54th Anniversary of US-Orchestrated Assassination of Congo's Patrice Lumumba
January 15, 2015
Ralph E. Stone / Berkeley Daily Planet
Patrice Lumumba was a Congolese independence leader and the first legally elected Prime Minister of the Democratic Republic of the Congo after he helped win its independence from Belgium in June 1960. Ten weeks later, the United States CIA helped orchestrate a coup that overthrew Lumumba's elected government. Lumumba was subsequently murdered and the US installed Mobutu Sese Seko, a military dictator, to rule the country and oversee and protect US corporate interests.
(January 8, 2015) -- Patrice Emery Lumumba's wife, Pauline Opango Lumumba, died in her sleep on December 23, 2014. She was 78. Her death is almost 54 years after Lumumba’s death on January 17, 1961.
Lumumba was a Congolese independence leader and the first legally elected Prime Minister of the Democratic Republic of the Congo or DR 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. The docudrama is an excellent depiction of this interference. Fittingly, at the same time the movie was showing to large crowds, South Africa was attempting to mediate the internecine dispute between the Congolese government and rebel factions.
Lumumba was elected prime minister of a coalition-government 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.
Lumumba was hastily buried after his killing. But Belgian policemen later dug up the corpse, dissolved it in acid and crushed the remaining bones to avoid turning the grave into a pilgrimage site.
Mobutu Sese Seko, 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's 31-year reign ended with the Congolese Civil Wars, which began in 1996. Since 1998, the civil wars resulted in the deaths of 5.4 million mostly from malaria, diarrhea, pneumonia, and malnutrition, aggravated by displacement and unsanitary and over-crowded living conditions.
Nearly half of the victims were children under five. As of 2013, according to the Human Development Index, DR Congo has a low level of human development, ranking 186 out of 187 countries.
Although the DR Congo is extremely rich in natural resources, political instability, a lack of infrastructure and a culture of corruption have limited development, extraction and exploitation of these resources.
Lumumba’s hopes and fears for the Congo are set forth in his 1960 letter to his wife. We will never know if he had lived whether his hopes would have been realized. But the United States saw to it that he never had a chance. Instead, he ended up in an unmarked grave.
How many times before and since Lumumba's assassination has the United States interfered in the affairs of other countries? Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya are some of the recent examples. In fact, the unintended consequence of the US Iraq war, the so-called Arab Spring, and the Syrian conflict has given rise to the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham or ISIS.
Adam Hochschild's book, King Leopold's Ghost, at pp.301-302 (Houghton Mifflin Co. 1988), and Wikipedia, are the sources of this brief summary of of Lumumba's assassination and the DR Congo’s brief history since the 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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