Patrice Lumumba/Assassination

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Event.png Patrice Lumumba/Assassination (assassination,  structural deep event) Rdf-entity.pngRdf-icon.png
Patrice Lumumba Murder.jpg
Date17 January 1961
PlannersAlan Dulles, US/Deep state
DescriptionA US Deep state backed assassination, ordered by Allen Dulles, which was followed by decades of bloody violence.

In September, the President dismissed Lumumba from government. Lumumba immediately protested the legality of the President's actions. In retaliation, Lumumba declared Kasa-Vubu deposed and won a vote of confidence in the Senate, while the newly appointed prime minister failed to gain parliament's confidence. The country was torn by two political groups claiming legal power over the country.

On 14 September, a coup d’état organised by Colonel Mobutu Sese Seko incapacitated both Lumumba and Kasa-Vubu. Lumumba was placed under house arrest at the Prime Minister's residence, although UN troops were positioned around the house to protect him. Nevertheless, Lumumba decided to rouse his supporters in Haut-Congo. Smuggled out of his residence at night, he escaped to Kisangani (Stanleyville), where his intention apparently was to set up his own government and army.[1]

Pursued by troops loyal to Mobutu he was finally captured in Port Francqui on 1 December 1960 and flown to Kinshasa (Léopoldville) in ropes, not handcuffs. Mobutu claimed Lumumba would be tried for inciting the army to rebellion and other crimes.

UN response

United Nations Secretary General Dag Hammarskjöld made an appeal to Kasa-Vubu asking that Lumumba be treated according to due process of law. The USSR denounced Hammarskjöld and the Western powers as responsible for Lumumba's arrest and demanded his release.

The UN Security Council was called into session on 7 December 1960 to consider Soviet demands that the UN seek Lumumba's immediate release, the immediate restoration of Lumumba as head of the Congo government, the disarming of the forces of Mobutu, and the immediate evacuation of Belgians from the Congo. Hammarskjöld, answering Soviet attacks against his Congo operations, said that if the UN forces were withdrawn from the Congo "I fear everything will crumble."

The threat to the UN cause was intensified by the announcement of the withdrawal of their contingents by Yugoslavia, the United Arab Republic, Ceylon, Indonesia, Morocco and Guinea. The pro-Lumumba resolution was defeated on 14 December 1960 by a vote of 8–2. On the same day, a Western resolution that would have given Dag Hammarskjöld increased powers to deal with the Congo situation was vetoed by the Soviet Union.

Final days

Lumumba was sent first on 3 December, to Thysville military barracks Camp Hardy, 150 km (about 100 miles) from Léopoldville. However, when security and disciplinary breaches threatened his safety, it was decided that he should be transferred to the State of Katanga, which had recently declared independence from Congo.

Lumumba was forcibly restrained on the flight to Elizabethville (now Lubumbashi) on 17 January 1961.[2] On arrival, he was conducted under arrest to Brouwez House where he was brutally beaten and tortured by Katangan and Belgian officers,[3] while President Tshombe and his cabinet decided what to do with him.[4][5][6]

Murder by firing squad

Later that night, Lumumba was driven to an isolated spot where three firing squads had been assembled. The Belgian Commission (see below) has found that the execution was carried out by Katanga's authorities.

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.

Delayed announcement

No statement was released until three weeks later despite rumours that Lumumba was dead. His death was formally announced on Katangan radio, when it was alleged that he escaped and was killed by enraged villagers.

After the announcement of Lumumba's death, street protests were organised in several European countries; in Belgrade, capital of Yugoslavia, protesters sacked the Belgian embassy and confronted the police, and in London a crowd marched from Trafalgar Square to the Belgian embassy, where a letter of protest was delivered and where protesters clashed with police.[7] A demonstration at the United Nations Security Council turned violent and spilled over into the streets of New York City.[8][9]

Foreign involvement

According to Democracy Now!, "Lumumba's pan-Africanism and his vision of a united Congo gained him many enemies. Both Belgium and the United States actively sought to have him killed. The CIA ordered his assassination but could not complete the job. Instead, the United States and Belgium covertly funneled cash and aid to rival politicians who seized power and arrested Lumumba."[10]

Both Belgium and the US were clearly influenced in their unfavourable stance towards Lumumba by the Cold War. He seemed to gravitate around the Soviet Union, although this was not because he was a communist but the only place he could find support in his country's effort to rid itself of colonial rule.[11] The US was the first country from which Lumumba requested help.[12] Lumumba, for his part, not only denied being a Communist, but said he found colonialism and Communism to be equally deplorable, and professed his personal preference for neutrality between the Eastern bloc and the West.[13]

Belgian Involvement

According to David Akerman, Ludo de Witte and Kris Hollington,[14] the firing squads were commanded by a Belgian, Captain Julien Gat; another Belgian, Police Commissioner Verscheure, had overall command of the execution site.[15] de Witte found written orders from the Belgian government requesting Lumumba's execution and documents on various arrangements, such as death squads.

On 18 January 1961, panicked by reports that the burial of the three bodies had been observed, members of the execution team went to dig up the bodies and move them to a place near the border with Northern Rhodesia for reburial. Belgian Police Commissioner Gerard Soete later admitted in several accounts that he and his brother led the exhumation (and also a second exhumation, below). Police Commissioner Frans Verscheure also took part.

According to Adam Hochschild, author of a book on the Congo rubber terror, Lumumba's body was later cut up and dissolved in acid by two Belgian agents.[16] On the afternoon and evening of 21 January, Commissioner Soete and his brother dug up Lumumba's corpse for the second time, cut it up with a hacksaw, and dissolved it in concentrated sulphuric acid.[17][18] Only some teeth and a fragment of skull and bullets survived the process, kept as souvenirs.

In an interview on Belgian television in a program on the assassination of Lumumba in 1999, Soete displayed a bullet and two teeth that he boasted he had saved from Lumumba's body.[18] De Witte also mentions that Verscheure kept souvenirs from the exhumation: bullets from the skull of Lumumba.[19]

The Belgian Commission investigating Lumumba's assassination concluded that:

  1. Belgium wanted Lumumba arrested,
  2. Belgium was not particularly concerned with Lumumba's physical well being, and
  3. although informed of the danger to Lumumba's life, Belgium did not take any action to avert his death, but the report also specifically denied that Belgium ordered Lumumba's assassination.[20]

Under its own 'Good Samaritan' laws, Belgium was legally culpable for failing to prevent the assassination from taking place and was also in breach of its obligation (under U.N. Resolution 290 of 1949) to refrain from acts or threats "aimed at impairing the freedom, independence or integrity of another state."[21]

Belgian apology

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".

United States

The report of 2001 by the Belgian Commission mentions that there had been previous U.S. and Belgian plots to kill Lumumba. Among them was a CIA-sponsored attempt to poison him, which may have come on orders from U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower.[22] CIA chemist Sidney Gottlieb was a key person in this by devising a poison resembling toothpaste. In September 1960, Gottlieb brought a vial of the poison to the Congo with plans to place it on Lumumba's toothbrush. [23][24][25][26] However, the plot was later abandoned; the plan is said to have been scrapped because the local CIA Station Chief, Larry Devlin, refused permission.[24][25][27]

However, as Kalb points out in her book, Congo Cables, the record shows that many communications by Devlin at the time urged elimination of Lumumba. [28] Also, the CIA station chief helped to direct the search to capture Lumumba for his transfer to his enemies in Katanga; was involved in arranging his transfer to Katanga; [29] and the CIA base chief in Elizabethville was in direct touch with the killers the night Lumumba was killed. Furthermore, John Stockwell indicates that a CIA agent had the body in the trunk of his car in order to try to get rid of it.[30] Stockwell, who knew Devlin well, felt Devlin knew more than anyone else about the murder.[31]

The inauguration of U.S. President John F. Kennedy in January 1961 caused fear among Mobutu's faction and within the CIA that the incoming administration would shift its favour to the imprisoned Lumumba.[32] Lumumba was killed three days before Kennedy's inauguration on 20 January 1961, though Kennedy would not learn of the killing until 13 February.[33]

Church Committee

In 1975, the Church Committee went on record with the finding that Allen Dulles had ordered Lumumba's assassination as "an urgent and prime objective".[34] Furthermore, declassified CIA cables quoted or mentioned in the Church report and in Kalb (1972) 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, that is not stated or shown in the CIA records.

Rather, those records show two still-partly-censored CIA cables from Lubumbashi (Elizabethville) on days significant in the murder: 17 January, the day Lumumba died, and 18 January, the day of the first exhumation. The former, after a long censored section, talks about where they need to go from there. The latter expresses thanks for Lumumba being sent to them and then says that, had Elizabethville base known he was coming, they would have "baked a snake".[35] This cable goes on to state that the writer's sources (not yet declassified) said that after being taken from the airport Lumumba was imprisoned by "all white guards".[36]

It was revealed by a recently declassified interview with then-US National Security Council minutekeeper Robert Johnson that U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower had said "something [to CIA chief Allen Dulles] to the effect that Lumumba should be eliminated".[37] The interview from the Senate Intelligence Committee's inquiry on covert action was released in August 2000.

The Committee later found that while the CIA had conspired to kill Lumumba, it was not directly involved in the actual murder.[37]

Government documents

In July 2006, documents released by the United States government revealed that the CIA had plotted to assassinate Lumumba. The extent to which the CIA was involved in his eventual death is currently unknown.[24] This same disclosure showed that at that time the U.S. government believed that Lumumba was a communist.[38] Eisenhower's reported call, at a meeting of his national security advisers, for Lumumba's elimination may have been brought on by this perception.

During the Congo Crisis, Frank Carlucci was the Second Secretary at the US embassy in the Congo and a covert CIA agent. According to subsequently released US government documents, President Eisenhower ordered the CIA to murder Lumumba. Minutes of an August 1960 National Security Council meeting confirm that Eisenhower told CIA chief Allen Dulles to "eliminate" the Congolese leader. The official note taker, Robert H. Johnson, testified to this before the Senate Intelligence Committee in 1975.[39][40]

In a broadcast on HBO of the film Lumumba, directed by Raoul Peck, Frank Carlucci's name was bleeped and removed from the credits due to the threat of a lawsuit. Carlucci's lawyers threatened Peck and the distribution company, Zeitgeist Films, with legal action if his name was not bleeped out of a scene that shows American Ambassador Clare Timberlake and Carlucci, along with Belgian and Congolese officials, plotting Lumumba's assassination.[41]

British involvement

In April 2013, in a letter to the London Review of Books, a British parliamentarian Lord Lea of Crondall reported having discussed Patrice Lumumba's death with Daphne Park shortly before she died in March 2010. Lady Park had been an MI6 officer posted to Kinshasa (Leopoldville) at the time of Lumumba's death in January 1961, and was later a semi-official spokesperson for MI6 in the House of Lords.

According to Lord Lea, when he mentioned "the uproar" surrounding Patrice Lumumba's abduction and murder, and recalled the theory that MI6 might have had "something to do with it", Lady Park replied:

"We did. I organised it."[42]

"Whitehall sources" described such claims of MI6 involvement as "speculative".[43]


Cynthia McKinney studied this assassination[citation needed].


On 13 May 2014, former diplomat Patrick Haseldine created four e-petitions each calling on Prime Minister David Cameron to "Open all MI6 files on state sponsored murders" to inform any inquiry into Lumumba's murder.[44][45][46][47]


Related Documents

TitleTypePublication dateAuthor(s)Description
Document:Midnight in the Congoarticle30 March 1999Lisa PeaseA probing analysis of evidence that both Patrice Lumumba and Dag Hammarskjöld were assassinated by agents of the UK and US intelligence services
File:Church Committee - Congo.pdfreport1975Church CommitteeAn investigation into CIA involvement in the murder of Patrice Lumumba.


  1. Longman History of Africa, Snellgrove L. and Greenberg K., Longman, London (1973)
  3. Prados, John (2006). Safe for Democracy: The Secret Wars of the CIA. Rowman & Littlefield. p. 278. ISBN 9781566638234.
  4. De Witte, Ludo (2001). The Assassination of Lumumba. Verso Books. p. 136.
  6. im Busch
  8. Mahoney, JFK (1983), p. 72. "In the United States, the news of Lumumba's murder provoked racial riots. During an address by Ambassador Stevenson before the Security Council, a demonstration led by American blacks began in the visitors gallery. It quickly turned into a riot in which eighteen UN guards, two newsmen, and two protestors were injured. Outside of the UN building, fights between whites and blacks broke out. A large protest march into Times Square was halted by mounted police."
  9. "Screaming Demonstrators Riot In United Nations Security Council", Lodi News-Sentinel (UPI), 16 February 1961.
  10. Patrice Lumumba: 50 Years Later, Remembering the U.S.-Backed Assassination of Congo's First Democratically Elected Leader, Democracy Now! (21 January 2011)
  11. Sean Kelly, America's Tyrant: The CIA and Mobutu of Zaire, p. 29
  12. Kelly, p. 28
  13. Kelly, p. 49
  14. Hollington, Kris (2007). Wolves, Jackals and Foxes: The Assassins Who Changed History. True Crime. pp. 50–65. ISBN 978-0-312-37899-8. Retrieved 11 December 2010.
  16. Hochschild, p. 302.
  17. (de Witte 2002:140–143)
  18. a b
  19. de Witte 2002: 140
  20. "Report Reproves Belgium in Lumumba's Death" New York Times 17 November 2001
  21. Osmańczyk, Edmund Jan (2003). Encyclopedia of the United Nations and international agreements. Taylor&Francis. p. 2571.
  23. 6) Plan to poison Congo leader Patrice Lumumba (p. 464), Family jewels CIA documents, on the National Security Archive's website
  24. a b c
  25. a b
  28. (p. 53, 101, 129–133, 149–152, 158–159, 184–185, 195)
  29. (p. 158, Hoyt, Michael P. 2009, "Captive in the Congo: A Consul's Return to the Heart of Darkness")
  30. John Stockwell In Search of Enemies: A CIA Story. W.W. Norton, 1978: 105
  31. (71–72, 136–137)
  32. Mahoney, JFK (1983), pp. 69–70. "The Kasavubu-Mobutu regime began to consider the Kennedy administration a threat to its very survival. The Kennedy plan was seen as evidence of 'a new and unexpected solidarity with the Casablanca powers . . .' (the radical nonaligned African governments that supported Lumumba). [...] The CIA station in Léopoldville bore much of the responsibility for the rupture. It had opposed any political solution to the power struggle and, worse, had fortified the resolve of Kasavubu and Mobutu, Nendaka, and the rest to use violence against others to save themselves. [...] The effect was tragic: reports that the incoming administration planned to liberate the imprisoned Lumumba on the one hand, and the CIA's deadly urgings on the other, acted like a closing vice on the desperate men in Léopoldville."
  33. Mahoney, JFK (1983), p. 70. "White House photographer Jacques Lowe caught Kennedy, horror-struck with head in hand, receiving the first news by telephone a full four weeks later on February 13. All the anguished searching for a way around Lumumba had been for naught. Forty-eight hours before Kennedy had even taken the presidential oath, Lumumba was already dead.
  34. In Dulles' own words; William Blum, Killing Hope. MBI Publishing Co., 2007: p. 158. ISBN 978-0-7603-2457-8
  35. FOIA declassified documents on Lumumba on the CIA website
  36. CIA document #CO 1366116
  37. a b,4273,4049783,00.html
  38. Blaine Harden, Africa: Dispatches from a Fragile Continent, p. 50
  41. "Frank Carlucci's threatened legal action"
  42. Letters, London Review of Books, 11 April 2013, p.4
  43. "MI6 and the death of Patrice Lumumba", BBC News, 2 April 2013