Courtesy Reuters

Who Lost Congo?

The Consequences of 
Covert Action



Stephen Weissman should be congratulated for his excellent research on the CIA’s involvement in Congo’s internal politics immediately after inde­pendence (“What Really Happened in Congo,” July/August 2014). Nevertheless, his attribution of blame for all of Congo’s initial instability and the subsequent corrupt dictatorship of President Joseph Mobutu to the CIA is wildly off the mark.

Congo’s problems were a direct outcome of Belgium’s botched transition of Congo to independence in 1960. Unlike the British and the French, who started preparing their African colonies for independence in the early 1950s, the Belgians initially planned to delay independence for Congo until the 1980s, at the earliest. The revenue from the colony’s rich copper and diamond resources was too great to contemplate losing. But in 1958, Belgium’s internal politics turned leftward and anticolonialist, and the government was forced to move Congo toward independence with only two short years to prepare. The result was disastrous.

The Belgians decided that they could transition Congo to self-rule after independence by maintaining their expatriate administrative control, including within the security forces, for enough years to enable the Congolese to eventually take over. This was a naive assumption. The Congolese military’s rank and file mutinied against their Belgian officers from day one. The Belgian business community tried to preserve their investments in the copper-rich Katanga Province and the diamond-rich Kasai Province by financing and arming local secessionist groups. Prime Minister Patrice Lumumba was as responsible as anyone else for the chaos, given his fierce anti-Belgian rhetoric. As a result of his sympathies, Soviet diplomats started spreading money around in support of Lumumba, pushing U.S. President Dwight Eisenhower to the brink of sending in NATO forces. Lumumba also caused the Belgian business community to hire mercenaries to help the secessionist ambitions. By August 1960, the country was a total mess.

What stabilized Congo during its first five years was the successful UN peacekeeping mission initiated by the Eisenhower administration.

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