30th June

1859 Charles Blondin crosses Niagara Falls on a tightrope

1937 999 introduced in London as emergency number – do your kids know what to do?

Congo Independence Day:

The first wave of people into Congo was around 2,000 B.C. These Bantu-speaking villagers knew the techniques of iron-smelting and moved the indigenous Pygmies out – there are now up to 600,000 Pygmies living in the Congo rainforest.

The villagers also exploited the natural ores of the land and became great exporters of metals and ivory, and became the Kingdom of Luba. The only downside so far was that Arabs kept nipping in for a slave raid.

In 1885, somehow Berlin decided King Leopold II of Belgium owned the Congo, and he set about building a railway there and began rubber production, cutting off the limbs of any natives who weren’t joining in the rubber production with enough enthusiasm. During this period of disease and brutality, the population of the Congo was reduced by as much as a half.

Due to international protest (Great Britain especially noisy), the Belgian parliament gently prised the Congo from the king’s grip and some economic and social progress was made, even though the colonialists looked down on the indigenous people.

On 30 June 1960 Congo gained independence in its own free elections and most of the colonialists fled.

The Prime Minister, Patrice Lumumba, then sacked the President Joseph Kasavabu, and the army’s chief of staff somehow managed to get money from the US and Belgium to neutralise Lumumba and Kasavabu’s fighing, in case they went all Communist.

In 1961, the US, Belgium and Katangan forces kidnapped and executed Lumumba, and the UN had to come in two years later to sort out all the confusion.

From 1971 the Congo was actually called Zaire under the rule of Mobotu Sese Soku, whom the US loved because he was anti-Communist, even though he declared a one-party state. He occasionally held elections in which he was the only candidate, and embezzled all the money he could get his hands on. Nice bloke.

He also, and this is my favourite bit, renamed himself Mobutu Sese Seko Kuku Ngbendu Wa Za Banga – “the all powerful warrior who, because of his endurance and inflexible will to win, shall go from conquest to conquest, leaving fire in his wake”. (Before that he was called Joseph.)

In 1996, Rwandan and Ugandan armies sneaked over to conquer Zaire; some Zaireans joined in out of protest against Mobutu.

In 1997 Mobotu fled in the face of increasing opposition (and having lost US support now that Communism isn’t so scary) and the leader of that mixed army, Kabila, declared himself President of the Congo (not Zaire anymore).

He then asked the Rwandan and Ugandan soldiers to head home, thanks very much. Rwanda and Uganda then formed separate rebel armies and came back fighting almost immediately, and Angola, Zimbabwe and Namibia got involved on Kabila’s side.

Kabila’s son took over after he was assassinated in 2001, and he asked for peace talks and UN peacekeepers were called in. Kabila jr agreed to share power with the Rwandan and Ugandan rebel army leaders and in 2006 the Congo finally got around to some multi-party elections.

The results led to fighting, the UN sorted it out, they had a re-vote, Kabila won. In general, the fighting has carried on and the whole war has so far killed 5.4 million people.

Activities: Listen to soukous music. Look at the bonobo (but not too much),

the white rhino, the mountain gorilla and the okapi (a zebra-giraffe thing).

They also have an equivalent to the Loch Ness monster: the Mokèlé-mbèmbé.

Other events today:

  • Phillippine-Spanish Friendship Day
  • Sudan Revolution Day – see 1st January
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