Posts filed under 'Congo (Kinshasa)'

1892: Jozef Lippens and Henri De Bruyne, Congo Free State hostages

Add comment December 1st, 2019 Headsman

On this date in 1892,* Belgian colonial agents Jozef Lippens and Henri De Bruyne were executed by the rebelling native king who had taken them hostage.

The gentlemen were a lieutenant (Lippens) and sergeant (De Bruyne) of the Force Publique colonial deployment in Belgian Congo.

Their misfortune was proximity when in 1892, rivalry over control of the eastern Congo ivory trade brought the European power into war with its erstwhile Zanzibar “Arab”** allies. (The Arabs were slave-traders, affording a classic humanitarian intervention pretext … which obviously is pretty rich coming from Belgium.)

The Congo-Arab War — which in practice was fought on both sides mostly by black Congolese troops — saw in its opening months the defection of one of the Arabs’ best commanders, Gongo Lutete,† a manumitted former slave who had risen to leadership of the Batetela and Bakussu tribes. In revenge when he switched sides to join the Europeans, the Arab leader Sefu bin Hamid seized Lippens, Belgium’s representative Resident at Kasongo, and De Bruyne, Lippens’s aide — demanding the return of his disloyal general and a settlement of hostilities as the price for these European envoys’ lives.

In fact, it was De Bruyne himself who had the honor of delivering the demand. Escorted by his captors to the eastern bank of the Lomami River on November 15, the emaciated De Bruyne shouted across to Belgian officers on the western side the terms of his captivity. The Belgians, who had the river covered by gunners, urged their countryman to leap into the water and swim for it; De Bruyne declined to abandon his comrade. “By this act of self-abnegation he was to go down in the Belgian folklore as a national hero.” (European Atrocity, African Catastrophe: Leopold II, the Congo Free State and its Aftermath)

His flight would have meant certain death for Lippens; instead, both paid the forfeit together after the Belgian commander Francis Dhanis repelled Sefu bin Hamid’s attack and smashed across the Lomani. According to the account of the war by Sidney Langford Hinde, one of many British officers employed by the Force Publique,

News also reached us here of the murder of Lippens and Debruyne, two officers representing the Free State Government, resident at Sefu’s court in Kasongo. We found out later that, after the defeat of Sefu on the Lomami (which resulted in the death of his cousin and several other noted chiefs), an advance party of the retreating Arabs arrived at Kasongo, and, by way of individual revenge, murdered the two Residents. It is probable, since we have no actual proof to the contrary, that this was done without Sefu’s orders. Twelve of these people, armed with knives hidden in their clothing, made some trivial pretext for visiting Lippens at the Residency, who, however, refused to come out and interview them. They then said that news of a big battle had come to them from Sefu; on hearing which Lippens came out, and, while talking in the verandah, was promptly and silently stabbed. Some of the murderers entering the adjoining room, found Debruyne writing, and killed him before he had learned the fate of his chief. When Sefu returned to Kasongo, a day or two afterwards, he gave orders that the pieces of Debruyne’s body should be collected and buried with Lippens, whose body, with the exception of the hands (which had been sent to Sefu and Mohara of Nyangwe as tokens), was otherwise unmutilated. The strong innate respect for a chief had protected Lippens’ body, while that of his subordinate had been hacked to pieces.

A curious fatality followed these twelve murderers. The chief of the band, Kabwarri by name, was killed by us in the battle of the 26th of February with Lippens’ Martini express in his hand. Of the others — all of whom were the sons of chiefs, and some of them important men on their own account — four died of smallpox, one was killed at Nyangwe, one in the storming of Kasongo, and the remaining six we took prisoners at Kasongo. During the trial they one day, though in a chained gang, succeeded in overpowering the sentry, and thus escaped. One was drowned in crossing a river; three more were killed, either fighting or by accident, within a month or two of their escape; and the two remaining we retook and hanged; — which brings to me a curious point. Of the many men I have seen hanged nearly all died by strangulation, and not by having the neck broken. As compared with shooting, hanging seems to me the less painful death; the wretched being becomes insensible in a very few seconds, whereas a man shot will often require a coup de grace, no matter how carefully the firing party is placed.


Monument to De Bruyne and Lippens in Blankenberge. (cc) image from Zeisterre.

* December 1 is the commonly attributed date for the hostages’ butchery but it can’t be documented with certainty.

** As we’ve noted elsewhere, the term “Arabs” as used for eastern Congo by European sources in this period denotes Muslim bantus. We’re following the prevailing term here, whatever its imprecision.

† As a reward for his services, Gongo Lutete was spuriously accused of treason by a Belgian officer in September 1893 and speedily executed without any form of superior approval.

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Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Belgium,Borderline "Executions",Congo (Kinshasa),History,Hostages,No Formal Charge,Occupation and Colonialism,Put to the Sword,Soldiers,Summary Executions,Wartime Executions

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1961: About fifteen anti-Lumumbists, in Stanleyville

Add comment February 20th, 2014 Headsman

Although it occurred some weeks before, the execution/murder of Congolese Prime Minister Patrice Lumumba only became public on February 13, 1961.

A week later, on February 20, pro-Lumumba forces in Stanleyville (today, Kisangani) shot approximately 15 prisoners in retaliation. Stanleyville was the headquarters of Lumumba ally Antoine Gizenga, whose enclave the late Lumumba had been trying to reach when he was captured. In the confused post-Lumumba days, Gizenga elevated himself to head of state for the rebellious Lumumbist state; 21 Communist-backed states would recognize this as Congo’s legitimate government, in opposition to the official one of Joseph Kasavubu.

Those suffering the Lumumba-backers’ wrath this date included ten politicians — notably Alfonse Songolo, a former Lumumbist minister who had prominently broken with that faction after Lumumba was deposed the previous autumn — plus five soldiers in the anti-Lumumba force of the bright young officer and future definitive author of Congolese horrors, Joseph-Desire Mobutu.

The London Times had reported (Feb. 23-24) that “usually well-informed sources” alleged the execution, but that the U.N. was unable itself to confirm the fact independently.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Congo (Kinshasa),Cycle of Violence,Death Penalty,Execution,History,Hostages,Politicians,Power,Shot,Soldiers,Treason,Wartime Executions

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2000: Kasongo, child soldier

1 comment January 15th, 2011 Meaghan

(Thanks to Meaghan Good of the Charley Project for the guest post. -ed.)

On this day in 2000, a 14-year-old boy from the Democratic Republic of the Congo was executed by firing squad only thirty minutes after his conviction by the Congolese Cour D’ordre Militaire, or Military Order Court. The teen, a child soldier known only as Kasongo, was found guilty with four other soldiers for the murder of a driver.

Amnesty International noted (pdf) that the DRC imposed the sentence in spite of the fact that it signed the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, both of which prohibit the death penalty for persons under the age of 18, and in spite of the fact that the DRC’s Minister for Human Rights had in 1999 promised a moratorium on executions.

Under Congolese law, those convicted by the Cour D’ordre Militaire can appeal to the President for clemency. Since Kasongo’s sentence was carried out so quickly, however, it’s doubtful the President heard his appeal.

In 2001, the DRC told the United Nations that all other child soldiers sentenced to death have been pardoned. Why Kasongo was excepted from this rule, no one knows. The military courts that convicted him were abolished in 2003.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Children,Congo (Kinshasa),Death Penalty,Execution,Guest Writers,History,Milestones,Murder,Other Voices,Shot,Soldiers

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1961: Patrice Lumumba

3 comments January 17th, 2009 Sarah Owocki

No brutality, no torture has ever made me plead for mercy, because I prefer to die with my head up, with unshakable faith and deep confidence in the destiny of my country, rather than live in submission and spurning of scared principles.

-Patrice Lumumba’s last letter to his wife

One person’s “murdered under controversial circumstances” is another person’s “executed.” By most unbiased accounts, Patrice Lumumba was both.

A strident anti-colonialist caught in the most inflammatory of Cold War power struggles, Lumumba remains a controversial figure.

In 1956, Patrice Lumumba was a mail clerk in Belgian Congo recently out of prison for embezzlement of post office funds. Though previously involved with the Liberal Party of Belgium, a colonialist political party, after prison, he helped found the Mouvement National Congolais, a pro-independence national party (an important distinction at the time, as most pro-independence parties were at least partially tribal in nature).

Convicted in 1959 of inciting an anti-colonial riot and sentenced to 6 months in prison, Lumumba was released early as Congo won its independence and the MNC became an important political force. Just how important became apparent the following June, when the 35-year-old Lumumba was ratified as the newly independent Congo’s first prime minister.

From criminal to high statesman in just over a year, Lumumba took his new power in stride, and watched in disgust as the deposed King Baudouin of Belgium attended the new nation’s first Independence Day celebration, and before a fawning international media condescendingly congratulated Belgium’s colonial beneficence to its former slave plantation.

Struck from the day’s official celebrations in favor of the the lukewarm exhortations of the new President Kasa-Vubu, Lumumba found time on the day’s unofficial program. Strident, emotional, and unabashed in its anticolonialist, nationalist, and pan-Africanist bent, Lumumba’s famous speech was roundly criticized by the domestic and foreign press, but well-received by the crowd and ultimately delivered directly to history.

Lumumba’s tenure as prime minister was short-lived, however.

Mere weeks after independence, a mutiny on army bases broke out in reaction to Lumumba’s ill-fated decision to leave the military out of a government pay raise. The resulting anarchy quickly spread throughout the country, and the province of Katanga, with the support of King Baudouin and powerful mining companies, declared independence. As United Nations troops failed to quell the situation, Lumumba appealed to the Soviets, whose intervention succeeded only in causing Lumumba’s political support to crumble.

Kasa-Vuba dismissed Lumumba in September; in response, Lumumba declared Kasa-Vuba deposed — quite illegally, as it happens — and appealed to the Senate, from whom he managed to win a vote of confidence.

At this point, in the heat of the Cold War, things got interesting.

Deposed again, this time in a CIA-endorsed coup, Lumumba found himself under house arrest and under the protection of UN troops. Not certain whether to trust the rule of the various laws surrounding him, Lumumba slipped out under the cover of night and escaped to nearby Stanleyville (now Kisangani), where he believed he had enough supporters to set up his own government — and army, whom one supposes he had by then resolved to pay rather better.

Pursued by forces loyal to the new government, Lumumba was captured and arrested in early December 1960 and charged with “inciting the army to rebellion.” Devoid of his former UN protection, the man who would be the leader of a newly free nation watched as he became a pawn in a much larger struggle. UN Secretary General Dag Hammarskjöld appealed to the process of law –- whatever that was –- while the USSR jumped a step ahead, demanding that Lumumba be immediately released and reinstated as prime minister and all UN forces withdrawn.

So much for that. The UN Security Council convened, and, a week later, the USSR’s resolution was defeated. Another, Western-backed resolution that would have given the UN power to act as impartial arbitrator was vetoed by the USSR.

At this point, caught between hostility of Cold War politics and the ever-hazy idea of “international law,” Lumumba languished in the military barracks of an even more hostile government. Hearing of plans for his transfer to barracks at the now-subdued Katanga province, Lumumba was wild on the plane trip and was forcibly restrained after appealing to other passengers to intervene on his behalf. Late at night after his arrival at his new prison, Lumumba was driven to an isolated spot and executed by firing squad. News of his death was not released until three weeks later, when it sparked protests in several European cities over the role of the Belgian government, which denied any involvement.

The extent of US and Belgian involvement in Lumumba’s death remains the subject of ongoing speculation. So does the question of what might have been.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Activists,Belgium,Borderline "Executions",Capital Punishment,Congo (Kinshasa),Cycle of Violence,Death Penalty,Execution,Famous,Guest Writers,Heads of State,History,Martyrs,No Formal Charge,Occupation and Colonialism,Other Voices,Politicians,Popular Culture,Power,Shot,Summary Executions

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1895: Charles Stokes, in the heart of darkness

3 comments January 15th, 2009 Headsman

On January 15, 1895, a Belgian colonial official in the Congo Free State hanged Charles Stokes for trading illicitly.

A British subject who’d abandoned his humdrum Liverpool desk job to become an missionary in Africa, Stokes eventually became a merchant in the mysterious continent noted for his favorable relationships with the locals. (He had two African wives.)

In 1895, operating out of German East Africa,* his caravan was detained trading into the Congo Free StateKing Leopold’s hellish personal reserve — with “Arab” slavers who colonial authorities considered rebels. That “rebel Arab slavers” bit formed the charge against him, but trading outside the royal monopoly was probably at least as egregious in Belgian eyes.

An 1895 Review of Public Events at Home and Abroad sums up the scenario.

It was alleged that [Stokes] had large quantities of arms, ammunition, and ivory, and that he had bought the ivory at a low price from Kibonge, the assassin of Emin Pasha. Captain Lothaire, an official, an official of the Congo State, with a strong force, was then advancing from Stanley Falls to attack this Arab chief Kibonge, in revolt against the Congo State.** On Lothaire’s arrival at Kilunga, Kibonge was already a prisoner in the hands of his own native subordinates, who refused to join him in fighting the State. Stokes applied to Lothaire for protection of his ivory and goods, which he desired to carry towards the East Coast. Lothaire claimed that letters were found among Kibonge’s effects which went to prove that Stokes had sold large quantities of arms and ammunition to this chief, to be used in war against the Congo State. Mr. Stokes was arrested by Captain Lothaire’s orders, brought before a court-martial composed of two non-commissioned officers and Lothaire, and sentenced to be hanged. The execution took place the following morning.

Though not surprising that the summary hanging of a European would provoke an international incident, one would hardly call it equitable given the unnumbered, unmourned multitudes of Africans whose lives were wrung dry and discarded for Belgium’s treasury. Still, the “Stokes Affair” made the headlines in both England and Germany, and for activist types struggling to gain any kind of traction for their tales of colonial horrors, it was something to work with.

Leopold paid off both countries. The trial of Lohaire for naughtily conducting the execution ended in an acquittal. Belgium set up a blue-ribbon commission of missionaries solemnly vowing to investigate abuses, which was never heard from again.

(Look for Charles Stokes’ appearance in this tale of the Belgian Congo’s woe, beginning at about 1:01:25.)

If the Stokes incident didn’t catch fire itself, it became a stick in the accumulating dry tinder that Sir Roger Casement set a spark to in the early 20th century.

And maybe a bit more than that, too.

The horror! The horror!

Stokes’s singular story is often thought to inform (pdf) Joseph Conrad’s great literary critique of colonialism, Heart of Darkness.

The Stokes hanging would be only one data point among many for those who had ears to listen to the horrors emerging from the Congo, to be sure. Still, Molly Mahood and Ian Watt have included Stokes — the gone-native ivory trader — as one of several possible inspirations for the novel and especially the Kurtz character. Lothaire himself probably offered fodder for the petty, tyrannous impunity of colonial officers who the narrator encounters on his way to meet Kurtz.

I gathered in snatches that this was some man supposed to be in Kurtz’s district, and of whom the manager did not approve. ‘We will not be free from unfair competition till one of these fellows is hanged for an example,’ he said. ‘Certainly,’ grunted the other; ‘get him hanged! Why not? Anything — anything can be done in this country.’

* Present-day Rwanda, Burundi and Tanzania.

** Lothaire had spent the early part of the decade wresting Belgian commercial dominance in the eastern Congo from the incumbent Arabo-Swahili elites. (The link is French.) “Arabs” in the context of the Belgian Free State meant these Moslem bantus, not (by and large) ethnic Arabs as we would think of them today.

Neither were “Arab slavers” a distinct enemy class for the Free State; those prepared to play ball with white authorities raided native settlements to obtain slaves for rubber plantations and other Belgian-authorized ventures.

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Entry Filed under: 19th Century,20th Century,Belgium,Capital Punishment,Congo (Kinshasa),Death Penalty,England,Execution,Germany,Hanged,History,Murder,Occupation and Colonialism,Pelf,Power,Wrongful Executions

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1966: Evariste Kimba and three other “plotters” against Mobutu

2 comments June 2nd, 2008 Headsman

On this date in 1966, the Congo’s last civilian Prime Minister and three former cabinet officials “walked unfalteringly to the gallows in the main square”* of Kinshasa and were hanged before a crowd a hundred thousand strong as Lt. Gen. Joseph-Desire Mobutu consolidated his ruinous Zairian dictatorship.

A cycle of weak governments and nationwide chaos had befallen the resource-rich former Belgian Congo in the early 1960’s after the CIA eliminated the leftist Prime Minister Patrice Lumumba. Evariste Kimba was, when the cycle ended in the fall of 1965, the most recent man to succeed to Lumumba’s title — though hardly his stature — in the tottering government of Joseph Kasavubu (or Kasa-Vubu).

Acting once again with western support, the general later to rename himself Mobutu Sese-Seko overthrew civilian rule on November 25, 1965.

To judge by either tenure (he ruled for more than 31 years) or personal enrichment (rumored to be $5 billion sapped from the poverty-ridden country during that time), Mobutu would rate as one of the 20th century’s most successful evil dictators.

But nobody knew at first that he wouldn’t be another forgettable here-today, shot-tomorrow general. And to see that didn’t happen, Mobutu showed the iron fist early, and made clear that he would brook no resistance, especially not from the old regime’s politicos. A true post-partisan, he declared in 1966 a five-year ban on party activity.

That formed the backdrop, or the pretext, or both, for squelching the “Pentecost Plot”, a supposed attempt by Kimba, along with former ministers Jérôme Anany, Emmanuel Bamba and André Mahamba, to mount a coup of their own.

Pentecost was Sunday, May 29 that year. The four were arrested on May 30 — “[o]n the morning of their arrest the Information Service of the Congo announced, in the name of the government, that they would ‘now appear before a military tribunal which will condemn them to death and they will be hanged.'” (source) When you know the result already, there’s no sense dragging things out: the Pentecost Plotters were tried, convicted and sentenced on June 1 (they denied the charges and received a six-minute deliberation), and hanged on June 2.

Kinshasa’s major football arena, Kamanyola Stadium, was renamed Stade des Martyrs de la Pentecôte in honor of this day’s victims shortly after Mobutu was ousted by guerrilla commander Laurent Kabila in 1997.

* New York Times

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Congo (Kinshasa),Death Penalty,Execution,Hanged,Heads of State,History,Politicians,Public Executions,Treason,Wrongful Executions

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