Accepted paper:

Debates of Federalism and Centralism in the Congo during the turbulent 1950s


Catherine Porter (Hampton University)

Paper short abstract:

This paper examines the debate among leaders about the existence of a federated or centralized state in the Belgian Congo during the 1950s. It places the arguments into the context of the Cold War, concepts of sovereignty in newly independent African nations and the economic interests of the Congo.

Paper long abstract:

This paper examines the transformation of concepts of nation, state, and sovereignty and their application and discussion in the wider context of the Belgian Congo and its relationship with the Eastern Provinces. The conventional narrative of political debates about of the Belgian Congo begins in the mid 1950s and center around Leopoldville, with a sudden explosion of political life immediately following independence. This narrative misses the longer roots of political activity and the diversity of political thinking in the Congo, especially with regards to Katanga and the Kivu provinces. Diverse opinions arose regarding the future shape that the Congo should take - the strongest of these were between a federal and a strong central government, with hints at separatism in the regional enclaves on the borders. The Leopold-centric histories of Congolese decolonization do a disservice to the reality and gravity of the political conversations taking place in that time. In particular, the paper will examine the the longer history of local political formations that sought to develop ethnic patriotisms across the country rather than pan-Congolese politics, and the deep history of political thinking relating to the question of whether a future Congo should be a loose-knit federation or a centralized state. This will all be examined in the forefront of the Global Cold War and the burgeoning fights for economic control over mineral deposits with the possibility of balkanizing the Congo.

panel His17
Connected decolonisations: networked approaches to anticolonial struggles in Africa, 1950s-80s