On the 5th of September 1960, Kasa-Vubu announced that he had dismissed Lumumba, who until then functioned as the prime minister. Kasa-Vubu used massacres in South Kasai as a pretext to legitimise his decision.(Nzongola-Ntalaja, 2007, p. 108) Mobutu came into power in the Congo after two coups d’états. The first was executed on the 3rd of September 1960. That day, he announced that the government had been neutralised. Mobutu’s actions that day were framed as a peaceful revolution rather than a putsch. A group of so-called “technicians” was appointed to “save the country from chaos,” and to replace both Kasa-Vubu and Lumumba.(De Witte, 1996, p. 274; Fabian, 1996, p. 156) Publicly, Mobutu took a neutral stance on the issue. In reality, the technicians had little power and stood in the way of a legal government; meaning that the country was in a governmental crisis.(De Witte, 1996, p. 319) The coup was in fact intended to get rid of Lumumba, who was arrested. While intending to keep his neutral image in public, Mobutu sided with Kasa-Vubu behind the scenes. The crisis was resolved when Kasa-Vubu formed a coalition with Tshombe and Kalonji, who saw in Kasa-Vubu a more moderate and federalist leader than Lumumba.
Even though Kasa-Vubu was still officially the president of the Congo, Ludo de Witte argues that from that moment on, the real power was no longer in hands of the politicians but had been moved to the elite troops that allied themselves with Mobutu.(De Witte, 2016, p. 108; Zeilig, 2008, p. 117) Mobutu had successfully secured the allegiance of the military forces. The strength of Mobutu’s forces ensured that he was met with little resistance.
Although Patrice Lumumba was officially no longer in power after the 1960 coup; he stayed very popular in the Congo; which, in combination with his attempted escape, could likely be the reason for his murder. Patrice Lumumba was murdered on the 17th of January 1961. The memory of Patrice Lumumba’s death is symbolised in Sapin Makengele’s drawing by the golden tooth. Lumumba’s body has disappeared since his assassination, and allegedly the only remnant is his golden tooth.
It was in 1963 that Pierre Mulele incited an uprising in the Kwilu region.(De Witte, 2016, p. 110) In 1964, the Mulelist Simba rebels, captured the Congo’s third largest city Stanleyville. Even though the rebel forces primarily consisted of untrained men, the Armée National du Congo (ANC) often fled and gave little resistance.(De Witte, 2016, p. 110) The effectivity of the ANC was quite low for several reasons. The army was often directed by incompetent officers who could hold their position because they were tolerated by the ANC soldiers. Furthermore, the ANC was hated by a large part of the population because they were known for plundering and raping.
During that period, the last UN peacekeepers left the Congolese territory which meant that the national regime would not be able to rely on the UN’s support to counter the uprisings in the east. The regime now looked at Moïse Tshombe, who formerly served as the president of Katanga, as a potential new ally.(De Witte, 2016, p. 111) Tshombe accepted the alliance and together with Mobutu mobilised mercenaries en masse to repress the rebelling Simbas.(De Witte, 1996, p. 442) Tshombe had kept strong ties with Belgian businessmen, who formed an important part of the financial backbone for Tshombe’s troops.
It was not until 24th of November 1964 that the stride of the Simba rebels was broken by the Mobutu-Tshombe alliance who had by then gained support from both the US and Belgian paratroopers.(De Witte, 1996, p. 442) The amount of rebellions overall started to diminish significantly in the first half of 1965 until most of them were abandoned.(De Witte, 2016, p. 120) To Kasa-Vubu and Mobutu, the alliance with Tshombe had lost its use since there were barely any rebellions left. Kasa-Vubu and Mobutu had thus no longer any use of Tshombe’s mercenary forces. Tshombe’s presence now became a liability rather than an asset.
Colonel Mobutu’s second coup was realised on the 24th of November in 1965 during a quarrel between Tshombe and Kasa-Vubu that had splintered Léopoldville.(De Witte, 2016, p. 120) The root of this quarrel between the two men was president Kasa-Vubu’s decision to depose Tshombe from his position.(De Witte, 1996, p. 443) Tshombe had become the one many people suspected to be behind the assassination of Lumumba, who was still very popular. Kasa-Vubu, capitalised on Tshombe’s bad reputation by framing him as an agent of the foreign powers; most notably of the Belgians while profiling himself as being in favour of a Congolese reconciliation. Kasa-Vubu claimed that he wanted to purge the ANC from Tshombe’s mercenaries.(De Witte, 1996, p. 443) His intention was also to follow a more Congolese-nationalist route.
With a split and thus weakened political elite, Mobutu seized the opportunity and staged a second coup on the 24th of November 1965.(De Witte, 2016, p. 121) That day marked the end of Kasa-Vubu’s presidency and the beginning of Mobutu’s reign which would last until 1997. On that day Mobutu, who would give the country a new name, a new flag and a new national anthem, assumed control of the government.(Fabian, 1996, p. 156) Mobutu called this the second republic. A few months later, Mobutu was declared president of the republic, the head-of-state, the commander of the armed forces among other titles.
Initially, many people, both inside and outside the Congo were optimistic about Mobutu’s leadership after he restored a relative stability. According to the Belgian ambassador, Mobutu installed a democratic military regime that was well received by the Congolese population.(De Witte, 2016, p. 121) The optimism some Congolese people showed can be exemplified by Tshibumba who said: “The day of November 24 marked, as it were, the birth of Mobutu Sese Seko, a person sent to us by God.”(Fabian, 1996, p. 155)