The Lumumba Plot: The Secret History of the CIA and a Cold War Assassination – Book review

By Bob Newland

Stuart Reid asserts that in democracies information  should be freely available.  His experience in dragging documents from the CIA and Pentagon archives suggest that the reality rather different.  Through dogged determination he obtained numerous redacted papers. Such was the censors’ inconsistency that documents had different parts redacted. Reid pieced that jigsaw together extracting key evidence to support his case that Patrice Lumumba was killed as a result of a CIA inspired coup on the direct orders of President Eisenhower.

The publisher describes the assassination of Patrice Lumumba and the subsequent misrule in the Congo as a horror story for the Congolese people and a playbook for future interventions by the United States (U.S.) Government.  ‘The Lumumba Plot’ carries us deep into the machinations and crimes of the U.S. in Africa.

Following independence Lumumba was faced with a revolt by his army and a breakaway by mineral rich Katanga Province.  Having failed to gain support from the United States (U.S). he turned to the Soviet Union for military assistance.  According to the author, as a result of this move, driven by a cold war paranoia, President Eisenhower issued instructions for Lumumba’s assassination.  When a series of attempts failed, the CIA organised a coup to overthrow Lumumba. This is the story of those actions.

In 1958 Lumumba emerged as the first President of the newly formed Congolese National Movement (MNC) offering steadfast opposition to tribalism in the fight for a unified independent Congo.  Initially, Lumumba’s views were moderate seeking a new relationship with Belgium, the colonial power, through peaceful persuasion.  Like Castro and many other national leaders, Lumumba initially saw the U.S. as a potential ally believing their success in defeating the British Empire and a constitution which appeared to value ‘all men’ equally represented a role model for other oppressed nations.

All this was to change when Lumumba attended the All-African People’s Conference in newly independent Ghana. Here he was mesmerised by contributions of such giants as Franz Fanon and W.E. Du Bois. This event heralded his meeting with Kwame Nkrumah whose policies of Pan-Africanism he would adopt and whose council he would seek.

On his return to Congo Lumumba demanded independence by 1960. The MNC rapidly gained the leadership of the national movement.  Lumumba recruited his friend, the journalist, Joseph Mobutu  to the MNC. This alliance was to have a major impact on the struggle for independence but ended in tragedy.  

By January 1960, negotiations for independence were underway.  Lumumba, languishing in Stanleyville prison, was excluded from the first round of talks but this could not be sustained and he was released to attend the next. Congolese representatives were united in their key arguments with the Belgians but the seeds of future division were already sown. While Lumumba and many others argued for a unitary state others, particularly Moise Tshombe from mineral rich Katanga, supported a federal model. In the end a compromise with a national government and regional assemblies was agreed.

In pre-independence elections the MNC gained the largest number of seats but insufficient to govern alone. In an indication of  the troubles to come, they failed to gain a single seat in the Katanga provincial legislature. After weeks of haggling Lumumba was appointed head of government. Independence followed on 30th June 1960.

Within days of Independence the Congolese army revolted objecting to their pay and conditions and refusing to accept orders from the Belgian Officers still in place. Continued machinations by Congo’s former colonial masters Belgium supported by the CIA undermined every step Lumumba took to lead Congo on a new path. Without evidence to support it CIA Chief Allen Dulles alleged that there was a serious threat of the Soviets occupying the Congo describing Lumumba as ‘a Castro or worse’. These efforts came together with the cessation of Katanga from the Congo in July 1960.  Belgian troops invaded in support of the break-away and it took three years of bloody civil war before UN troops finally ended the revolt.

However, the damage was done. CIA plans to assassinate Lumumba failed miserably but eventually a CIA contrived coup by Mobuto succeeded. Lumumba was kidnapped, tortured and eventually murdered. His body was dissolved in acid with only a tooth remaining. What followed were decades of corrupt dictatorship under Mobuto and ongoing instability in the region lasting until the present day.

Reid completes his substantial exploration with an inconclusive examination of the circumstances which led to the death on UN Secretary General Dag Hammarskjold on 17th September 1961.

Sadly this book is another addition to the recent glut of publications exploring the fight for the liberation of Africa and the US in efforts to prevent those newly independent countries from gaining the real benefits of their independence.  It is a fascinating and informative read.

The Lumumba Plot: The Secret History of the CIA and a Cold War Assassination. Stuart A. Reid. Random House £29.69

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