Ralph E. Stone / Berkeley Daily Planet – 2011-02-02 22:05:14
Fiftieth Anniversary of US Orchestrated Assassination of Congo’s Patrice Lumumba
(February 2, 2011) — January marked the fiftieth anniversary of the assassination of Patrice Ã‰mery Lumumba, a Congolese independence leader and the first legally elected Prime Minister of the Republic of the Congo after he helped win its independence from Belgium in June 1960.
Ten weeks later, the United States helped orchestrate a coup of Lumumba’s government. Lumumba was then imprisoned and murdered.
In our various trips through a number of African countries, we now better understand the terrible legacy of Western colonialism. In 2002, we saw the docudrama Lumumba in Cape Town, South Africa. Lumumba is an excellent depiction of this interference. Fittingly, at the same time the movie was showing to sizeable crowds, South Africa was mediating the internecine dispute between the Congolese government and rebel factions.
Lumumba was elected prime minister of a coalition-government prime minister of the Congo. It was the first democratic national election the territory had ever had. Lumumba believed that political independence was not enough to free Africa from its colonial past; it had to cease being an economic colony of Europe. His fiery speeches immediately alarmed the West. Why? Because Belgium, British, and American corporations had vast investments in the Congo, which was rich in copper, cobalt, diamonds, gold, tin, manganese, and zinc.
An inspired orator, his message was being heard beyond Congo’s borders. Western governments feared his message would become contagious to other African countries. And Lumumba could not be bought. Finding no allies in the West, he sought assistance from the Soviet Union. Thus, his days became numbered.
Less than two months after his election as prime minister, a US National Security Council subcommittee on covert operations, which included CIA chief Allen Dulles, authorized his assassination. Richard Bissell, CIA operations chief at the time, later said, “The President [Dwight D. Eisenhower] would have preferred to have him taken care of some way other than by assassination, but he regarded Lumumba as I did and a lot of other people did: as a mad dog . . . and he wanted the problem dealt with.”
Alternatives were debated for dealing with “the problem,” among them poison (a supply of which was sent to the CIA station chief in Leopoldville), a high-powered rifle, and free-lance hit men. But it was hard to get close enough to Lumumba to use these, so, instead, the CIA supported anti-Lumumba elements within the factionalized Congo government, confident that before long they would do the job. They did.
After being arrested and suffering a series of beatings, the prime minister was secretly shot in Elizabethville in January 1961. A CIA agent ended up driving around the city with Lumumba’s body in his car’s trunk, trying to find a place to dispose of it.
We will never know what would have happened in the Congo or Africa or elsewhere if he had survived. But the United States saw to it that he never had a chance. Instead, he ended up in an unmarked grave.
Joseph Desiree Mobutu, then chief of staff of the army and a former NCO in the old colonial Force Publique, was the key figure in the Congolese forces that arranged Lumumba’s murder. The Western powers had spotted Mobutu as someone who would look out for their interests. He had received cash payments from the local CIA man and Western military attaches while Lumumba’s murder was being planned.
He later met President Kennedy at the White House in 1963. Kennedy gave him an airplane for his personal use — and a US Air Force crew to fly it for him. With United States encouragement, Mobutu staged a coup in 1965 that made him the country’s dictator. Mobutu remained dictator until rebel leader Laurent Kabila seized control of the country in 1997.
How many times before and since Lumumba’s assassination has the United States interfered in the affairs of other countries? Iraq and Afghanistan are the most recent examples
Adam Hochschild’s, King Leopold’s Ghost, at pp.301-302 (Houghton Mifflin Co. 1988), is the source of this brief summary of Lumumba’s assassination. I also recommend Barbara Kingsolver’s Poisonwood Bible, a novel set against the Congo’s fight for independence from Belgium, the murder of Lumumba, and the CIA-backed coup to install his replacement,
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