Joseph Kasa-Vubu

Joseph Kasa-Vubu
Joseph Kasa-Vubu at the Belgo-Congolese Round Table Conference.jpg
Joseph Kasa-Vubu at the Belgo-Congolese Round Table Conference, January 1960
1st President of the Republic of the Congo
In office
27 June 1960 – 24 November 1965
Prime MinisterPatrice Lumumba
Joseph Iléo
Justin Marie Bomboko
Joseph Iléo
Cyrille Adoula
Moise Tshombe
Évariste Kimba
Preceded byPosition established
Succeeded byMobutu Sese Seko
Personal details
Bornc. 1915
Kuma-Dizi, Mayombe, Belgian Congo
Died24 March 1969 (aged approx. 53-54)
Boma, Democratic Republic of the Congo
Political partyABAKO
Spouse(s)Hortense Ngoma Masunda (m. 1941–1969; his death)
ChildrenJustine Kasa-Vubu
Rose Kasa-Vubu

Joseph Kasa-Vubu, alternatively Joseph Kasavubu, (c. 1915 – 24 March 1969) was the first President of the Republic of the Congo (1960–65), today the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Early life

Joseph Kasa-Vubu was born in the village of Kuma-Dizi in the Mayombe district of the Belgian Congo. Different sources list his year of birth as 1910, 1913, 1915, or 1917, though 1915 is the most probable date. He was the eighth of nine children in a family of the Yomba ethnic group, a subset of the Kongo people. His father was a successful farmer who, as an independent entrepreneur, traded with street merchants in Cabinda and built his house at the outskirts of the village. This earned him the animosity of the villagers and in an attempt to assuage their hostility he volunteered to undergo a "poison test" with a substance extracted from a kasa tree.[a] The word "Kasa" was appended onto his name in commemoration of the event.[3] Kasa-Vubu's mother died four years after his birth, and his father died in 1936. On 31 January 1925 he was baptised under the Christian name of Joseph at the Scheutist Catholic mission of Kizu, near Tshela.[4]

In 1927 Kasa-Vubu enrolled in primary school at the third-year level. The following year he transferred to a minor seminary in Mbata-Kiela, 50 kilometers away from Tshela. There he completed his primary studies and began learning Latin and humanities in preparation for instruction at major seminary. An industrious student, Kasa-Vubu graduated second in his class in 1936 and was admitted to the Kabwe seminary in Kasai Province. He intended to study three years of philosophy and five years of theology before becoming an ordained priest. But following the completion of the former courses in 1939 he was expelled by the bishop.[4][b]

Kasa-Vubu subsequently returned to Mayombe and took up work as a bookkeeper for the Kangu mission. Dissatisfied with his salary of 80 francs per month, Kasa-Vubu passed the instructor's exam and became a sixth-grade teacher at the mission school in early 1941. However, his pay was not increased and he left the mission in open disagreement with the superior and the local bishop. In May he found a new job at Agrifor, an agricultural and logging company. With a monthly pay of 500 francs, he felt financially secure enough to marry; on 10 October Kasa-Vubu wedded Hortense Ngoma Masunda in a Catholic ceremony at the Kangu mission. They had nine children.[4]

In June 1942 Kasa-Vubu earned a job as a clerk in the finance department of the Belgian colonial administration in Léopoldville, the capital of the Congo. He worked there for 15 years,[4] attaining the rank of chief clerk, the highest level of employment available to Congolese civil servants under Belgian rule.[5] In 1956 he was in charge of accounting for all of the administration's general stores.[6]

Political activities

Kasa-Vubu began semi-clandestine political organising work while he was still employed by colonial authorities.[7]

Following the resignation of its leader on 21 March 1954, Kasa-Vubu was elected president of the Alliance des Bakongo (ABAKO).[8] Under his leadership, the group swept the first open municipal Leopoldville elections in 1957 and he was elected mayor of the Dendale district of the city.[5]

Kasa-Vubu quickly became known as one of the first Congolese leaders to call for independence. At first, he advocated for independence from Belgium on a 30-year timeline, but he shortened the timetable as the ABAKO movement gained in strength.[7] In his inauguration speech as mayor of Dendale, Kasa-Vubu reiterated his demand for independence, drawing a reprimand from Belgian colonial authorities, which only strengthened his image as a Congolese leader.[5]

On 4 January 1959, an ABAKO political gathering organised by Kasa-Vubu erupted into violence, sparking the Léopoldville riots, a pivotal moment in the Congolese struggle for independence. Kasa-Vubu was set to address the crowd on African nationalism, but colonial authorities banned the meeting. They were unable to calm the crowd and thousands of Congolese began rioting. Kasa-Vubu was arrested, along with several other leaders, and imprisoned for inciting the riot. He was released two months later.[5]

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