Amidst new civil wars brewing in South Sudan and the Central African Republic over the past month, one of central Africa’s oldest civil conflicts has also reignited. Rebels who want to split Katanga province away from the Democratic Republic of the Congo (D.R.C.) attacked Lubumbashi, their provincial capital in southern D.R.C., on January 7th. The ensuing eight-hour battle with the military left 26 people dead and caused an exodus which left the million-plus-population city nearly deserted. This follows a similar attack on the city in 2013 and separatist rebel attacks on the Lubumbashi airport in 2011 and 2012 (as reported at the time in this blog).
The origins of the Katanga conflict date to 1960, when Congolese people rose up and threw off more than a century of brutal, bloody rule by the Kingdom of Belgium. Amid the violence, Patrice Lumumba rose to power as the Congo’s new Marxist dictator, and this threw European and Western economic stakeholders in the former Belgian Congo into a panic. Many still suspect a Western hand—Belgian or British or American, perhaps even that of the C.I.A.—in what happened next: the prompt secession of two resource-rich southern regions, the Mining State of Kasai and the State of Katanga, as separate states refusing to bend to Lumumba’s redistributionist vision. Katanga, after all, even today provides 30% of the world’s cobalt and 10% of its copper.
|Katanga in 1961|
|A Belgian mercenary in 1961|
|A bank note issued by the brief-lived State of Katanga|
|Gédéon Kyungu Mutanga, Katanga’s new rebel leader|
|Moïse Tshombe, Katanga rebel leader, in 1961|
|Captured Katangese rebels in 2013|