Dec
28

Murdering Patrice Lumumba

Having recently read and posted about the letters, writing and speeches of Patrice Lumumba, I was looking forward the book by Gerard and Kuklick (2015), published by Harvard, titled "Death in the Congo: Murdering Patrice Lumumba". While it was well researched and interesting, it was a different book than what I was expecting, and I finished reading thinking that another book needs to be written (or maybe has been written?) that puts the Lumumba at the center, rather than others at the center in their efforts against him. The book outlines a wide array of actors seeking to murder Lumumba, with the Belgians and the CIA taking the lead, the authors end with this: "… the West could not conceive a stand-alone African state akin to European countries in its economic and political capabilities. Lumumba aspired to a greatness the West would not abide." (p. 217)

Other notes:

"The pro-Western United Nations had large debts to the United States, and in addition the United States would pay for much of the Congo operation of the UN. Its leadership regularly consulted not only with the US delegation to the United Nations in New York, but also with American diplomats in Washington. The peacekeepers would do whatever fighting had to be undertaken, and many of the African nations who contributed troops received training courtesy of the United States and purchased military equipment at a discount. More or less at American bidding, the United Nations might dampen the conflict in the just-born nation. The Americans soon had an understanding that Secretary-General Hammarskjöld would contain Lumumba." (p. 57)

"The Belgians advised Kasa-Vubu about what they considered a coup d'état, but Kasa-Vubu used the UN to carry it out. In the aftermath of Kasa-Vubu's radio performance, the Belgians thanked the Americans for egging on Hammarskjöld, yet while Washington supported the coup, it did not intervene as had Belgium. The UN led the way, although Hammarskjöld did discuss his outlook with the Americans and presumed himself in concert with them. Whether Cordier's throwing his weight around was good or bad, the UN violated its mandate, and meant to overturn Lumumba. Hammarskjöld had written that the prime minister must be "forced to constitutionality"; then the secretary-general had pushed Lumumba out of office by unconstitutional means." (p. 103)

"After Washington decided to assassinate, Devlin made eight separate suggestions over a three-week period on how the Americans might accomplish the murder, and he enlisted other to help." (p. 151)

"Eyskens warned: "In the actual state of things, it is necessary to contemplate the eventual return of Lumumba." This fear may have inspired another murder attempt. A Greek called "Georges" arrived in Brazzaville, probably in the beginning of November. Belgians in Brussels had hired him to kill Lumumba at his residence." (p. 175)

"On the tenth day Lumumba, Mpolo, and Okito rose from the dead a last time. Soete unearthed the cadavers and then used a hacksaw to sever the extremities—arms, legs, heads—from the three decaying carcasses. Soete wore a mask and gloves, and drank a lot. Three upper bodies remained. The lawman repeatedly refilled the the barrel with acid. Like the extremities, the torsos were small enough so that the grave robber could throw the chunks of rotting flesh into the vat and have them eaten away. But there was not enough acid, and flesh and bones that had not been obliterated had to be burned, although Soete held on to a few keepsakes like teeth. The butchering took two days and nights." (p. 208)

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Oct
01

Lumumba: May Our People Triumph

LeoPard books has collected the speeches, writings, letters and telegrams of the former Prime Minister of DR Congo, Patrice Lumumba in "May Our People Triumph" (2016). It also collects a set of articles written about him after his murder. The book has some editorial errors and formatting issues, but nonetheless is a useful collection to read the thoughts and ideas of Lumumba hisself (as opposed to other books that have been written about him). Most of the contents published in this book are available here. Some notes:

"Many brilliantly gifted young people turned down the opportunity to receive a higher education for the simple reason that they no longer wished to be indoctrinated by the colonialists, who wanted to turn our young men and women into eternal servants of the colonial regime." (p. 16)

"We know the objects of the West. Yesterday they divided us on the level of a tribe, clan and village. Today, with Africa liberating herself, they seek to divide us on the level of states. They want to create antagonistic blocs, satellites, and, having begun from that stage of the cold war, deepen the division in order to perpetuate their rule." (p. 29)

"Upon the arrival of two aircraft transporting Canadian military personnel, the security forces wished to check the identity of these passengers. But the latter flatly refused to produce their identification papers and hurled coarse language at the Congolese officials. And even graver was the fact that Swedish troops of the U.N. force prevented the legal authorities from carrying out the check." (p. 94)

"Without dignity there is no freedom, without justice there is no dignity and without independence there are no free men. Cruelty, insults and torture can never force me to ask for mercy, because I prefer to die with head high, with indestructible faith and profound belief in the destiny of our country than to live in humility and renounce the principles which are sacred to me. The day will come when history will speak. But it will not be the history which will be taught in Brussels, Paris, Washington or the United Nations. It will be the history which will be taught in the countries which have won freedom from colonialism and its puppets. Africa will write its own history and in both north and south it will be a history of glory and dignity." (p. 110-111)

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Oct
15

The Great War of Africa

"Dancing in the Glory of Monsters: The Collapse of the Congo and the Great War of Africa" by Jason K. Stearns (2011) "tells the story of the conflict that resulted from these regional, national, and local dimensions and that has lasted from 1996 until today" (p. 8). The author not only has a depth of experience in the region, but also conveys a passion for the places, people, histories, experiences described. More than anything else, it is the way in which Stearns writes that is appeals. This is a story that needs to be read, and also an example of great story telling.

"This book tries to see the conflict through the eyes of its protagonists and understand why war made more sense than peace, why the regional political elites seem to be so rich in opportunism and so lacking in virtue" (p. 6). Stearns focuses upon "the perpetrators more than the victims, the politicians and the army commanders more than the refugees and rape survivors, although many of the protagonists oscillate between these categories. Rather than dwelling on the horror of the conflict, which is undeniable, I have chosen to grapple with the nature of the system that brought the principal actors to power, limited the choices they could make, and produced such chaos and suffering" (p. 8).

"Like layers of an onion, the Congo war contains wars with wars. There was not one Congo war, or even two, but at least forty or fifty different, interlocking wars. Local conflicts fed into regional and international conflicts and vice versa. Teasing out the origins can be a tail-chasing exercise" (p. 69). That is also where Stearns concludes: "The Congo war had no one cause, no clear conceptual essence that can be easily distilled in a couple of paragraphs. Like an ancient Greek epic, it is a mess of different narrative strands - some heroic, some venal, all combined in a narrative that is not straighforward but layered, shifting, and incomplete. It is not a war of great mechanical precision but of ragged human edges" (p. 336).

In some narratives, the international community (i.e. a few powerful states), exerts its will upon the world. The Congolese wars are yet another example of how agency and power much more complex: "As both Museveni and Kagame had learned in their own insurgencies, the international community was inherently hostile to foreign invasions but turned a blind eye to domestic rebellions that called themselves liberation struggles. Go look for Congolese rebels, he told Kagame, who could act as a fig leaf for Rwandan involvement" (p. 53). Readers unfamiliar with the Congo will be shocked with how other nations, particularly Rwanda, played key roles in the Congolese wars.

There are numerous side notes I found interesting, such as reflections on non-violent action (p. 9), intentional false indoctrination (p. 16), psychology of fear (p. 36), the role of economics and poverty in conflict and hatred (p. 95), the long-term societal impacts of conflict (p. 261). The author was seeking to understand the system, and about this, he concludes: "A central reason, therefore, for the lack of visionary leadership in the Congo is because its political system rewards ruthless behaviour and marginalizes scrupulous leaders. It privileges loyalty over competence, wealth and power over moral character" (p. 331).

What lessons can be learned? "This state of affairs should force foreign donors to think more carefully about contributing billions of dollars to development in the Congo without pondering the long-term repercussions… By taking the financing of most public services, donors take pressure off the Congolese government to respond to the needs of its citizens. Ultimately, the rule of law will not be created through a capacity building project in the ministry of finance but through a power struggle between government, local elites, and business circles. Donors need to figure out how to most responsibly insert themselves in this dynamic and not just pave roads, build hospitals, and reform fiscal systems" (p. 332). However, there "are no easy solutions for the Congo, no silver bullets to produce accountable government and peace. The ultimate fate of the country rests with the Congolese people themselves.Westerners also have a role to play, in part because of our historical debt to the country, in part because it is the right thing to do. This does not mean imposing a foreign vision on the country or simply sending food and money. It means understanding it and its politics and rhythms on their own terms, and then doing our part in providing the environment conducive to growth and stability" (p. 337).

My only (minor) recommendation to the author would be to reduce points of repetition. Some stories and facts are returned at different parts of the book. This may have been purposeful, for a readership unfamiliar with the details, but at times gave it a slightly unpolished feel.

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Oct
22

Post-doc: Power, Poverty & Politics

The International Institute of Social Studies of the Erasmus University Rotterdam the Netherlands is seeking to fill three full-time (100%) vacancies for the position of Post-Doctoral Researcher for a two year period from 1 January 2017 to 31 December 2018. We welcome applications from prospective postdoc researchers who are interested in doing operational research on gender, governance and development in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. 

The researchers will be part of the research project 'Power, Poverty and Politics (PPP) in DRC', a subproject of the Secure Livelihoods Research Consortium led by the Overseas Development Institute (ODI) in London. The project is financed by UK Aid for the UK Government. It comprises a network of partners and research under the project is set up as close collaborations between international and Congolese universities and research institutes. 

This two-year research program (1 January 2017- 31 December 2018) aims to deepen existing research on governance, service delivery and economic growth in the Democratic Republic of the Congo to examine the details of policy implementation from national to local levels, to generate lessons from what works in promoting positive change and how to measure change. The PPP will do this by tackling a range of sector specific topics that link closely to Department for International Development (DfID) programs and policies and are thus chosen for their potential to contribute practical operational knowledge.

  1. Women, power and society. This project concerns the question of how the changing roles of women in DRC affect their power relations, with a particular focus on social accountability and decision making. It will be based on case studies of development programmes that incorporate social accountability mechanisms (including community scorecards and local community committees), and seek to assess the broader impact of these programmes on gender relations. 
  2. Everyday politics and practices of family planning in DRC. Promoting and protecting women's reproductive rights and health is key to women's empowerment and gender equality. This proposal concerns current policies and practices of family planning; debates on policy and perceptions of people regarding family planning and the role of societal stakeholders. It takes a 360 degrees, mixed methods look at family planning services. 
  3. Mining reforms and the changing roles of women in mining communities. The artisanal mining sector constitutes a vital source of income for many poor women and men - a substantial part of the population in DRC. In the course of the past decade,several attempts have been made to promote good governance in the mining sector. This study will focus on the gendered implications of ongoing reforms for the women and communities involved in artisanal mining in (Eastern) DRC.

More details.

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