This month I want to talk about the CIA’s involvement in the overthrow and assassination of Lumumba, a democratically elected leader in 1960 in what is now the Democratic Republic of Congo, and how that has led to constant destabilization of the country and the region.
UPDATE ON OPERATION “LIGHTNING THUNDER”
“Soon Kony will have no fighters. He will die of hunger, be captured or get killed.”
– UPDF Operation Commander, Brig. Patrick Kankiriho. 24th February 2009.
As I write this, the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) chief Joseph Kony and about 250 rebels are reportedly cornered in a swamp in the Garamba jungle in northeastern DRC by three separate armies. These armies are the Ugandan Peoples Defense Force, Forces Armées de la République Démocratique du Congo (the Congolese Army) and the Sudanese Peoples Liberation Forces. Since the beginning of this offensive these three armies have failed to neutralize Kony despite overwhelming firepower and tactical knowledge.
If you’re not familiar with how this situation got to where it is, or of operation “Lightning Thunder” in general, which was carried out by the above mentioned three armies along with AFRICOM providing satellite phones, intelligence and fuel and US advisors – authorized by Bush – lending expertise, then please check out past posts on this site.
Suffice to say that since the attack in December on the LRA, Kony has cut a swath of death across DRC. Last January alone LRA soldiers were fingered for the deaths in DRC and South Sudan of more than 900 people, the displacement of 130,000 refugees and the kidnapping of hundreds of children. Some are saying the death toll is now, in late Feb. up to 15,000.
But with the failure of Uganda and Sudan to bring in their man the UN, long criticized for under-policing DRC, is stepping up. This coming Saturday, Feb. 28, Ugandan and Sudanese soldiers will pull back out of DRC. The report is that they’ll be replaced with a new United Nations military company. The UN Security Council has authorized the deployment of an additional 3,000 troops, an attack helicopter and two transport helicopters and 1,500 Egyptian police, Special Forces and soldiers, all to work in conjunction with the DRC military to stabilize the area and smoke out Kony.
But the locals have their own ideas. Western Equatoria’s Arrow Boys, a Sudanese self-defense group that use traditional weapons (bows, arrows, spears and clubs) treated with poisonous powder, have said they’re ready to fight the Ugandan Kony to the death and are urging Kony to surrender before they begin their march.
Is this Kony’s last stand? After two decades in the bush, his entire adult life, is this how and where it ends?
I don’t know, this war has been so close to ending so many times… It’s hard to get ones hope up. I can say only this, the suffering, while not over, has been exported, and while we should cry for the Congolese and Sudanese who’ve inherited yet another madman, the people that our current story-arc is about, the Acholi, are busy rebuilding and re-imagining their world. There’s much to learn as banks and hotels and tourists flood into their post-war patch of land. What the new Acholi will look like, what of their culture will survive, no one can tell. But if they can hold on to the bucking bastard of modernity, then maybe someday soon there will be a generation who never knew war. And even though they’re on the brink of this, for now, it still seems almost more than we can hope for.
We’ll keep you posted…
Moving on, in this month’s issue of Unknown Soldier (#5), we see a 20 year-old Jack referring to the assassination of Lumumba and America’s involvement in it. So let’s jump back to 1961. The height of the Cold War and fill in the back the story with the…
THE HORRIBLE DEATH OF PATRICE LUMUMBA
Patrice Émery Lumumba (2 July 1925 – 17 January 1961) was a catholic, publicly educated member of the liberal anti-colonial movement in the Republic of the Congo during its time as a Belgium colony. He was so influential over the politics of his time and place that the Belgium colonialists were forced to release him from an unjust prison term in Jan of 1960 and send him to Brussels to participate in the signing of the declaration of Congolese independence. National Congolese elections followed in May, and Lumumba, at 35 years old, became Congo’s first democratically elected Prime Minister.
Shortly after his election Lumumba raised the pay of all government employees except for the army. A fatal mistake. By July 5, a mutiny among the nations soldiers had erupted (their anger compounded by the fact that they still had to answer to Belgian officers who were slow to release power). The rule of law quickly broke and looting and violence overran the young country before it could even solidify its government.
Katanga, a significantly large southern province, declared independence on July 11, 1960. This move was backed and supported by the Belgium government and Belgian corporations who were effectively now sabotaging Congo’s bid for stability and therefore a lasting freedom. They ultimately hope to retain control of Congo’s vast resources. Katanga fueled the fire of the erupting new nation and United Nations troops were dispatched, but the unrest could not be quelled.
Lumumba turned to Dwight D. Eisenhower and the United States for assistance, but when the US refused to help him stabilize his nation he was forced to seek aid from the only power left, the Soviet Union. He begged the USSR to help him subdue Katanga and keep them from splitting the Congo Republic into two nations, which would bring about total civil war. The minute he asked for Soviet help, however, Eisenhower, ensconced in the Cold War, branded Lumumba a communist. A Soviet invasion of the rebellious Katanga was attempted and failed. The failure due to the intensity of jungle fighting, something the Russians were not used to. After that, everyone, except for the vast majority of the Congolese people, turned their back on the ill-fated Lumumba.
It has since been revealed by a declassified interview with then-US National Security Council minute keeper Robert Johnson that it was after the failed Soviet invasion of Belgian controlled Katanga that Eisenhower said to CIA chief Allen Dulles that Lumumba should be eliminated. Allen Dulles then ordered Lumumba’s assassination as “an urgent and prime objective”.
In September, amongst all the chaos, a coup organized by Congo Republic Army Chief of Staff Colonel Joseph Mobutu, once a personal friend of Lumumba’s, and funded by the CIA (who, by this time, had attempted at least one documented assassination of Lumumba and was in the midst of plotting another) successfully removed the Prime Minister from power and placed him under house arrest. Only ten weeks after his democratic election Lumumba’s government had been deposed by western powers and their puppets.
Lumumba, still enjoying virtually unanimous voter support, escaped house arrest and fled to Stanleyville where he attempted to set up his own government and army to fight back against the illegitimate and remote controlled government now in place. But in December Mobutu’s men again arrested Lumumba.
Lumumba was transferred to the Katanga Province, the separatist region he had sought to contain. There is no just reason for his being sent there. There was no intention of any trial. The CIA was aware of this breach of legal action, as were the Belgians, who had controlling interest in Katanga.
On Jan. 17, 1961 Lumumba, upon arriving in Katanga, was tortured and gagged. Later that night, the democratically elected Prime Minister was driven to an isolated spot where three firing squads commanded by Captain Julien Gat and Police Commissioner Verschurre, both Belgians, were waiting. There have since been unearthed written orders from the Belgian government requesting Lumumba’s murder. The execution most likely took place between 9:40PM and 9:43PM. Lumumba’s corpse was then buried in an unmarked grave nearby.
The next day, fueled by rumors that the burial had been observed, Belgian Police Commissioner Gerard Soete and his brother dug up the body and took it to the Rhodesia border for reburial. Then, on January 21, Commissioner Soete and his brother dug up Lumumba’s corpse again, cut it into pieces and dissolved it in a trashcan full of sulfuric acid. They kept as souvenirs, some teeth, skull fragments and bullets that survived the acid bath.
By now rumors had begun to circulate that the people’s chosen leader had been murdered, but it wasn’t until three weeks later that his death was announced on Katangese radio. It was said that Lumumba had escaped imprisonment – where he was awaiting his fair trial – and was killed by enraged villagers.
After the announcement of Lumumba’s death, street protests erupted across European. In Belgrade, protesters sacked the Belgian embassy, in London clashes with police turned to chaos and violence.
CIA records released in 2000 show two partly censored CIA cables from Katanga on January 17, the day of Lumumba’s murder, and January 18, the day of the first exhumation. The first cable is mostly censored, and consists of communication about what exactly should be done with Lumumba. The second cable sent to the CIA expresses thanks for Lumumba being delivered to Katanga and then says that, had they known he was coming, they would have “baked a snake”. The same CIA records show that David Doyle, the then chief of Elizabethville base in Katanga, where Lumumba was held, told CIA officers that he was keeping Lumumba’s body in the trunk of his car until he could figure out what to do with it.
Mobutu, who it is no exaggeration to say was installed by the United States, went on to create a 32-year long totalitarian regime, infamous for it’s human rights violations. He embezzled some $5 billion USD from his own country (half of the Congo GDP during his time in power), plunging it into severe poverty from which it has never recovered. He is ranked as the third-most corrupt leader in the past two decades and the most corrupt African leader of his time. His name is now synonymous with the idea of African kleptocracy.
The truth is that DRC never had a chance for a brighter future. From the United States, hopped up on a Cold War roid-rage, willing to leap at shadows, to the bitter colonialist Belgians refusing to let go of the endless resources belonging to a people that had successfully demanded their independence to the inevitable growing pains of the new, democratic Congo, it’s fate was sealed in just one year.
But beyond the politics, beyond the history, there is this man, Lumumba. A single human being who grew up believing in the rule of law and in the power of democracy. Lumumba spoke with passion and captured the imagination of his people. He was a new leader for a new Congo, a new Africa. A beacon of hope. Now imagine that man in the bush in the middle of the night. Beaten, dragged, spit on, treated like an animal, on his knees, looking up at the barrall of a white man’s gun, his greatest crime his passion for his nation.
What a cold and terrorfying moment, before the bullet hit, when he realized that everything he believed in was a lie. And that even the nation that claim to be the great harbringer of democracy was really just another thug with a gun.
Thanks for reading…
The Life and Times of Patrice Lumumba…
The CIA in the Congo…