23 JUNE 1961, Page 13

Katanga La Patrie

By JACK WHITE SIXTEEN months ago I paid a short visit to the Congo, and I wrote afterwards, in the Irish Times, about the danger of a movement for autonomy in Katanga. I am willing to take a bet that it was the first time the province had been named in any Irish newspaper. Now we have 600 Irish soldiers there with the UN Force (not to mention the Commander-in-Chief), and an Irish civil servant, Conor Cruise O'Brien, has just been sent to Elizabethville as UN administrator. All of a sudden, Katanga has become a household word to the Irish: we have even developed a tendency to describe Katanga as `the Ulster of the Congo.'

Like most comparisons of the kind, this one is confusing rather than illuminating. Nobody has ever denied the geographical unity, at least, of Ireland. But the Congo is entirely an artificial creation. The national frontiers enclose just as much of Africa as Leopold 11 could lay his hands on; the frontiers of Katanga are simply the boundaries of a province created by the Belgian administration. In this context, argument in terms of 'the Congolese people' is inevitably mis- leading. Pragmatism is the only guide; and prag- matism asks whether it is sensible to support a government which is recognised but does not work against a government which is not recog- nised but does.

Within Katanga itself there is a certain feeling of make-believe about the insistence upon the sovereign status of Mr. Tshombe's State. All the external marks are there: Katanga has her own flag, her own stamps (which appear to be ac- cepted jnternationally), her own banknotes (which do not); her own motor-car registrations. All over the place there are stirring patriotic posters: 'KATANGA, AFRICA'S BARRIER AGAINST COMMUNISM,' they announce, or 'KATANGA LA PAIRIE.' It is hard to know how much impact all this makes upon the ordinary people. The concept of `Katanga La Patrie' must seem a little remote: though not more remote, cer- tainly, than Congo La Patrie.

The most fervent Katangan nationalists are the Belgians, and they have good reason. The revolt of the Force Publique last July led to the flight of the whit's and the breakdown of the administration elsewhere in the Congo. In Katanga there was a revolt, too, and the whites fled over the border to Rhodesia; but in a matter of days Tshombe had disbanded the Force Publique and formed his own gendarmerie, the whites came streaming back and life went on much as usual. The whites supported Tshombe's declaration of independence, because Tshombe stood for law and order. Effectively, too. In the main street of Kolwezi, for example, there are numbers of shops which were aban- doned by their European owners (Italians and Greeks, as well as Belgians) last July; they stand locked and empty, but they have not even had their windows broken. Last month, in driving some 500 miles on main roads and bush roads, with no escort but an African chauffeur, I met just one police road-block. Neither in town nor village is there any sign of racial tension. One night in Elizabethville I stood and watched a basketball match under floodlights, between a team of black youngsters and a team of whites; they played hard, but without any animosity.

The motto is Business As Usual, the appear- ance is normality. Yet if one had a thermometer that could take the temperature of a society, Katanga would surely register a slight fever. For many of the Belgians, the independence of the Congo was a shipwreck and Tshombe was a raft; better than being in among the sharks, of course, but hardly as good as a first-class cabin. People go on doing the jobs they have always done, because they have always done them; and because the engineer's devotion to his dynamos, the miner's to his excavator, may be a loyalty that goes deeper than politics. The Union Miniere expects to fulfil its production targets for copper and cobalt this year and to pay a dividend. But even here there is a general un- certainty about the future.

It is' widely supposed that Katanga is run by the Union Miniere, and the Union Miniere is merely a subsidiary of the Societe Generale de Belgique. In fact, a larger holding is owned by a British company, Tanganyika Concessions, which has about 144 per cent. of the shares. The two largest Belgian interests, the Societe Generale and the Cotnpagnie du Katanga, hold 41 per cent. and 6 per cent. respectively. Private shareholders, mostly French and Belgian, own around 56 per cent., no individual holding being over # per cent. But the largest shareholder of all is the Congo State, which now owns 19 per cent. This holding, which resulted from the dissolution of the Comite Spectate du Katanga on independence, went to the Government of Katanga, not to the Central Government in Leopoldville. Thus Mr. Tshombe's Government actually owns 19 per cent. of the Union Miniere, and draws some £2 million this year in dividends, as well as collecting about LI6 million from the company in taxes.

The company is the main financial support of the State and is directly responsible for many of what are normally public services: the entire electricity supply for the province, roads, rail- ways, and for hospitals, schools and houses for its staff and their families; while it spends 1,0(x million francs a. year among local secondary in- dustries. The company officials are punctilious in insisting that the Katangans are masters in their own house, and strictly it is true. But at the elbow of each of the masters there sits a Bel- gian, whose functions are in theory administra- tive, but who must have some influence on policy.

There is nothing shady about this arrange- ment. In fact, it is almost exactly the relation- ship envisaged for the whole Congo under the Treaty of Friendship. Everybody knows by now that the Belgians failed in the Congo to train an elite capable of taking over the administra- tion. They planned to build slowly: they laid down a good foundation of primary and tech- nical education and brought thousands of Africans in Katanga into the artisan class—as . fitters, crane-drivers, mechanics and so on. But secondary education was woefully deficient and higher education barely existed. When it became obvious that they had misjudged the pace of political advance, they decided, instead of fight- ing off independence. to make the political con- cession and hope that the process of building could go on afterwards. Belgian officials were to remain at their posts, under African political chiefs, and gradually train more Africans to re- place them. This process must still be gone through, even if you write 'United Nations' in place of 'Belgian.'

By replacing Belgian officials with UN officials, you gain an assurance of good faith, at the cost of some inevitable dislocation. What is perhaps most necessary at the moment is that it should be made clear—publicly—just what the policy of de-Belgianisation means. The UN demands the removal of Belgian military and para-military personnel and political advisers. Its intention, apparently, is to interpret this brief in a fairly liberal way: first, not to hustle Belgians out of their jobs until the UN can offer satisfactory re- placements (which may be harder than it sounds); secondly, not to interfere with technicians (who may range from educationists to mining en- gineers or agricultural advisers), even if their jobs touch on policy-making, if they are genuinely working in the interests of the African. A good deal of tension among the whites could be avoided if these terms were announced pre- cisely and publicly.

In the past couple of months relations between the Elizabethville Government and the UN seem to have improved, perhaps because each side has begun to take the other a little more seriously. The United Nations is committed to working for the unity of the Congo. But it must be clear now that the only unity one can hope for is a federation with a reasonably effective central Government, and that no federation can be viable without the participation of Katanga. That in its turn can hardly be expected until Mr. Tshombe (who is, after all, a legally-elected provincial Premier, if not the recognised head of a State) is released, and UN guarantees are offered for a parliamentary session at which the entire issue can be discussed. In Dublin last week Mr. Dayal said that it appeared now that the solution to the Congo's problems was to be sought by political negotiation rather than by fighting. So far, so good. But there is a long, long way to go still before the legal fiction of a Congo State becomes an effective reality.