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Patrice Lumumba

Even before Congolese independence, the US Government attempted to ensure election of a pro-Western government by identifying and supporting individual pro-US leaders. Within 3 weeks of the day the Congo gained its independence on June 30, 1960, disorder and rioting broke out, Belgium flew in paratroopers to protect its citizens and protect order, and Katanga Province seceded. The new Congolese Prime Minister Patrice Lumumba, whom US officials already believed was a dangerous, pro-Communist radical, turned to the Soviet Union for political support and military assistance, confirming the worst fears of U.S. policymakers.

Mercurial Premier Patrice Lumumba was major negative factor in present Congo situation. Described both as "crazy" (by Ralph Bunche) and paranoic, Congo's advance mission to the UN informed African group of Lumumba's "particularly violent character."

members of the Eisenhower administration, increasingly concerned that the Congo crisis would provide an opening for Soviet intervention, sought a diplomatic solution to the crisis. Lumumba was invited to visit Washington in late July, in the hopes that the United States could exert a moderating influence on the prime minister. The visit underscored the futility of that effort. Reports from Lawrence Devlin, the CIA Chief of Station in Leopoldville (Kinshasa), described the situation in the Congo as a classic Communist takeover. The reports, coupled with the arrival of Soviet bloc technicians and matériel, convinced members of the national security team that Lumumba had to be removed. A flurry of U.S. diplomatic activity in support of unseating Lumumba ensued. Plans were also developed to assassinate Lumumba if necessary.

During August 1960, reporting from the Station in Leopoldville warned Washington that unless Prime Minister Lumumba was stopped in the near future, he would become a strongman and establish a government under the influence of, or completely controlled by, Communists. Washington authorized limited funds for an operation in the Congo with the objective of replacing Lumumba with a pro-Western group. These funds were to be channeled in such a way as to conceal the U.S. Government as a source.

On September 14, 1960, Congolese Army Chief of Staff Joseph Mobutu carried out a virtual coup by establishing a College of Commissioners to administer the country on an interim basis. The CIA Station provided the new government with covert funds as part of a general program of covert support, using the previously established, not attributable to the United States, channel. In addition, the covert program included organizing mass demonstrations, distributing anti-Communist pamphlets, and providing propaganda material for broadcasts.

A "constitutional" crisis ensued between the two leaders. Lumumba was a charismatic leader with a contagious message that Belgian, British, and American companies, heavily invested in Congo, were alarmed to hear: economic independence from Europe. Lumumba espoused a leftist ideology speaking of land reform and social programs, and asked the Soviet Union for help, all of which struck fear of "communism" into western governments.

The Special Group (later the 303 Committee), the high-level interdepartmental group set up to approve and supervise covert operations, made its first approval of major funding to strengthen Mobutu's de facto government, in order to prevent Lumumba from regaining control, on October 27, 1960. U.S. covert support continued during the series of political crises that followed.

On August 27, 1960, Director of Central Intelligence Allen Dulles cabled the Leopoldville Station Chief that there was agreement in "high quarters" that Lumumba's removal must be an urgent and prime objective. CIA's Deputy Director for Plans, Bissell, told a CIA scientist in late summer or early fall 1960 to have biological materials ready at short notice for the assassination of an unspecified African leader and that he (Bissell) had Presidential authorization for such an operation.

In September 1960, the Chief of CIA's Africa Division, Bronson Tweedy, instructed the scientist to take the materials to the Congo and deliver instructions to the Station Chief to mount an operation if it could be done securely. The scientist traveled to Leopoldville, but Mobutu's coup on September 14 resulted in Lumumba becoming a de facto prisoner in the Prime Minister's residence guarded by U.N. forces who were in turn surrounded by Congolese troops. The scientist returned to the United States on October 5, but planning continued in Leopoldville to try to implement the assassination operation.

Lumumba proved hard to get close to, so the CIA, along with Belgian authorities, financially supported anti-Lumumba elements within the Congo government, namely Joseph Désiré Mobutu, to get the job done.

On October 15, Tweedy cabled the Station in Leopoldville that "disposition" of Lumumba remained the highest priority. It was subsequently reported that Lumumba was so closely guarded that he could not be approached. On November 27, 1960, Lumumba escaped but was recaptured by Mobutu's forces on December 1. On January 17, 1961, the Station reported that Lumumba had been removed from the Thysville military camp to Elizabethville in Katanga province and had been beaten.

Lumumba was delivered into the hands of his bitterest political enemy, Moises Tshombe, the secessionist leader of Katanga. Between January 17 and February 7, Lumumba's fate was unknown, although there was widespread speculation that he was dead. On February 7, a Field Report informed Washington that Lumumba and his two companions had been executed on January 17 by Katangan soldiers and a Belgian officer, and disposed of in the trunk of a CIA agent's car. A UN commission determined Lumumba was killed by a Belgian mercenary in the presence of the newly appointed president, Tshombe.

On November 11, 1961, the report of the U.N. Commission established by General Assembly Resolution 1601 (XV), April 15, 1961, to investigate the circumstances of the death of Patrice Lumumba and his colleagues, was signed at Geneva. The Commission accepted as "substantially true" the evidence indicating that Lumumba, Joseph Okito, and Maurice Mpolo were killed on January 17, 1961, after their arrival at a villa not far from Elizabethville and "in all probability in the presence of high officials of the government of Katanga province, namely Mr. Tshombe, Mr. Munongo, and Mr. Kibwe."

His death caused the name Lumumba to reverberate around the world. It's one of post-colonial Africa's most heinous unpunished crimes. Lumumba only ruled for four months. Then the 34-year-old was ousted and killed.

The Congolese public and the rest of the world only heard about the role of the western powers much later. Ludo de De Witte's book, "The assassination of Patrice Lumumba" led to a parliamentary investigation of the case in Belgium in 2000. In 2002, Belgium's foreign minister, Louis Michel, apologized to Lumumba's family and the Congolese public for his country's role in the assassination.

Lumumba died a martyr. He stood up to the US and Belgium and still has the reputation of being the Congolese 'Che Guevara'. Michela Wrong, a British journalist and author of the book "In the footsteps of Mr Kurtz" (a reference to the main character in Joseph Conrad's novel 'Heart of Darkness") which describes Mobutu's legacy. Wrong believes that this image of him is at least partly exaggerated: "He really did become a hero after his death, in a way that one has to wonder if he would have been such a hero if he had remained and run the country and faced all the problems that running a country as big as Congo would have inevitably brought."

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Page last modified: 17-01-2016 19:46:25 ZULU