Britain helped Belgium and the US eliminate Patrice Lumumba

Jordi jordi at
Thu Jun 28 07:48:09 MDT 2001

Here is a review of the Belgian edition of De Witte's book:

A belated trial of Belgian colonialism
New revelations on the assassination of Patrice Lumumba

The night was chilly, that 17th of January 1961 in Katanga, the rich copper
province of the former Belgian Congo. The recent breakaway from the
independent state of the Congo had been financed by Belgian capital. An open
patch in the dark savannah is illuminated by the head-lamps of police cars.
A Belgian police officer takes Patrice Lumumba, formerly the elected Prime
Minister of the Republic of Congo, by the arm and leads him to a big tree.
The Prime Minister walks wearily, he has been tortured for hours, even days
now. A four man execution squad armed with Belgian FAL and Vigneron guns
stands by, while about 20 soldiers, policemen, Belgian officers and
Katangese ministers watch silently. A Belgian captain gives the order to
fire and a rain of bullets mows down Lumumba and two or his former

Forty years later a Belgian parliamentary commission has started an
investigation into this very dark chapter of Belgian colonial history. The
commission has one year to elucidate on the matter. This investigation
serves a double purpose: on the one hand it serves to restore the reputation
of Belgium abroad, a reputation which has suffered severely due the huge
amount of scandals that have shaken the country over the past five years
(from the corruption scandals in arms contracts where Socialist Party
leaders played a prominent role, to the sexual abuse and murder of young
children, to the dioxin contamination of foodstuffs,... to mention only the
most important). This is a bad situation for a tiny country that exports
more than three quarters of its production in goods and services abroad.
In an attempt to clean up its image, the new Belgian Socialist-Liberal-Green
government has been taking the lead in juridical procedures against Pinochet
and former Iranian president Rafsanjani, in the boycott of Haider, and it is
also searching its own conscience in investigating its own troublesome
colonial history.

A second reason is that Belgium's Foreign Department now has understood that
the Congo's new ruler Kabila is here to stay for a while. And as Kabila
leans heavily on the heritage of the leftist nationalism of Lumumba, Belgium
has to clean up its nasty reputation as the murderer of the Congo's most
prominent nationalist leader in order to get back in business in Kinshasa.
The fact that the Belgian Christian Democrats - who had been in power since
the Dark Ages - are now in the opposition makes things easier. The main
protagonists in the attempt to restore Belgian colonial power 40 years ago
were indeed all Christian Democrats, with Gaston Eyskens as prime minister
at the time who also caused a strike of pre-revolutionary dimensions (winter
1960-1961) with his aggressive austerity policies, and count d'Aspremont
Lynden, representative of an age-old Belgian and pre-Belgian bourgeoisie at
the helm of the 'Department of African Affairs'.

Jacques Brassine's doctoral thesis 'Investigation into the murder of Patrice
Lumumba' (Universit? Libre de Bruxelles, 1990) had been regarded for the
past 10 years as the cornerstone of the official version of events in the
Congo in 1960-1961. In this survey Brassine tried to prove that Lumumba's
murder was a purely internal affair in which Belgium played no role at all.
His work in right wing Belgian political circles is well known.
But with his book, 'Crisis in the Congo' (1996), Belgian sociologist Ludo De
Witte shed an entirely different light on the struggle for independence. He
came to the conclusion that the Eyskens government, at the very least,
encouraged the climate in which Lumumba eventually was murdered and that the
United Nations troops in the Congo were "accomplices by neglect". In his
more recent book, 'The murder of Lumumba' (1999), De Witte elaborates this
thesis in detail. In the first chapters he doesn't leave one element of
Brassine's methodology unquestioned (amongst other things Brassine was even
actively involved in the events of 1960-61 and thus can hardly be regarded
as an independent investigator!).

Then De Witte embarks on a detailed analysis of the more than 8000 telegrams
that were exchanged between the UN diplomats in the Congo and the UN
headquarters in New York. De Witte comes very close to clearly proving the
intense Belgian complicity in the murder. Rather than being the flunkeys of
Katangese president Tsjombe, it was the Belgians who invented, created,
steered and financed the puppet state of Katanga as a bulwark of Belgian
colonialism in Africa. It was in Brussels and not in Leopoldville (now
Kinshasa) or Elisabetville (now Lubumbashi, capital of Katanga or Shaba as
it has been known in more recent years) where the transfer of Lumumba from a
Congolese army prison to the lawless state of Katanga was engineered and
ordered. While he was behind bars Lumumba even managed to bring the
Congolese army very close to an anticolonial uprising against the regime
installed by the famous colonel Mobutu.

The meticulous way in which De Witte describes and analyses the months, days
and hours before the murder, the lugubrious details of torture and murder,
and the removal of the body, doesn't make 'The murder' a very amusing book.
Nevertheless it is a clear description of the way in which the bourgeoisie
of a so-called "democratic" country like Belgium acts when its fundamental
interests are at stake. A painstaking reading of this book will put the
investigations of the parliamentary commission - supposing that it really
does want to discover the truth - on the right track. De Witte indicates
several black spots (meetings, individuals, etc.) that must be clarified if
the whole picture is to be seen. The commission should concentrate on these.
For example the role that was played by the Belgian shadow cabinet housed in
the Immokat building in Elisabethville.

The murder of Lumumba and two of his ministers, Mpolo and Okito, cleared the
road for the crushing of the anti-imperialist uprisings in the Congo and
thus laid the foundations for the compradore regime of Mobutu. The
mineral-rich Congo (a geologist once described the former Belgian colony as
a "geological scandal") was plundered for 30 years in the most brutal way by
Belgian, French and American imperialism and by the cleptocracy around
Mobutu. Meanwhile the country served as a military bulwark against the
emerging African Revolution in the sixties and seventies.

Just like the UN, the leadership of the Belgian labour movement is also
"accomplice by neglect" because of its indifference towards the colonial
revolution. Even the Belgian Communist Party was a supporter of the Belgian
presence in the Congo because "socialism in one country" would not be
possible in Belgium alone because of the lack of raw materials! And the
Stalinists in Moscow only supported the nationalist regime under Lumumba to
the extent that it could be used and sacrificed on the international
chessboard of "peaceful coexistence" with the imperialist West!

In essence Lumumba was a bourgeois democrat who, nevertheless, became
quickly radicalised through his opposition to bare-faced Belgian colonial
ambitions. If he had lived longer he probably would have moved in the same
direction as Fidel Castro in Cuba. Lumumba became the symbol of a very young
and rapidly radicalising independence movement which unfortunately was too
unorganised to survive the murder and/or imprisonment of its most prominent
leaders. Today Lumumba still lives on as a genuine and honest revolutionary
for many thousands of African workers and youth who try to find a way out of
the deadly impasse of imperialism on the black continent.

Therefore, while pointing out the shortcomings of a nationalist programme
and the need for socialist internationalism throughout Africa and the rest
of the world, Lumumba's heritage has to be taken on cautiously and with

Today the Kabila regime in Kinshasa flirts with the anti-imperialist
rhetoric of Lumumbism and therefore it can count on a certain level of
support among the progressive forces in the Congo itself and in the
diaspora. The West is taking this threat seriously again and is trying to
keep Kabila under pressure by financing some artificial uprisings in the
east of the Congo.

But times have changed since 1960, when western imperialism was more or less
united in its struggle against "communism" in Africa. Nowadays the situation
on the continent is more similar to that at the time of the Berlin
Conference of 1885, when Africa became an arena of struggle between the
European imperialist powers. So far, Kabila has managed, as a skilful
bonapartist, to balance between those different interests. This keeps him in
power but it is not leading towards the further liberation and emancipation
of the African people. On the contrary, Central Africa is caught in endless
and devastating civil wars.

In order to reach a genuine liberation and development of the African
nations, the lessons of Lumumbism will have to be digested and enriched with
Marxist analysis and understanding. Furthermore, the Belgian and European
working class will have to put an end to all forms of neocolonialism.

Pierre Dorremans
April 2000

More information about the Marxism mailing list