Mobutu vs. Lumumba

This Day in 1960

With the backing of the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), a Congolese
military officer named Joseph Mobutu ordered the democratically-elected
prime minister of the Congo, Patrice Lumumba, placed under house arrest in the
capital of Leopoldville on September 14, 1960. Two days later, Mobutu carried
out a full coup, suspending both parliament and the constitution.

The coup was the culmination of three months of orchestration by the US, the
United Nations, and the old colonial ruler, Belgium. Lumumba's nationalism, it
was determined, posed a threat to powerful European mining interests in the
Congo. At the same time, the bringing down of Lumumba would serve as a warning
to the rest of the African states, which were then gaining formal independence
from European colonizers in rapid succession.

After Lumumba's election victory and inauguration in June, mineral-rich Katanga
province seceded in the south, backed by Belgium. Belgians fled the country, and
a "capital strike" brought the economy to a virtual halt. As civil society
disintegrated, sections of the military revolted, forcing Lumumba to rely ever
more-heavily on the "loyal" element, headed by Mobutu.

The UN under General Secretary Dag Hammarskjöld actively collaborated with the
coup. The UN helped to precipitate the crisis by refusing to allow loyal
Congolese soldiers use of its airplanes for transport, in effect siding with
Katanga and other secessionist movements. In response, Lumumba appealed for
support from the Soviet Union, which sent material and "advisors." Then, after
president Joseph Kasa-Vubu's attempt to sack Lumumba on September 5
failed—Lumumba winning a vote of confidence in parliament—the UN shut down the
capital's radio station and blocked Soviet planes supporting Lumumba from its

In one of his first acts after the coup, Mobutu ordered the Soviets out of the
Congo. The CIA had found its man.

[Sources: various]


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