A Look Back Into History (1)
Letter from: Afar Cameron Duodu
The news item that landed on my desk at the news division of Radio Ghana one day in mid-November 1960 – brought by our monitoring service – that the Congolese government had declared the Ghana Charge d’Affaires in Leopold ville, Mr. Nathaniel Azarkko Welbeck, persona non grata, was dynamite.
For Dr. Kwame Nkrumah had maintained good relations with both “strong men” in the Congolese government, President Joseph Kasavubu and Prime Minister, Patrice Lumumba -- the two men to whose parties, Kasavubu’s ABAKO and Lumumba’s Mouvement National Congolais (MNC) – had formed a coalition that was ruling the Congo.
But Kasavubu was being paid by the Belgians and the Americans to undermine the authority of Lumumba. We could discern this clearly from Accra, but Ghana’s effort was to try and get Lumumba to be patient with the treacherous Kasavubu and keep the coalition going, as things would descend into mayhem if the coalition disintegrated.
At the same time, Nkrumah tried to keep Kasavubu sweet, for through George Padmore, his “supper-diplomat” whose official title was “Advisor to the Prime minister on African Affairs”, Ghana had very good relations with every nationalist movement in Africa. Padmore had died is September 1959 – to the detriment of Ghana’s relations with colonial African countries generally, but the Congo in particular. Had he been alive when the Congo crisis broke in June 1960, his experience would have enabled Ghana to handle it much more successfully than it actually did. Certainly, some of the people Dr. Nkrumah sent to the Congo to act on his behalf would have been much better briefed. In any case, they would have been men of a completely different caliber.
As the case was, the forces ranged against Lumumba were too great for him to handle – even with the good advice of Nkrumah, which could only be given at arm’s length – and in the end, Kasavubu, whose strategy for handling and neutralizing Lumumba was plotted from Brussels, was ordered by the Belgians to sack Lumumba. Kasavubu did so on 5 September 1969, declaring that he, as President, had used powers given him “under the Congolese constitution (the Loi Fondamentale) to dismiss Lumumba as prime minister.”
In retaliation, Lumumba also sacked Kasavubu! He took the precaution of immediately asking the Congolese Senate to give him a vote of confidence over what he had done. Despite a huge outlay of cash by the Belgians and the Americans to influence the Congolese Parliamentarians to take Kasavubu’s side, it was Lumumba’s dismissal of Kasavubu that they endorsed. Lumumba got majorities in both the Senate and the lower House of Parliament.
Meanwhile, the newspapers of the world, unable to decipher the niceties of Congolese constitutional matters and distinguish between who had acted legally and who was flouting the constitution, had a field day running this mocking headline:
“KASAVUBU SACKS LUMUMBA! LUMUMBA SACKS DASAVUBU!” There could never be a better scription of the political chaos that now enveloped the Congo.
Lumumba’s dramatic speech asking the Congolese Parliament to dismiss Kasavubu was one of the most eloquent statements he ever made. It was also, probably, the last one he made that was fully recorded. Our monitoring station caught it clearly and I ran the transcript of it almost in full, in our news bulletins.
Patrice Lumumba said:
“It was we who made Kasavubu what he is. As you well know, he could not obtain a majority in this Parliament during the election. Yet, out of our desire for national unity, we generously offered him the highest position in the land – the presidency – instead of giving it to someone from our own side, the majority side.”
“We made that sacrifice in order that we could achieve the unity without which we cannot build our new nation in a stable atmosphere. And now he turns round to say that he has sacked me, the leader of the majority! It was by my hand – this hand – that he was appointed President. It is an insult to our people, who voted us into this Parliament. How can a person who only commands a minority of votes in this House sack the one who has the majority? It is not done anywhere that there is a parliamentary system. It cannot be done in Belgium! It must not be allowed to be done here.”
The torrent of Lumumba’s piercing logic brought loud cheers in both houses of Parliament and each House gave him a vote of confidence. The Belgians and the American were left with egg on their faces, for many MPs had taken their money, and vowed to vote against Lumumba, before they advised Kasavubu to sack him. Now, they had taken the money, and yet voted against Kasavubu! They were outraged.
As far as Radio Ghana was concerned, the assiduous work done by our monitoring service – French speakers recording the speech, transcribing it in French and then translating it into English, all at full speed – enabled us to capture Lumumba’s speech direct from the Parliamentary chamber in Leopoldville. We broad-cast it all to Ghana and the outside world, in both English and French. I took special pride that as editor on duty, I was able to allow our people to partake of a very important moment in African history at the time it was happening. For that is one of the special virtues of radio – immediacy.
But Lumumba’s course was a lost cause. In the midst of the confusion following the mutual sackings, Sergeant (promoted Colonel) Joseph-Desire Mobutu, staged a coup on September 14, 1969. Mobutu was by then a Belgian secret agent (he had been a CIA agent of long-standing, but when the Congo crisis began, the CIA handed him over to its Belgian counterpart to handle, as the organization that was better placed to directly influence events I the Congo.) The Belgians planted him in Lumumba’s camp as Lumumba’s army chief of staff, and though Lumumba made sure that the real power was in the hands of a supporter of his, General Victor Lundula, Lundula was barely literate and was no match to a Mobutu who being tele-guided by the Belgians.
When Mobutu struck, his pretext was “to ring peace to the country” and save it from the “squabbling politicians.” This was classic coup-makers’ language and was obviously crafted in Brussels. Time Magazine ran a hilarious but highly doctored account of Mobutu’s coup in its issue of 26 September 1960: http://www.time/magazine.article/0,9171,897597,00.html.
Lumumba escaped death many times and had a run-in several times, even with the Ghanaian troops who were acting under the instructions of the United Nations. In on instance, Ghanaian troops guarding Leopoldville Radio prevented him from broadcasting on his own national radio station, because they had been instructed to deny “all politicians” access to the radio. To Lumumba this seemed like a stab in the back and he immediately issued an order expelling all Ghanaian troop s from the Congo. Yet a few hours later, it was Ghanaian troops who protected him from arrest by soldiers under the orders of Mobutu. It was a crazy period, and the Time Magazine report, while typical of the frivolity and anti-Communist bias of those days, faithfully captures the confusion that reigned everywhere.
It was in the midst of all the confusion that the Belgians and their Americans allies told Mobutu to declare the Ghana Charge d’Affaires, Mr. Nathaniel Azarko Welbeck (who had replaced Ghana’s first ambassador, Mr. AYK Djin, but was still in charge because the agreement accepting him as ambassador had not yet been signed by Kasavubu) persona non grata.
The reason why the Kasavubu-Mobutu alliance didn’t want Welbeck in Leopoldville was that Welbeck spoke fluent French, and also had loads of money at his disposal, as well as free booze. As Nkrumah’s principal Propaganda Secretary during the CPP’s struggle for independence, he was an expert at rolling out anti-colonial rhetoric, and he used this to rail at the Belgians and dazzle the Congolese politicians and soldiers, who detested the Belgians with a special hatred.
Welbeck passed Lumumba, plenty of sagacious political advice from Dr. Kwame Nkrumah, which he elaborated with his own not inconsiderable special Welbeckian flourish. All of it was secretly reported to Mobutu and Kasavubu, of course, and they saw him as a dangerous stumbling block to their ambitions. So they decided to expel him.
The Ghanaian Times Page: 8 Tuesday, August 10, 2010
A Look Back Into History (2)
Letter from: Afar Cameron Duodu
In a book published in 2001, The Assassination of Patrice Lumumba, (Verso, ISBN: 1850846181) the Belgian writer, Ludo De Witte, gives chapter and course of the true nature of the opposition that Ghana’s Charge D’affairs in the Congo, Mr. N.A. Welbeck faced from the Belgians and the Americans.
“Belgian military chiefs”, De Witte wrote, “made nightly visits to Mobutu and President Kasavubu to plot Lumumba’s downfall”. A Belgian officer, Colonel Louis Maliere, “spoke (to De Witte) of the million of francs he brought over (from Belgium) for this purpose”, De Witt further reported. The plot to kill Lumumba was called ‘Operation Barracuda’ and was run by the Belgian Minister for African Affairs, Count Harold d’Aspremont–Lynden, himself.
The CIA also brought in an assassin, known only as “Joe from Paris”, later exposed as Sidney Gottlieb, to try and place a poisoned toothpaste in Lumumba’s bathroom so that if he used it, he would be killed.
This is how the informative magazine, US News and World Report, described the CIA effort, which followed a direct order from the head of the CIA, Mr. Allen Dulles. Mr. Dulles told his chief of station in Leopoldville that:
“In high quarters here, it is the clear-cut conclusion that if [Lumumba] continues to hold high office, the inevitable result will [have] disastrous consequences…for the interests of the free world generally. Consequently, we conclude that his removal must be an urgent and prime objective”.
It is strongly believed that when he said “high quarters’, CIA Director Allen Dulles meant it was President Dwight D. Eisenhower himself who wanted Lumumba’s “removal”.
This is how Kevin Whitelaw of the US News and World Report later reported the matter.
“It was the height of the Cold War when Sidney Gottlieb arrives in Congo in September 1960. The CIA man was toting a vial of poison. His target: the toothbrush of Patrice Lumumba, Congo’s charismatic first prime minister, who was also feared to be a rabid Communist”.
When Lumumba finally was killed, in January 1961, no one was surprised when fingers started pointing at the CIA. A Senate investigation of CIA assassinations 14 years later – known as the “Church Commission” enquiry - - found “no proof” that the agency was behind the hit. But, the US News and World Report acknowledges, ‘suspicions linger” New evidence suggests that Belgian was “the mastermind”. Belgian operatives “directed and carried the murder, and even helped dispose of the body”.
Even after Mobutu had driven Lumumba out of office, Lumumba remained under the microscope of Western spy services. His alleged ties to Moscow frightened Washington. His fierce anti-colonialism unnerved Brussels. Belgium finally got its chance at Lumumba after Congolese authorities arrested him in December 1960. Belgian officials engineered his transfer to the breakaway province of Katanga, which was under Belgium control.
De Witte’s book reveals that a telegram was sent from Count d’Aspremont Lynden, essentially ordering that Lumumba be sent to Moise Tshombe’s Katanga. Anyone who knew anything about Congolese politics would know at once that this was a death sentence for Lumumba.
Does that mean the CIA didn’t play a role? Declassified U.S. cables from the proceeding the assassination, “bristle with paranoid about a Lumumba-led Soviet Communist takeover”. The CIA was hatching plots against Cuban leader Fidel Castro and was accused of fomenting coups and planning assassinations worldwide. And Lumumba clearly scared the daylights out of the Eisenhower administration.
When Lumumba arrived in Katanga, on January 17, accompanied by several Belgians, he was bleeding from a severe beating. Later that evening, Lumumba was killed by a firing squad commanded by a Belgian officer.
A week earlier, Lumumba had written to his wife, “I prefer to die with my head unbowed, my faith unshakable, and with profound trust in the destiny of my country”. Lumumba was 35.
After the Belgian firing squad had done its work, its next step was to destroy the evidence. Four days after the murder, the Belgian Police Commissioner, Gerald Soete and his brother cut up Lumumba body with a hacksaw and dissolved it in sulphuric acid. In an interview on Belgian television, Soete unashamedly displayed a bullet and two teeth which, he claimed to have saved from Lumumba’s body.
What remains unclear is the exact extent of Washington’s involvement in the final plot. A Belgian official who helped engineer Lumumba’s transfer to Katanga told de Witte that he kept CIA station Chief Lawrence Devlin fully informed of the plan. “The Americans were informed of the transfer, because they actively discussed this thing [with the Belgians] for weeks”, says de Witte. But Devlin, now retied, denies any previous knowledge of the transfer.
Either way, Lumumba’s death served its purpose. It bolstered the shaky regime of Joseph Mobutu. During his three-decade rule, Mobutu would steal everything he could from the Congo’s coffers, and run his country – which is bursting with natural resources – into the depths of poverty and incessant civil war, which continues to this day. It took a civil war to oust Mobutu, but Congo has still seen little peace since Mobutu’s ouster.
At one stage, at least five African countries – Rwanda, Uganda, Zimbabwe, Namibia and Sudan – were fighting in the Congo.
THE CONGO CABLES
The 1975 report of the US Senate, called the “Church Committee Report’ and entitled “Alleged Assassination Plots Involving Foreign Leaders” providers rare inside account of how such operations are planned and carried out – in this case, the CIA’s attempts to assassinate Lumumba.
According to the Church Committee, “It is likely that President Eisenhower’s…strong…concern about Lumumba…was taken by [CIA director] Allen Dulles as authority to assassinate Lumumba”. And so, CIA officials ordered a staff scientist (code – named “Joe”) to prepare “toxic biological materials” that would produce a disease…indigenous to that area [of African]” and to deliver the poison to the CIA station chief in Leopoldville, who was to assassinate Lumumba. But before the station chief could carry out his orders, Lumumba was captured by the forces of Joseph Mobutu and delivered to his archenemies in Katanga, where he was murdered. Excerpts from the cables, published by the Church Committee, show these exchanges between CIA headquarters in Washington and the officers in the Congo.
August 18, 1960, Station Chief, Leopoldville, to CIA headquarters:
“EMBASSY AND STATION BELIEVE CONGO EXPERIENCING CLASSIC COMMUNIST EFFORT TAKEOVER GOVERNMENT THERE MAY BE LITTLE TIME LEFT IN WHICH TO TAKE ACTION TO AVOID ANOTHER CUBA”.
(After this cable from the Leopoldville Station Chief to his bosses in Washington, it’s certainly fair to conclude that it was the tail that was wagging the dog, rather than vice versa)! August 26, Headquarters to Leopoldville:
“IN HIGH QUARTERS HERE IT IS THE CLEAR-CUT CONCLUSION THAT IF [LUMUMBA] CONTINUES TO HOLD HIGH OFFICE, THE INEVITABLE RESULT WILL…AT WORST…PAVE THE WAY TO COMMUNIST TAKEOVER…CONSEQUENTLY…HIS REMOVAL MUST BE AN URGENT AND PRIME OBJECTIVE…OF OR COVERT ACTION…TO THE EXTENT THAT THE AMBASSADOR MAY DESIRE TO BE CONSUULTED, YOU SHOULD SEEK HIS CONCURRENCE IF…HE DOES NOT WISH TO BE CONSULTED YOU CAN ACT ON YOUR [OWN] AUTHORITY…’
September 19, Headquarters to Leopoldville, announcing the arrival of the poison:
[“JOE”]SHOULD ARRIVE APPROX. 27 SEPTEMBER…WILL AMNNOUCE HIMSELF AS ‘JOE FROM PARIS’…ALL CABLE TRAFFIC THIS OP…HOLD ENTIRELY TO YOURSELF”.
October 15, Headquarters to Leopoldville:
‘POSSIBLE USE COMMANDO TYPE GROUP FOR ABDUCTION [LUMUMBA]…VIA ASSAULT ON HOUSE”…
October 17, Headquarters to Leopoldville:
“NOT BEEN ABLE PENETRATE [LUMUMBA’] ENTOURAGE…RECOMMEND HQS POUCH SOONEST HIGH POWERED FOREIGN MAKE RIFLE WITH TELESCOPIC SCOPE AND SILENCER. HUNTING GOOD HERE WHEN LIGHT IS RIGHT”.
November 14, Leopoldville to headquarters:
“TARGET HAS NOT LEFT BUILDING IN SEVERAL WEEKS, HOUSE GUARDED DAY AND NIGHT…TARGET HAS DISMISSED MOST OF SERVANTS SO ENTRY THIS MEANS SEEMS REMOTE”.
January 13, Fearing that Lumumba, who had been imprisoned by Mobutu’s forces in December, would soon be freed by his supporters and seize power, Leopoldville cabled headquarters:
“THE COMBINATION OF [LUMUMBA’S] POWERS AS DEMAGOGUE…AND SPIRIT OF DEFEAT WITHIN GOVERNMENT…WOULD ALMOST CERTAINLY INSURE [LUMUMBA] VICTORY IN PARLIAMENT…REFUSAL TAKE DRASTIC STEPS AT THIS TIME WILL LEAD TO DEFEAT OF [UNITED STATES] POLICY IN CONGO”.
On January 17, 1961, Mobutu and his ally Joseph Kasavubu sent Lumumba to his enemies in Katanga province, the forces of local leaders Moise Tshombe. Two days later, the CIA base chief in Elizabethville cabled headquarters:
‘THANKS FOR PATRICE. IF WE HAD KNOWN HE WAS COMING WE WOULD HAVE BAKED A SNAKE”.
“Baked a snake” for Lumumba? This racist message is final proof, if one was needed, that the CIA station in Leopoldville was in collusion with the Belgians in sending Lumumba to Tshombe. Otherwise, why would the Elizabethville station say to its Leopoldville counterpart, “THANKS FOR PATRICE”? The Church Committee appears to have deliberately refused to accept the implications of that message.
The Ghanaian Times Page: 8 Tuesday, August 17, 2010