Moise Tshombe's Curious Position In the Line-Up of African Leaders

On October 5, the airplane carrying Congolese Premier Moise Tshombe to the opening session of the conference of unaligned nations in Cairo was denied permission to land on the grounds that the Cairo runway wasn't in condition to receive it. Tshombe's plane went on to Athens. For the rest of the day, planes of other African diplomats landed at Cairo without trouble.

The next day, Tshombe slipped into Cairo before dawn in another attempt to crash the conference. He was captured by Egyptian security forces, placed in a guest house guarded by paratroopers, and held incommunicado. In retaliation, Congolese policemen, and later troops, sealed off the Egyptian and Algerian embassies in Leopoldville. Nasser then announced that he would hold Tshombe until the Congolese police withdrew from the embassy. Congolese forces withdrew from the embassies on October 8, and Tshombe took off for Paris the next morning.

Many of the nations represented at the congress strongly opposed Tshombe's attendance. Three leaders, Nkrumah of Ghana, Ben Bella of Algeria and Hassan II of Morocco, had refused in July to sit with Tshombe at a meeting of the Organization of African Unity. On October 4, Nasser asked Kasavubu, President of the Congo, to come himself and leave Tshombe home. At the congress' opening session, Nasser made a thinly veiled reference to Tshombe's policies in the Congo when he said, "a trade in mercenaries is being practiced without honor and without shame" for the sake of neocolonialism.

South African Curse

Nasser referred to the white South African and Rhodesian mercenaries whom Tshombe has hired to lead his government's troops against the rebels who have taken control of much of the northern and northeastern Congo. Rhodesia and South Africa both maintain an internal policy of white supremacy. Both nations enjoy the frank hostility of most African countries, and Tshombe's hiring soldiers from them has not enhanced his popularity with his African neighbors.

Tshombe's popularity was low to begin with. He is widely regarded in Africa as a tool of European colonialism and the murderer of the Congo's first Prime Minister, Patrice Lumumba. Lumumba has become one of the greatest heroes of African nationalism and the martyr of the Congo's fight for independence.

During the violent, disorderly days of the Congo rebellion at the end of 1960, when Tshombe was President of the secessionist Katanga province, Lumumba was captured by the forces of the central government, headed by President Joseph Kasavubu. In January, 1961, Lumumba was flown to Katanga. A few days later, a report came from Tshombe's Katanga government that Lumumba had escaped and had been killed by tribesmen. Most African nationalists, to say nothing of the rest of the world, have never believed this story. This February, when Tshombe was trying to overcome hostilities and win support before returning to the Congo, he reiterated in an interview with the French journal Pourquoi Pas that he had nothing to do with Lumumba's death. This time he claimed that Lumumba was dead when his plane arrived in Elisabethville.

A United Nations committee established to investigate Lumumba's death presented quite a different version of the incident on November 14, 1961. It reported that all available evidence indicated that Lumumba and two colleagues were killed on January 17, 1961, "after their arrival in a villa not far from Elisabethville and in all probability in the presence of high officials of the Government Katanga Province, namely, Mr. Tshombe, Mr. Munongo, and Mr. Kibwe; and the escape story was staged."

The committee found President Kasavubu also responsible for handing Lumumba and his colleagues over to Katanga authorities who were obviously "their bitterest enemies."

The world has been much quicker to forgive Kasavubu than Tshombe. But Tshombe has a uniquely broad base of unpopularity. The Congo became independent on June 30, 1960. Within days, troops of the Force Publique began a series of violent acts against European residents and their property. On July 11, Belgian paratroopers arrived to protect Belgian civilians and touched off a widespread revolt by Congolese troops against their European officers. At the same time, Tshombe announced that his province of Katanga had seceded from the Congo. He immediately called in Belgian troops to maintain order and protect him from the national government.

Katanga was not just another province. As then constituted, it produced two thirds of the world's cobalt and was the fifth largest producer of copper; it was an important source of uranium and industrial diamonds; it provided sixty per cent of the Congo's income.

Finance in Katanga

Katango's mines are run by a few giant, foreign-controlled companies, the largest of which is the Union Miniere de Haut Katanga. Tshombe had always worked closely with the Belgian financial interests. The financial interests, in turn, enthusiastically supported Katanga's secession. The secession could easily be seen as a move to destroy an independent Congo, supported by Belgian troops serving the interests of Belgian capitalists.

Tshombe certainly tied himself very closely to these Belgian interests. Years before independence, when Lumumba, Kasavubu and other Congolese political leaders were organizing nationalist groups, Tshombe spent most of his time cultivating good relationships with the Belgians. In January, 1960, when Tshombe and other Congolese leaders attended the Brussels conference that decided on Congolese independence, even the Belgian press criticized Tshombe sharply for his involvement with unsavory financial interests.

During the pre-independence elections, the Union Miniere gave money to Tshombe's campaign. But this has little significance because the company gave money to every one who looked as if he might gain power, including Tshombe's main opponent, Jason Sendwe, and even Patrice Lumumba.

Tshombe's fondness for the Belgians seemed stronger than ever when, during Katanga's secession, he insisted that Belgian troops remain in Katanga in preference to the central government's troops and to the United Nations soldiers sent to maintain order in the Congo. Dag Hammarskjold assured him that UN forces wouldn't interfere in his affairs, but Tshombe still refused to let them in. UN forces began to replace the Belgians in September. But Tshombe still had his own mercenaries. He neither cooperated with the UN nor dismissed the mercenaries. Through the end of 1962, Tshombe agreed repeatedly to cease-fires, and even to the reintegration of Katanga into the Congo. But Tshombe made such agreements only when he himself was arrested or when the UN threatened to use force. In December, 1962, Katanga was still independent and Tshombe's mercenaries were still there. But late that month, UN troops retaliated against Katangese military attacks by capturing Elisabethville. The UN made it clear that it would tolerate no more nonsense. Less than a month later, Tshombe gave the UN soldiers complete freedom of movement and agreed definitely to end Katanga's secession.

Europeau Exile

Tshombe went to Europe for medical care in February and March, returned to the Congo, and then went into exile in Spain. By July he was writing letters from Barcelona to Congolese politicians: he developed ties with the three most powerful men behind the Adoula government: General Mobutu, Minister of Justice Bomboko and chief of the national security police, Nendaka. In February, 1964, a Tshombe propoganda newsletter began appearing in Leopoldville.

There was at least one attempt, late in 1963, to bring Tshombe back, and when the revolutionary activity in northern and northeastern Congo became serious, negotiations between Tshombe and the government began in earnest. The feeling grew that only a "government of reconciliation" could hold the country together. Adoula's government certainly was not doing it. Tshombe was the only man who had any effective control of Katanga. He had won only 25 of 60 legislative seats in Katanga's only election, and without ever controlling the province military, had power and connections in Katanga far greater than any one else's. He had the support of Mobutu, Bomboko and Nendaka, the powers behind the throne.

Hero's Return

Tshombe returned to the Congo in late June. Almost immediately, he became Prime Minister of the country under a new constitution. Kasavubu remained as president. Even before Tshombe took office, he began trying to consolidate support. He won a promise of unconditional support from Andre Lubaya ,an important member of the National Liberation Committee, a group of leftist exiles which has partially guided and supported the revolutionary forces. Tshombe got Adoula to promise the prompt release of Antoine Gizenga, Lumumba's former lieutenant.

Tshombe didn't have to worry about winning over most of Leopold-ville's politicians. He may have left as a long-standing enemy of the country, but he came back as the most sought-after man in Congolese politics. His main political difficulty has been dealing with the National Liberation Committee. The Committee has not come to terms with him, and Committee members have denounced Lubaya widely as a traitor.

The Committee may become more receptive if Tshombe's apparent military success of the past few days continues. Tshombe's victories have, however, been won with the help of white mercenary officers and of planes supplied by the United States and flown by Cuban exile pilots recruited in Miami. The Congolese Prime Minister has opened himself once again to charges of being an agent of outside influences.

U.S. Attitude

What are Tshombe's relations with the Western nations? The Belgians were glad to see him back. The United States, which has given him substantial aid, was not. The United States wants the revolts in the Congo suppressed and the government stabilized. It would much rather have gained these obectives with Adoula as Prime Minister. It will support Tshombe only because he seems the one Congolese politician with any chance of success.

But the United States doesn't particularly like Tshombe. It never has. When Tshombe took Katanga out of the Congo, the only two Western nations favorable to him were Belgium and France. Those two countries met with such strong opposition from the rest of the world, including the United States, that not even Belgium ever recognized his government.

Tshombe's main value to the United States and its allies, and his greatest personal asset, is his remarkable political resiliency. Less than two years ago, when he left the Congo after failing in his attempt to tear the country apart, he was the central government's greatest foe, opposed by the United States and most of the world. Today he is leading the central government in an attempt to hold the Congo together, and the United States is helping greatly with his military operations.

This is Tshombe's salient characteristic: his ability to bounce from ally to ally, from attitude to attitude, from obective to objective. He is not a colonialist tool; He is just an opportunist who once thought the grass would be greener on the colonialist side of the fence. His lack of devotion to principle is not unique in Congo politics; nor is his lack of morality. But in a country of dubious political figures, he has been the slimiest and the most amphibious of all