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.

CIAs Greatest Hits

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