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The Assassination of Lumumba: Part II

Lumumba: The UN and American role

Story by Osei Boateng

Two weeks after Congo's independence, the country was plunged into a spiral of crises. It all started when soldiers of the Force Publique, the colonial army trained, and headed, by Belgian officers, mutinied over the refusal of its Belgian chief of staff to consider any improvements in their pay and service conditions. The soldiers had not been paid for months and when the chief of staff, General Janssens, refused to grant their pleas for service improvements, they vented their spleen on Lumumba's two-week-old government.

The soldiers were soon joined by civil servants who had equally not been paid for several months.

Then Moise Tshombe's CONAKAT party which had won only eight of the 137 seats in the national assembly demanded two of the most important portfolios in the country -- defence and interior -- as condition for joining Lumumba's MNC in a coalition government. The MNC refused, and the negotiations broke down.

Tshombe's party had also won 25 of the 60 seats in the Katanga provincial assembly, but technically, according to the letter of the Loi Fundamentale (Congo's constitution), he could not even form a provincial government in Katanga since he did not win an overall majority in the provincial elections. He won only 25 seats but he needed 31 to form the provincial government.

Yet Belgium, under pressure from Tshombe, amended the Loi Fundamentale without consulting the other parties, and thus paved the way for Tshombe to form a provincial government in Katanga. It was this provincial government that declared UDI (unilateral declaration of independence) in Katanga on 11 July 1960, less than two weeks of Congo's independence.

Katanga, later renamed Shaba by Mobutu, was then the richest and most developed region of the country. It was also the home base of the mining giant, Union Miniere de Haut-Katanga. The province was so important to the future of the country that no national leader, and least Lumumba, could let it secede. Katanga was Congo's "Niger Delta" (home of Nigeria's oil wealth).

On the eve of independence, Lumumba's government had signed a "treaty of friendship" with Belgium, stipulating that Belgian troops in the Congo could only intervene militarily in domestic affairs at the request of the Congolese government. But as soon as Tshombe announced Katanga's secession, Belgium (without consulting Lumumba's government) sent its troops into action in Katanga's capital, Elisabethville (now Lumumbashi). They were not to quell Tshombe's rebellion but to give him support.

Thus within two weeks of independence, Lumumba's government was faced with four serious problems: an army mutiny, a workers' strike, a secession in Katanga and a re-occupation of the country by Belgium. Lumumba's enduring mistake was to decide to invite United Nations' troops to help him solve the Katanga problem. He played straight into the hands of those who did not wish him well.

How the UN did it:

The UN Security Council passed two resolutions on 14 and 22 July 1960:

· Calling on Belgium to immediately withdraw its troops from Katanga;
· Declaring the entry of UN troops into Katanga as necessary for the full implementation of the UN resolutions; and
· Reaffirming that the UN Force in the Congo would not be a party to, or in any way intervene in, or influence the outcome of, any internal conflict, constitutional or otherwise.

But that was not what happened. By 25 July, the UN had 8,396 troops in the Congo composed of 2,340 Ghanaians, 2,087 Tunisians, 1,220 Moroccans, 1,160 Ethiopians, 741 Guineans, 623 Swedes and 225 Liberians. Later contingents from Ireland, Mali, Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) and other countries joined the Force. Though the Force was predominantly African, there was not a single African in the UN Operational Command (UNOC) based in New York.

As President Nkrumah of Ghana wrote later: "The Secretary General on the civilian side (of the UNOCI) was assisted by Sir Alexander McFarquhar and Brigadier Rokhe. Below them were three Americans. General Karl von Horn [the Swede] headed the military side. In other words, in all the major issues, it was these men from the Western countries who made the decisions, and it was the Africans, who were not even consulted, who received instructions to carry them out. Thus, we see the spectacle of Africans being used to crush fellow Africans. It was all done under the grandiose phrases of the UN charter."

Was it surprising, therefore, that the UN troops were initially sent all over Congo except Katanga where the problem really was? In other words, the UN occupied the very provinces controlled by Lumumba's government, and left Katanga free for the Belgians and Tshombe's rebels -- an act which was against the very spirit and letter of the UN resolutions of 14 and 22 July. It was not until 14 August that the first UN troops were sent to Katanga. Even then, Tshombe demanded from the UN that no troops from Ghana and Guinea be sent to Katanga. His wish was granted.

This is where America's "national interests" took centre-stage in the running of the UN operations in the Congo. Disguised as the voice of the UN, Washington ran the show from behind the scenes, using the UNOC as the lever to support the secessionists.

By August 1960, the senior posts in the UN Secretariat in New York were held by America and its Western allies. The UN Secretary General, Dag Hammarskjold (from Sweden) was surrounded by American advisers -- notably Ralph Bunche (under-secretary for political affairs), Heinz Wenschoff (Bunche's deputy and personal representative in the Congo) and Andrew Cordier (executive assistant). Hammarskjold himself had personal connections with the Belgian royal family.

Records show that what was supposed to be a UN operation in the Congo was in fact financed largely by America. Between July 1960 and June 1963, American "aid" to Congo totalled $299.7m. Forty per cent of this ($118.5m) went to the UN Force alone. In addition, Congress put a further $10m at the disposal of the US president in case of emergency in the Congo.

Thus, the scene was set where the "African" commanders of the UN troops would not take instructions from their national governments, unless they came via the UNOC.

Some of the most infamous of these "African" commanders were the trio in charge of the Ghanaian contingent, the largest unit in the UN Force. Major-Gen H. T. Alexander (a Briton seconded to Ghana in 1959 and appointed chief of defence staff) led the way. In fact Gen Alexander had no "official" business as such in the Congo: He was neither (technically) the commander of the Ghanaian contingent nor held any official position in the UN team. The Ghanaian contingent was commanded by Brigadier Stephen Otu, assisted by Col. J. A. Ankrah.

Yet Gen Alexander went to the Congo and using the cover of being the chief of defence staff of Ghana, and the pretext of restoring "law and order" in the areas controlled by Lumumba, set out to demobilise the Force Publique (the army controlled by Lumumba) and, in the process, achieved the twin aims of rendering both Lumumba and Nkrumah ineffective. In fact, he reduced Nkrumah to a laughing stock, given the fact that Nkrumah was Lumumba's best friend yet Ghanaian soldiers were used to block Lumumba's every move.

Nkrumah finally sacked Alexander in 1961. But it was too late. By then Lumumba had been murdered and his government overthrown.

Enter Kasavubu:

Before he died, Lumumba suffered another deadly blow. Joseph Kasavubu, the titular president who had been a staunch Lumumba ally, suddenly turned tail, believed to have fallen for the wiles of the CIA. In a surprise radio broadcast on 5 September 1960, Kasavubu told the Congolese:

"I have most important news to announce. The prime minister (i.e. Patrice Lumumba), who was named by the King of Belgium, has betrayed the mission assigned to him. He has been governing arbitrarily and even now he is in the midst of throwing this country into a civil war. That is why I have decided immediately to dissolve parliament."

Kasavubu went on to appoint a new government under Joseph Ileo, president of the Senate.

Lumumba was stung! That same evening, he made a counter-announcement: "The popular government will remain in power. I proclaim that as from today, Kasavubu, who has betrayed the nation by collaborating with the Belgians and the Flemish, is no longer the head of state."

But more bad news awaited Lumumba. There were further rebellions in Kasai led by Albert Kalonji as well as secessionist moves in Ba-Congo.

Then Lumumba's foreign minister Justin Bomboko went over to the enemy. But when all hopes appeared to be lost, a chink of light appeared at the end of Lumumba's tunnel: Both houses of parliament voted overwhelmingly on 7 September in support of Lumumba's position against Kasavubu. The Senate voted 41 to 6 (with two abstentions), condemning Kasavubu's attempt to outlaw Lumumba's government. But that important decision did not have much value because Kasavubu had already received American support.

It was during this time that the UNOC used the Ghanaian troops to damaging effect against Lumumba. On 6 September, 24 hours after Kasavubu had gone over to the enemy, the Ghanaians were ordered to seize the Ndjili airport and the national radio station in Leopoldville and prevent Lumumba from using them to rally his supporters. Meanwhile the UN was allowing Tshombe and Kasavubu free rein over Radio Elisabethville and Radio Brazzaville, respectively, to broadcast against Lumumba.

On 11 September, an angry Lumumba led a group of soldiers to take the radio station. The Ghanaians threatened to shoot him and his soldiers if they didn't get lost{!}. Lumumba protested vehemently to Nkrumah in Accra who instructed his ambassador in Leopoldville, Kofi Djin, to intercede. The Ghanaian commander, Brigadier Otu, told the ambassador in the face that he only took orders from the UNOC and not from him.

Nkrumah was forced to protest to the UN Secretary General, Dag Hammarskjold, on 12 September thus:

"Ghana originally went to the Congo to aid the legitimate Lumumba government ... The whole development since has perverted the real objective and seriously undermined Ghana's position, in that at present Ghana's troops are used almost exclusively as a cat's paw against Lumumba, preventing him from using his own radio station. At the same time, Radio Brazzaville which is controlled by France, a permanent member of the Security Council, is allowed to indulge in the most virulent propaganda against the legitimate Lumumba government. Radio Elisabethville, which is in effect under Belgian control, is allowed to indulge in similar propaganda. Thus Ghana is used virtually to tie Lumumba's hands behind him while a permanent member of the Security Council is allowed to whip him."

Nkrumah threatened that if the UN did not take action to right the wrongs, he would withdraw the Ghanaian troops from UN command and place them at the disposal of Lumumba's government.

If only Nkrumah had carried out his threat! It might have had a snowball effect on the other African contingents, and Lumumba might probably have lived longer.

But Nkrumah did not make good his threat -- his reasons being that, as he told Lumumba in a letter on 12 September: "You must not push the UN troops out until you have consolidated your position, [only] then can you ask them to leave ... But if the UN troops move out now, you will not be able to cope with the confusion that will ensue, fomented by the colonial powers, Belgian and other imperialists, working with the reactionaries at home."

It was a fatal miscalculation by Nkrumah. Because the UNOC, dominated by Western interests as it were, was never going to save Lumumba. And the longer the Ghanaian troops stayed under UN command, the longer they were going to be used to stab Lumumba in the back … And the longer they were going to be exposed to the various Western intelligence agencies and their manipulations. It was no surprise, therefore, that six years later, in February 1966, two of the prominent names among the generals who led the now-acknowledged CIA-instigated coup against Nkrumah, were Ankrah and Otu. Ankrah in fact went on to become military head of state in 1967 after Gen Kotoka, leader of the junta, had been killed in a counter-coup.

Mobutu's coup:

But back to Congo: The real drama in the crisis was yet to unfold. As the Lumumba-Kasavubu tussle continued, Colonel Mobutu, the chief of staff, staged what was independent Africa's first ever coup on 14 September 1960. The previous day, Lumumba had been given emergency powers by a joint session of the houses of parliament. Twenty-four hours later, Mobutu went to the radio station and announced that the army was taking over, and that parliament and the "two rival governments" in the country had been "neutralised" until 31 December 1960. The government, he said, was to be replaced by a "College of University Students".

Mobutu's action was quite interesting because he had been a man of Lumumba's heart. Mobutu had been a member of Lumumba's MNC and from 1958 had wormed his way into Lumumba's confidence. Lumumba considered him bright, politically honest and a man of the future. He appointed him into the cabinet as a junior minister, and later made him chief of staff of the newly Africanised Congolese army, the Armée Nationale Congolese.

But all unbeknown to Lumumba, the CIA had recruited Mobutu for precisely the job he did on 14 September. The CIA considered Mobutu as one of its "bright discoveries", because he knew Lumumba and the MNC inside out.

Four days before the coup, the CIA and Belgium had given Mobutu millions of Belgian francs to go round the garrisons in Leopoldville to pay the salary arrears of the soldiers. The money which came through the UN system was to help Mobutu ingratiate himself with the soldiers, consolidate his position and make the coup of 14 September easier to execute.

No wonder one of the significant actions of Mobutu after the coup was to close down the Soviet embassy in Leopoldville on 17 September. He followed it up a month later by closing down the Ghanaian and Egyptian embassies. President Abel Nasser of Egypt retaliated by closing down the Belgian embassy in Cairo.

UN in the dock:

At the start of the Congo crisis, the personal relations between Lumumba and the UN Secretary General, Dag Hammarskjold, were not too bad. After their first meeting on 24 July 1960 in New York when Lumumba attended the General Assembly, Hammarskjold was heard to remark: "Now nobody can tell me that man is irrational." …

But a few weeks later, when the UNOC started using the Ghanaian troops against him, Lumumba wrote several angry letters to HammarsKjold, especially after Hammarskjold's visit to the rebel capital, Elisabethville on 12 August 1960. Hammarskjold even went further to grant Tshombe's wish not to include Ghanaian and Guinean troops in the UN force sent to Katanga on 14 August. Lumumba protested: "The government and people of the Congo have lost confidence in the Secretary General."

The relations deteriorated further to the point where Hammarskjold, according to Madeleine Kalb, in her book Congo Cables, told Western diplomats in a private conversation: "Lumumba must be broken."

Later, the UN representative in Congo, Mr Dayal (an Indian) appeared to mend fences between the two men when he published, on 2 November 1960, an official report very favourable to Lumumba. Dayal criticised the Belgian role, Mobutu's coup and his foreign supporters, and called for a return of Lumumba's constitutional government. Washington opposed the Dayal report, saying it would accept the return of parliamentary government in the Congo only if the nominee of Kasavubu was made prime minister.

But it was Mobutu, not Kasavubu or his nominee, that grew from strength to strength, supported by America and its European allies. In January 1961, Mobutu was promoted from colonel to general. He remained head of state for the next 37 years, serving eight American presidents (i.e. instead of the Congolese people), being fêted at the White House, making Kinshasa the HQ of the CIA operations in Africa; and in the end, after his overthrow by Laurent Kabila's rebels in 1997, being declared "a creature of history" by his American friends.


Lumumba: The implications:

Analysis by Francois Misser

If the Belgian commission of inquiry concludes that the country bears a major responsibility in the assassination of Lumumba, the decision may have a snowball effect on Belgium, Congo itself, America and its allies France and Britain; and finally the United Nations and the African continent.

According to the political scientist, Jean-Claude Willame, author of Patrice Lumumba: La crise congolaise revisite, it is no coincidence that the decision by the Belgian parliament to examine the country's responsibility in the assassination, has come now. Willame, based at the African Institute in Brussels, thinks the decision has domestic and political undercurrents. He thinks that Louis Michel, the current Belgian foreign minister, who strongly backed the idea to set up the inquiry, may be out to embarrass the Social-Christian Party (SCP) which ceased to be part of the ruling coalition last June. This is the first time since 1961 that the SCP has been out of government.

In fact, the main Belgian political figures at the time of Lumumba's assassination, namely, Harold d'Aspremont Lynden (African affairs minister), Pierre Wigny (foreign minister) and Gaston Eyskens (prime minister) did all belong to the SCP. But none will be able to defend himself before the inquiry because they are all dead.

However, with the exception of the Green Party which did not exist at the time of Lumumba's death, the other main parties in Belgium cannot be said to have a clean record over Lumumba's murder. As pointed out recently by the Belgian daily, Le Soir, the socialists, who are part of the current government coalition, did not object whatsoever to the hostile government policy against Lumumba. And Louis Michel's own Liberal Party, in fact, did have many friends in the circle of Belgian officials who supported Lumumba's arch-enemy, Moise Tshombe.

In the end, the inquiry may catch the entire Belgian political apparatus in the net, except for the communists who supported Lumumba. All the main parties, if not actively involved in the policy that led to Lumumba's death, were at least indifferent.

All this, of course, will be interesting for historians, but it is unlikely to lead to criminal charges. Not only because the main Belgian actors suspected of complicity in the murder are all dead, but also because, under Belgian law, criminal offences over 20 years old cannot be brought to trial. As such, the survivors of the Lumumba murder squad could well sleep safely in their beds, knowing that 40 years after the event they are not likely to go to prison for the crime, or be asked to pay large compensations.

However, from the political and moral perspective, if the Belgian state admits its responsibility in the murder, it might be difficult to turn down claims for compensation by Lumumba's family or from the Congolese nation itself.

"If the inquiry confirms what De Witte wrote", says Dr Jean-Baptiste Sondji, a former health minister in Kabila's government, "it will not be enough for the Belgian government to apologise. Belgium will have to pay for what is seen by most Congolese as its responsibility in the creation of 40 years of misery and tragedy in the Congo."

Foreign minister Michel is planning a goodwill visit to Congo in the first quarter of this year, and the Belgian government wants to dear the slate in the interest of rapprochement between Brussels and Kinshasa, before Michel's visit.

But this goodwill gesture, obviously intended to please the Congolese government, may yet become its embarrassment. Which is why Kabila's government did not jump for joy when Belgium announced the establishment of the inquiry in early December (1999). Some Congolese politicians opposed to Kabila, such as George Kimba, are already saying: "Belgium cannot apologise to the government of Kabila which betrayed the independence of Congo by allowing neighbouring states to re-colonise the country".

Kabila himself claims to be a Lumumbist. In fact, in the early 60s, he was a leader of the youth wing of Lumumba's MNC party in Albertville (now Kalemie). Kabila's supporters in Belgium, including Ludo Martens (leader of the Workers Party), say Kabila is a "genuine Lumumbist" who, just like Lumumba himself 40 years ago, has become the victim of a 'Western plot led by the US. According to Martens, the same powers that killed Lumumba are now behind the plot to destabilise Kabila ...

On the whole, the Belgian inquiry may reopen more old wounds than close them. It may even threaten the very cohesion of Kabila's government. The current cabinet in Kinshasa includes Lumumba's daughter Julienne and Tshombe's daughter Isabelle. How the two cabinet ministers will take the revelations to come out from the Belgian inquiry, is anybody's guess.

Already Tshombe's other daughter, Marie, has said Belgium must also investigate "its responsibility" in the kidnapping and murder in Algiers in 1969 of her father. In the book, Le Rapt de Tshombe (or French for Tshombe's kidnapping) published in Brussels in 1997, Tshombe's nephew, Joseph, accused Belgian and French spies of involvement in his uncle's abduction and death.

Lumumba's son, Francois, no friend of Kabila's like his sister Julienne, has already called on all Congolese who have something to tell about his father's assassination, to come forward and testify before the Belgian inquiry. Other Lumumbists such as Patrice's cousin, Albert Onawelho Lumumba (chairman of the Mouvement National Congolais-Lumumba), who lives in exile in the UK, say they are all ready to give evidence before the inquiry. Onawelho was Lumumba's secretary and claims to be the custodian of his will.

Burundi may also demand the same. Beyond Congo, the investigations into Lumumba's murder may well spur Burundi (another former Belgian colony) to ask Brussels to also investigate the death of their national hero, Prince Louis Rwagasore, who was shot dead on 13 October 1961 in Bujumbura by one Kageorgis, a Greek national who was believed to be working at the time for Belgian intelligence.

Rwanda (yet another Belgian colony) also suspects that Mwami (King) Charles Rudahigwa Mutara III, who died in exile across the border, in Burundi, in 1959, was murdered by Belgian agents. The King died suddenly after receiving an injection from a Belgian doctor. His people say he was poisoned.

In Africa itself, Lumumba's investigation may encourage the families of other nationalists who died at the hands of the colonialists to demand similar investigations, and eventually compensation.

Beyond Africa, Britain and France may have something to tell about their roles in Lumumba's demise. Historians say Gen. Alexander, the Briton seconded to Ghana as chief of defence staff, could not have played the role he played against Lumumba without some support from his home country. France, on the other hand, supported Kasavubu to the hilt, including allowing him the use of the national radio in neighbouring Congo-Brazzaville to broadcast vitriolic propaganda against Lumumba at the time the UN had seized Lumumba's radio in Leopoldville.

As for the US, historians say its responsibility in Lumumba's assassination runs second, if not first, to Belgium's ... America's diabolical role in the Congo is well-documented in book after book after book ..., and the Belgian inquiry is likely to put the US further in the dock.

The United Nations is next to follow. By allowing itself to be used by the major powers who wanted Lumumba dead, the UN cannot escape blame (and some responsibility) for the eventual outcome.

To the very end, the UN instructed its troops to do nothing to save Lumumba.

Madeleine Kalb in her book, Congo Cables, quotes the Swedish general, Karl von Horn, as saying that when the Ghanaian commander in Kasai requested permission to rescue Lumumba, "we were instructed [i.e. by the UN high command] to refuse the request, and [instead] issue orders to the Ghanaians not to intervene."

From Von Horn's own account (contained in his book, Soldat de la Paix (or "Soldier of Peace", published in Paris in 1966), he had little sympathy for Lumumba: "Unlike Lumumba," Von Horn wrote, "Mobutu seemed to me as an authentic patriot who did not waste his time playing with communist theories."

When Lumumba was transferred from Port Francqui to Elisabethville, there were six Swedish UN soldiers at the airport but, says Kalb, they did nothing to prevent his death.

Then, too, is the still unexplained plane crash on the Zambian side of the border, near Ndola, in which the UN Secretary General, Dag Hammarskjold, and his adviser Wenschoff died, in September 1961. Hammarskjold had arrived in Leopoldville on 13 September and announced three days later that he would go to Ndola, in (the then) Northern Rhodesia (now Zambia) where Tshombe was living in self-imposed exile, to arrange a ceasefire in the Congo.

Hammarskjoid duly left Leopoldville on 17 September for Ndola but did not arrive. The next day the wreckage of his plane was found near Ndola. The only survivor of the crash died later, being unable to give any clues as to what actually happened.

As Nkrumah wrote in his book 'Challenge of the Congo': "There have been several theories [about the plane crash], none of them entirely credible, and the circumstances of Hammarskjold's death remain obscure. But as in the case of the murder of Lumumba, there are doubtless people living who can throw light on the tragedy and one day perhaps they may be induced to tell what they know."

Is the Belgian inquiry the "one day" Nkrumah talked about?

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