- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 11, 2001

The first prime minister of the newly independent Congo, Patrice Lumumba, has transmogrified into a heroic figure unrecognizable to those who knew him well in 1960.

Beginning with independence day on July 1, 1960, this reporter covered Lumumba's two months in power with the kind of access unknown to subsequent generations of journalists. We dropped by Lumumba's home every day and sipped soft drinks in his living room while waiting for him to emerge from his post-lunch "naps." His aides winked knowingly about the boss' insatiable sexual appetites. Reporters nodded approvingly. Sexcapades didn't make the cut as news in those days. Wasn't adultery Leopoldville's favorite sport in the wicked Belgian colonial period that had just ended?

Lumumba made no secret of his fondness for inhaling "chanvre" (hemp). As for his much-vaunted incorruptible probity, frequently contrasted with the kleptomania of his successor, Mobutu Sese Seko, it was largely myth-making by the international left.

Long since forgotten was how Lumumba awarded all rights to the Congo's phenomenal mineral wealth — we joked it was the biggest takeover bid since King Leopold II appropriated the Congo as his personal fiefdom — to a Mr. Dettwiler in return for undisclosed kickbacks. The deal was stillborn because we checked out Dettwiler with Frank Carlucci, then second secretary at the U.S. Embassy. Dettwiler's name was on a State Department blacklist. He was wanted for financial wrongdoing in Ghana.

Meanwhile, Lumumba had invited Dettwiler to accompany him to the U.N. in New York with a brief stopover in Accra, Ghana, where he was going to salute Africa's first post-colonial hero, Kwame Nkrumah. Knowing that if he were seen with Lumumba in Accra, Nkrumah would have blown the whistle, Dettwiler managed to miss the flight.

With total chaos spreading over an area the size of the U.S. east of the Mississippi, triggered at first by unrepentant Belgian colonialists and their paratrooper backers, and later by Lumumba's chaotic rule, the U.N. stepped in. It was an all-African peacekeeping operation that later degenerated into the U.N.'s first and only war against Moise Tshombe's secessionists in mineral-rich Katanga (now Shaba) Province.

Lumumba's demagogic rule and inflammatory anti-U.N. rhetoric triggered a rampage of rape and pillage and killing of Belgians and their properties. Waiting at Ndjili Airport for a U.N. planeload of nuns evacuated from the interior, a reporter shouted, "Anyone here who's been raped and speaks English?" That became the title of a famous book by Edward Behr, a British journalist.

The first acting U.N. commander was Gen. Henry Alexander, then head of the Ghanaian defense forces. After landing with the first contingent of 18 Ghanaian soldiers assigned to the U.N., he suddenly found himself adrift in the chaos, not speaking a word of French, let alone Flemish. He quickly enlisted my services as an interpreter with the Belgian paratroop commander in the control tower of Ndjili Airport. The Belgian officer warned him that he was flying his paratroops to Stanleyville (now Kisangani) as his intelligence said Europeans there were being massacred. We also knew Lumumba had left the pandemonium that was Leopoldville and was now headquartered in Stanleyville.

Gen. Alexander bluffed and warned the Belgian commander that the Ghanaian battalion was already on its way to Stanleyville, directly from Accra, and that Belgian paratroopers would be opposed by force by his soldiers. Next, Gen. Alexander got the U.S. Embassy to loan him its C-130 and within hours we were airborne bound for Stanleyville, with 18 Ghanaian soldiers. Mr. Carlucci was in charge of the aircraft.

Stanleyville was eerily quiet. Gen. Alexander quickly found the resident MI6 operative — the head of a local tobacco company — who told us where to find Lumumba. He was in a village on the eastern side of the Congo River. There followed 21/2 hours of palavering between the U.N.'s military chief and the Congo's P.M.

Lumumba's ultimatum was unambiguous — get your U.N. troops out of the Congo within 48 hours or "I am asking Moscow to send troops here to chase them out." He also indicated that the Soviet Union had already pledged its military aid. Lumumba could not be budged.

With Newsweek's weekly deadline hours away, Mr. Carlucci gave me permission to file a 37-word bulletin from the cockpit. We raised Wiesbaden but they couldn't make out what we were saying and by the time we landed back in Leopoldville, Newsweek had put its next issue to bed. Instead, we gave the story to the New York Times' Henry Tanner who made the front page next morning.

Washington's fear of an African Castro was not unfounded. Lumumba had sown the seeds of his own destruction.

For Luddo De Witte, a Belgian sociologist, to claim today in his book "The Assassination of Lumumba" that this was not a Cold War drama, but the outbreak of class warfare, is to turn history on its head.

Lumumba's murder in 1961, Mr. De Witte now claims, "as well as the massacres of Guernica, Buchenwald, Dresden, Hiroshima and My Lai, are the expressions of a system that turns men into beasts." Hello.

No mention of Stalin's gulag archipelago in De Witte's litany gives his game away.

His political opponents murdered Lumumba. They put him in a plane bound for Elizabethville (now Lubumbashi) to deliver him to Moise Tshombe. He was beaten senseless during the three-hour journey in a DC-6. By the time he landed in Katanga he was barely alive. Tshombe's thugs finished him off. That the former Belgian colonial masters were pleased and approving, there is no doubt. So was official Washington.

Mr. De Witte writes that Lumumba's assassination is "a staggering example of what the Western ruling classes are capable of when their vital interests are threatened." He forgets that Lumumba was ready and willing to turn over his country to a shady capitalist name of Dettwiler.

Mr. De Witte also fails to recognize that when Moscow elevated Lumumba to the pantheon of communist saints by establishing a university in his name, it became the breeding ground for Soviet Third World recruits the world over. Apart from that, the saga of Lumumba was not a Cold War event.

Frank Carlucci went on to become ambassador to Portugal and later deputy head of the CIA, national security adviser and defense secretary. He is now chairman of the Carlyle investment group. To suggest, as the currently playing docudrama "Lumumba" did, that Mr. Carlucci, as a 30-year-old Embassy second secretary, gave Mobutu a wink and a nod for a plot to assassinate the Congo's first prime minister is twaddle in all its unrationed splendor — and defamatory to boot. To wit, neither the Church nor Pike congressional intelligence committees, hardly sympathetic to the CIA, found any evidence of CIA involvement in the murder of Lumumba.

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