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8837: The Rise and Violent Fall of Patrice Lumumba (fwd)

From: Lucas Stanley <maloukwi@yahoo.com>

New York Times August 2, 2001


              The Rise and Violent Fall of Patrice

              By BILL BERKELEY

                  here is a scene in the director Raul
                  Peck's chilling biographical film
              "Lumumba" in which the title character,
              doomed Congolese Prime Minister Patrice
              Lumumba, played by Eriq Ebouaney,
confers alone with his army chief of
              staff, the soon-to-be military strongman
Joseph-Désiré Mobutu. It is
              September 1960. Their fledgling
independent nation is disintegrating into
              chaos. "I am at your side," coos the
suavely malign Mobutu, played by Alex
              Descas. Lumumba replies: "You are no
longer beside me. You're behind my
              back." Mobutu returns soon thereafter to
place Lumumba under house

              In The New York Times Index for 1960,
the Congo occupies more than 12
              pages of entries, more than any other
country except the United States, and
              just slightly more than Fidel Castro's
Cuba. Four decades later, with Congo
              again consumed by a more obscure but no
less ruinous war, Mr. Peck's film
              provides a disturbing reminder of a
turning point in history that helps explain
              how that African nation wound up on the
road to its present ruin.

              Mr. Peck, a Haiti-born director who
examined that country's Duvalier
              dictatorship in his 1993 film "The Man
on the Shore," has said his aim was to
              produce a political thriller that
illuminates how power works behind the
              scenes in such places. 

              "Lumumba" recounts the swift rise and
fall of the man who became Congo's
              first and last legitimately elected
prime minister after it won independence
              from Belgium in 1960. 

              The film begins with images from the
Belgian colonial era — pith-helmeted
              white officers lording it over barefoot
natives in scenes that recall one of
              Africa's most violent and predatory
colonial orders. The narrative picks up
              the energetic and articulate Lumumba as
a young salesman for a Belgian beer
              company who emerged in 1959 as a popular
nationalist leader. Jailed and
              brutally beaten, he was then freed to
participate in negotiations in Brussels
              that would lead to the Congo's
independence. Lumumba's party won the
              largest number of votes in the country's
first free elections, and he became
              prime minister at the age of 35.

              Within days, the vast new nation began
to unravel. The army mutinied.
              Belgium's military intervened to protect
its citizens and encourage the
              mineral-rich province of Katanga, led by
the conniving opportunist Moïse
              Tshombe, to secede. United Nations
troops intervened to little effect. Nikita
              Khrushchev decided to send Soviet
planes, weapons and advisers to help
              Lumumba, seeming to confirm the worst
fears of the Eisenhower

              Lumumba and his neophyte nation, which
at independence had barely a
              dozen university graduates, were caught
up in a web of cold-war intrigue and
              neocolonial knavery. Just six months
after he took office, Lumumba was
              murdered by Congolese rivals with the
collusion of the United States and

              Americans tend to think of Africa's
current wars as remote and irrelevant to
              our interests. "Lumumba" recalls that in
fact Americans have been centrally
              involved in events that set the stage
for these wars. The movie is grounded in
              well-documented historical fact. The
Senate Intelligence Committee
              concluded in 1975 that there were
grounds for "a reasonable inference" that
              President Eisenhower had authorized
Lumumba's assassination, and that the
              director of the Central Intelligence
Agency, Allen Dulles, had approved a
              plot that involved sending a doctor
equipped with vials of poison to
              Léopoldville, the Congo's capital. The
committee found no evidence of direct
              American involvement in Lumumba's
eventual murder, though. Instead, it
              said Washington had supplied money and
arms that enabled Mobutu to
              consolidate power. Mobutu in turn
delivered Lumumba into the hands of his
              Congolese rivals and their Belgian

              In martyrdom, Lumumba achieved iconic
status across Africa and much of
              the third world. It is not necessary to
accept Mr. Peck's largely uncritical
              rendering of his personal character, nor
to assume that Lumumba would have
              proved an enlightened leader. What we do
know is that his murder paved
              the way for three decades of Mobutu's
kleptocratic despotism, in what he
              called Zaire, and the chaos that has
engulfed Congo since he fled in 1997.

              Some 2.5 million Congolese may have died
in three years of fighting, famine
              and disease in wars that have drawn in
six neighboring countries and profited
              business as far afield as Belgium,
Pakistan and Russia. 

              "We thought we controlled our destiny,"
the embattled Lumumba laments at
              one point in this powerful film, "but
other powerful interests pulled the
              strings." Forty years on, Congolese can
be forgiven if they feel the same way

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