cover image White Malice: The CIA and the Covert Recolonization of Africa

White Malice: The CIA and the Covert Recolonization of Africa

Susan Williams. PublicAffairs, $35 (672p) ISBN 978-1-5417-6829-1

The quest for African unity was undermined by America’s imperialist machinations, according to this labyrinthine study, which focuses on the Congo Crisis and the execution of Patrice Lumumba in 1961. University of London historian Williams (Spies in the Congo) chronicles Lumumba’s rise to power as Congo’s first prime minister following independence from Belgium in June of 1960, and his rapid downfall amid an army mutiny, a Belgian invasion, a secession movement backed by Western mining companies in the province of Katanga, and a coup launched by future dictator Joseph Mobutu. It’s a chaotic saga with many antagonists, but Williams focuses on the U.S. government, which suspected Lumumba of pro-Soviet leanings and wanted control of the Shinkolobwe uranium mine in Katanga. She documents how the CIA funneled support to Mobutu, bribed Congolese politicians to oppose Lumumba, and plotted to assassinate him using poisoned toothpaste, but her allegations of skullduggery sometimes outrun the evidence, as when she speculates that the agency may have played a role in the premature deaths of other African leaders and the novelist Richard Wright. Hampered by Williams’s styling of Lumumba as the great hope for Pan-Africanism and an eye-glazing tangle of code names and shadowy ties, this is a reductionist take on a complex tragedy. (Aug.)