Culture Wars/Current Controversies

Did Britain help murder an African leader and U.N. secretary general?

A new book on the CIA in Africa throws further light on the UK’s covert role in the 1961 killing of Congo’s Patrice Lumumba and raises more questions about the death of UN secretary general Dag Hammarskjöld

Congo’s prime minister Patrice Lumumba with UN Secretary-General Dag Hammarskjöld in 1960. (Photo: Ben Martin / Getty)Congo’s prime minister Patrice Lumumba with UN Secretary-General Dag Hammarskjöld in 1960. (Photo: Ben Martin / Getty)

Britain’s foreign intelligence agency, MI6, overthrew Mohammad Mossadegh, Iran’s first democratically elected prime minister, in 1953 with the help of the CIA. They replaced him with the Shah, an autocrat protected by his infamous secret police, Savak.

A few years later, MI6 conspired with the CIA to overthrow, even assassinate, Patrice Lumumba, Congo’s first democratically elected prime minister.

“Like Lumumba, Mossadegh had been democratically elected and was a champion of secular unity in his country”, writes academic Dr Susan Williams in her new book White Malice, a devastating, superbly researched account of how the CIA, MI6 and Belgium – Congo’s former colonial power – destroyed the newly-independent country’s legitimate government.

Lumumba was the victim of a long and vicious campaign to discredit him before he was captured, tortured, and assassinated in January 1961.

MI6 files on its role in the events leading to his murder remain suppressed; many have almost certainly been destroyed. Although the CIA still withholds files, documents on the plot have been released in the US.

White Malice exposes the extent of the CIA’s network of agents and beneficiaries of its lavish bribes. They included Joseph-Désiré Mobutu, head of the Congolese army who played a key role in the coup against Lumumba.

Mobutu seized power for himself in a CIA-backed coup in 1965 and ruled Congo, later calling himself Mobutu Sese Seko and his country Zaire, until his death in 1997.

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