The Katangese Gendarmes and War in Central Africa: Fighting Their Way Home

The Katangese Gendarmes and War in Central Africa: Fighting Their Way Home

The Katangese Gendarmes and War in Central Africa: Fighting Their Way Home

The Katangese Gendarmes and War in Central Africa: Fighting Their Way Home

Synopsis

Erik Kennes and Miles Larmer provide a history of the Katangese gendarmes and their largely undocumented role in many of the most important political and military conflicts in Central Africa. Katanga, located in today's Democratic Republic of Congo, seceded in 1960 as Congo achieved independence and the gendarmes fought as the unrecognized state's army during the Congo crisis. Kennes and Larmer explain how the ex-gendarmes, then exiled in Angola, struggled to maintain their national identity and return "home." They take readers through the complex history of the Katangese and their engagement in regional conflicts and Africa's Cold War. Kennes and Larmer show how the paths not taken at Africa's independence persist in contemporary political and military movements and bring new understandings to the challenges that personal and collective identities pose to the relationship between African nation-states and their citizens and subjects.

Excerpt

The katangese gendarmes have over the past half-century fought in many of southern-central Africa’s most important wars. Yet their presence, and the significant role they played, often went unnoticed, or was little understood, by most international observers. They were the rank-and-file troops of the secessionist army of the Katangese state, which resisted the United Nations’ attempts to reintegrate Katanga into Congo in the early 1960s. They defended Portuguese colonialism in Angola in the late 1960s and early 1970s and then helped bring the Marxist Movimento Popular de Libertação de Angola (MPLA) to power in that country. They fought against the Mobutu dictatorship of Congo/Zaire from exile and helped bring Mobutu’s successor, Laurent Kabila, to power in 1997. in all these times and places, they were problematically integrated into other people’s armies, mobilized to fight other people’s wars, and then demobilized in decidedly imperfect ways that ensured they remained available for armed redeployment. in recent years, armed men fighting in the name or spirit of the secession have mounted rebel attacks in southern Katanga, deploying the symbols and the name by which the gendarmes have become known, the Katangese Tigers. Successive attempts to discipline or demobilize this force have foundered on the refusal of African nation-state leaders, the United Nations, and the so-called international community to recognize what they were ultimately fighting for: not money or ideology, but rather a home, a nation-state in which their Katangese identity would find expression.

The gendarmes have been missed and misunderstood because they acted and defined themselves against conventional frameworks: across the ideological boundaries of the Cold War; the fragile borders of postcolonial states; and conventional definitions of war as constituting conflict between recognized nationstates and involving either national armies or nonstate guerrilla forces. Their illegitimacy, even impossibility, in Mobutu’s Zaire and their invisibility in the Angolan wars created additional political and practical difficulties in carrying out our research. the actions and intentions of the gendarmes challenge commonly accepted notions of the meaning of the postcolonial Congolese state, the basis of nationalism and state formation in Africa, and the potential for alternative bases for such formations. They raise important questions regarding relations between “autochthons” and “strangers” in Katanga and the relationship between ethnicities such as the Lunda and the postcolonial borders of Angola, Zambia, and the . . .

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