The Dakota Hunter
It was a chaotic Start of the Congo State. Until 1960, the Congo was under Belgian Colonial rule. On June 30 of that year, a huge new Central African Nation was installed as the independent Republic of Congo with their Government seated in the Capital Leopoldville (later Kinshasa). Sadly, it would very soon turn out to become one of the most dramatic starts of any of the fledgling democracies, that emerged from colonial rule in Africa and Asia in the period 1945-1965.
Unexperienced with democratic values of the Western World, the Republic of Congo’s genesis turned almost from scratch into a nightmare scenario with fierce tribal/ ethnic competition that resulted in rebellion, upheaval, and the secession of the more remote provinces Katanga and South Kasai. With their strategic mining industry, the Congo had rich natural resources, including uranium. The U.S. WW II nuclear program was built on Congolese Uranium and that simple fact attracted both the Soviet Union and the United States to this region in their Cold War geopolitical struggle for domination. Their competing interests developed into the Congo Crisis, which started in 1960 and would rage for 5 years, costing some 100.000+ people their lives.
In the middle of all that turmoil, soon the name of Army General Joseph-Désiré Mobutu surfaced as the man who claimed to have the key to stability in the war-ridden country. In 1961 the situation was dramatic, with many foreign powers trying to protect their existing interests, or get a larger piece of the cake from that potentially rich country. In a situation somewhat similar to what we see now in Syria, the Russians moved in with arms supply and military advisors, invited by the leftist Congolese Prime Minister Patrice Lumumba. Their arrival complicated matters to such extent, that the UN troops, US and Belgian troops intervened in an ever-escalating leftist uproar of the Simba’s.
It must be said, the only one who survived over the years all revolts, killing parties and conspiracies, was that General with the mysterious smile. Allegedly, he could only survive since he was more perfidious than his opponents and probably the most active organizer/ executioner in the hunt for his enemies, rebels, and communists. After a coup d’état in 1961, he expelled all Soviet advisors and gained with that act a certain status as being “The Great Defender of Western Values on the Dark Continent”. On the other side of the pond, JFK and his staff must have watched the antics of the General with some serious doubts about the democratic principles of the General. But the US geopolitical considerations were made at a time (1961) in which the Soviets were trying for the first time to expand their influence into Africa. It was clear that even the “Champ of Democracy” JF Kennedy was willing to accept some minor wrinkles in the reputation of General Mobutu concerning human rights issues. (Not much seems to have changed over the years, politicians tend to follow their more pragmatic rules).
For the sake of good relations, a meeting was arranged between JFK and Mobutu in early 1963 in Washington (see the photo on top). According to good customs and traditions, the General was offered a gift from the President of the USA, in order to underline the enduring relations between the two nations. From there, it was clear that Mobutu was considered the most powerful man in the Central African shark tank. Though his ruling methods had a few flaws (to say the least) and that should come to expression in the special “allure” of the special Gift. Not over the top, so to let everybody know that in spite of the good relations, there existed some reticence from the US Government over the General. The “genius” outcome of all these political contemplations is shown in the gift, this DC-3 depicted below.
Look what I wrote in Sept. 2015:
The ex- Mobutu DC-3, with Reg. nr. 9Q-CAM is still existing and found back in Goma, on the border of the Lake Kivu in Eastern Congo. It was visited in 2009 by Brendan Odell, who was interested to buy the aircraft. But the region is reputed for frequent turmoil, very close to the Ruanda border, a lawless region where bands of armed rebels have been looting and raping for years. The rebels were allegedly financed by the Ruanda Government, but they always denied.
Relations between the neighboring countries have remained awkward ever since. The situation seems to be rather quiet now and tourist travel to that part is open again, but that can change rapidly. The Military is omnipresent but is not always a guarantee for a safe stay. Mobutu never flew much with the DC-3 and the aircraft was put up for sale somewhere in the early 1980s. It came in hands of a commercial operator, who flew for many years on the domestic flight routes in Congo with the VIP interior. That lasted until the late 1990s or so and finally the aircraft ended up parked on the ramp of Goma Airport as you can see on the photos above. The current owner sent me a sort of SOS with this email below, in which he expresses his worries for the future of the aircraft.