoula, Kasavubu, and Mobutu who, among other achievements, ‘helped end the Communist-supported Stanleyville secession’. See his ‘U.S. Objectives in the Congo, 1960–65’, in Africa Report (New York), X, 8, 08 1965, p. 16. Williams knew very well that the Kisangani experience was never a secession.

page 599 note 1 Initially a unitarist, Bolikango opted for federalism as soon as he failed to gain an important post in Kinshasa, having lost the presidential election to Kasavubu. Nendaka claimed for a while to be the leader of a third M.N.C. party, but his real prominence came later, when he assumed the direction of the security police. Adoula, like Ileo, was one of the few non-Luba members of the M.N.C./K. Unlike Ileo, who presided over the Kisantu congress of federalist parties in December 1959, his M.N.C./K. membership was more nominal than real, and he seems to have remained a unitarist.

page 600 note 1 Wamba-dia-Wamba gives a slightly different interpretation of the class forces involved, in ‘Some Background to the Recent Popular Uprising in Congo-Zaīre’, Forum on Zaïre, African Studies Center, Boston University, 22 April 1977.

page 602 note 1 Data on the F.L.N.C. were obtained from Info-Zaïre (Antwerp) and other publications of the Komitee, Zaïre, a Belgian liberation support group, from Afrique-Asie (Paris),Jeune Afrique (Paris), and Le Monde (Paris), and from oral sources during a brief stay in Brussels during 08 1978.

page 602 note 2 Info-Zaïre, 10 1977, pp. 14 and 18.

page 603 note 1 Ziegler, Jean, Sociologie de la nouvelle Afrique (Paris, 1964), p. 12.

page 603 note 2 See Fox, Renée C., de Craemer, Willy, and Ribeaucourt, Jean-Marie, ‘The “Second Independence”: a case study of the Kwilu rebellion in the Congo’, in Comparative Studies in Society and History (Cambridge), VIII, 1 12 1965, pp. 78109, for the basic ideas of the movement. Politicians were called ‘liars’ all over the country.

page 603 note 3 For detailed information on the socio-economic situation during this period, see I.R.E.S., Indépendance, inflation, développement: I'économie congolaise de 1960 à 1965 (Paris and The Hague, 1968);Lacroix, Jean-Louis, Industrialisation au Congo: la transformation des structures économiques (Paris and The Hague, 1967); and Raymaekers, Paul, L'Organisation des zones de squatting (Louvain, 1963).

page 604 note 1 The most detailed account of these uprisings is to be found in Verhaegen, Benoît, Rébellions au Congo (C.R.I.S.P., Brussels), Vols. 1 (1966) and 11 (1968).

page 604 note 2 The concept of ‘power bloc’ used here has been elaborated by Poulantzas, Nicos, most notably in his Political Power and Social Classes (London, 1973), pp. 229–52, 296307, and passim.

page 604 note 3 Cabral, Amilcar, Revolution in Guinea (New York edn. 1972), ch. 8: ‘The Weapon of Theory’, pp. 90111.

page 604 note 4 Unlike the Mulelist experience, the political and administrative practices of the Lumumbist leaders were not markedly different from those of the neo-colonialist régimes in Kinshasa and in the interior.

page 604 note 5 Wamba-dia-Wamba, , ‘Short Bibliographical Notes on the Congolese (Zaïrean) Revolutionary Nationalist Movement’, mimeographed, p. 3.

page 604 note 6 Chomé, op. cit. p. 191.

page 605 note 1 This periodisation of the second independence movement was first suggested by Wamba, op cit., who errs, however, by seeing the first Shaba war as the beginning of the second phase.

page 605 note 2 Data on the Parti de la révolution populaire were obtained from the sources mentioned in fn.1 on p. 602 above, plus several P.R.P. documents; also the publications of its one-time dissident Maoist wing, the Parti révolutionnaire marxiste du Congo, Muhuni, B., ‘Mobutu and the Class Struggle in Zaïre’ in Review of African Political Economy (London), 5, 0104 1976, pp. 94–8, and Lefort, René, ‘La Grande impuissance des oppositions’, in Le Monde diplomatique (Paris), 278, 05 1977, pp. 910.

page 605 note 3 In a message circulated at the Sixth Pan-African Conference in Dar es Salaam in June 1974, the P.R.P. states that its armed struggle was ‘already in full flight over the national territory for more than three years’. See ‘May Day Message of the Parti de la révolution populaire – P.R.P. – to the Congolese Workers’, in Campbell, Horace (ed.), Pan-Africanism: the struggle against imperialism and neo-colonialism (Toronto, 1975), p. 161.

In contrast to this exaggerated claim about the progress of the liberation struggle, other documents were a little more candid by their acknowledgement of the difficulties then being faced by the P.R.P., particularly the lack of sympathy or even neutrality from the Tanzanian authorities. I would like to thank Modibo Kadalie, one of the delegates to the Sixth P.A.C., for having shown me these P.R.P. documents.

page 606 note 1 In 1973–4, when the Governments of Tanzania and Zaïre maintained excellent relations, with Presidents Julius Nyerere, Mobutu, and Kenneth Kaunda of Zambia meeting every three or four months to discuss common problems and the situation in Southern Africa, the P.R.P. complained of being subjected to constant harassment by the Tanzanian authorities. The party even alleged that one of its top leaders was handed over to Mobutu's régime. It would be interesting to know whether or not Dar es Salaam softened its hostile attitude towards the P.R.P. after the Zaïrian aggression in Angola, and after Nyerere's strong condemnation of western recolonisation in June 1978.

page 606 note 2 I. Beverly Carter, then U.S. Ambassador to Tanzania, negotiated with the P.R.P. on behalf of the parents of the kidnapped students, who paid the necessary ransom for their release. He was recalled to Washington, apparently because the Secretary of State, Henry Kissinger, was outraged by what he saw as the granting of de facto recognition to the P.R.P.

page 606 note 3 Quoted by Muhuni, loc. cit. p. 96.

page 607 note 1 Data sources for each of the three problem areas include: (i) Nzongola-Ntalaja, , ‘Urban Administration in Zaïre: a study of Kananga, 1971–73’, Ph.D. dissertation, University of Wisconsin, Madison, 1975;Rymenam, Jean, ‘Comment le régime Mobutu a sapé ses propres fondements’, in Le Monde diplomatique, 278, 05 1977, pp. 89; and Young, Crawford, ‘Zaïre: the unending crisis’, in Foreign Affairs (New York), 57, 1, Fall 1978, pp. 169–85; (ii) Gould, David J., ‘Underdevelopment Administration: systemic corruption in the public bureaucracy of Mobutu's Zaïre’, Rockefeller Foundation Conference on ‘Political Clientelism, Patronage and Development’, Bellagio, Italy, 08 1978; the now famous pastoral letter of May 1976 by Monsignor Kabange, Archbishop of Lubumbashi; and the 1978 Declaration of the Catholic Bishops of Zaïre; (iii) Zaïre, Comité, Zaïre, le dossier de la récolonisation (Paris and Brussels, 1978);Bourderie, Jack, ‘Mobutu vend un dixième du Zaïre pour des fusées allemandes’, in Afrique-Asic, 8 08 1977, pp. 2630; and various official documents.

page 607 note 2 According to the U.S. Agency for International Development, ‘several local surveys point to the fact that malnutrition is pervasive and may actually be increasing’. Annual Budget Submission FY 1979 – Zaïre, USAID, 06 1977, p. 88.

page 607 note 3 I am referring here to (i) the 1976 territorial concession of 100,000 square kilometres until the year 2000 to a West German missile and satellite manufacturer, O.T.R.A.G., with full rights amounting to what Le Monde, 7–8 August 1977, calls ‘an undeniable abandon of State sovereignty to the benefit of private interests’; (ii) foreign military occupation; and (iii) the I.M.F.-imposed foreign administrative tutelage at the Central Bank.

page 607 note 4 Asked by a member of the American Congress to explain the apparent contradiction between a recent State Department document that ranked the Government of Zaïre among the greatest violators of human rights in the world, and the same Department's request for ‘security supporting assistance’ for Mobutu in April 1977, the Secretary of State, Cyrus Vance, replied simply that the United States cannot fail to support its friends. Without that support, Mobutu could not have lasted as long as he has.

page 608 note 1 Marx, Karl, The Civil War in France (New York edn. 1940), p. 56.

page 608 note 2 With all its errors, some of which are a replica of the typical European racist condescension vis-à-vis Africans, Naipaul, V. S., ‘A New King for the Congo’, in New York Review of Books, XXII, II, 26 06 1975 is perhaps the best essay on Mobutu's kingship in Zaïre.

page 609 note 1 Mobutu himself attempts to justify this aspect of a distinctly Bonapartist dictatorship with fascist characteristics in terms of his ideology of authenticité. In Africa, he maintains, ‘le respect dû au chef est obligatoire et sacré’ – ‘the respect due to a chief is obligatory and sacred’. He sees himself as a king whose person is sacred.

page 609 note 2 Marx, Karl, The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte (New York edn. 1965), 133–5.

page 610 note 1 This apparatus consists of (i) the armed forces, including the gendarmerie which performs police duties; (ii) the security police, (iii) the youth branch of the party, particularly its ‘disciplinary brigade’, (iv) the prefectorial corps, and (v) the various judicial organs. The functioning of the prefectorial corps and its supervision over the other branches of the apparatus are discussed at length in Nzongola, ‘Urban Administration in Zaïre’.

page 610 note 2 Kamitatu, Cléophas, La Grande mystification du Cango-Kinshasa (Brussels, 1971) and Zaïre: Le Pouvoir á la portée du peuple (Paris, 1977).

page 611 note 1 This massacre is examined by Nzongola, Georges N., ‘Confrontation in Congo-Kinshasa’, in Mawazo (Kampala), II, 2, 12 1969, pp. 1924.

page 612 note 1 M.A.R.C. is said to enjoy support among Belgian liberals, who tend to be very conservative on economic and other matters. Interviews by the author with a number of high-ranking officials in Kananga and with city employees between 1971 and 1973 showed a generally negative assessment of Monguya's tenure as governor there in 1970–1.

page 612 note 2 To the Point International (Johannesburg), 21 04 1978, p. 43.

page 612 note 3 Comité Zaïre, op. cit. p. 257.

page 612 note 4 This is a tentative conclusion, based on very little information concerning a group too young to be thoroughly distinguished from its parent organisation, M.A.R.C., whose palace revolution strategy is discussed in info-Zaïre, April 1978.

page 613 note 1 See Nzongola-Ntalaja, , ‘The Authenticity of Neo-Colonialism: ideology and class struggle in Zaïre’, in Berkeley Journal of Sociology (Berkeley), 22, 1977/1978, pp. 115–30.

page 613 note 2 Wamba, op. cit. p. 6.

page 613 note 3 Comité Zaïre, op. cit. p. 256.

page 613 note 4 The best known rural disturbance in this period is the February 1978 revolt led by palmnut cutters in the Bandundu region, which resulted in the razing of entire villages and the massacre of thousands of citizens by the armed forces. Strikes are illegal in Zaïre.

page 613 note 5 The ‘happy ending’ note was far from being unanimous, even among academic observers far removed from the actual political struggles in Zaïre. In a major study of what can justifiably be considered the golden years of Mobutu, I came to the conclusion that the continued existence of his régime was detrimental to the well-being of the great majority of the Zaïrian people; ‘Urban Administration in Zaïre’. Others who had reached a similar conclusion include Demunter, Paul, ‘Le Régime de Mobutu (1965–1971)’, in Les Temps modernes (Paris), 308, 03 1972, pp. 1448–81;Tutashinda, N., ‘Les Mystifications de l'authenticité’ in La Pensée (Paris), 175, 0506 1974, pp. 6881;Weissman, Stephen R., ‘Zaïre: fisticuffs for Mobutu’, in The Nation (New York), 30 11 1974, pp. 558–9;Peemans, J. Ph., ‘The Social and Economic Development of Zaïre Since Independence: an historical outline’, in African Affairs (London), 74, 04 1975, pp. 148–79; and Naipaul, loc. cit.

page 614 note 1 Young, ‘Zaïre, the unending crisis’, loc. cit.

* Associate Professor, African Studies and Research Program, Howard University, Washington, D.C.

The Continuing Struggle for National Liberation in Zaïre

  • Nzongola-Ntalaja


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