SGM Herbert A. Friedman (Ret.)

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The Congo

Back in the 1960s the United States was at the height of a Cold War with the Soviet Union and to a lesser degree, The People’s Republic of China. The war was about to get hot and within a few years American troops would be sent to Vietnam, first as advisors, later as fighters. I recall that we suddenly heard of a war going on in some far off place called the Congo. We didn’t know much about it but the newspaper played it up as part of the continuing war against Marxism. We were told that left wing and pro-Communist forces had taken over the Congo. In fact, there were reports that Patrice Lumumba had requested Russian aircraft to move his troops. There was hope. A brave pro-democracy fighter by the name of Moise Tshombe had declared the Katanga Province of the Congo independent, and he would be a friend of the west. We hoped he would be victorious.

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Patrice Lumumba

David Livingstone was the first European explorer to discover the area we call the Congo. His reports resulted in King Leopold II of Belgium establishing the Congo Free State. In 1885, the thirteen most powerful European countries met to divide the African continent among themselves. At the Conference of Berlin, they recognized King Leopold as the sovereign of the International Association of the Congo, an organization designed to administer the land surrounding the Congo River. King Leopold quickly named himself the Congo’s King-Sovereign. On 29 May 1885, King Leopold renamed his new, privately controlled country the Congo Free State.

After parliamentary elections in May 1960 the National Congolese Movement became the country's strongest party. On 30 June 1960, the Belgian Congo became the Republic of the Congo. Patrice Lumumba became the new prime minister and immediately promised social and economic changes in the country. His decision to adopt a non-aligned foreign policy apparently resulted in the CIA becoming part of a conspiracy with Belgium to split up the Congo, keeping the area that possessed the most wealth. On 12 July 1960, President Kasavubu requested United Nations military assistance due to insurrections, Belgian aggression and Katangan secession. The United Nations Security Council agreed and formed the United Nations Operation in the Congo. Within two days, 20,000 United Nations military troops began to arrive in the Congo. Great Britain, Portugal, and France saw the United Nations intervention as an opportunity to prevent the Congo crisis from creating regional Instability.

In September 1960, the moderate President Kasavubu dismissed Lumumba due to the Prime Minister's support of genocidal measures to end the secession of the Kasai province and for the failure to end abuses of the civilian population. Prime Minister Lumumba refused to leave his post and Colonel Joseph Desire Mobutu, Army chief of staff abducted Prime Minister Lumumba in September 1960. The United Nations forces did nothing to prevent the abduction or to prevent Colonel Mobutu from delivering the prime minister to enemies in Katanga. On 17 January 1961, he was delivered to the secessionist regime in Katanga, where he was murdered. Various authors have blamed the CIA, the Belgians, the British and the Katanga troops. His death caused a scandal throughout Africa. He was proclaimed a “national hero.”

The murder of Lumumba really sealed the fate of the Tshombe government. Regardless of who actually did the deed, Katanga lost credibility and became an “outlaw” state.

There were other such actions during the cold war. The murdering or over-throwing of liberal or left-wing politicians seems not uncommon. In Chile, President Salvador Allende was murdered or committed suicide on 11 September 1973. His backers claim that he was killed by General Augusto Pinochet, possibly with the help of foreigners including several copper companies. U.S. President Richard Nixon was one of the anti-Allende group, funneling several million dollars to candidates opposing Allende. There is no proof of murder here, just accusations that U.S. backing of right-wing candidates could have led to the death. Witnesses swore that Allende killed himself with an AK-47 that was a gift from Fidel Castro.

In Iran, Mohammad Mosaddegh was the democratically elected Prime Minister from 1951 until 1953, when his government was overthrown in a coup d'état said to have been orchestrated by the British MI6 and the American CIA. Mosaddegh pushed several liberal or socialist policies including nationalization of the Iranian oil industry which had been under British control since 1913. Mosaddegh was removed from power in a coup on 19 August 1953, known as Operation Ajax. Mosaddegh was imprisoned for three years, and then put under house arrest until his death. This time, American President Dwight D. Eisenhower was in power and apparently approved payments to the forces opposed to the Prime Minister.

I think it is important to point out that during the Cold War the U.S. and U.S.S.R. were constantly fighting each other to win over nations seen as neutral, vulnerable, or leaning toward the other side. It was a fight to the death and often they used substitute forces in actual wars, such as Angola where the U.S. backed forces called UNITA while the Soviets used Cuban forces. Both side did what they believed were in their best interests. It was seen as a life or death battle and many politicians and governments on both sides met their fate as part of some larger plan to help the East or the West become more powerful.

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Moise Tshombe

Moise Tshombe, the son of a wealthy businessman, was educated at an American Methodist mission. In 1959 he became president of Conakat (Confédération des Associations Tribales du Katanga), a political party that was supported by Tshombe’s ethnic group, the powerful Lunda, and by the Belgian mining monopoly Union Minière du Haut Katanga, which controlled the province’s rich copper mines. At a conference called by the Belgian government in 1960 to discuss independence for the Congo, Tshombe presented Conakat’s proposals for an independent Congo made up of a loose confederation of semiautonomous provinces. Tshombe’s proposals, as well as those of other federationists such as Joseph Kasavubu, were rejected in favor of Patrice Lumumba’s plan for a strongly centralized republic. In May 1960, Tshombe’s party and its allies won a majority in Katanga’s Provincial Assembly, and Tshombe became president of the province. Although he appeared to accept Lumumba’s national government, when the Force Publique (militia) mutinied two weeks after independence, Tshombe declared Katanga independent. Tshombe received support from Western leaders including then U.S. Vice President Richard Nixon, who praised Tshombe as a pro-West advocate and staunch anti-Communist Christian. With covert military and technical assistance from Belgium and the aid of a white mercenary force, many members from South Africa and Rhodesia led by Irish-born colonel “Mad Mike” Hoare, Tshombe maintained his independent Republic of Katanga for three years in the face of combined United Nations and Congolese efforts to end the secession of the province.

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A Katanga Postage Stamp depicting Moise Tshombe

Not quite legal, but accepted by some of the nations supporting Katanga independence

Thomas Whigham of the University of Georgia History Department mentions the stamps in an article entitled “Confusion at the Outset, Confusion at the Fall: the Postal History of the State of Katanga,” Mekeel’s & Stamps Magazine, 8 December 2006:

One common feature of most Katangan stamps is a pattern of three “Xs” prominently displayed. These, in fact, are not “Xs” at all, but rather representations of native “handa,” or metal crosses produced in pre-colonial times by African coppersmiths and used as a medium of exchange. Patriotic labels bearing the Katangan flag or a portrait image of Tshombe also appeared at this time, though it is not clear that these were produced by government order. The Universal Postal Union refused to recognize the legitimacy of Katangan postage stamps, though so many went through the mails that the international prohibition proved essentially worthless.

The stamps were a way for Tshombe to prove that Katanga was a legitimate state. He hoped they would gain universal acceptance, but in this too, he failed.

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The 1961 1 Franc Coin of Katanga

In an attempt to show that the government was legitimate, Katanga printed banknotes and struck coins. This 1 franc coin features a bunch of bananas on the front and at the bottom the old “Handa” money. The money has no value but is an interesting souvenir of a failed nation.

Congolese troops invaded northern Katanga in January 1961 and were swiftly driven back. In September, the UN launched Operation Rum Punch, but in spite of superior fire power, the attack proved unsuccessful. In December 1962, the UN forces launched operation Grand Slam, which was successful. Elisabethville surrendered on 15 January 1963, and the remaining mercenaries escaped into Portuguese Angola. Tshombe fled to Spain. Recalled from exile in 1964 by President Kasavubu to assume the post of premier to quell a rebellion in the eastern Congo, Tshombe was dismissed in 1965. General Sese Seko Mobutu staged another military coup in November 1965. He placed Tshombe on trial for treason in absentia and he was condemned to death. Tshombe returned to Spain. In July 1967, when there were rumors that he planned to return to the Congo, Tshombe was kidnapped and taken to Algeria. Algerian officials refused the demands of Congolese President Mobutu for Tshombe’s extradition to stand trial for treason. Tshombe remained under house arrest near Algiers, where he died of a heart attack on 29 June 1969.

His story was allegedly the basis for Daniel Carney's book that later became the 1978 film The Wild Geese, which starred Richard Burton. In the film, Winston Ntshona plays a pro-western, deposed African president, who is imprisoned following the hijacking of his plane.

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Joseph Mobutu

In August 1960, Colonel Joseph Mobutu, aided by Belgium and the United States led a military coup and ousted Patrice Lumumba from power. Lumumba was arrested by Mobutu's soldiers and transferred to Elizabethville, Katanga, where he was murdered on 17 January, 1961.

Meanwhile, in September 1960. Fighting erupted between Katanga troops and the forces of the United Nations. UN Secretary General Dag Hammarskjold arranged to meet Moishe Tshombe to work out a ceasefire. On 17 September 1961, Dag Hammarskjold was killed when his plane crashed close to Ndola (now part of Zambia) airport. A special report issued by the United Nations following the crash stated that a bright flash in the sky was seen. Initial indications that the crash might not have been an accident led to multiple official inquiries and persistent speculation that the Secretary-General was assassinated. There were unproven rumors that Tshombe was behind the crash.

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Mobutu and his good friend, President Richard Nixon

Mobutu was the President of the Democratic Republic of the Congo from 1965 to 1997. He renamed himself Sese Seko Mobutu and renamed the country Zaire in 1971. He led an authoritarian regime, amassed vast personal wealth, and attempted to purge the country of all colonial cultural influence while enjoying considerable support by the United States due to his anti-communist stance. Mobutu established a single-party state in which all power was concentrated in his hands. He also became the object of a pervasive cult of personality. In May 1997, rebel forces led by Laurent Kabila expelled him from the country. Already suffering from advanced prostate cancer, he died three months later on 7 September 1997 in Morocco. Mobutu was notorious for corruption, nepotism, and the embezzlement of U.S aid funds of between 4 and 15 billion dollars during his reign. He has been called the “archetypal African dictator.”


We know very little about the propaganda leaflets used during the war between Katanga and the UN and Congolese Army. We have seen some used by Katanga and depict them here. The leaflets seem to be printed in several languages; French, native African and English to name a few.

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Leaflet 97

We find the number 20,000 at the top of this leaflet so it is possible that was the amount printed and disseminated. The leaflet plays up the pro-democracy point of the Katanga government and claims that the Congo government is Communist. Some of the text is:

Communism in Katanga – Never!

We will never accept a Communist domination...The Katangese people ask for the right of self-determination and reject the Marxist ideology.

Atheist Communism, that is the real enemy!

The Katangese people want work, happiness, prosperity.

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Leaflet 109

This leaflet speaks of friendship and brotherhood. It depicts an empty hand outreached as if to shake hands. What might be an error is that the left hand is shown, and Westerners generally shake with the right hand. The leaflet is in French, probably because many of the locals, both native and European, spoke the language from the long Belgian rule. The text is:


Wanting to collaborate with his Congolese brothers, Katanga holds out its hand to Mr. ADOULA, the Congo Prime minister, in order to put an end to the present crisis.

Katanga, through the voice of its beloved president, Mr. Moise TSCHOMBE, is willing to meet Mr. ADOULA for finding a solution to the Congo problem, desiring only one thing:

Happiness Peace Liberty

The problem is difficult because of the interference in the affairs of these countries, of the great powers: the USA, the USSR, etc…of which the major intention is the extermination of black people, with the intention to take possession of the wealth of people and steal their mineral and natural resources.

Congolese brothers, accept the collaboration proposed by your Katangese brothers - the United States, as well as the Communist countries, being only devouring wolves.

Isn't it odd that Tshombe who was supposed to be pro-American seems to declare his independence from all the western and Eastern nations in this leaflet? Perhaps this explains why later on the United States aligned itself with Mobutu.

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Irish and Swedish

I do not see a code number on this leaflet. This leaflet is directed against the United Nations troops that will be fighting the Katanga forces. The leaflet speaks of freedom and again points out that the forces of the Mobutu and Congo Government are Communists. It says that the Irish and Swedes have political and religious freedom and why would they want to open the door for Khrushchev and Communism in Africa. In especially mentions the Irish fight for freedom and implies that the Katanga battle is similar.

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U.N.O. will exterminate you all

This anti-United Nations leaflet was found in Elisabethville, the Congo, after the arrival in Katanga of the UN soldiers in 1961. The text in several languages says:

U.N.O. will exterminate you all.
UNO kills your brothers.
U.N.O. is no longer called U.N.O. of peace, but U.N.O. of war.
U.N.O. will steal your freedom,  your wealth, and the soil of your parents.

Trouble in 2008

Early in 2008 there was a peace agreement, but combat between government and rebel forces resumed in August. During the year, hundreds of civilians were killed, thousands of women and girls were raped, and a further 400,000 people fled their homes, pushing the total number of displaced persons in North and South Kivu to over 1.2 million. In western Congo, state authorities used violence and intimidation against political opponents, killing over 200 protestors and others in Bas Congo and arresting scores of opponents, on charges of plotting against the government. Officials harassed press and civil society critical of the government.

In January 2008, the government and 22 armed groups signed a ceasefire agreement and the government launched the Amani Program to coordinate peace efforts. But slow progress in implementing the agreement, plus frequent violations of the ceasefire, gave way in late August to serious fighting in North Kivu between the forces of rebel commander Laurent Nkunda's National Congress for the Defense of the People (CNDP) and the Congolese national army. In October the CNDP stopped just short of taking Goma and unilaterally declared a ceasefire, demanding talks with the government. The CNDP, claiming to protect people of Rwandan descent and particularly Tutsi, also fought the Coalition of Congolese Patriotic Resistance (PARECO), made up of other Congolese ethnic groups and the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR), a group including Congolese and Rwandan Hutu, some of whom had participated in the 1994 genocide in Rwanda.

MONUC, the UN peacekeeping force, fulfilled its mandate of protecting civilians in some places, but its limited numbers and capacities prevented the force from providing effective protection in many situations. When confronted by violations to the ceasefire, MONUC troops attempted to halt advances by Nkunda's CNDP but not those of Congolese army soldiers, leading some Congolese to question the neutrality of MONUC. In some cases, angry civilians stoned UN troops whom they believed had taken sides in the conflict.

MONUC Leaflet

The front shows a little Congolese girl with a T-shirt saying “Love” looking at three fighters. The text is: 

For your future and that of yours...You still have a choice. 


In 2009 the MONUC remains for those who want to disarm and retreat into peace and dignity

The back is all text: 

MONUC DDRRR call center 24 hours / day.

This is followed by 12 towns with the local numbers to call to return to the government. The leaflet ends with the text: 

MONIC DDRRR teams are in the field. Fighters wishing to disarm may also report to all MONUC bases. 

Disarmament - Demobilization - Repatriation - Reinstallation - Reintegration

Note: MONUC is the Mission de l'Organisation de Nations Unies en République Démocratique du Congo. On 1 July 2010 it was renamed the United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO). The DDRRR stood for Disarmament, Demobilization, Repatriation, Reintegration, and Resettlement.

It is clear that the Congo is still a very dangerous place with killings, torture, and rape committed by all sides. We show a leaflet from the UN MONUC organization above.

This is just a very short story since our articles are driven by the leaflets and we have seen so few from this small war that occurred decades ago. We will add more leaflets as we find them. Readers who care to comment on this article can contact the author at