Shortly before dawn on the 17th of January 1961, Patrice Lumumba the Prime Minister of the Congo was removed from his cell by Victor Nendaka. He was Lumumba’s former comrade. But now he was Larry Devlin’s puppet serving as Head of the Security Service. Devlin was a CIA field officer.
Lumumba was forced onto a plane. Onboard, his goattee beard was ripped off and he was forced to eat it. His ordeal was not over yet. Lumumba was flown over to Elisabethville, the Katangan capital under one of the most detested traitors in African history – Moise Tshombe.
His surname, Tshombe, became and still is synonmous with sellouts and traitors decades after the Lumumba tragedy.
In Elizabethville, Lumumba was shoved out of the plane and thrown into a waiting jeep under the watchful eyes of the Belgians. Swiss UN troops stationed at the airport witnessed him being driven away but did nothing to stop the inevitable.
They had orders to stand back and not intervene. Their inaction made them and the UN complicit in what was to follow and haunt Congo and Africa for decades.
Lumumba was imprisoned and held captive in a colonial villa owned by a wealthy Belgian. He was beaten savagely, repeatedly during his short stay there.
Katangan ministers, including Moise Tshombe joined in the blood bath and took turns to torture Lumumba until they were tired.
Deep into the night, Lumumba and two of his colleagues who had helped him escape were led into a clearing in the woods.
Katangan ministers and Belgians stood around to witness the end. Lumumba was propped up against a tree and executed by a firing squad. This squad included local Katangans and Belgians.
The Belgians kept Lumumba’s teeth and bullets removed from his body as souvenirs. The murder and bestiality of the murders exposed the hypocrisy and savagery of Western imperialism.
Only psychopaths would keep such souvenirs. Patrice Lumumba’s tragic story reveals a lot about the perpetrators of evil and the extent they will go to maintain their evil reign.
Why was the West so keen to get rid of Lumumba?
Patrice Lumumba became the first Prime Minister of Congo on the 30th of June 1960. On the morning of that day his fate was sealed.
Patrice Lumumba strode into the Palais de la nation. It was constructed to house the Belgian governor general. He was decked out in a smart suit complimented with a bowtie and a sash. He accessorised his outfit with a mischevious smile lighting his face.
He was not scheduled to make a speech. However, he was not going to let King Baudouin off the hook who praised developments by his great granduncle Leopold II of Belgium and made patronising promises, “Don’t compromise the future with hasty reforms, and don’t replace the structures that Belgium hands over to you until you are sure you can do better…”
“Don’t be afraid to come to us,” he informed the Congolese adopting a paternal tone as if addressing his children. “We will remain by your side.”
His speech on the surface was cordial. However, it masked the sinister implications and threats and undertones. In a nutshell, he meant nothing was going to change.
The only change was going to be in the colour of the new leaders. They would have the appearance of political independence but the economy would remain in the hands of Belgium and the country would continue to be run as it had before independence.
Anyone who is familiar with the Beligian history in Africa, knows that there was nothing philanthropic or humanitarian about Leopold’s rule over the Congo. He was a genocidal maniac who committed gross violations against humanity.
Millions of Congolese were systematically wiped out for his pleasure and many others had their limbs severed and left to live a life of destitution as cripples with missing limbs. These grisly amputations were macabre.
No one else would have been more acutely aware of this history than Patrice Lumumba and many other Congolese who were aware of that genocidal legacy. Leopold made Hitler look like a saint in comparison.
His regime was responsible for the deaths of about two to fifteen million Congolese. These are conservative figures.
The Congolese were severely abused under Leopold’s reign in which he ran the Congo as a private enterprise looting Ivory and from the harvesting and processing of rubber.
The genocide was a far cry from his claim at the Berlin Conference (1884 – 1885) that he wanted to improve the lies of the indigenous people. The truth is he made their lives a living hell.
Leopold created such a scandal the Belgium government forced him to relinquish his control of the colony to a civil administration.
The country’s new president, Joseph Kasavubu, made a few sychophantic remarks to please his masters to remain in their good books.
Patrice Lumumba ordered the papers he had on his lap and walked across the stage. The gallery gasped in surprise. Quick exchanges were made by the people.
Lumumba stood at the lectern, tall and erect. He spoke articulately and directly to and for the Congolese rather than addressing the diplomats. He employed his oratorical gifts he was well renowned for and delivered a rousing speech, Tears Fire and Blood, which is still remembered more than five decades later.
This speech alluded to the price the Congolese paid to attain their freedom: “It was filled with tears, fire and blood. We are deeply proud of our struggle, because it was just and noble and indispensable in putting an end to the humiliating bondage forced upon us”.
He spoke about what his lot endured for eighty years of colonial rule and that their wounds were too fresh and too painful to be forgotten.
Lumumba addressed the injustice, oppression and exploitation of the Congolese and the way their lands had been annexed using ostensibly just laws which gave recognition only to the right of might.
His speech went beneath the Belgians’ skins. It pricked their conscience and they didn’t like what they heard. It was not what they were expecting to hear. Like most perpetrators of evil, they didn’t like their victims reminding them of their atrocities.
They wanted to retain their right to commit crimes against humanity and then dictate to the victims how they should react to the atrocities.
Lumumba’s speech illustrated their hypocrisy and the lack of a genuine reconciliation by the Belgians who were too proud to apologise for their shortcomings. They were hoping to sweep the matter under the mat.
Their moustaches trembled with rage as they listened to this black man who had the audacity to ditch the colonial script the new leaders were expected to follow. They could hardly contain themselves.
African dignitaries in attendance punctuated Lumumba’s speech with applause. Across the country, the nation listened in wonder through their wireless radios as Lumumba spoke for the people of the Congo:
The Republic of the Congo has been proclaimed, and our country is now in the hands of its own children.
Together, my brothers, my sisters, we are going to begin a new struggle, a sublime struggle, which will lead our country to peace, prosperity, and greatness.
Together, we are going to establish social justice and make sure everyone has just remuneration for his labor [applause].
We are going to show the world what the black man can do when he works in freedom, and we are going to make of the Congo the center of the sun’s radiance for all of Africa.
We are going to keep watch over the lands of our country so that they truly profit her children. We are going to restore ancient laws and make new ones which will be just and noble.
We are going to put an end to suppression of free thought and see to it that all our citizens enjoy to the full the fundamental liberties foreseen in the Declaration of the Rights of Man [applause].
We are going to do away with all discrimination of every variety and assure for each and all the position to which human dignity, work, and dedication entitles him.
We are going to rule not by the peace of guns and bayonets but by a peace of the heart and the will [applause].
Patrice Lumumba ripped the charade to pieces. He refused to play the game the imperialists loved – handing Africans flag flying independence but retaining economic control and domination of the former colonies in a process what Kwame Nkrumah referred to as a state of neo-colonialism.
Nkrumah is credited with coining the term. It is stated to have first appeared in the 1963 preamble of the Organisation of African States Charter. It was also the title of his book Neo-Colonialism, the Last Stage of Imperialism which was published in 1965.
Nkrumah defined neo-colonialism as:
“In place of colonialism, as the main instrument of imperialism, we have today neo-colonialism… like colonialism, is an attempt to export the social conflicts of the capitalist countries… The result of neo-colonialism is that foreign capital is used for the exploitation rather than the development of the less developed parts of the world. Investment, under neo-colonialism, increases, rather than decreases, the gap between the rich and the poor countries of the world. The struggle against neo-colonialism is not aimed at excluding the capital of the developed world from operating in less developed countries. It is aimed at preventing the financial power of the developed countries being used in such a way as to impoverish the less developed.”
A more succinct definition is the use of economic, political cultural or other pressures to control or influence other countries, especially former dependencies or colonies.
Lumumba refused to be a neo-colonial puppet. He refused to remain in economic bondage, dependent and subservient to the former colonial power. That was his sin.
He, unlike Tshombe and Kasavubu, couldn’t be dominated. And a man who couldn’t be dominated was in the eyes of the imperialists a dangerous man. He was a threat to Western interests.
This was “the” epoch of rapid change across the continent. Decolonisation was spreading like a wild fire across the land. One by one, former colonies, were breaking away from the French and British empires.
The empires were shrivelling and dying like mushrooms burnt in a wild fire. Within one generation Britain lost her mantle as the world’s greatest superpower. Africans were standing up, defiantly denouncing and challenging white and Western rule.
In under a year, more than a dozen African states would become independent. The young men defying foreign rule, like Lumumba, were the bright young men of the future.
They were inspiring liberation movements across Africa. They were lighting fires of struggle across the continent.
They were fired up by the vision of a new Africa free and untainted by colonialism. Nobody embodied this spirit of defiance and independence at the time more than Patrice Lumumba.
His speech explicitly reflected his outlook, “Together, we are going to establish social justice and make sure everyone has just remuneration for his labor“.
He was denouncing domination and exploitation; therefore, implicitly implying that the imperialists had to change their ways because things were not going to be the way they had been before.
Furthermore, he was stating that he was not going to put Western interests above the Congolese. They were to get a share of the economic cake which came from the rich repository of minerals found in the Congo.
This is what he meant when he said “We are going to keep watch over the lands of our country so that they truly profit her children.”
It was a challenge to the neo-colonialists. It was a threat to their coffers. African solidarity was an antidote to their domination and claims to supremacy.
Lumumba warned them that he would not allow political colonialism to be replaced by a new form of economic colonialism, as we witnessed in the great compromise made by Robert Mugabe and Nelson Mandela at the independence of their respective countries. They both betrayed their revolutions.
Lumumba’s approach was too much for the Western powers. They had too much too lose if Lumumba had his way.
If he succeeded, he would pave the way for other African nations to follow suit; therefore, setting up a chain of catastrophic events that would see Western interests disappear in the blink of an eye.
The Belgians, the French, The Americans and British couldn’t digest this unwelcome message. They had large investments in the mining business as they extracted the country’s rich deposits of copper, cobalt and diamonds.
Lumumba’s vision and declaration that the Congo would from independence control its extensive mineral wealth proved to be his death sentence.
From then on, everything spiralled one way, downwards.
Ten days after independence , an American who was sharply dressed and had slicked back, black hair stepped on board the ferry for Leopoldville. His name was Larry Devlin.
He would have a significant role in the death of Lumumba. He would become the arch-puppeteer of Congolese politics.
Shortly before his arrival, Patrice Lumumba increased the wages of all government employees excluding the army. Many Congolese soldiers had reservations about serving under white Belgian officers.
General Émile Robert Janssens, head of the army, spelt out on a blackboard: “before independence = after independence”. That is, their lot would not change after independence; things would remain as they had been.
The army rebelled in protest. The rebellions spread rapidly. They gained momentum. Europeans fled from the country.
And a media frenzy developed, they deliberately distorted the truth to sell papers. Some did it for propaganda purposes because it suit the undercurrents and narrative that was developing. It was their role to beat the drums of war and pave way for the elimination of Lumumba.
The Belgian Secret Service rushed to his aid providing him with intelligence, diplomatic support and making sure that all the monies destined for Kinshasha the capital ended up in Katanga, therefore, inflating his war chest and impoverishing Lumumba and crippling his ability to run the country effectively.
This was a classical case of economical sabotage preceding political assassination.
UN troops arrived. However, they refused to help suppress the Katanga rebellion. The planes they used were provided by the U.S. They had been repainted just before their flight to prevent the Russians making political mileage of American planes flying into Congo.
The “Crisis in the Congo” made global news. Fleet Street’s finest fibbers rolled into town to be a part of the action.
Lurid and entirely false tales of the murder and rape of white women were repeated and circulated around so often, the lie was accepted as the truth.
Fleet Street’s fibbers also started to portray Lumumba as a communist. Cartoons appeared of him as a black devil with horns and a forked tail.
The demonisation campaign to discredit, destroy and undermine him was accelerated to win the hearts and minds of the people to turn them against him.
The Belgians responded to the situation by sending in paratroopers to protect “western interests” and their citizens’ lives. They called it a “humanitarian intervention”, borrowing tactics modelled from the British and French example in Suez in 1956.
All these tactics are still used today. We see them replayed in our media on a daily basis. They are the same tactics used to justify the murder of Thomas Sankara.
The arrival of the paratroppers and secession of Katanga looked like a pincer movement on Lumumba. He faced up to the break up of his country.
Katanga was not just any province. It was where the majority of the mineral resources were located. Furthermore, Moise Tshombe, who was based in the provincial capital of Elizabethville, was Lumumba’s sworn enemy.
He was very close to the Belgians. Lumumba had beaten him to the coveted prize of Prime Minister. And he never forgave him for that because he had his own ministerial aspirations so he sought to make Katanga his power base.
To consolidtae his move, he serenaded the British. The business lobby and the far right of the Conservative Party put pressure on Prime Minister Harold MacMillman to recognise the secession and back the Katangans.
There were talks for the Katanga province to join the British led Central African Federation, hence stealing the territory from under the noses of the Belgians.
Eventually, a nasty breed of white mercenaries, some Belgian, a few British, and some recruited from the streets of Bulawayo and Salisbury (Harare), wielding knives and guns aided Moise Tshombe.
The secession of Katanga and arrival of the Belgian troops to protect “Western interests” and their citizens was complete. Lumumba faced up to the ultimate breakup of his country and recolonisation through other means.
He made a fateful error that would cost him dearly. He stopped the army’s mutiny. However, to achieve that motive, he appointed his close aide and friend to become chief of staff . He was a man he trusted like a brother.
His name was Joseph-Desiré Mobutu. He would later come to be known as Mobutu Sese Seko Kuku Ngbendu Wa Za Banga: the name roughly translates to the warrior who knows no defeat because of his endurance and inflexible will and is all powerful, leaving fire in his wake as he goes from conquest to conquest.
His name conjures up many things. This promotion was beyond his wildest dreams. He had been doomed to be a failure. He was expelled from school and sent to the Force Publique as punishment.
The experience was a turning point in his life. It made him. His risk taking and hard working style earned him many admirers, including Lumumba. What Lumumba wasn’t aware of was that his friend was a friend of Larry Devlin.
They had struck up an unlikely alliance at the conference in Belgium in January. Mobutu attended as an aide to Lumumba.
Mobutu’s air of bravery was useful when, aged twenty-nine, he walked up to the soldiers pointing their guns at him and slowly pulled down their barrels to quell their mutiny.
He persuaded them to return to their barracks and promised them a pay rise; consequently, crushing the mutiny and simultaneously becoming their hero.
Mobutu’s gain was Lumumba’s undoing. Lumumba was desperate for assistance to save his country. He enetered into negotiations with the United nations to assist in crushing his arch-enemy Tshombe.
He was disappointed with the international force they sent in. He was dissatisfied with their role which they spelt out as one of strict nuetrality and non-intervention.
They refused to assist him in reeling in Katanga back into his control. He was unaware that their unwillingness to assist him was partly due to British pressure behind the scenes to prevent such a role.
He set up communication with the UN Secretary-General, Dag Hjalmar Agne Carl Hammarskjöld, but the two were communicating in different languages. Hammarskjöld clearly had an agenda. It is fair to say he was an ally of Lumumba’s enemies and was unwilling to assist him. Maybe he was following orders. But it is evident he had the power to help Lumumba if he wanted to.
However, he refused to assist Lumumba in subduing the Katangan secession. After Lumumba’s death, Hammarskjöld eventually made the UN intervene in the Katangan crisis. This reinforces my point above.
Ironically, Hammarskjöld died exactly nine months after Lumumba’s murder in a plane crash near Ndola, Northern Rhodesia, but now known by its post colonial name Zambia, while en route to negotiate a ceasefire between “non-combatant” UN forces and Katangese troops of Tshombe.
Frustrated by the UN and Hammarskjöld, Lumumba cast his eyes further abroad. Members of his cabinet requested 2000 US troops but President Eisenhower declared they could not provide support unilaterally.
Lumumba flew over to the US with a small delegation and made some brilliant speeches and appeals. Eisenhower refused to even meet him and he returned home empty handed. Eisenhower joked that he wouldn’t meet the “Bush Premier” as they referred to Lumumba in a derogatory manner.
Lumumba sought to play a game of chess to put pressure on the UN and the West to persuade the Belgians to get out. He turned to the former Soviet Union who had a much cleaner slate than the West in the eyes of African liberation movements.
They were also in the process of providing material and financial support to a lot of liberation movements at the time in Africa. So his request definitely had some method in it. He asked them to follow the situation.
A few days later, he formally requested Nikita Sergeyevich Khrushchev for assistance. He was afraid that the Katanga secession was about to blow up through the assistance of the Belgians.
It was a dangerous move. Tensions were high in the Cold War and he was introducing the superpower conflict into the Congo.