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Patrice Lumumba: A Brief History

 

By David Akerman

 

Patrice Lumumba: January 1961
"In happiness, as in unhappiness...
I will remain at your side.
We fought together...
to liberate this country...
from foreign domination."

 

These are the last words the world heard from Patrice Lumumba - the first Prime Minister of newly independent Congo. Days later he was murdered.

 

 

Patrice Lumumba: "Freedom is the ideal for which throughout history... throughout centuries, men have fought and died."

 

He'd been elected only six months before. His obituary in The Times said that his career had been as meteoric and controversial as anything the twentieth century had seen.

 

Now, over forty years later, a story of international intrigue and betrayal can be told. Of smuggled money and assassination plots sanctioned at the highest level. Of brutal beatings, a firing squad and death under a moonlit tree.

 

Larry Devlin, the CIA station chief in Leopoldville: "President Eisenhower said, indicated in one way or another, 'let's get rid of this man'."

 

Gerard Soete, Comissioner of the Katangese Police: "We did things an animal wouldn't do. That's why we were drunk, stone drunk."

 

Fresh scrutiny of thousands of documents held in these vaults has now brought to light the plots that lay behind the downfall and death of Patrice Lumumba.

 

Patrice Lumumba was born into colonial Africa. The vast territory of Congo was staked out by King Leopold of the Belgians in the 1870's - greedy for its natural resources.

The capital, Léopoldville, sat on the banks of the Congo River. Stanleyville in the north was named for the explorer who found Dr Livingstone. Lumumba was born in the tiny village of Onalua, in Kasai Province.

 

In a nation of two hundred tribes, Lumumba was born into one of the smallest, to poor farmers. The early years of Belgian colonisation were notoriously harsh for the Congolese and though conditions later improved, still village life was no place for an ambitious young man.

Lumumba travelled to Stanleyville and passed an exam to enter a post office training scheme. After nine months he graduated with distinction and began work as a clerk. Third class.

 

Anicet Kashamura Friend & politician: "At that time he wasn't actively engaged in politics. Mind you all Congolese were political but he was more free-thinking with his politics."

 

In 1955 the Belgian King visited the Congo. Among those he met personally was Patrice Lumumba who had become active in trade unionism. He was starting to get himself noticed. The following year he was amongst an elite group of Congolese, the 'Evolues', invited to visit Belgium. 'Evolues' were the Congo's tiny black middle class.

 

They were required to sit a 'civilisation' exam and live like Europeans. But even as he was travelling he was secretly being watched by Belgian police, who suspected him of embezzlement. Later he claimed his motivation was the injustice of his paltry salary compared with that of his Belgian superiors.

 

Back home he was arrested and confessed. He'd stolen a hundred and twenty six thousand Belgian francs. He served fifteen months in prison. His time in jail marked a turning point. Africa was starting to break free of colonialism. After his release he was more radical.

 

Anicet Kashamura Friend & politician: "We wanted to be absolutely anti-colonial. That may sound infantile but it was about the immediate liberation of Africa. Lumumba wanted to harness that big idea and use it to create pressure for the immediate independence of the Congo."

 

He was now making a new life in the capital, Léopoldville. He took a job as a beer salesman. He had a salesman's gift with words. But his political life was developing quickly and in 1958 he co-founded a political party - the National Congolese Movement, the MNC. Uniquely then the MNC embraced members from all tribes and provinces.

 

That inclusive philosophy was reinforced by a trip to newly independent Ghana, whose leader, Kwame Nkrumah, was the high priest of pan-Africanism. An anti-colonial creed with a socialist stripe, pan-Africanism rejected tribalism as divisive.

 

Jean Van Lierde Friend & adviser: "Lumumba was the only Congolese leader who rose above the ethnic difficulties and tribal preoccupations that destroyed all the other parties. Lumumba was the first real pan-African."

 

Lumumba quickly established a reputation for persuasive and emotional oratory. He was becoming a significant figure with a loyal following. 1959 was to be a decisive year in the Congo.

 

In January there was widespread unrest - deaths followed. The Belgians could no longer ignore the tide of history and accepted the objective of independence but without undue haste.

 

Serious unrest continued sporadically throughout the year and towards its end Patrice Lumumba was again arrested and sentenced to six months in jail for provoking trouble. Lumumba was now viewed as both a hero of the independence movement and a dangerous troublemaker.

 

But the unrest had shaken Brussels. And in January 1960 the Belgian government invited Congolese politicians to Brussels to discuss independence. Lumumba was still in jail in the Congo. The MNC delegates threatened to boycott the talks unless he was permitted to attend. On the orders of the government Lumumba was flown to Brussels. It was a saviour's welcome.

 

Jean Van Lierde had been a friend of Lumumba's for some years. Now he acted as liaison between his friend and a by now hostile Belgian government.

 

Jean Van Lierde: "The image he projected, by his use of vocabulary and his manner, frightened some people. He gave the impression that he was not a man who could be dominated. And a man who could not be dominated was dangerous."

 

The conference was opened by Prime Minister Gaston Eyskens. The Belgian negotiators were fluent and united. The Congolese by contrast were divided by tribal and personal rivalries - some of them viscous and deep. But amongst them all Lumumba impressed with his abilities and was the effective leader and spokesman.

 

Patrice Lumumba: "Belgium has understood the price... that we attach to our liberty and dignity.
She understands that we Congolese...
will not be hostile. We just want to abolish the colonial system...that was the shame of the twentieth century."

 

A date for independence was set for June the 30th, just over four months away. Some suspected already that this belated haste was a deliberate strategy - the Belgians hoped to exploit the chaos that would ensue.

 

The Prime Minister, Gaston Eyskens, remained a central figure in the unfolding Congo drama, as did the aristocratic Count d'Aspremont Lynden, soon to be Minister for African Affairs and King Baudouin, who'd met Lumumba in the Congo.

 

The election campaign which followed was marked by controversy. Martial law was declared after more rioting and for some weeks the authorities refused to allow Lumumba to speak in public.

 

But despite this, his MNC emerged as the biggest single party. In June the government was named. There was dispute about who would take key posts. Lumumba would be Prime Minister and Defence Minister. President and Head of State, however, would be his rival Joseph Kasavubu, leader of the powerful Bakongo tribe. Lumumba resented it.

 

Another powerful tribal leader not in government was Moise Tschombe, head of Congo's wealthiest province, the mineral rich Katanga, in the south. He and Lumumba hated each other.


The Prime Minister's private secretary was Joseph Mobutu. Within weeks he would become the army's Chief of Staff and the most powerful man in the Congo.

 

June the 30th 1960. Independence Day dawned and the Belgian King rode through the streets of Léopoldville with President Kasavubu. What should have been a day of celebration was to be a fateful day for Patrice Lumumba. In the official ceremony there was no place for him to speak - an oversight, which outraged his friend and adviser.

 

Jean Van Lierde Friend & adviser: "I read the King's speech and Kasavubu's. I was shocked; I asked myself how could this be possible. On June the 30th 1960, such a paternalistic speech by my monarch talking about Leopold the second, the wonderful things Belgium had done in the nineteenth century. On Independence Day when the people were moving towards freedom it was scandalous."

 

KING BAUDOUIN I: "The independence of the Congo... is the culmination of the work conceived... by the genius of Leopold II. Undertaken by him with tenacious courage... and continued with perseverance by Belgium.

 

Jean Van Lierde Friend & adviser: "I ran to Lumumba's house and said; 'Patrice, have you read this text?' It was incredible that only the King and Kasavubu should speak and not the Prime Minister. 'When they finished', I said, 'you must get up and speak'. "

 

It was probably the worst advice Lumumba ever took.

Patrice Lumumba: "Fighters for independence, today victorious...


I salute you in the name of the Congolese government.
All of you, my friends who've unstintingly fought at our side.
We have known mockery, insults...
blows from morning to night...
because we were negroes.
We knew that the law was never the same...
for whites and blacks.
Who will forget the firing squads...
the brutal arrests of those who refused to bow...
to the regime of injustice, oppression and exploitation.

Jean Van Lierde Friend & adviser: "Everyone was shocked; this wasn't in the programme."

 

Jean Van Lierde Friend & adviser: "I saw Janssens and Veragen two or three metres away - his moustache was trembling with rage. I saw the King lean over and say; 'Mr President, was this planned?' And Kasavubu said; 'of course not, no'. That was it, the King was very angry, he wanted to leave the Congo immediately.

 

The Belgians wanted nothing to do with him after that. People say it was this speech that brought about his end.

For Lumumba's government, independence quickly turned into a nightmare.

 

By July the 5th there was mutiny in the army. Troops were incensed that independence had changed nothing and white officers were still in charge.

 

Lumumba sacked the Belgian commander of the armed forces and promoted all Congolese soldiers by one grade. But the perception that behind the scenes too many Belgians still wielded too much power was incendiary. There were reports of white women being raped. And the Belgians began to flee the country.

 

Brussels decided to act and flew in troops from Belgium, claiming they were there only to protect Europeans. But soon there was to be armed confrontation between the Belgian and Congolese forces. Prime Minister Eyskens insisted publicly the mission was strictly limited.

 

Prime Minister Eyskens:
"These military interventions by
Belgium in the Congo...
are really and in all honesty...
only for the purpose of saving lives.

Days later came the biggest blow of all. Congo's richest province, Katanga, led by Lumumba's long time enemy Moise Tschombe, announced it was seceding. Belgian troops helped secure the breakaway state. The vast profits made from Katanga's mineral riches - copper, diamonds, gold and uranium - had always flowed back to Belgium. Whoever controlled Katanga had domain over most of Congo's wealth."

 

According to revelations from this writer and historian, Ludo De Witte, archives from the Belgian Foreign Ministry show that senior politicians in Brussels had master minded the breakaway of the state of Katanga.

Ludo De Witte d'Aspremont Lynden was the close collaborator of the Prime Minster. He was the one who was sent by the Belgian Prime Minister to Katanga to organise the secession to build up a Katangese state with Belgian functionaries and Belgian military. De Witte's access to the Foreign Ministry files also exposes the Belgian's deliberate deception at the time.

 

Ludo De Witte: "The official version of the, the Belgian government was that all those Belgian functionaries and officers were put at the disposal of the Katangese government."

 

"Now in practice the documents are very clear - all those officers and functionaries were following orders of the Belgian government and were following Belgian policy."

The government of Patrice Lumumba was now in crisis. A viscous civil war with Katanga loomed. Lumumba ordered the Belgians to leave the Congo - they didn't."

 

"He expelled Belgian diplomats. Now he turned to the United Nations but at the same time began casting around for help wherever he could get it. Critically he warned that he might ask the Soviets for help. It sent a chill through every western capital."

 

Lawrence Devlin CIA Station Chief, Léopoldville: "I don't think he was a communist, I think he thought that he could use the Russians - one to frighten the western powers and two to provide the technical help which he needed."

 

The danger of a superpower turf war in Congo set alarm bells ringing at the United Nations. Its Secretary General, Dag Hammarskjold, believed only the UN could avert disaster. But the UN itself was a Cold War battleground and the Congo was being inexorably drawn into the confrontation.

 

The first United Nations troops arrived with impressive speed but immediately found themselves thwarted. Belgian troops remained in place and Belgian officials undermined the international effort.

 

Brigadier Indarjit Rikhye Military Adviser to UN Secretary-General: "It's on record in United Nations reports that the Belgian civilian personnel made it impossible for United Nations civilian experts to be able to work properly."

The Secretary-General's military representative was Brigadier Indarjit Rikhye. He saw how even the Belgians who'd been expelled still secretly influenced key Congolese leaders including Mobutu, by now Army Chief of Staff and President Kasavubu.

 

Brigadier Indarjit Rikhye: "In the early days the embassy had moved to Brazzaville, right across the river. But every night they would come over to see them because, which was not visible to the UN. And we only discovered it when Mobutu suddenly decided that he would like to have an Indian Liaison Officer." That UN officer became a mole in the Mobutu camp.

 

Brigadier Indarjit Rikhye: "So this young man got along so well that he would sit hours drink champagne and brandy with - and at midnight the Belgians would come."

"The military was influencing Mobutu by these night visits. They were involved in Kasavubu's cabinet; they were controlling the government in Léopoldville at every level."

At the same time money from the Belgians was secretly being brought into the country to fund covert support for Lumumba's rivals.

 

Louis Marlière: "They gave me - I had a few millions available to me."

Louis Marlière had been an officer in the Belgian colonial army. He was now one of those making frequent trips back to the Congo from across the river in French Brazzaville - with the help of a French passport.

 

Colonel Louis Marliere: "In Brussels they knew this guy had to be removed, we all knew - the ministers, politicians, we didn't need anyone to tell us. The Congolese knew too."

 

Increasingly desperate, Patrice Lumumba went on an international trip to enlist support. His relationship with the UN Secretary-General was bad, he was frustrated that the UN hadn't ended the Katanga secession nor had Belgian troops left the Congo. In New York he made a personal appeal to Dag Hammarskjold.

 

Patrice Lumumba: "Peace in the Congo...
depends on Belgian troops leaving immediately.
We rely on the UN Secretary-General...
to bring this to a swift conclusion.

But in Brussels they had different plans. According to the Adviser to President Kasavubu the Belgian Prime Minister, Gaston Eyskens, had hardened his resolve.

 

Jef Van Bilsen Adviser to President Kasavubu: "In Brussels Prime Minister Eyskens called me in and said; 'Kasavubu has to dismiss him and it can be done within the constitution'. I said; 'but can the King dismiss you just like that, you've got to have a legal reason'. But Eyskens remained firm and said to me; 'tell Kasavubu that he has to dismiss Lumumba'."

 

Then, back in Congo, the Soviets supplied Lumumba with transport planes, military trucks and - it was suspected - guns. Lumumba had always denied being a communist. But the US Ambassador now referred to him as Lumumbavitch.

 

Jef Van Bilsen "I remember Timberlake, the American Ambassador, saying; 'for God's sake help us get rid of Lumumba, he's a communist'." He had played into the hands of America's cold warriors.

 

President Dwight Eisenhower: "The United States deplores the unilateral action of the Soviet Union in supplying aircraft and other equipment for military purposes to the Congo, thereby aggravating an already serious situation which finds Africans killing other Africans."

 

Lawrence Devlin CIA Station Chief, Léopoldville: "To most of us it was quite apparent that the Russians were making a major effort to take over. And so therefore this became a key problem of the Cold War struggle."

Sixty-seven days after he came to power Patrice Lumumba was sacked. It came in a radio announcement from President Kasavubu.

 

President Kasavubu: "Conforming with the constitution...
I have dismissed the Prime Minister...
Mr Patrice Lumumba, and certain other ministers.

Lumumba fought back. He went to parliament, sought and won two votes of confidence and announced he was sacking Kasavubu. The country was effectively leaderless. The inevitable happened.

 

The army stepped into the vacuum, led by Colonel Mobutu, the man who Lumumba had hired as his private secretary only months earlier. Days before the coup Mobutu had secured the troops' loyalty by paying his rebellious soldiers their long overdue wages. The money came from abroad.

 

Brigadier Indarjit Rikhye Military Adviser to UN Secretary-General: "The coup d'état was being made under a lot of involvement of western embassies. Who had the most control? Obviously the United States of America as the premier nation in the western system. The British were involved, the French were involved and the Russians on the other side were supporting Lumumba in another fashion."

 

Patrice Lumumba was now put under informal house arrest at the Prime Minster's residence. He was surrounded by two military cordons. The first was of UN troops mandated to protect him. The second, around them, was of Mobutu's soldiers who wanted to arrest him.

 

The files at the Belgian Foreign Ministry make it clear that the west still feared Lumumba's return to power. Determined to avoid this, several western nations began plotting to ensure a more permanent solution.

 

Ludo De Witte Historian: "In internal reports it became clear that at that moment they feared that at any moment Lumumba could come back to power. And it is in that, in those days you got the first order from the right hand of the Minister of African Affairs from Belgium who gave the green light for organising a commando action against Lumumba. That 'Operation Barracuda'. This was organised in the Congolese capital by Colonel Marlière."

Colonel Marlière denies that he organised Operation Barracuda, though he knew about it.

 

Colonel Louis Marlière "This Operation Barracuda, I never knew who thought up the plan. It was someone in Kasai or Belgium, it wasn't us but it involved kidnapping Lumumba."

 

On the 6th of October Belgium's Minster for African Affairs, Count d'Aspremont Lynden, sent a cable to Katanga. He wrote that the principle objective of policy from now on, for the sake of Katanga, Congo and Belgium, was to be the definitive elimination of Patrice Lumumba.

 

But the Belgian Foreign Intelligence Service wasn't alone in now contemplating drastic action. Documents held at the Public Records Office in London reveal that the Foreign Office here was also actively discussing the possibilities of eliminating Mr Lumumba from the political scene.

 

This paper, from an intelligence analyst, reviews communications from the British Ambassador in Léopoldville. It was written by Howard Smith later to become Head of MI5. He concludes:

 

Howard Smith: "I see only two possible solutions to the problem. The first is the simple one of ensuring Lumumba's removal from the scene by killing him."

A Foreign Office colleague seemed to agree.

 

Foreign Office colleague: "There is much to be said for eliminating Lumumba. But unless Mobutu can get him arrested and executed promptly, he's likely to survive and continue to plague us all."

 

But the final word rested with Edward Heath, Lord Privy Seal, who wanted to pursue a political solution.

Meanwhile, back in the east of Congo, fierce fighting had broken out between factions for and against the Prime Minister.

 

Ludo De Witte: "There was a military offensive from Lumumba's supporters going on which in a period of two weeks, two weeks and a half were, had taken more than half of the territory of the Congo. So it would be sure that if Lumumba came to power through that offensive this would have meant the toppling of the complete pro-western regime which was in place."

 

"We have the message from the CIA, the local CIA Station, which says well, if, if, if we are not reacting very quickly this will be a disaster for American policy into the Congo."

 

Across the Atlantic American attempts to contain Lumumba were over. The Director of the CIA in Washington had long regarded Lumumba as 'a Castro or worse'. His Station Chief in Léopoldville now received news of a plot, which might have been poached from the pages of a lurid spy novel.

 

Lawrence Devlin CIA Station Chief, Léopoldville: "I received a message saying 'eyes only, highly classified' etc, that someone whom I would recognise, a very senior officer whom I would recognise by sight, would arrive and identify himself as Joe from Paris and I was to take, carry out his instructions. Which I found, I'd never seen anything like this. Normally instructions came in cables."

The absence of paper made this a deniable operation.

 

Lawrence Devlin: "I recognised him when he walked toward my car and when he told me what they wanted done I was totally, totally taken aback. I had never suggested assassination, nor did I believe that it was advisable. Now, of course, I don't know that it was President Eisenhower but I can't believe that a decision like that was made without his clearance. It just wouldn't have been done, I had never heard of such a thing."

The man who came to meet Devlin, Joe from Paris, was Doctor Sidney Gottlieb, the CIA's Chief Scientist.

 

Lawrence Devlin: "Sid was Head of the Technical Services Division, which was the one that provides all kinds of special equipment. He was Q, if you will, if you've seen a 007 movie."

 

"He arrived with some toothpaste, which would put the man away and some other poison of some sort, which I don't remember what form but it was there. I was supposed to find some way to use it and I didn't."

 

Lawrence Devlin: "I eventually threw it in the Congo River when time of, it had expired, its usefulness had expired."

While plots were being hatched, Lumumba was still being protected by United Nation's troops. But even within the UN there was animosity towards him.

 

Brigadier Indarjit Rikhye Military Adviser to UN Secretary-General: "We could not participate in any action, although there were many of us, many members of the Untied Nations staff who would have been actively favouring 'let's get rid of the man, we can't get anywhere with him'."

 

Under pressure and fearing for his life, Lumumba now made a disastrous mistake. He decided to escape.

On a rainy evening in late November he hid in the back of a car leaving his residence. His wife and baby son were with him. He planned to go east to join troops still loyal to him around Stanleyville. It was a slow journey on poor roads, his convoy stopped often for Lumumba to address crowds of villagers despite rumours that Mobutu's forces were in hot pursuit.

 

On the evening of December the 2nd, the convoy came to a halt at the Sankuru River. There was no ferry. A party decided to cross in a small boat to alert the ferryman. As they waited Mobutu's forces appeared from the darkness. What happened next is not clear but it is known that after he was captured Lumumba made a direct appeal to local United Nation's troops to save him.

 

The order from the UN's military command was clear: they would not intervene.

 

Brigadier Indarjit Rikhye: "I was at headquarters at that time. We were exchanging cables with New York and I know that and even I accepted the fact that he surrendered our protection and having got himself into trouble asking. Our answer was no. And I, a hundred percent, backed that decision."

2nd December 1960


He was flown to Léopoldville, where his humiliation was witnessed by journalists and UN officials. Still no one intervened to save the nation's elected Prime Minister.

 

Brigadier Indarjit Rikhye: "We saw him when he returned and they had beaten him up. It was just terrible. It was right before our eyes. I mean, you know, very, very uncivilised."

 

Brigadier Indarjit Rikhye: "He was chained in the back of a truck and every so often for the benefit of the audience, rifle butts, kicks. And he was bleeding and his hair was dishevelled, he'd lost his glasses. And they saw him, we saw him go past the Royale, which was our headquarters but we could not intervene."

 

The UN had abandoned him to his fate. He was taken first to Mobutu's villa, where the Army Chief of Staff watched impassively as his old boss was further brutalised.

Lumumba's wife Pauline watched helplessly as excited troops continued to beat the Prime Minister.

 

Mobutu dispatched him to the military prison at Thysville, a hundred miles from Léopoldville, which was considered secure. During his six weeks at Thysville, Lumumba's famous powers of speech proved still dangerous. He almost provoked a mutiny amongst his guards.

 

Victor Nendaka Head of Intelligence Service: "It was the widely held opinion among the military in Thysville that there was a pro-Lumumba faction in Léopoldville that would try to return him to power. There was that possibility. So the government held a meeting to decide on another place to take Lumumba."

 

Victor Nendaka had been with Lumumba at the founding of the MNC but by 1960 he was head of Mobutu's secret service and a party to decisions about Lumumba's future. He was aware that the Belgians too were applying pressure for a more permanent solution.

 

Victor Nendaka: "Yes, lots of pressure. Everything was happening from Brazzaville. So you had Brussels, Brazzaville and Léopoldville, the pressure was very strong."

 

On January the 15th the Belgian pressure became direct and explicit.

 

The African Affairs Minister, Count d'Aspremont Lynden, sent a message drafted by hand to his apparatchiks in Katanga. He instructed them to tell Moise Tschombe that he personally insists that Lumumba be transferred to Katanga without delay. He had, in effect, issued a death warrant.

 

Ludo De Witte: "Only a few weeks before the transfer of Lumumba and a few weeks before the Belgian Minister of African Affairs ordered the transfer to Katanga, there had been a discussion in the Commission in Belgian Parliament in which clearly was explained that if Lumumba would be transferred to Katanga that would equal a death sentence, that would mean the end of it."

 

Lumumba, along with two other former ministers, was flown to Katanga on January the 17th. On the plane they were beaten so badly the pilot warned the violence was threatening the flight. Swedish UN troops at Elizabethville airport were kept away when the prisoners arrived.

 

Lumumba was taken into the custody of Katangese police and military. Overseen and supervised by Belgians.

There was a short drive to a colonial villa owned by a wealthy Belgian. Villa Brouwe. They arrived in the late afternoon. Eyewitnesses say the beatings continued by Congolese and Belgian guards. The prisoners were also visited by Katangese cabinet ministers and President Tschombe himself.

 

Witnesses have spoken of seeing Lumumba semi-conscious slumped by a toilet. During this time the Katangese were deciding what to do with their rival. By ten in the evening the decision was taken.

 

Another convoy set off from Villa Brouwe, heading into the bush. They drew up by a large tree. The three men were dragged from the car. Three separate firing squads had been assembled commanded by a Belgian, Captain Julien Gat. Another Belgian, the Police Commissioner Verschurre, had overall command. President Tschombe and two of his cabinet ministers watched the executions.

 

Next morning the government of Katanga began immediately concealing its crime. This man, Godfried Munongo, the Interior Minister, called a senior Belgian policeman, Gerard Soete, to his office.

 

Gerard Soete Commissioner, Katangese Police: "He said; 'you destroy them, you make them disappear'. 'How you do it, it doesn't interest me', he said. 'All I want is that it happens that they disappear. Once it is done nobody will talk about it. Finished.'"

 

Soete and a helper exhumed the corpses from shallow graves.

 

Gerard Soete "We hacked them in pieces and put them into the acid. As far as our acid because we had two bottles like that of acid, big bottles, but we hadn't got enough so we burned what we could in those bottles. For the rest I know that my helper made a fire and put them in and we destroyed everything."

 

Gerard Soete: "We were there two days. We did things an animal wouldn't do. And that's why we were drunk, stone drunk. We couldn't do things like that. Cut your own, your own - no, no, no. Nobody could say now, today, it's there, it happened. That's impossible, you couldn't."

It was to be three weeks before anything was announced publicly. An elaborately implausible cover-up.

13th February 1961


Although rumours had been circulating for weeks, Munongo solemnly declared that the three prisoners had escaped, killed their guards and made off in a getaway car. Munongo said they'd been recognised by villagers who beat them to death.Nobody believed the story.

 

Anger erupted around the world. The international left blamed Brussels. Belgian embassies were attacked in several capitals. But then there was no hard evidence. The truth has taken its time. Responding to the new evidence from Ludo De Witte, the Belgian parliament in Brussels has this year opened a Commission of Inquiry into the events surrounding the death of Patrice Lumumba.

 

Testimony is being taken from dozens of witnesses who lived and worked in Congo at the time of the assassination.

 

Geert Versnick: "Parliamentary Commission of Inquiry The Minister of Foreign Affairs in the parliament finds that it is time to address our history, especially the case of Mr Lumumba. If there was a Belgian implication we should address our history."

 

Ludo De Witte believes that through the Commission of Inquiry more documentary evidence may emerge confirming Brussels' determination to dictate the terms of post-independence Congo. But his researches have already led him to a clear conclusion about Belgium's role in the affair.

 

Ludo De Witte: "It were Belgian officers and functionaries who were calling the shots under the political leadership of Belgian government."


"The main objective was to secede all important provinces from the central government, from central authorities so that it could be weakened and in the end they wanted a confederation of all those provinces to be formed, just to topple and to replace the central government."

 

In the United States too there is more reckoning to be done. Since the making of this film new evidence has emerged proving that President Eisenhower did indeed order the assassination of Patrice Lumumba. A well-placed source in Washington has told Correspondent that the official history of the period is now being rewritten.

 

For the Congo, the death of Patrice Lumumba led eventually to a thirty year dictatorship by Colonel Mobutu. Shortly before his death he was ousted by Laurent Kabila, a self proclaimed Lumumbist, though he too has failed to unite the nation or establish democracy.

 

And Congo is still divided. Once again the country is riven by civil war. Once again the United Nations is there, it still can't keep the peace.

 

Friend and foe alike agreed that Patrice Lumumba was a talented man. 'The one truly outstanding politician in the Congo' The Times called him.


But to many, including supporters, his was also a flawed personality - unstable, intemperate, also perhaps naïve. In the last letter he wrote to his wife Pauline a passionate vision for his country still burned bright.

 

Patrice Lumumba's letter: "My Dear, I am writing this without knowing whether you will ever get it or when or whether I shall still be alive when you read it.


Dead or alive, free or imprisoned by the colonialists, it is not I who matter, it is the Congo
, it is our poor people whose independence has been turned into a cage.
For where there is no dignity there is no freedom and where there's no justice there's no dignity and where there's no independence there are no free men.


"History will have its say one day.
Not the history they teach in Brussels, Paris, Washington
or the United Nations but the history taught in the country set free from colonialism and its puppet rulers.
Africa
will write her own history and it will be a history of glory and dignity."


"Do not weep my love; I know that my country, which has suffered so much, will be able to defend its independence and liberty."

 

Long live the Congo. Long live Africa.
Patrice.

 

Since the making of this film Louis Marlière & Gerard Soete have died.

 

www.bbc.co.uk/correspondent

Written & Narrated by DAVID AKERMAN
Camera NICK HUGHES GREG BARBERA
Graphics NICOLA OWEN
VT Editor NICK KAMPA
Dubbing Mixer LANCE
ENGLAND

Production Team MARTHA ESTCOURT FIONA LAWSON-BAKER DAVID LINES
Production Manager JANE WILLEY
Unit Manager IRENE OZGA
Film Research NICK DODD
Picture Editor DAVID HOWELL
Producer CAROLINE PARE
Series Producer FARAH DURRANI

 

November 23, 2001: Belgium behind icon’s murder
Belgian government ministers bore "moral responsibility" for events leading to the murder of the Congolese independence leader Patrice Lumumba in 1961, a parliamentary inquiry found.

 

 

 

With thanks to the BBC and Race and History magazine.

 

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