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19 SEPTEMBER

SHOULD PRIME MINISTER LUMUMBA FALL INTO A RIVER FULL OF CROCODILES ?

Patrice Lumumba, who had become the first democratically elected prime minister of the Congo in May 1960, was a troublesome believer in independent economic development, who thought Congolese nationals rather than foreigners should be allowed to run the important offices of government and that Congo could somehow be allowed to be neutral in the Cold War.

Any example of successful independent development could set a dangerous precedent and when President Dwight Eisenhower talked with British Foreign Secretary Douglas-Home on 19 September 1960, the minutes of the meeting note that “the president expressed his wish that Lumumba would fall into a river full of crocodiles,” and that Lord Home “said regretfully that we have host many of the techniques of old-fashioned diplomacy.”

The following week, Lord Home, along with British Prime Minister Macmillan, met Eisenhower in New York. This time it was the British Foreign Secretary who appeared the most eager to follow through on the president’s earlier hint of an arranged accident. The minutes note that “Lord Home raised the question why we are not getting rid of Lumumba at the president time,” and that “He stressed now is the time to get rid of Lumumba.”

Soon after the meeting,  Britain’s MI6’s station chief in the Congo was given the task of arranging Lumumba’s removal, which was achieved when Belgium mercenaries tortured and then shot him dead and chopped up his corpse on 17 January 1961.  His murder guaranteed continued Western control of Congo’s vital mineral interests and that country remained open to major multinationals including BP, Unilever and British American Tobacco.  It also paved the way for the rise to power of Mobuto, who in 1961 was Chief of Staff, but through a CIA backed coup in 1965 soon became one of Africa’s most corrupt and feared dictators.

FOOTNOTES

1. Gordon Corera (2012), “MI6: Life and Death in the British Secret Service,” Phoenix, London p124-125.

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