Places in World Most Likely to Secede Katanga

About Katanga a place in the world likely to secede from Zaire, size, population, and history of conflict.



Size: 191,878 sq. mi. (496,965 sq. km.).

Population: 3.3 million.

Katanga, officially known now as the Shaba province of Zaire, forms the southeastern portion of that central African country. The region, at about 4,000-ft. elevation, is decidedly cooler than the lowlands of Zaire, and thus it has attracted more European settlement.

Katangan copper mines provide at least two thirds of Zaire's foreign exchange, and its cobalt mines produce a majority of the world's cobalt. Before independence they were owned and run by the Belgian corporation Union Miniere du Haut Katanga. Following independence, the Congo (Zaire) government took ownership but contracted with the Belgians to manage the mines and market the copper. Today Zaire's state-owned copper company, Gecamines, runs the entire operation.

When Belgium granted independence to its Congo territory in 1960, Union Miniere backed a secessionist movement of Katangans-primarily Lunda tribespeople. Lunda leader Moise Tshombe declared independence, and the copper company hired mercenaries who trained an army of Katangan gendarmes. Tshombe's followers murdered leftist Congolese Prime Minister Patrice Lumumba in early 1961.

The Congolese army could not win back the province, but U.N. forces (Belgians, Americans, etc.) put enough military pressure upon Tshombe to force him to abandon secession. In July, 1964, Tshombe became prime minister of a unified Congo Republic and his soldiers were integrated into the Congolese army. Following a 1965 military coup by Col. Joseph Mobutu, the Katangan gendarmes within the army rebelled, were defeated, and fled to Portuguese Angola, to the south.

In Angola they fought for the Portuguese colonialists, and over the years they were joined by additional opponents of Mobutu, including Nathaniel Mbumba, whom the Portuguese placed in command of the Katangans. When the Portuguese Armed Forces Movement decided to turn Angola over to the Angolans, they gave the Katangans the choice of joining one of the Angolan liberation armies. The gendarmes joined with the Marxist MPLA, partially because the other Angolan groups were aligned with Mobutu, and partially because they too were developing left-wing attitudes. The gendarmes played an important role in the MPLA's drive to unify Angola under its rule.

In 1977, after the MPLA achieved power, some 4,000 Katangans marched upon their homeland. They quickly occupied a substantial portion of the province, halted copper shipments, and received a warm welcome from a population impoverished by Mobutu's misrule. Mobutu imported Moroccan troops and arms and other supplies from a wide variety of nations, and his forces drove back the gendarmes.

Fighting continues, and the rebels-organized into Mbumba's Congo National Liberation Front-promise to liberate the entire country, not just their own region. Were it not for foreign involvement, they would be able to free Katanga by themselves. But the U.S. and other powers do not consider Zaire viable without Katanga. They have lent nearly $2 billion in public and private funds to the Zaire government, knowing that Zaire can pay back the money only with copper revenues from Katanga.

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