You may recall Adam Hochschild's book of a couple years ago where he intimated that KING LEOPOLD'S GHOST remains a malevolent force guiding the carnage that is taking place in the present day Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). Well here's one for the Congolese. Forty years after his assassination Patrice Lumumba remains a haunting presence, forever reminding Belgium of its past misdeeds in Africa. Broader still his death bears testimomy to the fact that so much of what Europe and our government talks about as human rights concerns is self-serving and empty rhetoric.
Enough with the anger though as I don't want to go overboard and see it in the stark ideological terms as the author does when he says that what happened in the Congo in 1960 is a "staggering example of what the Western ruling classes are capable of when their vital interests are threatened." That is too trite an answer for the circumstances surrounding Lumumba's assassination and way too simple an analysis of the complex situation in the Congo at the time of independence.
THE ASSASSINATION OF LUMUMBA looks at a tiny fraction of Congo's history. The book is almost entirely confined to the period from June 30th, 1960 (when the country became independent from Belgium) to January 17th, 1961, when Lumumba and two of his former ministers of government were executed in the breakaway province of Katanga. During that period the country went through crisis, with Belgium, France, the US, the USSR and the UN all wanting to have a say. There were at least three substantive leaders of the Congolese: Lumumba as prime minister, Joseph Kasavubu the president, and the usurper Joseph Mobuto (who after all was said and done emerged in 1965 as the dictator Mobuto Sese Seko). Throw into the mix a mutinying army, a secession in Katanga province and rebellions in two other provinces.
In investigating these events Belgian sociologist Ludo DeWitte focused his research on recently declassified Belgian documents. His thesis is that the conventional wisdom that Lumumba's death was "a Bantu affair" - as his countrymen called it - was all wrong. He argues that Belgium was instrumental in setting up, participating in, and covering up Lumumbas death. This book caused such a stir in Belgium that the government opened a parliamentiary enquiry to investigate the facts and the foreign minister promised that if proven true, an official apology would be offered.
Subsequent to the publishing of this book the commission released its findings. It said "certain members of the Belgian government and other Belgian figures have a moral responsibility in the circumstances which led to the death of Lumumba." Will the man's spirit be able to rest in peace with this? De Witte's specific point that an order for Lumumba's "definite elimination" came out of the offices of Count d'Aspremont-Lynden's Department of African Affairs, however still remains unproven. The Commission says plainly "in no document or witness account could it be found that the Belgian Government, or one of its members, gave the orders to physically eliminate Lumumba." If this means that there is still no resolution to this issue, we can nevertheless rest assured that in the words of Lumumba's last letter to his wife "the day will come when history will have its say."
"Assassination is the extreme form of censorship" (George Bernard Shaw)