In This Review

Death in the Congo: Murdering Patrice Lumumba
Death in the Congo: Murdering Patrice Lumumba
By Emmanuel Gerard and Bruce Kuklick
Harvard University Press, 2015, 296 pp

The story of Patrice Lumumba’s death is fascinating because it seems emblematic of the Cold War–era decolonization of Africa. The tale is now fairly familiar: Lumumba, Congo’s first democratically elected leader, was deposed in a military coup in 1960, imprisoned, and then executed. Complicity was widely shared among the Congolese army’s chief of staff, Joseph Mobutu, who soon consolidated his own power; local authorities in Katanga Province, who hoped to secede; and various Belgian, British, and U.S. agents following more or less direct orders from their capitals. Even the UN, which Lumumba invited into the country to help address the collapse of order, did little to save him. What is distinctive and new in this very readable account is the authors’ unrelentingly negative portraits of all the actors involved. No one emerges unscathed: not the bumbling Congolese, not the Cold War–crazed Americans, not the petulant Europeans—and, worst of all, not even Lumumba himself, whom Gerard and Kuklick portray as a gifted speaker but also a self-promoter who was generally clueless about the exercise of power.