DRC: First Republic: 1960 - 1965
Updated June 2005
Prior to independence national and provincial elections were held in May 1960, which led to the triumph of a nationalist alliance under the leadership of Patrice Lumumba. The DRC gained official independence from Belgium on June 30, 1960, with Joseph Kasavubu as Head of State and Patrice Lumumba as Prime Minister (Country Watch 1998).
The process towards independence took place in a rushed way that resulted in various political disturbances and the outbreak of a violent civil war only weeks after the attainment of self-government. In July the army mutinied against its Belgian officers and the army was Africanised almost overnight. Belgian citizens were massacred in some places and panic amongst settlers was widespread, leading to a mass exodus of civil servants on the one hand, and an influx of Belgian troops to protect nationals and property (Institute for Security Studies 2005, Library of Congress 1993a).
Taking advantage of the chaos (and with Belgian assurances of support) Katanga and Southern Kasai seceded from the Congo. With the army in disarray, Belgian troops illegally on its soil, and the country at risk of partition the government appealed to the United Nations for assistance. Troops arrived to restore order in the capital but had no mandate to act against Katanga, though the Belgians were persuaded to withdraw their troops (Answers.com 2005).
In a situation where the civil service had collapsed and beset by difficulties on every side, personal conflict between the president (Joseph Kasavubu) and the Prime Minister (Patrice Lumumba) developed into a full-blown constitutional crisis. Lumbumba appealed to the USSR for aid against the secessionist in Katanga and in response the president dismissed him and others from the government. The cabinet in turn dismissed the president, while Parliament refused to endorse either (Mthembu-Salter 2002, Library of Congress 1993b).
In this political hiatus the army chief of staff, Joseph Mobutu, overthrew Kasavubu and Lumumba and took over the government in September 1960. He restored Kasavubu as President over a Cabinet of his loyalists while detaining Lumumba, who later died in questionable circumstances. The country was now partitioned in four. The Capital was held by conservative forces, Kisingani (then Stanleyville) by left-wing Lumumba loyalists and South Kasai and Katanga were both under the control of secessionists (Country Watch 1998).
The situation gradually began to improve; by July 1961 the South Kasai secessionists had returned to the union, rapprochement with the Katanga secessionists seemed possible and parliament had reconvened with deputies from all the provinces in attendance. In August a new prime minister (Cyrille Adoula) was elected healing the split between east and west, though the government was not in actual control over the Orientale and Kivu provinces. With the aid of UN forces the rebellion in Katanga was finally crushed in January 1963 (Answers.com 2005, Country Watch 1998).
A combination of raised and unmet expectations, the withdrawal of UN troop and the continued lawlessness of the army, unsuccessful efforts at decentralising government and the frustrations created by the dissolution of parliament provoked a new Lumumbaist rebellion. Beginning on the Burundi border in May 1964, the rebels were able to quickly overrun the entire east and were in control of half the country by September. The rebels' ethnic favouritism, corruption and inefficiency turned the tide of public opinion away from them. With the aid of foreign mercenaries the Congolese army was able to defeat them. By November the east was largely in government hands (Library of Congress 1993c).
Parliamentary elections were held in March 1965 and a new party, the National Confederation of Congolese Associations (CONACO) won 122 out of 167 seats. Kasavubu appointed an opposition leader as prime minister, instead of the leader of CONACO, sparking a new constitutional crisis. The impasse was resolved on November 1965, when Mobutu, who had attained the rank of Lieutenant General and Commander-in-chief of the Congolese armed forces, again assumed power and proclaimed himself President for 5 years (Mthembu-Salter 2002).
ANSWERS.COM 2005 "Democratic Republic of the Congo", [www] http://www.answers.com/main/ntquery;jsessionid=16o66sa9kiwtz?tname=congo- country-zaire&curtab=2222_1&hl=congo&hl=country&hl=zaire&sbid=lc02a [opens new window] (accessed 10 Mar 2010).
COUNTRY WATCH 1998 "Country Information for the Congo (DRC)", [www] http://www.countrywatch.com/country_profile.aspx?vcountry=40 [opens new window] (accessed 10 Mar 2010).
INSTITUTE FOR SECURITY STUDIES 2005 "Democratic Republic of Congo: History and Politics", [www] http://www.iss.co.za/AF/profiles/DRCongo/Politics.html (offline10 Mar 2010).
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LIBRARY OF CONGRESS 1993c "Rural Insurgencies: The 'Second Independence'" IN Country Studies, [www] http://lcweb2.loc.gov/cgi-bin/query/r?frd/cstdy:@field(DOCID+zr0037) [opens new window] (accessed 10 Mar 2010).
MTHEMBU-SALTER, G 2002 "Recent History", IN Murison, K (ed), Africa South of the Sahara 2002, Europa Publications.