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It is the privilege of the famous and the infamous to be little known: their myths are often so much more convincing than the men themselves. Africa, a fruitful field for detractors and apologists, has produced myths about people and events that fiction would disown. The gilding and blackening of characters have disregarded widely known and widely reported facts. And the great open book of African history, where our ignorance still exceeds our knowledge, has been used with impunity to justify different sentimental attitudes.
Perhaps not surprisingly, it is in history that the professional mythologists appear to have done their most successful work. Faced with Africa's understandable irritation at colonial versions of pre-colonial history, some historians and other writers offered to give Africa in general-and Black Africa in particular-a "brand new past." Academe produced a figure to fit the age-the "history cosmetician," who repairs the ravages of time. Perhaps because few historians deal with Africa at all, others have cashed in on this academic pop market: a Welsh journalist won a measure of fame for having found that the Americas had not been discovered by the Chinese, the Vikings or the Spanish crew of a Genoese navigator, but by an armada of two thousand Mandingo dugout canoes. Africa's Tamerlane- type empires of yesteryear have been given an Athenian gloss.
It is African historians like Professor K. Onwuka Dike, the former head of Ibadan University, and Dr. Amadou Hampâté Bâ of Mali who have finally imposed a view of events which is African without being basely flattering. Men like them and France's eminent Professor Vincent Monteil in effect have stressed the accomplishments of the contemporary African generation by depicting, unemotionally, the secular inertia of pre-colonial Africa, which helped make colonial domination inevitable. They have written dispassionately of the sanguine warlords, some of revolting cruelty, who crushed conquered peoples under the burden of tribute and looted vast quantities of gold and slaves to build their empires.
Some of the myths of Africa's past have clearly been aimed at quickening the guilt of the Western world over slavery. Behind the veil of legend, however, everything in the early records makes it clear that Europe and America did not "bring the slave trade" to Africa-it was Africa that created the Atlantic trade in slaves by stimulating a formerly disinterested market. While in East Africa Arab slavers won a dominant position in the "industry," the West Africans controlled their own (much greater) trade completely, from "upcountry" to the "beach."
Blame for slave-trading and slavery must thus be shared equally between black thief and white receiver. The richest and most developed kingdoms in Atlantic Africa were those that made the most from slaving-and this in fact helps explain why West Africa developed further than those areas in eastern and southern Africa which were too far from the Western-hemisphere markets to sustain a successful commerce. It was the abolition of the slave trade outside Africa which produced the preponderance of unexported slaves over members of the freeman caste in the coastal ports, leading to rebellions and in many cases to the pale beginnings of democracy. The African leadership of the day fought fiercely against Abolition.
As we approach modern times, the facts refute more strongly the entrenched emotional myths. The colonial experience was not a "balkanizing" one-nor was pan-Africanism an African initiative. One hundred years ago, there were approximately two thousand nations in Africa. To compare this state of affairs to the Balkans would be unjust to southeastern Europe. It was colonialism that pan-Africanized the continent into a mere fifty territories and half a dozen administrative language zones-in the place of up to six thousand languages and dialects. It is since independence that some of the larger colonial units, particularly the Congo and Nigeria, have shown signs of dividing again into some of their molecular component parts.
Black Africa-three times the size of the United States-possessed no maps. With eighteen thousand miles of coast, it produced no oceangoing ships, no navies or navigators. It sent no trade missions or emissaries around the world, of which it knew-and contrived to know-nearly nothing. Indeed, before the pan-Africanizing experience of colonialism, each tribe was ignorant of almost all African lands except its own, and those of its neighbors and present or past enemies. A female continent, Black Africa was to be "discovered," penetrated and dominated by others. There were few exceptions to this image of passivity.
Curiously, the myths which "face-lift" this past diminish the quality of the present. It is only from an objective study of African history that one appreciates fully the enormous achievements of what is today not a Renaissance but an Enlightenment. If the economic handicaps facing Africa today were no more formidable than the intellectual challenges have proved to be, Africa would presumably overtake the twentieth century in this generation.
Some men have carved their own mythology. Probably none has been so adept at this as Kwame Nkrumah. For both his friends and his enemies, Nkrumah built an image of himself as a left-wing leader dedicated to a large African union and opposed to all that regionalized or balkanized the continent.
The reality was rather different. Since Nkrumah seems, in retrospect, to have opposed all movements which he could not hope to lead, he inevitably opposed every union in Africa of any size, and even many small ones. He dueled with the French-African grouping known at the time as the Afro- Malagasy Union (UAM)-now OCAM-on the ground that it united only French- speaking states, although he belonged to the Commonwealth, which grouped only English-speaking ones. Moreover, he had himself formed a still more "mini" union with two French-speaking states, Guinea and Mali, thus limiting still further the size of the much more ambitious UAM.
By pressure on Uganda, he helped to prevent the formation of an East African federation, which, as a West African, he could never lead. When the first steps were taken toward forming what became the Organization of African Unity, he headed a three-state Black African splinter-group within a largely Arab bloc which conferred at Casablanca in 1961. His clear intention was to build up the sub-Saharan element in this breakaway group until he became the ringleader of a sort of OAU of his own. When all else had failed, and every African independent state met at Addis Ababa in 1963, he opposed the organization then being formed on the ground that its aims were insufficiently far-reaching. Even his interest in the Commonwealth began to wane when he ceased to be the only black face aboard. He broke all administrative, monetary and even common-service links (airline, research institutes and so on) with the rest of English West Africa once Nigeria's independence threatened to minimize Ghana's, and his own, importance.
Nkrumah had a valid, very individual point of view. To achieve his aim of forming a group of African countries loyal to himself, he had to cut off branches from the African trunk, dominated as this was by Nigeria, Ethiopia and the relative homogeneity of French Africa. He had to prevent the rise of federations which would dwarf Ghana's role. But just as Prime Minister Vorster calls apartheid "racial independence," so Nkrumah preached dissension in the name of African unity. So convincing was the myth he spun that when he fell even Western publications hostile to him said that his eclipse would halt the trend toward pan-Africanism and authorize diversity. In fact, it did just the opposite-as the 1967 Summit at Kinshasa showed. Nkrumah had been the Tshombe of pan-Africanism.
Some even believed Nkrumah's claim to be a good socialist who accepted the Marxian dictate of history. But his only apparent link with socialism, in its accepted sense of a planified state-controlled economy, was his admiration for authoritarianism, for "one man, one vote, once." As early as 1946, in London, he told Joe Appiah of his admiration for Stalin and his dreams of seeing the tanks roll on Black Star Square. In 1957, he wrote in his autobiography that he favored "totalitarian rule." The same year he told two British liberal journalists that he would have to rule "by terror" to establish his authority. Nkrumah's admirers ignored everything he said or did which cast doubts on his pre-independence image: like all mythic figures, he lost the right to change, retract or betray himself. It may well be that most men seek their own subjective image of perfection (or perfidy) in their leaders, and that mythology is essential to political movements.
But the view of most of Nkrumah's critics, who see him as a full-fledged communist, or at least a full-fledged agent of the communists, is equally mythological. Curiously, the best, safest, most influential thing to be in Nkrumah's "socialist" Ghana was a major shareholder in a large foreign company with investments there. Such companies were protected by law from trade-union agitation and guaranteed against failure by government participation. Evidence given to the current commissions of inquiry indicates that pressure for kickbacks was put only on those companies which could pass the cost on to the Ghanaian consumer.
Little if anything in Nkrumah's post-independence policy suggests that he had any ideology except the desire to retain both his wealth and power; as Sékou Touré has noted, he ruled through ideology's antithesis-a succession of expedients. His seemingly schizophrenic attachment to Stalinism without communism, to the Commonwealth without Westminster, to Mao Tse-tung and Edgar Kaiser and Nasser and General Spears surely reflects how little political theory meant to this mediocre student of administration and economics. For him, intuition was philosophy: as the title of his autobiography eloquently showed, when he spoke of "Ghana" he meant himself. Even his permanent preoccupation with sorcery was personal-not meant to enhance Ghana's future, or Africa's, but his own.
In all this, of course, he was no worse than countless other politicians across the world and the centuries. To some extent, Nkrumah probably believed in the myths which he enjoined on others. The battle against colonialism was the only battle Nkrumah honorably won. After that, it seems fair to say that his dynamic energies were directed against Africans and against those bigger African entities that occupied the center-stage he coveted; but he fought these personal enemies in the name of "anticolonialism" and unity. Hence his myth.
Often the admirers and the critics of a personality share a myth. Even more than in Nkrumah's case, this could be said of the white admirers and black detractors of Houphouët-Boigny. To most Europeans in Abidjan, and to most radical Africans, Houphouët's policy epitomizes African collaboration with the French. Yet Houphouët's Democratic Rally (RDA), launched in 1946, was the first widespread, popular, grass-roots nationalist party in Africa, and its uniquely pan-African organization has an impact to this day. In personality, Houphouët is also seen as the prototype of the westernized French-African. Yet he is in fact a traditional chief, and his interest in the occult is as reputed in West Africa as was Nkrumah's.
Even politically, Houphouët is not as simple as his friends and enemies suggest. His first alliance was with the French Communist Party, with which the RDA sat and voted for five years (until 1950) in the French National Assembly. His pragmatic policies since have made his essentially agricultural country, poorly endowed with minerals, West Africa's most developed-and thereby the one most economically independent of the outside world. Ivorian government policy is a local version of "classical" social democracy. Of the former French colonies, only Guinea and perhaps Mali are less enfeoffed to France. The Ivory Coast is certainly the ex-French state most open to foreign investment in direct competition with what, in other French-African countries, are French business monopolies.
Some men outlive their myths, and none has done this so well as President Jomo Kenyatta of Kenya. In retrospect, it is hard to see how the image of Kenyatta as a left-wing revolutionary first emerged. Kenyatta's only book, "Facing Mount Kenya," is a hymn of praise to the tribal life, in effect a reactionary rejection of all modern theory. In many ways the African leader most reflective of "average" African opinion, Kenyatta seeks to preserve the intellectual comfort of the past together with some of the physical comforts of the present. His rebellion was in no sense a revolution; like the Picts and the Welsh against the Romans, his Ghikoyo (his own preferred spelling), Embu and Meru warriors constituted an opposition movement to an unwanted foreign occupation-unrelated to events outside or to the great currents of contemporary political thought. A royalist movement of resistance to a Nazi occupation of Britain would have been as unradical, politically, and more bloody; it would certainly have killed more than 29 of the enemy, and at least as many collaborators. The mumbo jumbo of masonry is perhaps more sophisticated than Mau Mau's, but the intention- unquestioning loyalty-remains the same. Mau Mau, like many movements in the Western world, was the weapon of tribal conservatism against the stranger.
Kenyatta's reforms have been those which any progressive colonial government might have made. He has gone out of his way to make social advance a gradual affair, apparently believing, like Robert Pitt, that "reform should be slow, so that it shall be lasting." His support for pan- Africanism has been minimal and his most consistent backing in Kenya lies in his own tribe-and of course, today, in the European community. Yet because he was persecuted for a bitter decade for being the man he never was (an "anti-white," "communist-inspired" revolutionary who would reverse the whole order of Kenyan society and "lead [it] to darkness"), no African nationalist figure has quite so sinister an image with the settlers further south, nor quite such a respected one among Africans generally, from the Mediterranean to the Cape. If one had to choose a single face to put on the cover of a book about African nationalism, Kenyatta would be almost every editor's unfailing choice. The choice would be valid enough, but the reasons would often be mistaken.
Those who still see Kenyatta as an ogre tend to sympathize with white South Africa and white Rhodesia. Of course, reforms would be desirable, they say, but after all these white societies are our firm political allies, staunch anti-communists, and rule over the African because they are more capable and want to preserve higher standards. Again, it is a case of basing a valid point of view-self-defense-on myth, not fact.
The governing South African Nationalist Party has its origins in the Broederbond, originally founded at the onset of World War I to support the Central Powers. The Afrikaner rising which it brought off in 1914 kept the South African army busy for eight months, delaying Botha's invasion and occupation of German South West Africa. Banned, then revived after the war, it finally blossomed in the thirties in emulation of the German Nazi Party, whose successes dictated the structure of the Broederbond's overt expression-the Nationalist Party-and its components, which often took names (Stormjaers, etc.) modeled on those of Nazi Party units. In the Second World War, official "Nat" Party policy was a German-leaning neutrality; but extreme wings of the Party, particularly the Ossewa Brandwag, favored intervention in the war on the German side.
It is the surviving members of this extremist wing of an anti-Allied party who now control South Africa. The late President Swart was a member of the Grand Council of the Ossewa Brandwag. Premier Balthazar Vorster spent two years in prison for making pro-Nazi speeches and the rest of the war under house arrest on suspicion of being in contact with the Nazi submarines then preying on Allied convoys. Robey Leibbrandt, now a major figure in the South African security service, was landed in Griqualand from a German submarine after serving with the Nazi paratroops in Crete; he was saved from a death sentence, after capture, by a mass Afrikaner movement in his behalf, orchestrated by the Broederbond, which already grouped, in Premier Smuts' estimate, nearly half all Afrikaner adults. The late Premier Verwoerd sued the Johannesburg Star for libel in 1942 for saying he had made his paper, Die Transvaler, a Nazi tool; he lost. The late Prime Minister D. F. Malan was involved in a Nazi spy ring.
The list of Nationalist Party leaders and publications which openly backed Nazism and opposed the Allies is very long.1 Suffice it to say that South Africa does not share our Western vision or our ideals; its leaders sought to contribute to our defeat. It is not an ally, merely another enemy of an enemy.
What of the argument that its policy is meant to ensure the survival of a higher culture? Clearly, if South Africa's blacks were incapable, a society based on merit would leave the whites in their present jobs. Special white wage scales, job reservation and a fatter share of public money are crutches which only a cripple needs. Can it be that Rhodesia needs to spend twelve times as much on a white child's education as on a black one's? The whites of southern Africa make sure that they start near the winning post: superior education, entry to employment at a higher level, salaries subsidized by the low wage scales of Africans, and other factors creating a caste system. With only a little casuistry, a good lawyer could draw on South African legislation to prove that the white man is inferior, and conscious of it. A qualified version of this would not be too farfetched. Whites in southern Africa are mostly redundant Brahmins-and in South Africa itself, often ex-Nazis too.
The past lends itself to mythology best, but in modern times the Congo- where almost everything that happens carries an air of improbability-has proved the most fruitful field of make-believe.
Millions in Africa and elsewhere have an opinion about this tragic country, confident as most people are that their non-acquaintance with it, coupled with their schematic, headline notions of recent Congolese history, are limitations matched by almost everybody else's. Even today, Lumumba, Tshombe and Mobutu are household names, hated or admired by people across the world-sometimes justifiably, but usually for the wrong reasons. Like true characters of myth in all cultures and all ages, their story and their image can be made to fit different needs and biases. The Lumumba and Tshombe whom most people know are as unreal as the Machiavelli or the Schweitzer of the masses. Ironically, Congolese leaders seem to fascinate foreigners (particularly, of course, foreign Africans) more than they do the Congolese, to whom the facts of both plot and cast are better known.
Illusions about Patrice Lumumba are almost as great among his critics as among his devotees. Here are a few: Lumumba was a radical revolutionary (his admirers' view) or a member of a Moscow- and Nkrumah-inspired conspiracy (his critics' image); he had broad national support and an electoral majority (his admirers); he sought to oust Western finance and socialize the economy (his critics); he was more "African," less "European" than his rival Kasa-Vubu (his admirers); he is a living force in Congolese politics, the father of Congolese nationalism (his admirers again).
The myths about Moïse Tshombe are just as persistent, buttressed in Africa (like those about Lumumba) by the fact that few African newspapers could afford to send a staff reporter to the Congo, that few of those who could afford it bothered to, and that those who were sent did not speak French. Here are some Tshombe myths: Katanga's secession was a European plot, of which Tshombe was merely the executant; secession had the support of the West but failed because of Afro-Asian opposition; Tshombe's political aim was to protect the interests of white companies and settlers; he was principally responsible for Lumumba's death; he is unpopular in the Congo.
Such are the myths of Tshombe's critics. His equally self-deceiving admirers have fashioned others: Tshombe is a "capable administrator," whose leadership ensured that Katanga functioned more efficiently than the rest of the Congo; he brought "peace and order," while the rest of the Congo dissolved in chaos.
A brief glance at the Congolese chronicle just before and since independence refutes this hardy mythology. Effective Congolese nationalism begins with Joseph Kasa-Vubu, a monarchical ex-seminarian who sought to restore the historic Manikongo kingdom of his own Mukongo people, whose territory he saw as being the kingpin state (containing both the capital and the country's only port and coast) in an independent Congolese federation. A tribal conservative who exploited Kibanguism, the "heretical" Christian sect of the Bakongo, his charismatic appeal was mostly limited to his own key tribal lands (including Leopoldville).
Through the 1950s, all narratives of Congolese events confirm, Kasa-Vubu was almost alone in incurring the continual wrath of the Belgian authorities. While others (such as Lumumba) were allowed to travel to conferences in Ghana and Nigeria, Kasa-Vubu was always stopped. Alone among well-known Congolese politicians, he repudiated Western clothes and Western ways and brazenly criticized Europeans. Almost alone, he believed in the "African personality" and the "African way of doing things." When he became president, he showed understanding of the need to do something about the problems of administration, but no more inclination than his competitors to do something about them himself. His skill for ruling, in the traditional African manner, from "behind a screen," enabled him for nearly six years to keep his crown when all around-playing politics in the Western fashion-were losing their coronets and sometimes their heads as well.
Patrice Lumumba was a westernized, urbanized Mutatela from the remote Eastern Province who built his political career on membership in the Belgian Liberal Party and the Cercle des Evolués in Stanleyville (now Kisangani); he came to prominence only two years before independence. His appeal was to his tribesmen and their ethnic cousins, the beni-Lulua, as well as to a small but articulate core of westernized city-dwellers. In the 1960 elections-the peak of his career-his party and its allies together mustered only a quarter of the vote and of the parliamentary seats. In the face-off for power that followed, he lost the presidency to Kasa-Vubu in a bitter struggle, but accepted the consolation prize of the premiership. The two continued to disagree, and Kasa-Vubu dismissed him after eleven weeks.
Both critics and admirers picture Lumumba as an ideological radical. Yet almost his first major act was to sign a $2 billion deal for mineral rights with a dubious consortium headed by the American Edgar Detwiler. Faced with the army mutiny and the Belgian intervention to rescue beleaguered compatriots, he called on the United States to restore order in the country and replace the Belgians. At Washington's suggestion, he next turned to the United Nations. Only on Nkrumah's advice and as a last resort did he turn to the Soviet Union. His choice for foreign minister was the conservative, pro-Western Justin Bomboko.
Gentle, "sophisticated" and (to those of us who knew him then) transparently well-meaning in the years that preceded power, Lumumba became, as the Congo collapsed around him, a man intemperately addicted to drink and drugs, struggling wildly for power and survival. In his disarray, he seemed to become the almost helpless catspaw of Nkrumah and the Soviets, rather than their conscious ally. His most sensitive apologist, the French writer Jeanne Rouche (in her book "En cage avec Lumumba") called him a "sorcerer's apprentice." Every unknown expedient he tried helped both to condemn his brash incompetence and his emotional instability and also to ensure his fate.
If one may interject a homily here, one reason public opinion is often so wrong about public figures is that it does not always realize that people change and that politicians perhaps change most of all. Most political careers are something like a farmer's year, a succession of seasons: between the sowing and the harvest there are many metamorphoses, and finally there is a turning over of the sod, with little of the former crop left in the soil but a modicum of nitrate, and much exhaustion. In Lumumba's only book, "Congo, My Country," published posthumously, he emerges equally as conservative in conviction as Jomo Kenyatta does in "Facing Mount Kenya," but more lured by the technological age and by Western ethics. The Lumumba who died was as different from the man we had known a year before-the man of the book-as the wartime commando is unfamiliar to those who knew him only as an insurance salesman.
What interest the Congolese show in Lumumba today is mostly the result of General Joseph Mobutu's decision to deify him: this he has done to help get recognition and support from those foreign African states which created the Lumumba myth as part of the Third World's search for homespun martyrs and external villains. Genuine pro-Lumumbaism in the Congo itself is a regional phenomenon, almost exclusively limited to the former Eastern Province.
Moïse Tshombe equally is surrounded by his legends; and just as there are "white" myths against Lumumba, so there are "white" myths to promote Tshombe. These in their turn tend to reinforce the African myths which picture Tshombe as the agent of forces external to Africa. Yet nothing is more obvious in Tshombe's case than that he is the creation of the setting in which he was born, and his tribal rank within that setting.
Ethnically and geographically, South Katanga, Tshombe's homeland, belongs to the Bantu-language, ki-Swahili, savannah country of eastern and southeastern Africa. The frontier with Zambia, is as artificial as most of the frontiers around the Rhine. No one who was not a secessionist, or at least a strong decentralist, could hope to win popular support in South Katanga. Tshombe, before seceding, was prepared to accept a loose confederal constitution.
Kasa-Vubu would undoubtedly have agreed to this, as he later demonstrated at the Tananarive conference, but Lumumba was not prepared to present such a project to the parliament. The hectic speed of Belgian withdrawal left little time for compromise, and Lumumba's stand, in the circumstances, was reasonable. But in the context of Katangese politics, Tshombe's reaction was popular in the area-although not in North Katanga, which he unwisely took with him. His reactions were those of a regional politician, and would have been impossible without popular, nationalist support.
The response of Léopoldville (Kasa-Vubu and, for the month of power still left to him, Lumumba), of the United Nations, of Washington and of most of the world-to oppose secession-was based on the cogent assumption that one successful breakaway in this almost coastless and politically divided country would spawn others (Albert Kalonji's South Kasai soon proved the point), dividing a potentially rich, already integrated economy into a plethora of "jungle states."
After the mutiny, the panic departures and the breakdown of the economy and administration, Tshombe's decision to lop off the Congo's richest area was naturally popular with local Europeans and with Katanga's foreign firms, which thus became the rebel leader's natural allies. The pattern of events shows clearly how he used them-and even bankrupted some. Nothing suggests that they used him. Indeed, they had no leverage, or none that would not rebound. They could not replace him or even openly oppose him. He, however, could look upon them as expendable. They, after all, could either be replaced or forced to stay. Long before the collapse of the secession, Tshombe had broken all friendly links with the Union Minière and Brussels, where he is still a prohibited immigrant.
From South Africa and other sources he hired mercenaries, who became, of course, as popular in Africa as the Hessians in America. Since then, Nigerians have brought in white mercenaries too, and the mercenary is probably a feature of the African scene for some time to come. (Africa's tribal wars are the product of a pre-twentieth century way of life, and most of the world's wars were fought by mercenaries before the present century.) But whereas Negro American volunteers fighting in a future southern African liberation army would be shot at but not morally criticized by their opponents, Tshombe should have seen that the use of white mercenaries would be given a colonialist connotation; indeed, the mercenaries themselves mostly belonged to the misfit core of unreconstructed colonialists and did not regard their ethnic classification as irrelevant. In addition, Tshombe made an alliance of convenience with Sir Roy Welensky, then premier of the Central African Federation.
Refuting another legend, nothing in the Katangese secession experience denotes that Tshombe had any talent for (or interest in) administration. He was luxury-loving and labelled as venal; like all politicians, he was hooked on power. He had luxury enough in exile-but it must surely have been the lust for power which led him in 1967 to risk the dangers of plotting his return.
Again, nothing in Katanga's brief independent history supports the claim that he was a man of peace, or of law and order. In 1960, while scoring the chaos that reigned in the rest of the Congo, he plunged Katanga into warfare so bloody that ninety thousand are thought to have died in the repression of the Baluba of North Katanga-over one hundred times the number killed, on both sides, in the U.N.'s patient, measured police operation, which drew far more global criticism.
Secession collapsed, not because of a torrent of words from the African states, but because of the perseverance of the United Nations, whose main support-against British and French equivocations-was the United States, notably Ambassador Edmund Gullion and the liberal American press, who buttressed an exasperated Kennedy against the doubts and hesitations of Dean Rusk, Averell Harriman and many others.
Although Tshombe was Nigeria's choice for Congolese premier (on the advice of a pragmatic ambassador, Albert Osakwe) and would still be the selection of some French-African presidents, he clearly has more enemies than friends throughout Africa and is assumed by most non-Congolese Africans to be even more hated in the Congo. But when U. N. Special Representative Robert Gardiner brought Tshombe to Léopoldville in 1962 for talks with the then premier, Cyrille Adoula, the most interesting sidelight to his sojourn in the capital was the volume of cheers this big, jovial mischief-maker drew in the streets, 800 miles away from his tribal home.
Faced with Tshombe's obduracy on the secession issue, Gardiner recalls asking him one day: "Why don't you bid for the overall leadership? No one could resist you." It is not hard to imagine how reluctantly this accurate prediction was made. Tshombe became the most charismatic, perhaps the least unpopular Premier that the country has had to date. But the myth of his admirers is just as wrong, for it was his personal inattention to administration which in considerable measure led to his dismissal. Just as, when younger, he had lost a paternal trading fortune (despite credit and advice from Belgian businessmen and fresh funds from his paramount chief, of whom he was the son-in-law), so his old "Katangese" policy of delegating authority to competing advisers produced, in Léopoldville, the same sort of chaos, particularly in the budget.
Some say that the irresponsible, charismatic Moïse Tshombe and the hardworking, unpopular Joseph Mobutu would make a good partnership, if the one were not ostensibly anxious to hang the other. But Tshombe stands accused of plotting a military take-over and, for foreign African consumption, of killing Lumumba and paying white mercenaries to kill Congolese.
The nature of the final blow in Lumumba's death remains uncertain; but the way in which he went from being a prisoner in Thysville (near Léopoldville) to a grave in Katanga is now fairly well documented. From his house arrest in the confines of a military camp, Lumumba was still campaigning (in January 1961) to oust President Kasa-Vubu, and was winning support among his guards. It was reportedly after rebellious Katanga had refused Kasa- Vubu's offer to send Lumumba to Elisabethville that the President decided to send him instead to Bakwanga, to Albert Kalonji, leader of secessionist South Kasai, the "diamond state" whose Baluba people had suffered several thousand dead in a war with the Lumumba-backed beni-Lulua (the war in which the Soviet aircraft intervened). Colonel Mobutu (as he then was) put Lumumba and two companions on a plane and sent the trio to their deaths.
Why the Belgian-piloted aircraft went to Elisabethville (now Lubumbashi) instead of to the Kasaian airfield of Bakwanga is one of the points that remains unclear. In those days of limited airfields, a plane flying from "Léo" to Bakwanga might possibly file "E'ville" as its flight-plan alternate; it would certainly be easy to find reasons en route for not landing at Bakwanga-a field with uncertain fuel supplies and no on-deck facilities. Whether something like this explains the change of destination or whether the change was part of the pilot's secret orders can only be conjecture now. It would have made no difference to Lumumba's fate if he and his two comrades had been delivered to Bakwanga; but it would have made a difference to Tshombe's "case."
Lumumba was photographed that day emerging, apparently half-dead, from Mobutu's aircraft, having been tortured on the way by Kasaian guards anxious to avenge their (reportedly) 70,000 dead in the 1960 conflict. Tshombe's right-hand man, Godefroid Munongo, is reported by some witnesses to have stabbed the helpless ex-premier. Some versions say a Belgian gave the coup de grâce out of pity. Only one doubtful version says Tshombe was even present. His guilt, minimal beside Kasa-Vubu's, Mobutu's, the guards' and perhaps Munongo's, was limited to having covered the brutal killing with his own authority, and with issuing his "killed by tribesmen while escaping" version of Lumumba's death.
Tshombe's use of mercenaries, the basis for another image of his critics, must inevitably be related to Adoula's use of Cuban pilots (anti-Castro refugees recruited by the CIA) and above all to Mobutu's taking over from Premier Evariste Kimba the mercenary contracts which Kimba inherited from Tshombe. Lumumba had, for a brief spell, Russian aircrews. Almost every country in Africa, from Algeria to Zambia, has foreign military men- instructors, advisers, staff or combat officers. The Congo today has over one hundred Belgian officers.
In the Congo and in Tshombe, we have the epitome of political mythology: he stands condemned for plotting a military coup by a president who seized power in a military coup himself; for killing Lumumba by the man who sent Lumumba to him to be killed (and released Tshombe from his captivity in Coquilhatville a few months later); and for using mercenaries by the man who took over those mercenaries. His apologists defend him, not on the ground of the hypocrisy of his accusers, but by claiming for him qualities he never had, intentions he never asserted and achievements of which there is no record. 1 For more detail, see my forthcoming "The African Revolution" and particularly Brian Bunting's excellent "The Rise of the South African Reich."