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Congolese chiefs meet to elect representatives three weeks before independence

Congolese troops after riots, 1960


Bunche holds press conference in Leopoldville, Republic of Congo


Ralph Bunche in the Congo





As the Congolese struggle for self-determination gained momentum between 1958 and 1960, Belgium suddenly granted the Congo its independence. Bunche described the situation in the Congo at independence in his journal:
"First there has been this incredible lack of preparation; in a population of over 14 million people, there were, on independence day last June 30, only 17 men who had university education. There was not a doctor, or a dentist, or a lawyer, or a professional man of any kind. There was not a church; there was not anyone who could qualify to be a professor. No engineers in the entire population on the Congolese side. There was a complete lack of political and administrative experience amongst the Congolese. They had not been permitted to develop any."


Scarcely five days after the Congo's Independence ceremonies, violence erupted throughout the country. Congolese soldiers mutinied against their Belgian officers and the country began to break up along ethnic lines. Bunche was already in the capital city of Leopoldville working with the new government to coordinate the UN's technical assistance program, when he also found himself in charge of a UN-sponsored mediation between Prime Minister Patrice Lumumba and Belgian supported Moise Tshombe. Tshombe, head of the province of Katanga, one of the wealthiest provinces of this vast mineral-rich land, was threatening to secede. In the atmosphere of the Cold War, the UN becomes the "third presence", as Bunche put it, in the East-West contest for control over the Congo. At Lumumba's request, UN Secretary-General Dag Hammarskjöld quickly secured Security Council support for an international peacekeeping force to be deployed under Bunche's supervision, in an effort to maintain the country's viability.





The Congolese experience revealed the problems that newly independent peoples faced in forming politically and economically viable nations free from foreign interference.


Interview with Robert Hill
The collapse of the Congo in the immediate aftermath of independence, the assassination of Lumumba, the fraudulence, the corruption that took over, the assassination, the death of Dag Hammarksjöld was an omen of what would await Africa and the world as a result of the inability of international power politics to stay out of Africa and to assist Africa in its transformation, peaceful transformation.


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