THE ASSASSINATION OF LUMUMBA

Ludo De Witte, Author, Ann Wright, Translator, Renee Fenby, Translator , trans. by Ann Wright and Renée Fenby. Verso $25 (224p) ISBN 978-1-85984-618-6

In January 1961, seven months after Congo won independence from Belgium, the country's first elected head of state, Patrice Lumumba, was killed in the secessionist province of Katanga because of fears that he would ally himself with Russia and nationalize Belgian corporate interests in Congo. Using U.N. and Belgian foreign ministry archives, De Witte, a sociologist whose book, when published in Belgium, led to an official inquiry into the assassination, offers evidence that the Belgian government was directly involved in Lumumba's transfer to Katanga—a copper-rich state under Belgian control—and in his execution. De Witte points, for instance, to an October 1960 telegram, signed by the Belgian Minister of African Affairs, that called for the "élimination définitive" of Lumumba. The African leader was, De Witte shows, tortured and executed under Belgian supervision. Lumumba's body was exhumed twice and finally dismembered and dissolved in sulfuric acid by a Belgian police commissioner, who wrote an account of his involvement and later bragged on Belgian TV that he had kept two of Lumumba's teeth. According to De Witte, the U.N., under Dag Hammarskjöld, which also wanted to keep the Congo under Western control, denied Lumumba the protection that would have saved his life. While the book lacks an analysis of who Lumumba was and what made the West fear his independence so much, and while it often reads like a dissertation, the revelations about Belgium's attempts (with U.N. complicity) to control its former colony offer a pointed dissection of how the Cold War was played out by proxy. (July)

Forecast:A biopic, Lumumba, will open in New York on June 27 and in L.A. on July 20, with national release to follow. Publicity surrounding the film, plus a focusing of American attention on Africa by several recent books, may help generate sales.

Reviewed on: 06/25/2001
Release date: 09/01/2001
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