Report on the Congo

The diamond smugglers' trail crosses the country, and nearly everybody is in the racket

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The European staff has been withdrawn; only a handful of caretakers are supposed to be there.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.

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