The next of Tshibumba’s painting is entitled A LUBUMBASHI – de 1961-1963 CAMP des REFUGIES:

This painting depicts the refugee camp set up by UN troops in Elisabethville (Lubumbashi) following their arrival in 1960. Over time it became known as the ‘Baluba Camp,’ as a large number of refugees in the camp were Balubas (referred to by Tshibumba as Luba-Kasai) who were threatened by Katangese forces. Though estimates vary, accounts estimate that some 75,000 gathered in the camp between 1960 and 1963 (Fabian: 1996, 108). 

In the background of the painting, the flags of the Congo and the UN fly and armed UN troops are depicted behind the border of the camp. The UN presence in the background of the painting reflects the fact that, on the whole, UN troops did not enter the camp. Although a 1962 UN report contained statements suggesting that UN protection in the refugee camp was necessary in order ‘to ensure safety’, a number of accounts also suggest that violence occurred between UN forces and those within the camp (O’Brien: 1962, 292). In the same UN report, the Baluba leader of Kasai stated that conditions were so bad that if the UN had no intention for evacuation, they would prefer to die than stay in the camp: 

Nous préférons mourir debout que de vivre a genoux.

(Joost B. Kuitenbrouwer, “Une initiative de l’O.N.U. Le camp des Baluba. Rapport secret.” Bruxelles: Charles Dessart (1963): 90-98.)

In his account of events entitled To Katanga and Back, former UN official Conor Cruise O’Brien stated that the actions of a minority created tension between the UN and those inside the Elisabethville refugee camp. O’Brien goes on to describe how tensions then came to a head on October 5th 1961, when a Swedish solider was injured and in response the UN opened fire, killing ‘a number of’ refugees in the camp (O’Brien: 1962, 292). Although Tshibumba describes the circumstances of the camp in his interviews with Fabian, he does not directly allude to any violence between UN troops and those within the camp. His description is as follows: 

There was a lot of war in the Congo, and when they saw that there was no way out, all the people fled to the place were the UN [troops] were stationed and went about to build the Foire camp.

While there, Tshibumba stated that:

… people stayed, suffering, dying; people died of starvation and many other causes … old people, women, and little children, and everyday there was dying. 

As opposed to the focus on violence interaction with the UN, Tshibumba’s narrative centres on the suffering of those within the refugee camp during this period. What is depicted reflects his narrative, in that women and children are presented in the foreground and armed UN troops are stationed behind the camp. In the same interview, Tshibumba goes on to say that:

Among those refugees, all or most were in favor of [national] unity. They were for a united Congo and in the place where they stayed they also had the flag of the UN … The UN soldiers guard [the camp] and because they were for [national] unity.

The reference to national unity speaks to the surrounding context of this painting, particularly in relation to the Katangese secession. A number of accounts suggest that those within the camp were threatened by Katangese forces, including Tshibumba who discusses the violence of Katangese forces against the Luba peoples earlier in the interview. Discussion of the refugee camp remains peripheral in a number of histories on the Congo Crisis, and so Tshibumba’s narrative offers insight into perceptions of the camp during this period. Although a number of photographs exist of the camp within the UN Photo Archives, almost all are limited to depictions of the camp closing during the clearance programme. In light of these source limitations, Tshibumba’s History of Zaire offers context to a subject which remains under-researched in traditional historiography. 


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All images are copyright of the KIT Tropenmuseum, Amsterdam.