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USA/Africa: New Data on Murder of Lumumba
USA/Africa: New Data on Murder of Lumumba
Date distributed (ymd): 020801
Document reposted by Africa Action
Africa Policy Electronic Distribution List: an information
service provided by AFRICA ACTION (incorporating the Africa
Policy Information Center, The Africa Fund, and the American
Committee on Africa). Find more information for action for
Africa at http://www.africaaction.org
Issue Areas: +political/rights+ +security/peace+ +US policy focus+
This posting contains an article written by Stephen Weissman for
the Sunday Washington Post of July 21, revealing new data from
classified documents on the U.S. role in the murder of Patrice
Lumumba in 1961. It also contains a link and brief excerpts from
the extensive Belgian parliamentary report which led to an official
Belgian apology, in February this year, for Belgian complicity in
Lumumba's death. The Belgian parliamentary report was prompted by
a book first published in 1999, "The Assassination of Lumumba," by
journalist Ludo de Witte. The book concentrated on Belgian
complicity, and gave the impression of exonerating the U.S. of
direct involvement. In the introduction to the English translation
of the book, however, de Witte stressed the joint responsibility of
the U.S. as well.
Weissman's article, referring to new evidence, calls for U.S.
honesty about the past as well as U.S. action to make reparation
for the damage caused by its earlier actions in the Congo.
Another posting sent out today has updates on the latest
developments in the current Congo peace process.
In a related development, World Bank President James Wolfensohn,
visiting Kinshasa in mid-July, announced that the World Bank was
considering cancelling more than 80 per cent of the debt owed by
the country to the World Bank. The cancellation should take effect
in early 2003, he told reporters.
Background information on the recent film "Lumumba" is available at
Opening the Secret Files on Lumumba's Murder
By Stephen R. Weissman
Washington Post, July 21, 2002
Reposted by permission of the author. Dr. Weissman was staff
director of the U.S. House of Representatives subcommittee on
Africa from 1986 to 1991. He has done extensive research on U.S.
policy in the Congo as well as other African countries.
In his latest film, "Minority Report," director Steven Spielberg
portrays a policy of "preemptive action" gone wild in the year
2054. But we don't have to peer into the future to see what harm
faulty intelligence and the loss of our moral compass can do.
U.S. policies during the Cold War furnish many tragic examples. One
was U.S. complicity in the overthrow and murder of Congolese Prime
Minister Patrice Lumumba.
Forty-one years ago, Lumumba, the only leader ever democratically
elected in Congo, was delivered to his enemies, tortured and
summarily executed. Since then, his country has been looted by the
U.S.-supported regime of Mobutu Sese Seko and wracked by regional
and civil war.
The conventional explanation of Lumumba's death has been that he
was murdered by Congolese rivals after earlier U.S. attempts to
kill him, including a plot to inject toxins into his food or
toothpaste, failed. In 1975, the U.S. Senate's "Church Committee"
probed CIA assassination plots and concluded there was "no evidence
of CIA involvement in bringing about the death of Lumumba."
Not so. I have obtained classified U.S. government documents,
including a chronology of covert actions approved by a National
Security Council (NSC) subgroup, that reveal U.S. involvement in --
and significant responsibility for -- the death of Lumumba, who
was mistakenly seen by the Eisenhower administration as an African
Fidel Castro. The documents show that the key Congolese leaders who
brought about Lumumba's downfall were players in "Project Wizard,"
a CIA covert action program. Hundreds of thousands of dollars and
military equipment were channeled to these officials, who informed
their CIA paymasters three days in advance of their plan to send
Lumumba into the clutches of his worst enemies. Other new details:
The U.S. authorized payments to then-President Joseph Kasavubu
four days before he ousted Lumumba, furnished Army strongman Mobutu
with money and arms to fight pro-Lumumba forces, helped select and
finance an anti-Lumumba government, and barely three weeks after
his death authorized new funds for the people who arranged
Moreover, these documents show that the plans and payments were
approved by the highest levels of the Eisenhower administration,
either the NSC or its "Special Group," consisting of the national
security adviser, CIA director, undersecretary of state for
political affairs, and deputy defense secretary.
These facts are four decades old, but are worth unearthing for two
reasons. First, Congo (known for years as Zaire) is still
struggling to establish democracy and stability. By facing up to
its past role in undermining Congo's fledgling democracy, the
United States might yet contribute to Congo's future. Second, the
U.S. performance in Congo is relevant to our struggle against
terrorism. It shows what can happen when, in the quest for national
security, we abandon the democratic principles and rule of law we
are fighting to defend.
In February, Belgium, the former colonial power in Congo, issued a
thousand-page report that acknowledged "an irrefutable portion of
responsibility in the events that led to the death of Lumumba."
Unlike Belgium, the United States has admitted no such moral
responsibility. Over the years, scholars (including myself) and
journalists have written that American policy played a major role
in the ouster and assassination of Lumumba. But the full story
remained hidden in U.S. documents, which, like those I have
examined, are still classified despite the end of the Cold War, the
end of the Mobutu regime and Belgium's confession.
Here's what they tell us that, until now, we didn't know, or didn't
know for certain:
* In August 1960, the CIA established Project Wizard. Congo had
been independent only a month, and Lumumba, a passionate
nationalist, had become prime minister, with a plurality of seats
in the parliament. But U.S. presidential candidate John F. Kennedy
was vowing to meet "the communist challenge" and Eisenhower's NSC
was worried that Lumumba would tilt toward the Soviets.
The U.S. documents show that over the next few months, the CIA
worked with and made payments to eight top Congolese -- including
President Kasavubu, Mobutu (then army chief of staff), Foreign
Minister Justin Bomboko, top finance aide Albert Ndele, Senate
President Joseph Ileo and labor leader Cyrille Adoula -- who all
played roles in Lumumba's downfall.
The CIA joined Belgium in a plan, detailed in the Belgian report,
for Ileo and Adoula to engineer a no-confidence vote in Lumumba's
government, which would be followed by union-led demonstrations,
the resignations of cabinet ministers (organized by Ndele) and
Kasavubu's dismissal of Lumumba.
* On Sept. 1, the NSC's Special Group authorized CIA payments to
Kasavubu, the U.S. documents say. On Sept. 5, Kasavubu fired
Lumumba in a decree of dubious legality. However, Kasavubu and his
new prime minister, Ileo, proved lethargic over the following
week as Lumumba rallied supporters. So Mobutu seized power on Sept.
14. He kept Kasavubu as president and established a temporary
"College of Commissioners" to replace the disbanded government.
* The CIA financed the College and influenced the selection of
commissioners. The College was dominated by two Project Wizard
participants: Bomboko, its president, and Ndele, its
vice-president. Another CIA ally, Lumumba party dissident Victor
Nendaka, was appointed chief of the security police.
* On Oct. 27, the NSC Special Group approved $250,000 for the CIA
to win parliamentary support for a Mobutu government. However, when
legislators balked at approving any prime minister other than
Lumumba, the parliament remained closed. The CIA money went to
Mobutu personally and the commissioners.
* On Nov. 20, the Special Group authorized the CIA to provide arms,
ammunition, sabotage materials and training to Mobutu's military in
the event it had to resist pro-Lumumba forces.
The full extent of what one U.S. document calls the "intimate"
relationship between the CIA and Congolese leaders was absent from
the Church Committee report. The only covert action (apart from the
assassination plots) the committee discussed was the August 1960
effort to promote labor opposition and a no-confidence vote in the
How did Lumumba die?
After being ousted Sept. 5, Lumumba rallied support in parliament
and the international community. When Mobutu took over, U.N. troops
protected Lumumba, but soon confined him to his residence.
Lumumba escaped on Nov. 27. Days later he was captured by Mobutu's
troops, beaten and arrested.
What happened next is clearer thanks to the Belgian report and the
classified U.S. documents. As early as Christmas Eve 1960, College
of Commissioners' president Bomboko offered to hand Lumumba over to
two secessionist leaders who had vowed to kill him. One declined
and nothing happened until mid-January 1961, when the central
government's political and military position deteriorated and
troops guarding Lumumba (then jailed on a military base near the
capital) mutinied. CIA and other Western officials feared a
On Jan. 14, the commissioners asked Kasavubu to move Lumumba to a
"surer place." There was "no doubt," the Belgian inquiry concluded,
that Mobutu agreed. Kasavubu told security chief Nendaka to
transfer Lumumba to one of the secessionist strongholds. On Jan.
17, Nendaka sent Lumumba to the Katanga region. That night, Lumumba
and two colleagues were tortured and executed in the presence of
members of the Katangan government. No official announcement was
made for four weeks.
What did the U.S. government tell its Congolese clients during the
last three days of Lumumba's life? The Church Committee reported
that a Congolese "government leader" advised the CIA's Congo
station chief, Larry Devlin, on Jan. 14 that Lumumba was to be
sent to "the home territory" of his "sworn enemy." Yet, according
to the Church Committee and declassified documents, neither the CIA
nor the U.S. embassy tried to save the former prime minister.
The CIA may not have exercised robotic control over its covert
political action agents, but the failure of Devlin or the U.S.
embassy to question the plans for Lumumba could only be seen by the
Congolese as consent. After all, secret CIA programs had enabled
this group to achieve political power, and the CIA had worked from
August through November 1960 to assassinate or abduct Lumumba.
Here, the classified U.S. chronology provides an important
postscript. On Feb. 11, 1961, with U.S. reports from Congo strongly
indicating Lumumba was dead, the Special Group authorized $500,000
for political action, troop payments and military equipment,
largely to the people who had arranged Lumumba's murder.
Devlin has sought to distance himself from Lumumba's death. While
the CIA was in close contact with the Congolese officials involved,
Devlin told the Church Committee that those officials "were not
acting under CIA instructions if and when they did this." In a
recent phone conversation with Devlin, I posed the issue of U.S.
responsibility for Lumumba's death. He acknowledged that, "It was
important to [these] cooperating leaders what the U.S. government
thought." But he said he did "not recall" receiving advance word
of Lumumba's transfer. Devlin added that even if he had objected,
"That would not have stopped them from doing it."
By evading its share of moral responsibility for Lumumba's fate,
the United States blurs African and American history and sidesteps
the need to make reparation for yesterday's misdeeds through
today's policy. In 1997, after the Mobutu regime fell, the
Congolese democratic opposition pleaded in vain for American and
international support. Since then, as many as 3 million lives have
been lost as a result of civil and regional war. The United States
has not supported a strong U.N. peacekeeping force or fostered a
democratic transition. The collapse in late April 2002 of
negotiations between Congolese factions threatens to reignite the
smoldering conflict or ratify the partition of the country.
Our government's actions four decades ago in Congo also have
special meaning after the tragedy of Sept. 11. They warn that even
as we justly defend our land and our people against terrorists, we
must avoid the excessive fear and zeal that lead to destructive
intervention betraying our most fundamental principles.
Parliamentary Committee of enquiry in charge of determining the
exact circumstances of the assassination of Patrice Lumumba and the
possible involvement of Belgian politicians
[brief excerpts from conclusions]
The full 1,000 page report of the committee is available in French
and Flemish at:
Links to a summary, introduction, and conclusions in English, in
Word or PDF formats, can be found at the same site.
THE CONCLUSIONS OF THE ENQUIRY COMMITTEE
I. THE FIGHT AGAINST LUMUMBA
1. Political Elimination
Lumumba was and remains a striking yet controversial personality.
He was called a Satan by some, and honoured as a true people's hero
by others. The latter mythologized Lumumba after his death. Indeed,
it is a fact that he was the first democratically elected Prime
Minister of the Congo. ...
Between 10 and 14 July, following the beginning of the Belgian
military intervention and the interruption of diplomatic relations,
there was a spiral of mutual accusations, leading to a complete
split. During that period, the Belgian government - convinced of
the fact that it no longer had to consider the Lumumba government
- attempted to influence the creation of a new Congolese
government. ... In order to finance the policy against the Lumumba
government, the Belgian government appealed to so-called secret
funds, only some of which were approved by Parliament. ...
The Belgian action is only one element in a wider group of
opposition forces. Crucial to the final fall of Lumumba was the
split between the Congolese Prime Minister and the UN Secretary
General Hammarskj”ld, because it forced Lumumba on the one hand to
(openly) ask for the support of the Soviet Union and on the other
hand encouraged the United States (behind the scenes) to organise
active opposition against Lumumba (with the first plans of physical
The activities of the Commission have been aimed at detecting
possible Belgian responsibilities in the murder of Patrice Lumumba.
But it is clear that a Belgian, or even an American action had
little or no chance of success without the existence of internal
opposition within the Congo itself. ... different factors, domestic
as well as foreign, can be shown to have contributed to the
deposition of Prime Minister Lumumba on 5 September 1960. After 5
September, there was a period of great confusion. ...
During this period, the Belgian government was especially concerned
about the actions of Lumumba. After having given its support to the
deposition of Prime Minister Lumumba, it was eager to prevent him
from returning to power and this was a real possibility. ... When,
finally, Mobutu took action to arrest Lumumba on 10 October, which
he had always refused to do until that time, it was in exchange for
a Belgian promise to provide technical and military support to the
Arm‚e Nationale Congolaise (ANC). The Belgian government was
opposed to all possible forms of reconciliation, direct or
indirect, between the Congolese leaders. The expression
"‚limination d‚finitive" by Minister d'Aspremont Lynden on 6
October 1960 - in a telex to the ambassador Rothschild in
Elisabethstad - should be seen from this perspective.
With regard to the exact circumstances of the murder of Patrice
Lumumba: after a thorough analysis, it is highly probable that
Lumumba was executed in the jungle on 17 January 1961 between 9.40
pm and 9.43 pm, within 5 hours after his arrival in Katanga (for a
more detailed description, the commission refers to the experts'
report). Regarding the possible involvement of Belgian politicians:
The transfer of Lumumba to Katanga was organised by the Congolese
authorities in Leopoldstad, supported by Belgian government
authorities, especially the Ministers of Foreign and African
Affairs and their colleagues.
Belgian advisors in Leopoldstad collaborated with the organisation
of the transfer. No single document, of which the commission is
aware, indicates that the Belgian government or a member thereof
gave the order to physically eliminate Lumumba. The investigation
does not show that the Belgian authorities premeditated the murder
of Lumumba when it attempted to transfer him to Katanga. It is very
clear, though, that the physical safety of Lumumba was of no
concern to the Belgian government. It deemed the safety of Lumumba
less important than other interests. By not considering the
possible risks of the transfer, not asking guarantees for his
physical safety or insisting on humane treatment and a trial, the
Belgian government and especially the Minister of African Affairs
showed a lack of forethought and a lack of respect for the
After hearing about the events of 17 January, the government, or at
least certain members of it, acted irresponsibly by opting to
spread lies to the public and all its allies. This attitude
inevitably raised doubts about the role of the Belgian authorities.
Considering the preceding, the current norms regarding public
morality and, without considering the personal and moral
considerations of that time, the commission concludes that certain
members of the Belgian government and other Belgian participants
were morally responsible for the circumstances leading to the death
This material is being reposted for wider distribution by
Africa Action (incorporating the Africa Policy Information
Center, The Africa Fund, and the American Committee on Africa).
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