A DREAM OF LIBERATION
In 1965, Che Guevara left Cuba on a secret journey to Eastern Congo. His mission was to support the Congolese revolutionary insurgency against the imperialist forces that overthrew Patrice Lumumba - socialist independence hero and Congo’s first democratically elected Prime Minister. Within months of his election Lumumba had been killed. Communism could not be allowed to gain a foothold in central Africa. Mineral rich Congo, supplier of uranium for America’s atomic bomb project and other precious metals crucial to industry, must remain a friend of the West.
What became known as the Simba rebellion pitched a dozen Congolese politicians and commanders including latter day President Laurent Kabila against white mercenaries and CIA trained anti-Castro Cubans who had already made their way into the ranks of Joseph Mobuto’s army at the encouragement of the US. With just over a hundred Cuba fighters, experts in guerilla warfare, Che aimed to even the odds and launch Cuba’s policy of international revolution and solidarity across the Third World.
Che and his men fought for six months in the forests and hills of Uvira, South Kivu and Kabimba, Katanga province. The mission was a disaster. The Congolese and Tutsi herdsmen rebels were riven by ethnic and political factionalism; Soviet trained cadres avoided the frontline; disorder, drunkenness, desertion and superstition ruled the men. The Cuban contingent also failed Che’s revolutionary ideal succumbing not only to tropical illness but the disease of demoralization and pessimism, the gravest disease for the revolutionary soldier. Tracked and then encircled by enemy mercenaries, Che and his Cuban cadres evaded capture in an ignoble escape across Lake Tanganyika. Just a few days later, Joseph Mobuto deposed the President of Congo in a coup d’etat and made himself ruler of the newly named Zaire: a tyrant of the people for the next thirty years. Two years later, Che was killed during a similar doomed mission formenting revolution in Bolivia. His ‘revolutionary heroism’ and sacrifice – both celebrated and despised in equal measure – laid the foundation for the global icon of revolution we know today.
CAPTION: Hills surrounding the roadside on the Vitshumbi-Kitchanga route where people cultivate the fields when the security allows it. Foto: Jan-Joseph Stok