THIS DAY IN HISTORY: 11 May 1978
Fighters from the Front for the National Liberation of the Congo (FNLC) took control of the city of Kolwezi, in the province of Shaba (now known as Katanga), in an attempt to overthrow the repressive regime in Zaire (today the Republic of Congo) of Mobutu Sese Seko. The FNLC entered the province from their military base in neighbouring Angola.
Mobutu's appeal for foreign assistance led to swift military intervention from France and Begium. French Legionaries arrived in Kolwezi, followed by the Belgians. Violent battles ensued on the streets between the FNLC and French/Belgian contingent. Control of Kolwezi was seized back from the FNLC after a week, and the French/Begian troops eventually relieved by an inter-African force compromising troops from Morocco, Senegal, Togo and Gabon.
The mineral rich province of Katanga, located in the south eastern part of the country, has been a hugely contested region in the history of the Congo. In July 1960, within days of independence, Katanga tried to form a breakaway state under the leadership of Moise Tshombe, opposing the government of Patrice Lumumba. Lumumba was deposed in a coup d'état, led by Mobutu in September 1960 and eventually executed by a Begian led firing squad in January 1961. Ironically, Mobutu declared Lumumba a national hero five years after his assassination.
In March 1977 the FNLC also attempted to take control of Katanga province, but were beaten back by Moroccan troops with the support of France. Since then the Congolese people have experienced two major civil wars (1996 to 1997 and 1998 to 2003), featuring many external players, and ongoing, often violent, tensions since the official end of the second war.
The story of the Congo is one full of complexities and intrigues since it was first claimed as the personal property of of King Leopold II of Belgium. At its simplest, it is one of continuing abuse and oppression, coupled together with misuse and exploitation of land and resources by a local minority and foreigners, to the detriment of the ordinary people.
In searching for a video clip to accompany this post I decided upon this, because it illustrates many aspects of the battle for the Congo:
"Always bear in mind that people are not fighting for ideas, for the things in anyone's head. They are fighting to win material benefits to live better and in peace, to see their lives go forward, to guarantee the future of their children." Amilcar Cabral