1925-1961

First Prime Minister of the Independent Republic of Congo. Lumumba was a fierce opponent of the Belgian colonial regime.

Born in 1925 to a farmer, Lumumba was educated by Roman Catholic missionaries. He showed much promise as a student and was strongly attracted by the ideas of the French Enlightement. After leaving school, he took a post with the administration which began his political career. Disturbed by the abuses his people suffered at the hands of European colonizers, Lumumba began writing speeches and poetry and did his utmost to unite and organize the Congolese working class. For his efforts he was jailed and released numerous times.

Later, he would organize the Congolese National Movement and called for independance. Mass demonstrations and strikes lead to a wave of solidarity from other countries. Despite Lumumba's arrest, the Movement grew and soon became a large and powerful political force. In 1960, he became Prime Minister and took a marked anti-imperialist line which included a non-aligned foreign policy.

Because of his radical political stance, Lumumba made many enemies. The Congo contained a wealth of natural resources and the Belgians were not pleased to be out of control. Western governments, guided by the CIA, carried out an imperialist plot. Almost as quickly as it began the dream of African unity died. Lumumba was captured, tortured and killed in January 1961. A CIA-approved dictator puppet was put in his place to "lead" the country.

"The only thing we wanted for our country was the right to a decent existence, to dignity without hypocrisy , to independence without restrictions... The day will come when history will have its say." --From his farewell letter to his wife

The "CIA-approved puppet" in question was Mobutu Sese Seko, the archetypal African dictator. He was in turn deposed in 1995 by Laurent-Désiré Kabila, a long-time guerillero (once a compañero of Ernesto Che Guevara), in one of the most pathetic coups ever. The Americans, who tend to prove much more clever than the French when big intere$t$ are at stake, arranged the actual "transition".

Today the "Democratic" Republic of Congo (Congo-Kinshasa, in opposition to Congo-Brazzaville) is little more than a huge battlefield, in which at least six countries are involved (not to mention numerous local tribes), in what will be remembered as the first wide-scale international conflict in African history. Yet another benefit of Western "civilization", I guess.

"Lumumba" is also the title of a excellent film about his life, starring Eriq Ebouaney, and directed by Haitian filmmaker Raoul Peck. The film shows details of Lumumba's life, starting with his arrival in Kinshasha as a 3rd Class Postal Clerk, continuing through the independence movement, his two months in office as Prime Minister, and his eventual execution by members of Mobutu's army.

The film pulls no punches, and its utterly gut-wrenching, Orwellian conclusion ( Mobutu asking for a minute of silence in memory of "National Hero, Patrice Lumumba") is depressing beyond words. The film does an excellent job of showing the charisma and strength of character which made Lumumba such a threat to Western interests, and which earned him many enemies within the Congo.

The one thing that might improve the film, actually, is a longer running time. Just shorter than 2 hours, there is not enough time to show any of Lumumba's earlier years, the experiences which pushed him toward seeking independence, or much in the way of the social and political milieu which might help us to understand the difficulty of Lumumba's position in office. The camera stays on him almost continuously, thus giving an excellent impression of the bewildering pace of events surrounding the first months of independence, but not quite helping with providing extra background.

Well worth seeing, particularly if you are already familiar with the history of the region. A site which is very helpful in acquiring some of this background is that of the the film's American distributor, Zeitgeist Films, at www.zeitgeistfilm.com

As revealed by the Church Committee - one of the intelligence-related enquiries that sprung up like mushrooms after Watergate, the CIA actively plotted to assassinate Lumumba.

For example, at the time of Lumumba's death, CIA toxin expert Sidney Gottlieb was in Africa, equipped with deadly bacteria, and hoping to use these to bring the politician's life to a premature end (see the Church Committee's Alleged Assassination Plots Involving Foreign Leaders, pp. 20-21.)

As with Fidel Castro, it's not unlikely that the CIA were running more than one simultaneous operation with the same end in view. Lumumba had certainly caused some concern at the Agency. The political situation was complicated. Belgium had encouraged the secession of the Congo's wealthiest province, Katanga, virtually owned by the Belgian company Union Miniere du Haut Katanga. Katanga was a rich prize, and Lumumba sought to regain it for his country. After his appeal for aid from the US was rebuffed with the implausible suggestion that he go instead to the UN, he indicated that he would be happy to accept help from any nation willing to give it. Russia, unfortunately for Lumumba, proved willing.

By mid 1960, around 10,000 of the UN's strangely ineffective peacekeeping troops were in the country. As direct Russian help started to be made available, the US view of Lumumba - already an annoyance - began to darken. Rumours circulated that Lumumba was a dope-smoking witchcraft practitioner with loose sexual morals. According to the Church committee, Allen Dulles "said that in Lumumba we were faced with a person who was a Castro or worse."

On August 25, 1960, Dulles cabled CIA station chief in Leopoldville, Lawrence Devlin:

In high quarters here it is the clear-cut conclusion that if Lumumba continues to hold high office, the inevitable result will at best be chaos and at worst pave the way to Communist takeover of the Congo with disastrous consequences for the prestige of the UN and the interests of the Free World generally. Consequently we conclude that his removal must be an urgent and prime objective and that under existing conditions this should be a high priority of our covert action.
As usual with 'official' communications authorising illegal acts, such as murder, the wording is inexact and open to interpretation, as required by Eisenhower's doctrine of plausible denial. Such communications were usually explicated by more sanguine, unrecorded, instructions on a 'back channel'. The minutes of the Special Group (Eisenhower's covert action committee) use somewhat plainer language, reporting Dulles as saying: "Lumumba was not yet disposed of and remained a grave danger as long as he was not disposed of" and noting the conclusion "planning for the Congo would not rule out 'consideration' of any particular kind of activity which might contribute to getting rid of Lumumba" (Special Group minutes, August 25, 1960)

The Church committee ultimately concluded that it was not a CIA assassin who brought Lumumba's political career to a sudden end - in fact they reached the fairly preposterous conclusion that though the CIA had had people - experts in the field - working hard to assassinate about five or six political leaders whose policies they found distasteful, it was always some other guys who got there first. Darn!


Information from John Ranelagh's quasi-official apologia The Agency - the rise and decline of the CIA

Log in or registerto write something here or to contact authors.