Patrice Lumumba `will live forever’ -- exclusive book excerpt

Leo Zeilig, author of Lumumba, a new political biography of Congo independence leader Patrice Lumumba, has kindly given permission for Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal to offer its readers an exclusive excerpt to download.


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Click HERE to download an exclusive excerpt from Lumumba

Links readers are encouraged to purchase this enlightening and inspiring book. Go to Haus Publishers to place your order. Australian readers can also order the book from Tower Books, Unit 2/17 Rodborough Road, Frenchs Forest, NSW 2086. Phone (02) 9975 5566 or email

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Introductory essay by Lumumba author Leo Zeilig

In a small forest clearing about an hour’s drive from Congo’s southern-most city of Lubumbashi the first prime minster of an independent Congo, Patrice Lumumba, along with two of his comrades, was shot on January 17, 1961. A Belgian officer organised the firing squad; the three bodies were quickly buried, metres from where they had fallen. The following day, another Belgian officer dug up the bodies; cut them into pieces and dissolved them in acid. The assassins were determined to ensure that there would be no trace left of Lumumba or of their crime.

When the news finally reached the world on February 13, 1961, that Lumumba had been killed there was uproar. Protests swept cities and towns across the globe. In Rome, the Italian Chamber of Deputies descended into chaos as demonstrators broke up the proceedings. In Belgrade, protesters shouted, ``Lumumba will live for ever’’. In Shanghai, a demonstration estimated at half a million was held.

Why was there such uproar? Who was Lumumba?

Lumumba was a self-educated nationalist leader. Born in 1925 inCongo’s Kasai province, he was expelled from school and ran away, like many young Congolese, to the regional capital of Stanleyville – named after the colonial adventurer who ploughed his way through central Africa in the 19th century, it is now Kisangani.

The Belgian Congo, as it was known, was an inhospitable place. By the 1940s it was emerging from a period of brutal colonialisation. The combination of famine, forced labour and systematic violence had killed more than 10 million Congolese people between 1891 and 1911.

But by the time of Lumumba’s arrival in Stanleyville a new colony was being promised.

Industry was being developed and new mining communities were established across the country. Copper was at the centre of the boom. Produced in huge quantities in the south and mined by the public-private giant Union Minière du Haut-Katanga (UMHK).

The Belgian Congo was the source of huge profits for the colonial state and private businesses.

Arriving in Stanleyville in 1944, Lumumba quickly became a leading member of the évolués in the city. The évolués – meaning literally ``the evolved’’ -- were a group of educated Congolese men who were trained to take part in the civilising mission of the Belgian state. They were given low-ranking jobs in the administration and groomed to regard themselves at champions of the ‘Belgian Congo’ community. Lumumba became a clerk in the Stanleyville post office.

Apartheid state

The Congo was an apartheid state – strict segregation determined every aspect of life. Lumumba’s daughter, Juliana, explained: ``When you reached 18 years old you had to carry a permit, which would indicate what you did. If you were stopped, you had to justify why you were in town... And if a black man looked at a white woman, he could find himself in prison.’’

For much of the 1950s Lumumba’s ideas did not stray from those held by the majority of the évolués. He was an advocate for the colonial project.

In June 1956 this began to change. Arrested and imprisoned for embezzlement, Lumumba started to see through the lies of the Belgian rulers, the cherished ``motherland’’.

Released in September 1957 Lumumba decided to make his new life in the capital Leopoldville (today’s Kinshasa). The city was a modern metropolis – but still deeply segregated. Leopoldville became infected by the ideas of independence and political liberation.

By November 1958 Lumumba was elected to lead what became the principal party of national liberation –- the Mouvement National Congolais (MNC). But Belgium was desperate to control the pace of radicalisation and sought to manipulate and divide the country’s emerging political parties.

Other Western states were also desperate to ensure that Congo’s independence did not mean real political and economic autonomy. The United States had been heavily involved in the region since the start of the 20th century. Ryan and Guggenheim, the US mining groups, had interests in the region. The US also had investments in the UMHK.

The US State Department would not tolerate any political movement that refused to privilege the old relationships.

End of conciliation

Two events signaled the end of Lumumba’s conciliatory politics. He was inspired by the independence of Ghana in 1957. The first black leader on the continent was the Ghana’s Kwame Nkrumah. Nkrumah took a personal interest in the struggle of the MNC and became a comrade and confidant to Lumumba.

The second was more important. On January 4, 1959, Leopoldville erupted in violence. A demonstration was crushed by the notoriously brutal Force Publique, the colonial army. Hundreds were killed. The belief that a long transition and common understanding could pave the way to Congolese independence was over.

Congolese society was transformed. Mass meetings took place, strikes spread and the movement for independence finally broke away from the ranks of the évolués. Lumumba threw himself into the frenzy. By March 1959, the MNC had 58,000 members.

Lumumba’s militancy rose with the gathering radicalisation. Now he demanded independence without delay. But other members of the évolués saw their future in an alliance with the colonial power, and later with the US.

Arrested, beaten and imprisoned at the end of 1959, Lumumba was only released when negotiations were launched in Brussels in January 1960.

In the negotiations he refused all compromises. The Congo state would not be divided up – with the country’s wealth controlled by the provinces -- as the Belgian rulers had hoped. Nor would the MNC accept the Belgian king as the head of state in an independent Congo.

By the end of negotiations a date had been set for independence: June 30, 1960. But Lumumba’s radicalism had meant that he was hated by the Belgian elite. They decided to undermine efforts of the MNC to win the May 1960 general election.


However the MNC emerged victorious. Lumumba was now the undoubted leader of Congo’s future. Still he refused to accept deals with the departing power. Congo’s independence would be just that: an independent nation state free to decide on its own path.

On the day of independence Lumumba reminded his audience of the struggle for freedom: ``For this independence of the Congo, even as it is celebrated today with Belgium, a friendly country with whom we deal as equal to equal, no Congolese worthy of the name will ever be able to forget that is was by fighting that it has been won.’’

Celebrations were quickly extinguished. In July, Belgium promoted the secession of the mineral-rich provinces Katanga and Kasai. These new ``states’’ were immediately recognised, armed and supported by the old colonial power. Some évolués – using the language of ethnic divide and rule – helped provide an African veneer to these artificial breakaway provinces.

Lumumba attempted to mobilise his supporters. As the power he had just acquired began to slip away, he turned the ranks of the MNC and those who had propelled the Congo to independence.

But the forces against him and his comrades were too great. Leading militants of the nationalist movement fell to bribes and cooption. Joseph Mobutu -- the future dictator of the country, until then an ally and friend of Lumumba – was openly bribed by the US and persuaded to organise a coup in September.

By October 1960 there were four operations underway to assassinate Lumumba. Western states openly called for his government to be removed.

Lumumba fled the capital in November and attempted to reach his supporters in Stanleyville. Arrested days later he knew that this probably meant death. Writing in prison to his wife he said, ``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.’’

Less than two months later he had been killed, six months after his election.

Symbol of the fight against imperialism

Lumumba’s intransigent resistance to Western attempts to break Congo’s independence still needs to be celebrated today. He has rightly become a symbol, in Africa and elsewhere, of the fight against imperialism.

Lumumba, in his last months, began to edge away from the politics of national liberation and to see other forces at work. Francois, his son and now a political activist in the Kinshasa, explained: ``He discovered in the course of 1960 that not all Congolese had the same interpretation of independence, that our ‘brothers’ were fighting for something completely different. So in his actions and in his speeches he became more precise and spoke of workers, justice and equality.’’

[Leo Zeilig is a research fellow at the Centre for Sociological Research and teaches sociology at the University of the Witwatersrand,Johannesburg.]

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Click HERE to download an exclusive excerpt from Lumumba

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Submitted by Terry Townsend on Sun, 08/15/2010 - 17:29


Stephen R. Weissman

1 August 2010

guest column

Fifty years ago, the former Belgian Congo received its independence under the democratically elected government of former prime minister Patrice Lumumba. Less than seven months later, Lumumba and two colleagues were, in the contemporary idiom, "rendered" to their Belgian-backed secessionist enemies, who tortured them before putting them before a firing squad. The Congo would not hold another democratic election for 46 years. In 2002, following an extensive parliamentary inquiry, the Belgian government assumed a portion of responsibility for Lumumba's murder.

But controversy has continued to swirl over allegations of U.S. government responsibility, as the reception for Raoul Peck's acclaimed film, "Lumumba," demonstrated. After all, the U.S. had at least as much, if not more, influence in the Congolese capital as Belgium. It was the major financier and political supporter of the U.N. peacekeeping force that controlled most of the country. According to still classified documents that I first revealed eight years ago, members of the Central Intelligence Agency's (CIA) "Project Wizard" covert action program dominated the post-Lumumba Congolese regime. However, a 1975 U.S. Senate investigation of alleged CIA assassinations concluded that while the CIA had earlier plotted to murder Lumumba, he was eventually killed  "by Congolese rivals. It does not appear from the evidence that the United States was in any way involved in the killing."

It is now clear that conclusion was wrong. A new analysis of the declassified files of the Senate "Church" Committee (chaired by Democratic Senator Frank Church), CIA and State Department, along with memoirs and interviews of U.S. and Belgian covert operators, establishes that CIA Station Chief Larry Devlin was consulted by his Congolese government "cooperators" about the transfer of Lumumba to sworn enemies, had no objection to it and withheld knowledge from Washington of the impending move, forestalling the strong possibility that the State Department would have intervened to try to save Lumumba. I detail this evidence in a new article in the academic journal, Intelligence and National Security, vol. 25, no. 2 (The full article is available from the publisher.)

Here, briefly, are the most important new findings:

  • Former U.S. officials who knew Lumumba now acknowledge that the administration of former president Dwight D. Eisenhower mistakenly cast him as a dangerous vehicle of Soviet influence.
  • Covert CIA actions against the Lumumba government, often dovetailing with Belgian ones, culminated in Colonel Joseph Mobutu's military coup, which was "arranged and supported and indeed managed" by the CIA alone, according to Devlin's private interview with the Church Committee staff.
  • The CIA station and U.S. embassy provided their inexperienced and politically weak Congolese protégés with a steady stream of political and military recommendations. The advice arrived both before Congolese government decisions and shortly afterwards when foreign advisers were invited in to offer feedback. Devlin's counsel was largely heeded on critical matters, especially when it came to Lumumba. Thus Mobutu and former president Joseph Kasavubu were persuaded to resist political pressures to reconcile with Lumumba, and Mobutu reluctantly acceded to Devlin's request to arrest him. After both Devlin and the American ambassador intervened, the government dropped its plan to attack U.N. troops guarding Lumumba. And after Lumumba was publicly brutalized by Mobutu's troops, the U.S. embassy – under pressure from the State Department, which was concerned about African governments' threats to pull out of the U.N. force – pushed Kasavubu into promising Lumumba "humane treatment" and a "fair trial."
  • In this context of U.S. adviser-Congolese leader interactions, Devlin's decision not to intervene after he was informed by a "government leader" of a plan to send Lumumba to his "sworn enemy" signaled that he had no objection to the government's course. It was also seen that way by Devlin's Belgian counterpart, Colonel Louis Marliere, who later wrote, "There was a 'consensus' and …no adviser, whether he be Belgian or American, thought to dissuade them." Considering Congolese leaders' previous responsiveness to CIA and U.S. embassy views, Devlin's permissive attitude was undoubtedly a major factor in the government final action. (Its last-minute switch of sending Lumumba to murderous secessionists in Katanga instead of murderous secessionists in South Kasai does not change the crucial fact that Devlin gave a green light to delivering Lumumba to men who had publicly vowed to kill him.)
  • Furthermore, shortly before the transfer, Mobutu indicated to Devlin that Lumumba "might be executed," according to a Church Committee interview. Devlin did not suggest that he offered any objection or caution.
  • Cables show that Devlin did not report to Washington the impending rendition for three days (i.e. until it was already underway), forestalling the strong possibility that the State Department would have intervened to try and protect Lumumba as it had done several weeks earlier. When news came that Lumumba had been flown to Belgian-supported Katanga (but before it became known that he was already dead), a top State Department official called in the Belgian ambassador to complain about Belgian advisers' possible contribution to the Congolese government's "gaffe" and to insist upon the need for "humane treatment."
  • The Church Committee failed to uncover the full truth about the U.S. role because of its inattention to the covert relationship between the CIA and Congolese decision makers, CIA delays in providing key cables, and political pressure to water down its original draft conclusions.

Devlin died in 2008 after consistently denying any knowledge of his Congolese associates' "true plans" for Lumumba, and maintaining that he had "stalled" the earlier CIA assassination plot. Yet declassified CIA cables disprove his claims.

One horrible crime cannot, by itself, change history. But the murder of Patrice Lumumba, the most dynamic political leader the Congo has ever produced, was a critical step in the consolidation of an oppressive regime. At the same time, it crystallized an eventual 35-year U.S. commitment to the perpetuation of that regime, not just against Lumumba's followers but against all comers. In the end, Mobutu's kleptocracy would tear civil society apart, destroy the state and help pave the way for a regional war that would kill millions of people.

There can no longer be any doubt that the U.S., Belgian and Congolese governments shared major responsibility for the assassination of Lumumba in Katanga. The young prime minister was an imperfect leader during an unprecedented and overwhelming international crisis. But he continues to be honored around the world because he incarnated – if only for a moment – the nationalist and democratic struggle of the entire African continent against a recalcitrant West.

If the U.S. government at last publicly acknowledged – and apologized for – its role in this momentous assassination, it would also be communicating its support for the universal principles Lumumba embodied. What better person to take this step than the American president, himself a son of Africa?

Stephen R. Weissman is author of "An Extraordinary Rendition," in Intelligence and National Security, v.25, no.2 (April 2010) and American Foreign Policy in the Congo 1960-1964. He is a former Staff Director of the U.S. House of Representatives' Subcommittee on Africa.