The CIA-Directed Murder of Patrice Lumumba, the First Elected Prime Minister of the Democratic Republic of Congo who Sought Independence from Belgium

US plans to eliminate Patrice Lumumba went as high as the President himself. On August 25, 1960, a subcommittee of the National Security Council known as the Special Group met. Thomas Parrott, the secretary of the Group, began the meeting by outlining the CIA operations that had been taken by ‘mounting an anti- Lumumba campaign in the Congo,’ and the meeting ended with the group “not necessarily ruling out any particular kind of activity which might contribute to getting rid of Lumumba.”[28] The very next month, CIA Station Officer Victor Hedgman received a cable from Bronson Tweedy, the Deputy Director of the CIA, in which “he advised [Hedgman], or [his] instructions were, to eliminate Lumumba,” specifying the orders came from the President himself.

While a Senate report found there was “no evidentiary basis for concluding that the CIA conspired in this plan or was connected to the events in Katanga that resulted in Lumumba’s death,” some doubt still remains. The CIA did have a plan to poison Lumumba and possessed “advanced knowledge of the central government’s plan to transport Lumumba into the hands of his bitterest enemies, where he was likely to be killed.”  The US government, at the very least, played a significant role in Lumumba’s assassination.

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The crimes of colonialism and imperialism in Africa are exemplified in the Congo. King Leopold II of Belgium ran the so-called Congo Free State as his private property, amassing an enormous fortune by turning most adult males into slaves to collect wild rubber and ivory from the jungle. After the Belgians discovered gold in 1903, they worked thousands to death in gold mines. It has been estimated that about 10 million people out of a population of 20 million lost their lives under King Leopold’s barbarous rule. The women and children were held hostages—their hands, noses and ears often chopped off when the men in their families did not meet their rubber quota or failed to return.

The Belgians also had wanted to kill Lumumba and were somewhat involved with his assassination. Specifically, they were involved in “weapon deliveries; supporting the arrest of Lumumba; action 58316, (the outline of which is unclear but within which an attack on Lumumba could be relevant); and the kidnapping of Lumumba.” They also had information that the leader’s life was in danger due to being in the Katanga, but did not take any action to protect him. In fact, when Lumumba was executed, it was in the presence of “a Belgian police commissioner and three Belgian officers who were under the authority, leadership and supervision of the Katangan authorities.”

With Lumumba dead, it was only a matter of time before the Congo would be reunited under the rule of Mobutu.

On January 17, 1961, a firing squad shot to death the Congolese anti-colonialist fighter and leader Patrice Lumumba. His body was buried, but then dug up and dismembered with saws and axes. Then Lumumba’s body was burned and dissolved in acid so there would not even be a corpse around which his supporters could rally. This brutal murder was carried out by some of Lumumba’s Congolese enemies, but it was the U.S. imperialists who called for and orchestrated it. The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) was in the forefront, aided by imperialist Belgium, which had ruled over and tormented the people of the Congo for the previous 75 years.

The West had never been particularly fond of Lumumba, especially after he sought aid from the Soviet Union. His assassination came as a surprise to many, but it had already been planned from the very beginning as the US government was determined to get him out of the picture, as were the Belgians.

In the few months prior to his assassination, Patrice Lumumba had been the first elected prime minister of the Republic of the Congo, newly founded on June 30, 1960. A revolutionary nationalist, Lumumba was a major leader in the country’s fight for independence from Belgian colonialism. He intended to use the country’s vast resources to improve the lives of the Congolese people. They had endured unspeakable suffering under Belgian rule, with literally millions having died on its plantations and in its mines. Now their hopes and aspirations rode with Lumumba.

Lumumba’s rise to power alarmed Belgium. While having been forced to grant the Congolese people formal independence, it had no intention of giving them real independence or surrendering its economic interests in the mineral-rich land—rubber, ivory, and copper, diamonds and gold and much more.

Nor did U.S. imperialism. By the 1960s, it too was exploiting the Congo’s vast resources and was determined to expand its economic, political and military influence there and in Africa more broadly. It wanted to establish a weak, compliant, bought-off government that wouldn’t stand in its way, and they saw Patrice Lumumba as someone who did.

The U.S., with Belgian assistance, began plotting to remove Lumumba from office and silence him… for good. To accomplish this, they took advantage of the fact that the country was not yet really in the hands of, as Lumumba had put it, “its own children.”

Behind the façade of formal independence, Belgian military officers still controlled the Congo’s army and police. The mineral corporations still had tight control over the wealth of the country and over an apparatus of corrupt politicians. Secret agents of the U.S. CIA, Belgian intelligence, and other powers were working day and night to keep power firmly and permanently in the hands of forces subservient to imperialism.

Among those eager to collaborate with imperialism was Joseph Mobutu. He had been a colonel in the Belgian colonial army, and was made head of the “new” imperialist-controlled army. And Mobutu was working hand-in-hand with the CIA on how to kill Patrice Lumumba.

According to former CIA agent John Stockwell:

“The CIA had developed a program to assassinate Lumumba…. The program they developed, the operation didn’t work. They didn’t follow through on it. It was to give poison to Lumumba. And they couldn’t find a setting in which to get the poison to him successfully in a way it wouldn’t appear to be a CIA operation. I mean, you couldn’t invite him to a cocktail party and give him a drink and have him die a short time later, obviously. And so, they gave up on it. They got cold feet. And instead, they handled it by the [CIA] chief of station talking to Mobutu about the threat that Lumumba posed, and Mobutu going out and killing Lumumba, having his men kill Lumumba.” (Democracy Now!, January 21 and May 10, 2011)

To carry out the CIA’s assassination directive, Mobutu staged an army coup d’etat, suppressing political organizations in the capital. Then, on October 10, 1960, Lumumba was put under house arrest, guarded by army and United Nations troops. He soon escaped and tried to get to his main base of mass support in the city of Stanleyville, but five days later he was recaptured by Mobutu’s men. He was then flown to the city of Leopoldville, where he was shown to journalists and diplomats. Following that, he was passed from one group of his enemies to another, to be beaten and tortured. Finally, he was flown to Katanga province and his archenemy Moises Tshombe, for execution along with two of his aides.

THE CRIMINALS:

  • U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower: There was a massive effort over the years to cover up the central role played by the U.S. in Lumumba’s murder. Yet it came to light that President Dwight Eisenhower called for Lumumba’s assassination during a White House national security meeting in August 1960, less than two months after the Congo became “independent” and Lumumba was elected to be prime minister.
  • Allen Dulles, director of the CIA: The CIA overall orchestrated and directed Lumumba’s execution. Dulles called Lumumba a “mad dog,” and stated in a memo to the CIA station chief in the Congo that Lumumba’s “removal must be an urgent and prime objective.” In a message to President Eisenhower on September 21, Dulles wrote that Lumumba “remained a grave danger as long as he was not disposed of.”
  • Frank Carlucci: One of the CIA agents involved in organizing Lumumba’s assassination. Carlucci later became President Ronald Reagan’s secretary of defense.
  • Joseph Mobutu: For his role in Lumumba’s assassination and bringing a swift end to any notions of real independence for the Congo, the U.S. backed Mobutu’s 32-year-long rule. With U.S. support, he ruled the country with an iron fist, crushing attempts at building rebel movements while amassing a personal fortune of more than $4 billion. All the while the U.S. had free rein to plunder the country’s rich resources.

THE ALIBI: The imperialists initially claimed that Patrice Lumumba had been killed by “outraged villagers,” and then later changed their story, blaming his “Congolese enemies.” This cover story was designed to hide who Lumumba’s real assassins were. It was also used to justify setting up the puppet, pro-U.S. Mobutu government, and keeping the Congo under U.S. control—the argument being that the country’s instability, chaos and warring factions (which the imperialists themselves were responsible for creating) proved that the people of the Congo were incapable of ruling themselves.

THE ACTUAL MOTIVE: In the years immediately following World War 2, the U.S. began to establish itself as the world’s major imperialist power, and controlling the Congo was part of establishing its hegemony in Africa. That meant continuing to exploit and plunder the Congo. It also meant suppressing anti-colonialist struggles and blocking any advances in Africa by contending European powers and, most importantly, by the Soviet Union. By the mid-1950s, capitalism had been restored in that formerly socialist country, and by the 1960s it was emerging as an imperialist rival to the U.S.

In late 1960, as the Congo sank into imperialist-inspired chaos and stood on the brink of government collapse and civil war, Patrice Lumumba had sought support from several foreign forces as well as the United Nations. But when UN troops arrived in the Congo, Lumumba quickly learned that they answered not to his government but to the Western powers, including the U.S. and Belgium.

With no assistance coming, Lumumba eventually turned to the Soviet Union, which seized the opportunity to contend with the U.S. by sending planeloads of “advisers” and agents. The U.S. ambassador to the Congo referred to Lumumba as “Lumumbavitch” and he was denounced as a communist or “communist dupe,” creating yet another rationale for his elimination.

Lumumba, while not a communist, was a courageous, charismatic leader who had emerged as one of Africa’s, and the entire Third World’s, most vocal opponents of colonialism and advocates of national liberation and sovereignty. This too put him in the crosshairs of the U.S., which was attempting to bloodily crush the gathering global wave of anti-imperialist uprisings and revolutions.

Murdering Lumumba and installing the brutal Mobutu regime turned the Congo into a bulwark of U.S. imperialism in Africa. For instance, his regime served as a springboard for U.S.-backed military intervention against its Soviet-backed neighbor Angola in the 1970s.

Patrice Lumumba was only 35 years old when assassinated and knew that his anti-imperialist stand and actions could lead to his early death, but he never backed down. A week before his execution, he wrote to his wife, Pauline:

“The brutality, mistreatment, or torture has ever forced me to ask for grace, for I prefer to die with my head high, my faith unshakable, and my confidence profound in the destiny of my country, rather than live in submission and scorn of sacred principles. History will one day have its say, but it will not be the history that Brussels, Paris, Washington, or the United Nations will teach, but that which they will teach in the countries emancipated from colonialism and its puppets.”

Sources

  • Democracy Now!, January 21 and May 10, 2011 interview with Adam Hochschild, author of King Leopold’s Ghost: A Story of Greed, Terror, and Heroism in Colonial Africa, Houghton Mifflin, 1999
  • Heinz G. and Donnay H., Lumumba: The Last Fifty Days, Grove Press, New York, 1969
  • Lumumba, a documentary film by Raoul Peck, 2000; see www.zeitgeistfilms.com for information
  • Kingsolver, Barbara, The Poisonwood Bible, Harper Perennial Library, 1998. A brilliant novel told by the wife and four daughters of Nathan Price, a fierce, evangelical Baptist who takes his family and mission to the Belgian Congo in 1959.
  • Ludo de Witte, The Assassination of Lumumba, Verso, 2001
  • The Agony of the Congo,” from A World to Win News Service, Revolution, August 21, 2005
  • Belgian House of Representatives, Parliamentary Inquiry on the Circumstances of the Assassination of Patrice Lumumba and on the Possible Involvement of Belgian Politicians , Report of the Commission of Inquiry – http://www.dekamer.be/commissions/LMB/indexN.html , pg 6, 8
  • Alleged Assassination Plots Involving Foreign Leaders
  • Dick Roberts, “Patrice Lumumba and the Revolution in the Congo,” The Militant, (July 23, 2001)

Admin Note: Combined from 2 articles: From a portion of The War in the Congo: Mutiny, Secession, and Foreign Intervention” originally published by The Hampton Institute, and American Crime’s “Case #73: The CIA-Directed Murder of Patrice Lumumba”


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