Congo, Democratic Republic of the Toward Political Reconstruction
Source: The Library of Congress Country Studies
From 1965 to 1967, the Mobutist state set out to establish its authority by gradually dismantling the institutions of the First Republic and at the same time bringing about a substantial measure of centralization around the president. Although parliament continued to meet occasionally, its legislative powers were reduced to a mere ritual because key decisions were taken through executive decrees (ordonnances-lois). All political parties were dissolved and political activities banned, in line with Mobutu's promise that "for five years there will be no political party activity." By 1966 the twenty-one provincettes had been reduced to twelve and then to eight provinces plus the capital, which were redesignated as regions in 1972 (see fig. 1). They were transformed into purely administrative entities whose officials were directly responsible to the central government and whose assemblies were consultative rather than legislative bodies. After the elimination of the office of prime minister in October 1966, the presidency became the fulcrum of all executive power.
Most of the remnants of the Tshombist opposition were quickly absorbed into the state through various patronage operations. Just as quickly, summary justice disposed of the more obdurate opponents of the regime. On May 30, 1966, four key personalities of the First Republic, including former Prime Minister-designate Évariste Kimba, were charged with conspiring against the state, tried in a parody of justice, and publicly hanged in Kinshasa (formerly Léopoldville). Threats to the regime nonetheless persisted. Pockets of insurgency continued to confront the regime with serious challenges to its authority in Kivu (since the early 1990s, divided into Nord-Kivu, Sud-Kivu, and Maniema) and Haut-Zaïre (formerly Orientale Province). Months went by before these residual areas of dissidence were brought under control.
Meanwhile, rumors that Tshombe was plotting a comeback from his Spanish retreat hardened into ominous certainty when in July 1966 some of Tshombe's former Katangan gendarmes, led by a handful of mercenaries, mutinied in Kisangani (formerly Stanleyville). Two months later, the gendarmes were finally brought to heel after French mercenary Bob Denard was persuaded to take the lead in crushing the mutiny. By July 1967, however, another major mutiny broke out in Kisangani, triggered by the news that Tshombe's airplane had been hijacked over the Mediterranean and forced to land in Algiers, where Tshombe was held prisoner. As the rebels were forced out of Kisangani by the ANC, they made their way to Bukavu, near the Rwandan border, which they held for three months. They unsuccessfully tried to fight back the attacks of the ANC, but by November, faced with imminent defeat, the entire group crossed the border into Rwanda where it surrendered to local authorities. The unexpectedly brilliant performance of the ANC in Bukavu gave the regime a renewed sense of pride and self-confidence. The time was ripe for consolidating its institutional legitimacy.
Already in January 1966, a major step toward political consolidation had taken place with the creation of the Corps of Volunteers of the Republic (Corps des Volontaires de la République- -CVR), a loosely knit organization whose membership was mainly recruited from the students associated with the General Union of Congolese Students (Union Générale des Étudiants Congolais--UGEC). Many of the ideas set forth by the CVR came to reflect a brand of student radicalism in which the themes of nationalism, economic independence, and socialization received pride of place. Rather than a party, the CVR is better seen as a vanguard movement designed to mobilize popular energies behind Mobutu, "our Second National Hero" (after Lumumba). The very mixed record of the CVR as an agent of political mobilization, reflecting in part its excessive reliance on student activists, must have been an important consideration in prompting Mobutu to launch a more broadly based movement--a movement which, in Mobutu's words, "will be animated by the Chief of State himself, and of which the CVR is not at all the embryo."
Data as of December 1993
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