from the book
The CIAs Greatest Hits
by Mark Zepezauer
When the Congo (as Zaire was then known)
won its independence from Belgium in 1960, Patrice Lumumba became
its first prime minister. He was a charismatic leader who enjoyed
strong support in the parliament, but he was able to hold office
for only two months.
A leftist, Lumumba attempted to steer
a neutral course between the US and the USSR-no easy task. As
Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana pointed out, it was perfectly all right
for Britain and France to maintain diplomatic relations with the
Soviets, but any African leader who dared to do this became an
enemy of the US.
Such was the fate of Lumumba. Though the
CIA "regularly bought and sold Congolese politicians,"
it feared that Lumumba's oratorical talents would make him a thorn
in their side even if he were maneuvered out of power. So they
decided it made more sense to kill him.
CIA Director Allen Dulles ordered Lumumba's
assassination. (A 1975 Congressional inquiry decided that "a
reasonable inference" could be drawn that this was done with
Eisenhower's assent.) The agency dispatched a lethal virus to
Africa, but before it could be used on Lumumba, he was deposed
by Zaire's president (who had CIA backing) and fled for his life.
With the ClA's help, Lumumba was captured
in December 1960 by the troops of General Joseph Mobutu, who'd
assumed control of the government. Lumumba was held prisoner for
over a month, interrogated, tortured, then finally shot in the
head. His body was dissolved in hydrochloric acid.
Mobutu has run Zaire ever since, and the
lure of the country's vast mineral resources led the CIA into
a marriage of convenience with him. (The CIA station in Zaire
is the largest in Africa.)
Mobutu is worth billions. Almost 40% of
Zaire's national revenues accrue to him and his cronies, while
the average Zairian makes $190 a year.
He hands out life sentences to student
protesters for "insulting the president," tosses opposition
politicians into mental hospitals, suppresses religion and the
press. He's so hated by his countrymen that he once had to live
in a barge in the middle of the river.
Mobutu's brutality eventually alarmed
even the CIA, who backed a 1977 uprising against him. When it
failed, however, the CIA and Mobutu kissed and made up. In 1992,
another rebellion began and continues to vie with Mobutu for power.