cover image The Lumumba Plot: The Secret History of the CIA and a Cold War Assassination

The Lumumba Plot: The Secret History of the CIA and a Cold War Assassination

Stuart A. Reid. Knopf, $30 (624p) ISBN 978-1-524-74881-4

Political opportunism, geopolitics, and hubris converge in this intricate and colorful debut from Foreign Affairs editor Reid. In a sweeping and detailed new investigation, Reid recounts Patrice Lumumba’s rise as an independence leader in the Belgian Congo and his tumultuous two-month tenure in 1960 as the Republic of Congo’s first prime minister. The brief period was beset by an army mutiny, interventions by Belgian and United Nations troops, rebellion in the secessionist province of Katanga, and the coup by Army Chief of Staff Joseph Mobutu that overthrew Lumumba. Mobutu later had him arrested and delivered to the Katangese, who executed him in 1961 (with Belgian officers present). Lumumba has since been cast as a martyr to U.S. imperialist machinations, and fairly so according to Reid: Washington hysterically mistook him for a communist, and although the CIA’s assassination plot never came off, CIA station chief Larry Devlin pressed Mobutu to depose and then arrest Lumumba and did nothing to forestall the murder. But Reid also ascribes Lumumba’s downfall to his mercurial character: he was a brilliant, idealistic politician, but also an erratic statesman who needlessly antagonized powerful people and curtailed civil liberties. Reid’s elegant prose features sharply etched sketches of historical figures, especially of the dynamic, irrepressible Lumumba. This riveting study makes of Lumumba a Shakespearean figure undone by tragic flaws. Photos. (Oct.)