President JF Kennedy’s DC-3 gift to Mobutu found back in Congo.
It was a chaotic start for 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. WWII nuclear program was built on Congolese Uranium. 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.
ENTER GENERAL MOBUTU
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.
Photo no. 2 United Nations peacekeeping forces of Iran, Philippines, and Sweden in Kamina Air Base, Congo, January 1963, a few months before Mobutu met JFK. This photo was taken from a Sikorsky UH-19 Chickasaw (S-55) Helicopter, the type that you can see standing on the rear end of the platform next to the DC-3. From January to May 1963, the Imperial Iranian Air Force sent 4 F-86Fs with 8 pilots and 33 ground crew to the Republic of Congo. Different times! Furthermore, you see 5 Swedish Air Force Saab 29 Flygande Tunnan’s (Flying barrels) and 5 Philippines Air Force Sabres. The photo was taken by Iranian Brigade- General Mohammed Khatami.
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 a certain status as ‘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 General’s antics with some serious doubts about his democratic principles.
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’ President JF Kennedy, was willing to accept some minor wrinkles in General Mobutu’s reputation concerning human rights issues.
JFK MEETS MOBUTU
For the sake of good relations, a meeting was arranged between JFK and Mobutu in early 1963 in Washington (see photo n0.1). According to good customs and traditions, the General was offered a gift from the USA’s President to underline the two nations’ enduring relations.
It was clear that Mobutu was considered the most powerful western-oriented ruler in the Central African shark tank. While his ruling methods had a few flaws (to say the least), the Americans must have deliberated over the nature of the special gift.
Not over the top, so to let everybody know that there existed some reticence from the US Government over the General despite the good relations. The ‘genius’ outcome of all these political contemplations is depicted in photo no. 3.
Photo no. 3
THE DC-3 GIFT FROM JFK TO MOBUTU
photo no. 4
In Sept. 2015, the ex-Mobutu DC-3, with Registration number: 9Q-CAM, is still existing and traced in Goma, on the Lake Kivu border in Eastern Congo. The place was visited in 2009 by Brendan Odell, who was interested in buying 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.
Relations between the neighboring countries have remained awkward ever since. The situation seems to be rather quiet now, and 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 the hands of a commercial operator who flew for many years on the Congo’s domestic flight routes with that 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 photos no.3 and no. 4.
In 2105, the owner sent me a sort of SOS with this email below, in which he expresses his worries for the future of the aircraft.