Report on the Congo

The diamond smugglers' trail crosses the country, and nearly everybody is in the racket
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Léopoldville still survives as the capital of a large if not great country. Yet even in the months since “independent Katanga” fell, the material for documenting the implausibility of survival can easily be listed: the siege of Léopoldville by the people of Kongo Central, the province which surrounds the federal capital on all sides but the riverfront, so that all food supplies were blocked off; paralyzing strikes by the workers at Otraco, the navigation system which works the river, and by schoolteachers whose pay is months and even years in arrears; the $162 million deficit in Finance Minister Bamba’s new $364 million budget; the inflation ($358 million of printed paper churned into the economy since independence); the fission of six semi-autonomous provinces into twenty-one; the mass mutiny of the Léopoldville police; and the appalling corruption, of which diamond smuggling is the sensational example.

Nearly half the world’s production of uncut diamonds outside the U.S.S.R. came from the former province of Kasai in the Congo—a source of wealth for the country potentially as great as the more publicized copper of Katanga. Industrial diamonds, of which the Congo produces nine tenths of the free world’s supply, come from Bakwanga and the surrounding countryside. Diamonds for jewelry were mined at Tshikapa, near the border of Portuguese Angola in the new province of United Kasai, by Forminiere. Until independence this was a partnership between the Belgian government and De Beers, the British company with the monopoly of free world distribution. But legal fragmentation of the original province has been too much for Forminiere. Production at Tshikapa fell, according to official figures, from 657,903 carats in 1959 to 132,916 carats in 1961 and since then to zero.

The European staff has been withdrawn; only a handful of caretakers are supposed to be there. But production, of course, goes on. The smugglers—mainly “Senegalese” Africans, but the term covers people from the Ivory Coast—have descended on Kasai like vultures. One thousand were deported only recently. Some of the precious stones cross the nearest frontier to Portugalia, in Angola; but the real smugglers’ trail reaches across the Congo River to Brazzaville, where there is a flourishing illegal market.

Nearly everybody is in the racket. Special mining police, trained in Léopoldville, had to be disbanded soon after they reached Bakwanga. A Cabinet minister in the fledgling provincial government of United Kasai hired a special plane and flew to Léopoldville with 2000 carats of highest quality stones for which he attempted amateurishly to find a buyer. He explained that he had stumbled across the sack of diamonds, wondered whom they might belong to, thought it might conceivably be Forminiere, and had come specially to Léopoldville to find out. To avoid embarrassment his explanation was accepted, and he was allowed to return quietly to his ministerial duties.

The new leaders

Such tales could be multiplied many times and would fill a diverting dossier of decay. But what counts is the direction in which events are now moving. After the traumatic experience of the first days of independence, the Congo needed above all a long period of convalescence under a leader of competence and restraint, a figure of calm rather than a perpetrator of further turmoil. This it has found in Cyrille Adoula, the former labor leader, whom perceptive Belgians had picked out some months before independence as a likely Premier under a Kasavubu presidency.

Adoula has remained continuously in office since August, 1961, when legal government was re created under the auspices of the United Nations; he has several times had the laugh on Congolese and foreign commentators alike who have “proved” on more than one occasion that the political equation in Léopoldville forbade his survival. His lack of a working majority in the National Assembly, which had been responsible for the delay in considering the new federal constitution, had arisen from the gathering together of disgruntled groups into an organized opposition by that much disappointed man, Jean Bolikango.

Considerably older than most Congolese politicians (he is now fifty-four), Bolikango was Adoula’s schoolmaster, and he belongs to the same Bangala tribe, which also supplied most of the levies for the Force Publique (now the ANC, Congolese National Army). Besides achieving some distinction as a vernacular novelist, Bolikango was the senior African in the Congolese civil service before independence. It was at his house that the first political manifesto, Conscience Africaine, was drafted in 1956, mainly by his former pupils.

Despite his prestige, he was passed over in 1960 for all three offices which he sought—Chief of State, for which he was heavily defeated by Kasavubu, leader of the Bakongo tribe, with whom the Bangala compete for dominance in the city of Lopoldville; Speaker of the House of Representatives; and Minister of National Defense. It is still a matter for controversy how important a factor the humiliation of their hero by Patrice Lumumba was in causing the mutiny of Bangala troops in the first days of the republic. Except for a short term as Vice Premier, Bolikango has since sulked in opposition, awaiting the call of the nation that he is convinced will come.

The status of Léopoldville

After eighteen months in office, with a number of accomplishments to its credit but without the one decisive prize—the re-integration of South Katanga—the Adoula government had antagonized a variety of sectional interests. Under the rearrangement of provinces, the Bakongo tribal party Abako, which controls the vital stretch of country from Léopoldville to the Atlantic, had obtained its coveted autonomy under the title of Kongo Central. But the establishment of a Congolese “District of Columbia” at Léopoldville dimmed Bakongo joy by depriving the new province of the pleasure and satisfaction of incorporating the national capital.

The Abako deputies, who had hitherto formed part of the government’s majority, walked out of the Chamber during the debate on Leopoldville’s status; their commitment to opposition was confirmed by the proclamation of martial law in the capital to cope with bands of brigands who were engaging in affrays in the streets. Bolikango was able to persuade them, states’ righters by creed, to unite with the remaining supporters of the late Patrice Lumumba and Antoine Gizenga, the principal advocates of a centralized form of government, and with Conakat, the extreme states’ rights party of Katanga’s Moise Tshombe.

Various other small groups which had not been satisfied with office since Adoula had set an example of i economy and austerity by drastically slimming his Cabinet added their votes to what appeared to be the winning combination.

Adoula showed suppleness but also determination and strength. It is easy to see now that this paid off, but at the time of the maximum political pressure on him last November he did not know for certain that the UN would shortly deal decisively with the Katangese secession. Backpedaling over martial law, Adoula yielded nothing over the “neutralizing” of Léopoldville. The scandal of rival politicians intimidating the Assembly by armed supporters of their own tribe had to be forever banished. The government withstood the food boycott of the capital organized by Kongo Central. The West Germans and Americans airlifted emergency supplies, the Bakongo were talked into removing their roadblocks, the Otraco strike was smashed by the arrest of its leaders.

The Katanga issue

Jean Bolikango boasted that he alone could resolve the issue of Katanga by sitting “Bantu fashion with legs out stretched,” around a table with Tshombe. Much cant has been talked about the superior insight of one Bantu African into the thought processes of another. The same Congolese personalities who were seriously underestimated by the whites because of their lack of conformity with non Congolese stereotypes were just as seriously underestimated by other Africans—General Mobutu being the outstanding example. The same Congolese politicians who baffled, infuriated, and frustrated non-African negotiators—Moise Tshombe, above all—produced the same effects on the Africans, like Robert Gardiner and Eliud Mathu, who took over.

At this juncture the UN, harassed beyond endurance by the sniping at its servants by the rifles and mortars of gendarmerie and mercenaries, delivered South Katanga into the hands of the central government. President Kasavubu promptly adjourned the National Assembly, which, although unable to produce the special majority required to compel the collective resignation of the government, had been amusing itself by picking off the individual ministers one by one. But when the UN presented Adoula with the prize of prizes, Bolikango sportingly congratulated the government and acknowledged in so many words that Kasavubu was within his legal rights in giving Adoula a break from parliamentary harassment.

The UN turns out to be right

Every major criticism of the UN’s political judgment over Katanga has now been proved false. It had been claimed   most prominently by the British Foreign Secretary   that action by the UN force to end secession would result either in the UN itself becoming a colonial power, because with Tshombe’s elimination there would be no one left with sufficient popular support to govern the rich mining zones of South Katanga, or, alternatively, in the UN being bogged down in a long guerrilla war.

It was further alleged that the UN was vindictively bent on Tshombe’s political and perhaps even physical extinction and that, whatever political miscalculations he may have made, such a fate was not worthy of a man who had preserved European lives and property and kept the precious wheels of industry regularly in motion during an interval of acknowledged anarchy.

These criticisms referred to dangers that were by no means imaginary or implausible, and tough diplomatic pressure accompanied them. But there was neither large-scale sabotage nor bush war nor political vacuum. Tshombe continues to be acknowledged by the UN and the Congolese government as the legitimate Provincial President of South Katanga; and even the militant Godefroid Munongo, a man deeply implicated in the death of Lumumba and in the fomentation of intertribal war, continues in office, though removed from any contact with the police and switched from the Ministry of the Interior to that of Health.

The UN, excepting members of the Casablanca group on the Secretary General’s Advisory Council, has never been concerned with the destruction of Tshombe as a political force. On the contrary, leading members of the UN’s staff as well as such powerful backers of its policies as the United States have been actively concerned that Tshombe and his Conakat Party should be a weighty factor within the central government coalition.

Brighter prospects

From the UN’s action in Katanga last January three highly desirable consequences have flowed. Adoula has been able to pay an official visit to Brussels without loss of face publicly. His government has been reconstructed to include all three major elements in the combined opposition—Lumumbists, Conakat, and Abako—without compromising his authority. Finally, the army is now at last ready to allow itself to be retrained by foreign missions.

Since the tasks ahead remain so formidable—the adoption of a constitution, the conquest of inflation, the administrative organization of twenty one provinces and a federal capital instead of six, to mention but the most obvious—it is altogether premature to say that the Congo has been saved. All one can say is that the prospects of salvation have begun to look brighter. The realignment of Belgian and UN policies in the same direction by Paul Henri Spaak and U Thant has contributed much. U Thant took full advantage of Spaak’s risky operation, risky in terms of his own public opinion and of the limited elbowroom within a Catholic-Socialist coalition, to restore Belgium’s good international standing.

All experience since July, 1960, had convinced the UN and the Congolese alike that only Belgium could supply sufficient personnel and local knowledge to make the struggling republic a really going concern. The moment that the Thant plan had begun to deliver results in Katanga, some of the Congolese leaders had felt free to display again their lingering affection for Belgium.

Two even more delicate follow up operations have now to be undertaken jointly by the Belgians, UN, and Congolese. First, since Belgian advisers in substantial numbers are indispensable for a long time ahead but a monopoly of Belgian advice is impossible domestically and internationally, the most subtle articulation is called for between the UN’s long term civilian operation and the Belgian aid program, now being planned by Spaak.

The second post-Katanga operation is the unraveling of the Belgo-Congolese financial entanglement. Once the Léopoldville administration is recognized as the legal successor of the Belgian Congo, for this purpose it becomes, without any nationalization laws whatsoever, the major shareholder in the Union Minière du Haut-Katanga and in at least eighteen companies.

Adoula’s official visit to Brussels fortunately initiated a new and more hopeful round of negotiations about “Les Contentieux Belgo-Congolais,” as the whole mass of unfinished business in connection with the transfer of power is collectively termed. The International Monetary Fund has supplied accounting experts, and three constitutional lawyers supplied by the UN have been helping with the permanent constitution.

The Conakat floor leaders in both House and Senate are now ministers in Adoula’s government; two other ministers are drawn from the ranks of those Katangese who at times have served Tshombe under the secession but who have exerted themselves during important phases of that period to reconcile their province and their nation. Whatever compromise is reached between the two constitutional drafts prepared by the UN experts for Adoula and by Tshombe’s advisers in Elisabethville will now have to be made within the Léopoldville Cabinet.

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