Congo Kinshasa
Belgium admits guilt in Lumumba killing

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Patrice Lumumba

Dangerous nationalist and communist?

afrol News, 6 February - Patrice Lumumba, 35, the first and last democratically elected leader of Congo Kinshasa (DRC), was assassinated in 1961. Forty years later, the ex-colonial power Belgium takes responsibility and apologises for its role in the killing of the charismatic Congolese nationalist. 

Following yesterday's parliamentary debate on Belgium's role in the killing of Congolese Prime Minister Patrice Lumumba on 17 January 1961, Belgian Foreign Minister Louis Michel, asked the family of late Lumumba and the Congolese people to accept Belgium's apology. A parliamentary commission had come to the conclusion that Belgium had "a moral responsibility" for the assassination. 

Two of Lumumba's sons, François and Roland, listened to the parliamentary debate and were received by Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt and Foreign Minister Michel. "The government feels it should extend to the family of Patrice Lumumba ... and to the Congolese people, its profound and sincere regrets and its apologies for the pain inflicted upon them," Michel stated.

Michel informed Parliament, the Belgian government was to establish a "Patrice Lumumba Foundation", immediately financed with 3,750 million euro (US$ 3,250 million) and to receive yearly donations of half a million euro. The foundation was to work for "the democratic development" of Congo Kinshasa, financing projects to prevent conflict, strengthen justice and target the youth. Patrice Lumumba's family "shall be thoroughly involved in the spending of the foundation" in Congo, the Belgian government announced. 

François Lumumba, now a Congolese opposition party leader, told the press in Brussels the long-awaited recognition of Belgian guilt was "a determining step, a sign of political courage that must be congratulated." The Belgian press also proved content with its government's move. 'De Standaard' commented the apology had been "a strong signal" but demanded; "The investigations over decolonisation, however embarrassing, must be continued. If not, this has just been a diversion."

Disputed politician
Patrice Lumumba is one of the most mythical personalities of modern African history. He was known as a brilliant demagogue and a charismatic statesman. His popularity within Congo was however not paralleled abroad. 

Congo's elected Prime Minister profiled himself as a nationalist and a firm anti-colonialist, which soon made him a feared person in the former imperial capital, Brussels. Even worse, Lumumba was to have had strong sympathies towards the Soviet Union at a time when the Cold War was at its hottest. He thus came under strict surveillance of US and Belgian secret services. 

Soon after the sudden and not-prepared-for departure of Belgium from its enormous colony, the new country fell into civil war. The mineral rich Katanga province demanded autonomy - and Belgian and UN troops went back to Congo. After a military coup, Congolese authorities arrested Lumumba in December 1960 and sent him to Belgian-controlled Katanga, where he allegedly was executed by Congolese rebel troops. 

In official Belgian and US history writing, the killing of Lumumba always had been an exclusively inter-Congolese affair. Alternative versions, implying the CIA's and Belgian authorities' co-responsibility, however emerged soon.

The breakthrough in finding the truth behind Lumumba's killing came with the 1999 publication "The Assassination of Lumumba" by the Belgian sociologist Ludo de Witte. De Witte documented how Belgian officials directed and carried out the murder and helped dispose of the body. 

In his disclosures, de Witte cited a telegram from Belgium's African-affairs minister, Harold d'Aspremont Lynden, ordering that Lumumba be sent to Katanga. In Katanga, Lumumba was killed by a firing squad commanded by a Belgian officer - according to the officer accompanying Lumumba, interviewed by de Witte. Destroying the evidence, Belgian Police Commissioner Gerard Soete and his brother cut up the body with a hacksaw and dissolved it in sulphuric acid, according to a broadcasted statement by Soete himself. 

According to de Witte's investigations, also the CIA was involved. An involved Belgian official had told him that he kept CIA station chief Lawrence Devlin fully informed of the plan, something the latter still denies. A 1960 telegram from CIA Director Allen Dulles however had concluded "that [Lumumba's] removal must be an urgent and prime objective." 

Official investigations
The Belgian parliamentary commission, concluding its two-years work last November, in general supported all the evidence presented by de Witte about the Belgian involvement. The government yesterday accepted the commission's conclusions on most points, but was however unwilling to accept the ex-king had had any responsibilities in the killing.

Foreign Minister Michel told the parliament his government agreed with the commission, the government of 1961 had "not ordered the physical elimination of Patrice Lumumba," but it had ignored Lumumba's "physical integrity," which "obviously [was] subordinated to other interests." Michel concluded the Belgian "attitude of neutrality and apathy" had been a "serious failure", giving Belgium "an irrefutable share of responsibility" in Lumumba's killing. 

The killing of Lumumba certainly became a solution to US and Belgian grievances in 1961 - at the cost of the Congolese people. Lumumba was followed by pro-Western dictator Mobutu Sésé Séko, governing Congo ("Zaire") for 30 years as his personal estate resulting in the total impoverishment of the nation. Mobutu was followed by the Kabila dynasty and an ongoing civil war. None of these pro-Western leaders ever stood elections.

Sources: Based on Belgian govt., De Standaard, de Witte and afrol archives

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