Force Publique

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The Force Publique (FP) was the official armed force for what is now the Democratic Republic of the Congo from 1885, (when the territory was known as the Congo Free State), through the period of direct Belgian rule (1908-60), until the beginning of the Second Republic in 1965.


[edit] Creation

The FP was initially conceived in 1885 when King Léopold II of Belgium, who held the Congo Free State as his private property, ordered his Secretary of the Interior to create military and police forces for the state. Soon afterwards, in 1886 Leopold dispatched a number of Belgian officers and noncommissioned officers to the territory to create this military force. The FP's officer corps consisted entirely of whites, who comprised a mixture of Belgian regular soldiers, as well as mercenaries from other countries drawn by the prospect of wealth or simply attracted by the allure and adventure of service in Africa.

[edit] Under the Congo Free State

Serving under these European officers was an ethnically-mixed African soldiery. Many were recruited from warrior tribes in the Upper Congo. Others were drawn from Zanzibar and West Africa. The role required of the Force Publique was to defend Free State territory and combat Arab slavers. Under Leopold however a major purpose of the force was to enforce the rubber quotas, and other forms of forced labor. Armed with modern weapons and the chicotte — a bull whip made of hippopotamus hide — soldiers of the FP often took and mistreated hostages (sometimes women, who were held captive in order to force their husbands to meet rubber quotas). Reports from foreign missionaries and consular officials detail a number of instances where Congolese men and women were flogged or raped by soldiers of the Force Publique, permitted to run amok by their officers and NCOs. They also burned recalcitrant villages, and took human hands as trophies, reportedly on the orders of Leopold to show that bullets had not been wasted.

During the Free State period the Force Publique suffered from institutional problems. During the early years of the force, mutinies of black soldiers occurred several times. By the early 1890s, much of the eastern portion of the Free State was under the control of Arab slave traders (though the Government was able to re-establish control over the east by the mid-1890s). Organizational problems were also quite prevalent during the Free State era. With many Force Publique detachments being stationed in remote areas of the territory, some officers took to using soldiers under their control to further private economic agendas rather than focusing on military concerns.[1].

[edit] Under Belgian Rule

[edit] Organisation and role

Image:Congo belge campagne 1918.jpg
The Force Publique in German East Africa during World War One

Following the takeover of the Free State by the Belgian Government in 1908, the Force Publique was organised into 21 separate companies, along with an artillery and an engineers unit. Each company was intended to have four Belgian officers and NCOs plus up to 150 askaris (African soldiers). There were 8 Congolese NCOs as part of this establishment. Belgian officers and NCOs replaced nearly all the multi-national Europeans who had been employed under the Free State. The Troupes de Katanga constituted an autonomous force of six companies plus a cyclist unit.

In 1914 the Force Publique, inclusive of the Katanga companies, totaled about 17,000 men. The majority of these served in small static garrisons with a primarily police role. Only the Katangese units were organised in battalions with a primarily military function. Much had been done to remedy the worst excesses of the Free State period and the Force Publique had become a more typical colonial army - well disciplined but with an inevitably repressive role. Most askaris were armed with single shot 11 mm Albini Rifles. They continued to wear the blue uniform, red fez and sash of the Free State period until replaced by khaki during 1915-17. Initial enlistment was for a period of seven years.

[edit] World War I

During World War I (1914-18) an expanded Force Publique served against German colonial forces in the Camerouns, Rwanda, Burundi and German East Africa. They generally performed well, winning the respect of their British and Portuguese allies, as well as that of their German opponents. From 1916 on the FP grew to reach a strength of three mobile Groupes comprising a total of 15 battalions, from the static garrison and police force of 1914.

[edit] World War II

During World War II (1939-45) the FP provided detachments to serve with the Allied forces in Italian Eritrea and the Middle East. With Belgium itself occupied, the contribution to the Allied cause was a primarily economic one.

[edit] Final Stages of Belgian Rule

For the remainder of the period of Belgium rule the Force Publique continued its joint military and police role, although a separate Gendarmerie was organised in 1959 drawn from the Territorial Service Troops of the FP. Between 1945 and 1960 Belgium continued to organise the Force Publique as an entity cut off from the people that it policed, with recruits serving in tribally mixed units and no more than a quarter of each company coming from the province in which they served.

Tightly disciplined and drilled the Force Publique impressed visitors to the Congo with its smart appearance but a culture of separateness, encouraged by its Belgian officers, led to brutal and unrestrained behaviour when the external restraints of colonial administration were lifted in 1960. The infamous chiquotte was only abolished in 1955. The Belgian Government made no effort to train Congolese commissioned officers until the very end of the Colonial period and there were only about 20 African cadets in training on the eve of Independence.

[edit] Post-Independence

On 5 July 1960, five days after the country gained indepence from Belgium, the Force Publique garrison near Léopoldville mutinied against its white officers (who had remained in complete command) and attacked numerous European and Congolese targets.

The immediate incident sparking the mutiny was reported to have been a tactless speech made by the Belgian general commanding the FP to African soldiers in a mess hall at the main base outside Leopoldville, in which he stated that Independence would not bring any change in their status or role. General Emile Janessen's intention may only have been to stress the need for continued discipline and obedience to orders but the impact on the soldiers, unsettled by the demands of maintaining order during Independence celebrations and fearful that they would be excluded from the benefits of the new freedom, was disastrous. The outbreak caused great alarm amongst the approximately 100,000 Belgian civilians and officials still resident in the Congo and ruined the credibility of the new government as it proved unable to control its own armed forces. Soon afterwards, the FP was renamed as the Congolese National Army (Armée Nationale Congolaise - ANC), and its leadership was Africanised.

This violence immediately led to a military intervention into Congo by Belgium in an ostensible effort to secure the safety of its citizens. The re-entry of these forces was a clear violation of the national sovereignty of the new nation, as it had not requested Belgian assistance (See: Congo Crisis). The chain of events this started eventually resulted in Joseph Mobutu (Mobutu Sésé Seko), a former Sergeant-Major in the FP who had been promoted to chief of staff of the ANC by Prime Minister Patrice Lumumba, gaining power and establishing his dictatorial kleptocracy. His regime was to remain in power until 1997.

[edit] Reference

Peter Abbott: "Armies in East Africa 1914-18". Osprey 2002. ISBN 1 84176 489 2es:Force Publique fr:Force publique nl:Force Publique

Force Publique

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