The Congo’s first democratic leader, elected then killed
Prime Minister Patrice Lumumba was the Congo’s first democratically elected leader following the country’s independence from Belgium in 1960. He became prime minister after his party, the Congolese National Movement (MCN in its French initials), won the first democratic elections in its history. But though Lumumba was an immensely popular figure at home, he had already earned powerful enemies on the international stage.
His decision to make contact with the Soviet Union certainly raised eyebrows. But it was his firmly stated desire to use the Congo’s resource wealth for the benefit of the country’s own people that attracted the most ire. And as an African nationalist and outspoken proponent of anti-colonialism, he was seen as a potential threat to Western interests throughout the continent. When Congo’s former colonial master Belgium, which still had troops in the country, backed a rival, pro-Western secessionist government, Lumumba was quickly arrested.
Shortly after, on 17 January 1961, Lumumba was assassinated by a “firing squad under Belgian command”. The circumstances surrounding his death remained mysterious for decades. Belgium long denied involvement in his assassination, but eventually issued an official apology for its role in 2002.
Evidence pointing to involvement of the US…
Subsequent revelations indicate that parties other than Belgium were involved in Lumumba’s killing. In fact, there’s evidence that the US shares partial responsibility for the events leading up to his death.
In 1975, a congressional committee admitted that the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) had plotted to eliminate Lumumba. This was due to fears that he might become Africa’s answer to Fidel Castro. Declassified US intelligence documents subsequently revealed that the leader of the rival Congolese government that had detained Lumumba received arms and financial support directly from the CIA.
CIA’s Covert Operations in the Congo, 1960-1968: Insights from Newly Declassified Documents [open pdf – 455KB]
This document was originally published by Foreign Relations of the United States (FRUS), a publication of the Office of the Historian. “From 1960 to 1968, CIA conducted a series of fast-paced, multifaceted covert action (CA) operations in the newly independent Republic of the Congo (the Democratic Republic of the Congo today) to stabilize the government and minimize communist influence in a strategically vital, resource-rich location in central Africa. The overall program–the largest in the CIA’s history up until then–comprised activities dealing with regime change, political action, propaganda, air and marine operations, and arms interdiction, as well as support to a spectacular hostage rescue mission. By the time the operations ended, CIA had spent nearly $12 million (over $80 million today) in accomplishing the Eisenhower, Kennedy, and Johnson administrations’ objective of establishing a pro-Western leadership in the Congo. President Joseph Mobutu, who became permanent head of state in 1965 after serving in that capacity de facto at various times, was a reliable and staunchly anticommunist ally of Washington’s until his overthrow in 1997. Some elements of the program, particularly the notorious assassination plot against Prime Minister Patrice Lumumba that was extensively recounted in 1975 in one of the Church Committee’s reports, have been described in open sources. However, besides the documentary excerpts in that report, limited releases in the State Department’s ‘Foreign Relations of the United States (FRUS)’ series, and random items on the Internet and in other compilations, a comprehensive set of primary sources about CIA activities in the Congo has not been available until now.”
Robarge, David Scott
United States. Central Intelligence Agency
United States. Central Intelligence Agency: https://www.cia.gov/
Studies in Intelligence (September 2014) v.58, no.3 p.1-9