Has African ghost come back to haunt Vauxhall Cross?
DELIVERED trussed up to his enemies. But who arranged Patrice Lumumba's death?
HAS the ghost of Congo's first elected prime minister, Patrice Lumumba, murdered in 1961, and revered ever since as a victim of imperialist intrigue and ikon of African aspirations for freedom, come back to haunt the headquarters of British intelligence, MI6, at Vauxhall Cross in London?
Lumumba was ousted by the CIA-backed Colonel Joseph Mobutu, having failed to subdue the breakaway mineral-rich Katanga province, and called in UN troops to restore order. The UN forces went everywhere except Katanga, and it was there that having been handed over to his enemies, the Congolese leader was killed by officers from his country's former colonial masters, the Belgians.
In 1975 the US Senate's Church Committee looking into CIA operations went on record with the finding that spychief Allen Dulles had ordered Lumumba's assassination as "an urgent and prime objective". Declassified CIA cables mention two specific CIA plots to murder Lumumba: the poison plot and a shooting plot. Although some sources claim that CIA plots ended when Lumumba was captured, records show that removing him remained a US objective. A CIA officer told another that he had disposed of the body.
A Belgian Commission investigating Lumumba's assassination denied that Belgium had ordered it but admitted culpability for failing to prevent it taking place. In February 2002, the Belgian government apologised to the Congolese people, and admitted to a "moral responsibility" and "an irrefutable portion of responsibility in the events that led to the death of Lumumba".
Now a historian, Calder Walton, whose book Empire of Secrets has prompted claims of British involvment in the affair has urged MI6 to declassify its secret files on Lumumba.
It was after Walton's book was reviewed in the London Review of Books last month that Labour Life peer Lord Lea of Crondall wrote to the LRB to say that he had been told Lumumba was killed with the help of MI6. He claimed he was told this by the late Baroness Park of Monmouth, who at the time of Lumumba’s death headed the Leopoldville station of MI6.
In his book, Walton, who until 2009 served as research assistant for Professor Christopher Andrew’s authorized official history of MI5, Defence of the Realm, says it is unclear who organized Lumumba’s assassination. He argues that “at present, we do not know [...] whether British plots to assassinate Lumumba [...] ever amounted to anything”. But speaking to The London Times on Wednesday, the historian and author urged MI6 to declassify its internal archives on the Congolese leader. He told the paper that MI6 must be placed “in the position it deserves in the history of anti-colonial movements in Africa and elsewhere”, but that could only be done if MI6 “releases records from its own archives”.
According to Lord Lea, what he was told by Baroness Park was that MI6 was worried that Lumumba might bring the Congo, with its important uranium deposits among other minerals, under Soviet influence. According to US records, Eisenhower was persuaded that Lumumba was a "communist".
If that was down to MI6 it would not be the first, or last, time, that the British intelligence establishment had worked up a "Red scare" to try and affect US policy.
Congolese uranium was important to the United States for military as well as economic reasons. But there were British interests in the Congo, and more specifically, Katanga's other minerals. In fact the British combine TANKS, originating around Tanganyika Ceoncessions Ltd., was a major holder in Union Miniere, the Belgian company which continued to own and run Katanga until it was taken over by Mobutu.
Lumumba was forcibly restrained on the flight to Elizabethville (now Lubumbashi) on 17 January 1961. On arrival, he was conducted under arrest to Brouwez House where he was brutally beaten and tortured by Katangan and Belgian officers, while President Tshombe and his cabinet decided what to do with him.
Death by firing squad
Later that night, Lumumba was driven to an isolated spot where three firing squads had been assembled. According to David Akerman, Ludo de Witte and Kris Hollington, the firing squads were commanded by a Belgian, Captain Julien Gat; another Belgian, Police Commissioner Verscheure, had overall command of the execution site. The Belgian Commission has found that the execution was carried out by Katanga's authorities, but de Witte found written orders from the Belgian government requesting Lumumba's execution and documents on various arrangements, such as death squads. It reported that President Tshombe and two other ministers were present with four Belgian officers under the command of Katangan authorities. Lumumba and two ministers from his newly formed independent government (and who had also been tortured), Maurice Mpolo and Joseph Okito, were lined up against a tree and shot one at a time. The execution probably took place on 17 January 1961 between 21:40 and 21:43 according to the Belgian report. According to Adam Hochschild, author of a book on the Congo rubber terror, Lumumba's body was disposed of in an unmarked grave by a CIA agent.
No statement was released until three weeks later despite rumours that Lumumba was dead.
Later that year it was the turn of UN Secretary General Dag Hammarskjold to die, while on a flight to Katanga. His plane came down near Ndala, in Zambia, on September 18, 1961. Reports of a bright flash in the sky before the crash led to a UN investigation. There were rumours and accusations of a conspiracy. It is possible that new evidence about the murder of Patrice Lumumba might lead to reopening the case of Dag Hammarskjold's death.
But we are consistently reassured that British intelligence services, MI5 and MI6 do not engage in such things. And who are we to question the word of British officers, ladies and gentlemen?
Congo remains the prey of competing mineral interests, with proxy wars and child slavery used to take out the 'rare earths' valued by the electronics industry, along the border with Rwanda, now a member of the British Commonwealth.
"MI6 link to Lumumba assassination"
Historian calls on MI6 to declassify files
How the UN fronted for imperialist conspiracy against Lumumba