Mention the name Patrice Lumumba to any senior native African and you will likely evoke an oratorical response about how he stood up to the Belgians in the Congo and served as the first elected prime minister of his country with a broad vision on how to move not only the Congo, but all of Africa forward towards freedom and democracy: he was a Pan-Africanist of the first order! All this and yet he has been dead for more than fifty years! He was far and away the brightest shining light to come out of Africa in the mid-twentieth century and had he lived long enough he just might have made the difference between failure and success for the conversion of the Congo into a democratic state. In many ways he was the Malcolm X of Africa, but just a little greener. Indeed Malcolm X once referred to Lumumba as “the greatest black man who ever walked the African continent.” Unfortunately, Lumumba had two strikes against him when he came to power. The first was that the Congo had such an extraordinary level of mineral wealth in industrial diamonds and precious metals such as copper, manganese, zinc, cobalt and chromium and an abundance of a new ore of increasing importance—-uranium: this degree of mineral wealth attracted the attention of major industrial economies, including the United States. Indeed the first uranium based power plant in Chicago used uranium from the Congo and Congo uranium went into the two atomic bombs dropped on Nagasaki and Hiroshima. The second obstacle related to the fact that the Cold War was raging and the Dulles brothers were loath to endorse any regime that showed a preference for aligning itself with the Soviet Union, the primary source of evil in the world.
The Congo was appropriated in 1885 by King Leopold II of Belgium. During Belgium’s seventy five year rule Belgians made immense fortunes while millions of indigenous people died through massacre or in slavery. The “Heart of Darkness,” written by Joseph Conrad, is based on his personal experiences as a ship’s captain on the Congo river. It was that experience that led to his rejection of colonialism in which he witnessed needless deaths of enslaved indigenous people. In addition, the harsh rule of the Congo by their Belgian occupiers did not lead to any elevation of Congolese citizens to assume control of the country. By one count there were only seventeen college graduates in a country of thirteen million. There were no Congolese doctors, lawyers or engineers and no one had any experience in government administration. And because of the inherent riches of the Congo, all government functions were handled by foreign companies or through the Belgian government. The army did not have a single Congolese officer. Despite these obstacles Patrice Lumumba, became a self-educated leader, with a voracious appetite for reading, and, as a beer salesman, he traveled throughout the Congo honing his speaking skills and perfecting his knowledge of different regions of his country. He was such an electrifying presence that he quickly came to prominence. When negotiators agreed on a formula for Congo independence, Congolese citizens went to the polls and overwhelmingly voted Patrice Lumumba into office as the first Congolese prime minister. Lumumba became an international celebrity—-he had a very lofty vision for the future of his country. At the initial ceremony, celebrating the transfer of power to civilian control, King Boudouin of Belgium began the ceremony by characterizing what he was a gift to the Congolese people, from a generous King.
Later, after the King’s speech, in recognition of his election as prime minister, Lumumba gave the following speech which shocked the attending luminaries who had expected a far more mild transition of power. By one account King Baudouin turned deathly pale. Patrice Lumumba spoke: [from “The Brothers” by Stephen Kinzer, p. 261]
- “Our wounds are too fresh and too painful for us to drive them from our memory…..We have known sarcasm and insults, endures blows morning, noon and night because we were “niggers”…..We have seen our lands despoiled under the terms of what was supposedly national law, but which only recognized the right of the strongest. We have seen that this law was quite different for a white than for a black: accommodating for the former, cruel and inhuman for the latter. We have seen the terrible suffering of those condemned for their political opinions or religious beliefs…..And finally who can forget the massacres in which so many of our brothers perished, the cells where the authorities threw those who would not submit to a rule where “justice” mean oppression and exploitation? All of that my brothers we have endured. But we, who by vote of your elected representatives, have been given the right to direct our dear country, we who have suffered in our body and in our soul from colonial oppression, we tell you loudly: all that is now ended!“
All of this was true, but Lumumba had uttered these words to the wrong audience, except for the native Congolese in attendance: they were enthralled by his brief speech. The Congolese in the hall as well as thousands listening through the loud speakers outside, interrupted Lumumba at least eight times with loud applause. No African had ever hear someone address their colonial power masters in such an audacious manner and with a King present to boot.
But Lumumba had not prepared properly for his unanticipated future: no one really could. Just eleven days after assuming power, Moise Tshombe declared independence for Katanga (a mineral rich region of the Congo) and appointed himself as its leader. In the meantime Lumumba’s popularity was interpreted by Allen Dulles to think of him as another Fidel Castro who had just come to power the year before (1959). Eisenhower agreed that Lumumba should be eliminated as quickly as possible and gave his permission to have him assassinated (Foster Dulles was by then out of the picture, having died in May 1959; this left his brother Allen Dulles without a partner for their global war).
The CIA managed to carry out their traditional methods to unseat leaders they didn’t like. This included mobilizing bands of people frustrated with Lumumba (Belgian influenced leaders) who mounted an offensive against him that gained momentum. One of the leaders of this group was Joseph Mobutu. He closed parliament and ordered citizens of Communist countries forty-eight hours to leave the country. He established a “College of Commissioners” to run the country. Both the president and vice-president of “the College” were on the CIA payroll. The United States hastily recognized the Mobutu’s government, while leaders of many other nations voiced their displeasure. Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nerhu of India demanded that the Congolese parliament be reopened and allowed to vote on Lumumba’s leadership but this protest did not carry weight with the UN, as they were still straight-jacketed by the United States.
Lumumba was assassinated, as it turns out not by the CIA, even though they tried, but by his Belgian captors, who beat him to near death, shot him and dissolved his body in a vat of sulfuric acid on January 17, 1961. He was just thirty-six years old. [From “The Brothers” by Stephen Kinzer]
- “Patrice Lumumba’s assassination was an unpardonable, cowardly and disgustingly brutal act. Belgium, Kasavubu [a fake leader installed by Mobutu] and Mobutu and Moise Tshombe bear the main responsibility for this atrocity. The United States and possibly other Western powers as well, tacitly favored it and did nothing to stop it.”
President John F. Kennedy was inaugurated, three days after Lumumba’s death. He had often expressed the idea that something should be done for Africa and he specifically suggested that Lumumba should be freed and integrated into a new Congolese government. Hours after his appeal, the secessionists in Katanga announced that he had escaped. A couple of days later they reported that hostile villagers had killed him. The shock of his death went far beyond Washington: angry crowds responded to the news, while demonstrators carried portraits of Lumumba through the streets of London, Paris, Vienna, Warsaw, Moscow, Damascus, Lagos and New Delhi. In Belgrade Marshal Tito claimed the killing had “no precedent in modern history” and a mob stormed the Belgian embassy. Nikita Khrushchev announced that Peoples’ Friendship University in Moscow would be known as Patrice Lumumba University. It is not difficult to understand the depth and extent to which Lumumba aroused feelings and passion. He was an anti-colonialist killed by colonialists.
Joseph Mobutu replaced Lumumba as the leader of the Congo. To quote from Tim Weiner’s Pulitzer Prize-winning history of the CIA “Legacy of Ashes” commenting on Joseph Mobutu’s reign: “He ruled for three decades as one of the world’s most brutal and corrupt dictators, stealing billions of dollars in revenues from the nation’s enormous deposits of diamonds, minerals, and strategic metals, slaughtering multitudes to preserve his power” During that time he was the CIA’s most trusted ally in Africa.
Allen Dulles began to lose his prestige with Eisenhower who insisted that someone else should be in the room when Allen came to visit. He was fired by John F. Kennedy for his mishandling the Bay of Pigs invasion. He died in 1969.
Allen Dulles’ death did not eradicate the template he left behind for future presidents: subsequent presidents would use the methodology that the Dulles brothers perfected for over throwing governments and the same insistence on choosing dictators over democratic governments persisted. Thus Lyndon Johnson used the same methodology against Greece, Brazil and of course what did him in was Vietnam. But modern presidents have not strayed far from the Dulles brothers’ template. Bush in Iraq and Afghanistan, and Obama in the Ukraine. All supported elimination of democratically elected leaders or those who had established power through autocratic means, meaning it was time for a “regime change.”
In the “Untold History of the United States” by Oliver Stone and Peter Kuznick (on “Showtime” or on DVD) the authors make the argument that if Henry Wallace had been the Vice President (Wallace was FDR’s vice-president from 1940-1944) when FDR died and assumed the Presidency, the Cold War would not have taken place. Wallace was thoroughly ingrained with the attitude of FDR and new instinctively how to proceed, especially with Russia and Stalin, with whom FDR had formed a good working relationship. My take on this alternate history is that Henry Wallace would have been assassinated; but on the other hand, he was at the time, one of the most popular men in America, especially when he announced that the end of the war should see the rise of the common man! So, who knows? But by the time Henry Wallace ran for the Presidency in 1948, the rest of the country had tasted the “Kool-Aid” of anticommunist fear and loathing, such that the Wallace campaign went nowhere: Wallace-Taylor ticket finished in fourth place in the election, winning 1,157,328 votes (2.4%), with no electoral votes.
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