2. Special National Intelligence Estimate1

SNIE 65–61


The Problem

To assess the main factors affecting the situation in the Congo.


1. In the Congo situation, given present trends we see little chance for signal improvement, and virtually none at all for a decisive outcome which would bring early stability. As civil authority continues to be exercised in haphazard, often arbitrary, and sometimes violent fashion, tribal warfare and blood feuds are likely to lead to more widespread [Page 3] disorders. There is no indication that the Congo is developing a national leader, a national party, or a national consciousness. Political instability on a grand scale, probably leading to increased violence and other excesses, both organized and disorganized, appears to be the most likely prospect for the Congo for some time to come. This might result in the disintegration of the Congo into a number of separate states. As long as the UN retains a substantial military force it will probably continue to supply some modicum of public order, and more importantly to put some restraint upon the intervention of outside powers. Yet this restraint will be only partial. It is virtually certain that any individual or faction within the Congo that promises to gain enough power to provide a government will be supported by outside powers, but will be opposed by other Congolese factions which are also supported by outside powers, and so will be rendered largely ineffectual.


I. Present Situation

2. There is still no effective central government in the Congo. Large areas of the country, as well as major elements of the national security forces, remain outside of Léopoldville’s control. In some outlying areas UN forces have almost no control of the situation. Anarchy lies close to the surface; political fragmentation continues; and the pro-Lumumba regime which has proclaimed itself in Orientale Province may at any time be directly attacked by Mobutu’s forces. Meanwhile the UN’s diminished ability to serve as a restraining influence on the several external and internal forces maneuvering in the Congo has allowed tensions to rise. Under these circumstances new opportunities for short and long-range Bloc exploitation are increasing.

3. In this condition of political turmoil no one faction or leader can be regarded as having either a firm grip on the reins of government or the chance of establishing an effective administration in the near future. The present governing authority rests on an uneasy collaboration between President Kasavubu, whose position is recognized by nearly all as legal but who wields little actual power, and Colonel Mobutu, whose strength is largely derived from the shifting and transitory loyalties of elements of the Congolese National Army. In general Mobutu ignores Kasavubu and has never explicitly recognized the preeminence of the President’s authority. For his part Kasavubu, who derives most of his popular following from Léopoldville Province, is dubious about the extent of Mobutu’s political aspirations. The fragile political equilibrium now tacitly accepted by both men could break down at any time.

4. Lumumba retains considerable influence in his home province, Orientale; probably enjoys more popular support throughout the rest of the country than any other leader; and has powerful friends among African [Page 4] nationalists and in the Bloc. In the eyes of the UN Secretary General as well as of many UN members he still has a legal basis to his claim for the Premiership. He may return to power. Yet even he would almost certainly be unable to extend his authority over the entire country without extreme difficulty and probably much violence. He would be hampered—as would any other government—by the various disruptive political forces at work throughout the country, the exacerbation of the Congo’s massive fundamental social and economic problems since independence, and the lack of competent administrative and military personnel. He would, however, receive considerable aid from the Bloc and from such African countries as Ghana, Guinea, and the UAR.

II. Basic Problems and Political Forces

A. Internal

5. Important factors evident in the Congo’s political, social, and economic life suggest that events are likely to continue in near chaotic fashion for a long time regardless of the outcome of the immediate struggle for political power. The country was grossly unprepared for independence. The Congolese people, largely illiterate and primitive, had no concept of national unity. Prior to independence there had been no long continued struggle for liberation, which might have produced a feeling of unity and brought forward strong national leaders. Thus the sudden grant of political independence to a weak Congo government was accompanied by terrorism and a resurgence of tribalism; nearly all the inexperienced and unstable political groupings that appeared on the scene were based on tribal associations and were concerned mainly with local interests. Although the tribes represent the only visible basis for an indigenous political organization, they offer little hope of coping with the Congo’s problems.

6. Political institutions such as the provisional constitution and parliament, hastily erected as independence loomed, proved unable to function when the administrative order imposed and operated by the Belgians dissolved. Thereafter the Congolese executive did not have at its disposal the normal instruments of power such as a loyal security force and an effective administrative organization. The almost total lack of trained Congolese makes a competent indigenous administration of the country out of the question for a long time to come.

7. The Congo National Army (CNA) is a scattered, disorganized, and undisciplined force, consisting of about 20,000 men of the former Force Publique. Tribal animosities or immediate needs, such as food and pay, often determine the direction of CNA loyalties and the course of the troops’ frequently capricious and disruptive actions. Nevertheless, the force remains a key factor in the situation, since nearly all important Congolese factions depend upon some army units for support. [Page 5] Most of Mobutu’s power stems from about 8,000 troops in the Léopoldville area, and from less dependable units in Equateur and Kasai Provinces. Mobutu also apparently draws some support from about half the 3,500 troops in Orientale Province; the remainder probably back the Stanleyville regime. About 3,000 troops in Kivu Province have generally supported the nearly autonomous provincial government, but have now yielded to pressures and blandishments from Stanleyville. Tshombé, in Katanga, relies on a Belgian-led force of 4,000, much of which has been recently recruited, and which is wholly independent of the Congo National Army.

8. Although the new Congolese Government was established on a national and centralized plan, resurgent tribalism and the absence of national consciousness quickly posed the fundamental problem of separatism. Tribal antagonisms became crucial and unsettling political issues, both within the central government and in its relationships with the tribally dominated provincial governments. The breakdown in order which undermined the authority of the national government provided a ready-made opportunity for local leaders to proclaim autonomy.

9. Apart from the government in Léopoldville there are now three more-or-less independent regimes in the Congo: one in Katanga, one in South Kasai, and one in Stanleyville. Of these the last probably deserves most attention, at least for the near future. This regime was proclaimed on 13 December by two of Lumumba’s principal lieutenants, Antoine Gizenga and Bernard Salumu. It is precariously based on terrorism in and around Stanleyville, and on such popular support as Lumumba still enjoys in much of Orientale Province. It calls itself the legitimate government of the entire Congo. The regime is poorly led at present, and scarcely organized at all. Yet it has shown a good deal of vitality. The Bloc and certain African states are already attempting to set up a military supply line to it, and the regime has recently succeeded in establishing some control over neighboring Kivu Province. Its importance would be greatly increased if Lumumba should escape to Stanleyville to direct it and rally additional support. It is possible that the Bloc, together with the African states which favor Lumumba, may recognize it as the legitimate Congolese Government.

10. At present the separatist issue is also acute in Katanga Province, where Premier Tshombé has declared a tentative state of independence. In recent years Katanga has accounted for about 50 percent of the Congo’s national income. Since its mineral properties still remain in Belgian hands, and since Tshombé relies heavily on Belgian technical and military advice, his regime has drawn sharp criticism from Africans and Asians generally as a colonial puppet. While Tshombé is today generally master in much of Katanga, he would almost certainly be unable to survive without Belgian help. On the other hand his departure, or the [Page 6] withdrawal of the Belgians, would probably throw all of Katanga into economic and tribal chaos, and the riches of the territory would invite invasion from elsewhere in the Congo.

11. In spite of the sharp reduction of income from Katanga Province, the Congolese economy as a whole has shown an ability to stumble along precariously, nourished from time to time by emergency measures from external agencies. While severe famine exists in South Kasai, where tribal warfare is rife, the locally produced food supply has been generally adequate in the rest of the country, and a high rate of urban unemployment since early spring has not yet resulted in overt labor unrest. The majority of Congolese live in villages, with their livelihood dependent upon subsistence farming, hunting, and fishing. For the most part the economy of these settlements remains unaffected by other than local calamities.

12. Nevertheless, the sustained political crisis cannot fail to have serious effects on the modern segment of the economy. About one-third of the Congolese population is now at least partially dependent upon the money economy, as rural villagers have been attracted to the labor markets of the large cities, the mines, and plantations. Investment and government spending have virtually dried up, the transportation and distribution system has slowed, and small business has greatly suffered. Large sums urgently needed for balance of payments, budgetary, and rehabilitation requirements are not now available in the Congo; they can come only from sources abroad. Thus, additional prolonged political instability would have economic consequences of the utmost gravity, and of unpredictable magnitude. Furthermore, should Katanga remain autonomous or independent the balance of the Congo would be separated from its principal income base.

B. External

The Belgians

13. The return of some 3,000 Belgians to the Congo, the continued presence of more than 20,000 who never departed, and the activities of prominent Belgians in the entourages of Kasavubu and Tshombé, have stirred resentment in the UN, elsewhere in Africa, and, of course, among the “Lumumbists.” There is no evidence to suggest that these Belgians are involved in a “recolonialization plan” concocted by the Belgian Government or in the board rooms of the Union Minière. Nevertheless they are widely considered to be the advance party of a revised colonialism, and their presence is taken as evidence of the determination of the Belgians to regain their control of the country. Moreover, by assisting the Congolese outside UN channels, by supporting separatist movements, and by providing military equipment and financial aid to anti-Lumumbists, the Belgians have come to loggerheads with the UN Secretary [Page 7] General and have left themselves open to Bloc and Afro-Asian charges that they are attempting to reimpose colonial rule.

14. The Belgians remaining in the Congo include civil and technical advisors; over 2,000 employees of the Léopoldville government; staffs of large commercial enterprises in Kasai and Katanga; soldiers of fortune as well as Belgian officers and NCO’s serving the regimes in Léopoldville, Elisabethville, and South Kasai; small businessmen, missionaries, and teachers. They are widely diffused over the countryside. Like the Belgians at home, and the government in Brussels, they are very much puzzled and distressed by the disaster which has befallen them and their interests. There is certainly no united aim or clear purpose in their present activities; indeed there are so few basic objectives common to all of them as to suggest that neither the Belgian Government nor any other Belgian interests have as yet a coordinated long-range policy toward their future role, if any, in the Congo.

15. In fact, the Belgians remain the only available source for an estimated 4,700 essential government positions. They supply, in addition, thousands of needed teachers and artisans, and were at one time counted on to provide important financial and development assistance. On the other hand, Belgian prestige was badly damaged even before independence and many Congolese are resentful of the Belgian presence. Even if the Belgians should weather current storms, they will face residual Congolese bitterness, drives for “Congolization,” and pressures from elsewhere in Africa. This makes it unlikely that they will continue to play an important role in the future of the Congo. On the other hand, it is difficult to see how any reasonably competent administration of the country can be conducted without them.

The African States

16. At the beginning of the Congo crisis most of the independent African states supported UN intervention as a means of forcing the withdrawal of Belgian troops and re-establishing the authority of the Lumumba central government. Many of them also looked upon the UN’s Congo venture as affording them an opportunity to enhance their prestige on the world scene and to broaden their influence in the UN. They all agreed on the basic goals of ending colonialism in the Congo and as far as possible keeping the cold war out of the African continent.

17. As the situation developed, however, diversities of opinion emerged among the African states. Ghana, Guinea, and the UAR showed themselves firm partisans of Lumumba. They found in him a kindred radical nationalist spirit attuned to their policy of eradicating colonial influences while using East-West competition for assistance in building an African power bloc. More recently, Morocco and, on a diplomatic level, Mali have associated themselves with this group. On the [Page 8] other hand, 12 of the most recently independent French-speaking African states support Kasavubu. They desire to offset Ghana and Guinea’s expansionist ambitions in West Africa, and are less apprehensive of continuing connections with the former metropole. Tunisia, Liberia, and Ethiopia have committed themselves to no Congolese faction, and would like to see an impartial and orderly solution of the Congo’s problems by the UN. Nigeria falls generally into the same category. Nevertheless, these four countries also regard Lumumba as the legal Prime Minister. The Sudan has voted with the Guinea-Ghana-UAR faction in the UN, but up to the time of writing has not given support to Lumumba in the Congo. Nor has the government openly granted general transit rights to the countries supporting the Stanleyville regime, though at least one UAR aircraft did transit Sudan en route to Lisala in Equateur Province.

18. As these differences appeared the Congo became a focus of conflicting interests among rival African leaders. Some states have played an aggressively active role, while others, particularly the former French African states, have displayed more caution, and have sought to undercut radical African nationalists, such as Nkrumah, both inside and outside the Congo. Despite the recent expulsion from the Congo of the diplomatic missions of Ghana, Guinea, and the UAR, these states will continue to meddle in Congolese affairs. They have come to view any actions taken in the Congo that do not serve Lumumba’s cause, including those taken by the UN, as playing into the hands of the “imperialists.” They continue to regard strong unitary states under radical leadership as their natural allies in creating a bloc strong enough to enforce a policy of “Africa for the Africans” and hastening the advent of similar regimes elsewhere in Africa. They are willing to accept Soviet assistance to achieve these goals as a means of balancing what they believe to be colonialist pressures in the Congo.

The Bloc

19. The Congo has also become a battleground in the East-West struggle, although the UN has to some extent provided a buffer between the major powers. Soviet hopes of capitalizing quickly on the Congo’s troubles to gain a foothold in Central Africa suffered an early setback. At least temporarily stymied in carrying out direct intervention in the Congo, the USSR now welcomes continuing chaos and unrest. However, the USSR and the Bloc have been generally successful in identifying their interests in the Congo with those of radical African nationalists. By supporting African radicals in the Congo, and by openly maneuvering in the UN, the Soviets seek to re-establish Lumumba and their technical and military missions. In a broader context they have found the issue increasingly useful in their general attacks on the West as the [Page 9] stronghold of colonialism. It has been particularly useful in their campaign to damage the prestige of the UN, especially of the Secretary General.

The United Nations

20. The Congo operation represents by far the largest and most complex task yet undertaken by the UN and much of that body’s standing is staked on its success. Yet the UN’s present undertaking to maintain law and order without supporting any Congolese faction is almost impossible to carry through. By and large, the UN has been successful in preventing unilateral interventions and partially limiting tribal conflagrations. However, continuing political and civil chaos has placed the UN in the crossfire of both local and international political struggle, where either action or inaction provokes criticism by the participants and their foreign supporters. Much of the Afro-Asian world, supported and inspired by the Bloc, regards UN actions in the Congo as constituting opposition to Lumumba and support of “imperialism.” On the other hand, some of the UN’s own forces, notably the Ghana, Guinea, and UAR contingents, have used the UN label to support Lumumba. The weaknesses of Léopoldville governments, and the general state of disorder—as well as the contradictions inherent in the assigned mission to maintain law and order without taking sides—have made it nearly impossible for the overextended UN forces to do more than deal with day to day emergencies.

III. Prospects

21. No clear direction of events can be discerned among the countervailing forces and capricious actions which characterize the Congo situation. On the other hand, the interests and aims of outside powers—the Bloc, the West, the various African states—are to a large degree contradictory. These interests meet and clash in the UN; they have made a decisive UN policy impossible in the past few months, and they will almost certainly continue to do so in the months to come. The vigor with which these contradictory aims are pursued, however, and the methods employed, depend considerably upon the course of events within the Congo itself, and this course is determined almost as much by accident as by design. Thus any firm estimate of the future is out of the question. It may nevertheless be useful to examine briefly a few possibilities, and consider some of their implications.

22. One possibility is that some form of confederation might be achieved by the Léopoldville-Kasai-Katanga regimes, perhaps after a conference assembled by Kasavubu. The chances of this occurring appear to fluctuate almost from day to day, and to range from negligible to something slightly better than even. Even if such a confederation were formed, it is almost certain that neither Lumumba personally, nor the [Page 10] Stanleyville regime, would associate with it. Accordingly, it would be supported neither by the Bloc nor, in all probability, by the Guinea-Ghana-UAR group of African states; indeed it would probably have to cope with their active hostility, implemented through their support of the rival Stanleyville regime (assuming that regime continued in existence). Even under the most favorable of circumstances, the confederation would still be confronted by the basic weakness and immaturity of Congolese political and administrative institutions which led to the present crisis, and it would be a long time before a relatively stable and responsible political order could emerge, even at the regional level. Nevertheless, if the confederation came into existence at all, the circumstances would probably be such as to give it a fair chance of surviving. It would almost certainly receive assistance from the UN, and would probably be politically strong enough to accept Belgian help in administering the country.

23. The return of Lumumba to power is another possibility, particularly as long as Stanleyville offers a base of operations. A new Lumumba bid for power would almost certainly have the vigorous support of the Bloc and of various African and Asian states. However, it is probable that Lumumba would still be unable to extend his power to Léopoldville unless the Kasavubu-Mobutu position disintegrated, and he would almost certainly be unable to gain control over Katanga except by fighting. Thus Lumumba’s seizure of the initiative would probably usher in a period of intensified conflicts in which East-West lines would be sharply drawn and the present position of the UN gravely impaired and perhaps destroyed.

24. It is possible that the UN presence in the Congo might be so weakened as to become negligible, or that it might be ended altogether. This might occur in various ways: if several states separately withdrew their forces from the country, or left them in the country but withdrew them from the UN command. Or the UN itself, frustrated by difficulties, dissensions, and lack of money, might terminate the enterprise. The result would be to make the Congo an unrestricted area of conflict among the various outside powers, which have hitherto been restrained to a considerable degree by the UN presence. Nkrumah has already invited nine counties, including the UAR, to join Ghana in forming an army under African command for possible intervention in the Congo. This has been agreed to in principle by the nations appearing at the Casablanca Conference. The withdrawal or threat of withdrawal of any of the forces of the countries concerned would have a serious impact on the UN. Any African High Command formed, however, almost certainly would not establish any effective military force. The USSR probably will not become involved in a direct military intervention in the Congo, but it would almost certainly provide direction and support, including supplies [Page 11] of food, ammunition, and military equipment, to any radical African nationalist or pro-Communist African force which remained in the Congo after UN withdrawal. Moreover, a large Soviet aid effort—by air or overland through the Sudan to Stanleyville—could materialize if Lumumba’s followers should be able to sustain themselves in Orientale Province, or if the regime received recognition from other African states or the Bloc. Should this occur, an inter-African war might result, with the Stanleyville regime receiving strong backing and material aid from the radical African nationalists, as well as from other states such as the Sudan which might be pressured into aiding their cause.

25. On the whole, it seems to us likely that pressures to force the UN to withdraw from the Congo can be successfully resisted. There appears to be some recognition among the African states, and in the Congo itself, that the consequences of a UN withdrawal would almost certainly be disastrous. For a while, at least, we believe that the UN will stay. It may be suggested, however, that if one or another faction in the Congo felt itself to be in a fair way to establish control, and if it also felt that the activities of the UN were lessening its chances, then it might demand UN withdrawal and its demand might be backed up by its partisans among the outside powers.

26. In sum, given present trends we see little chance for signal improvement in the Congo situation, and virtually none at all for a decisive outcome which would bring early stability. As civil authority continues to be exercised in haphazard, often arbitrary, and sometimes violent fashion, tribal warfare and blood feuds are likely to lead to more widespread disorders. There is no indication that the Congo is developing a national leader, a national party, or a national consciousness. Political instability on a grand scale, probably leading to increased violence and other excesses, both organized and disorganized, appears to be the most likely prospect for the Congo for some time to come. This might result in the disintegration of the Congo into a number of separate states. As long as the UN retains a substantial military force it will probably continue to supply some modicum of public order, and more importantly to put some restraint upon the intervention of outside powers. Yet this restraint will be only partial. It is virtually certain that any individual or faction within the Congo that promises to gain enough power to provide a government will be supported by outside powers, but will be opposed by other Congolese factions which are also supported by outside powers, and so will be rendered largely ineffectual.

[Here follows a map of the Republic of the Congo.]

  1. Source: Central Intelligence Agency Files. Secret. National Intelligence Estimates (NIEs) and Special National Intelligence Estimates (SNIEs) were interdepartmental reports drafted by officers from agencies represented on the Intelligence Advisory Committee (IAC), coordinated by the Office of National Estimates of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), approved by the IAC, and circulated to the President, the National Security Council, and other appropriate officers of cabinet level. A note on the cover sheet reads in part as follows: “Submitted by the Director of Central Intelligence. The following intelligence organizations participated in the preparation of this estimate: The Central Intelligence Agency and the intelligence organizations of the Departments of State, the Army, the Navy, the Air Force, and The Joint Staff. Concurred in by the United States Intelligence Board on 10 January 1961.” The representatives of the AEC and FBI abstained because the subject was outside their jurisdiction.