How CIA Plots Undermined African Decolonisation


For those who believe Africa was decolonised decades ago, it’s time to wake up from dream world. True, colonial European powers no longer impose direct rule on African nations, which are nominally ‘independent.’ But those European countries, beaten back from their African colonies in the second half of the 20th century, had no intention of losing their investments or access to Africa’s vast mineral wealth. So, with the help of groups like the Central Intelligence Agency, Europeans and Americans covertly recolonised the continent, with bribes, murders, loans, privatisations, also known as looting, and the installation of western-friendly regimes.

The latest and most noxious of these colonial iterations is the US military’s AFRICOM, although a French oligarch ‘controls 16 West African ports through bribery and influence peddling,’ as Margaret Kimberley recounted in the Black Agenda Report. ‘Canadian companies control gold mining in Burkina Faso, Mali and DRC. British soldiers are still stationed in Kenya.’ So the west never stopped strangling African nations. In this effort, the vile 1961 assassination of Patrice Lumumba was key. Needless to say, the CIA was involved up to its eyeballs.

As the Congo’s first freely elected leader after the Belgian rout, Lumumba made the honest mistake of trusting western democratic ideals. Then, when he discovered they were phony, he tilted — very slightly — towards the Soviets. That sealed his fate. ‘President Eisenhower authorised the assassination of Lumumba,’ writes Susan Williams in her newly published book, White Malice: the CIA and the Covert Recolonisation of Africa. The consequences were ghastly. After Lumumba’s murder and dismemberment, for well over three decades, ‘the Congo was ruled with an iron fist by Mobutu — a dictator chosen by the US government and installed by the CIA.’

Now the Congo again leaps into headlines — not because of its rich uranium deposits, so coveted by Washington in the 1940s and 1950s, but because of cobalt and other minerals essential to a green energy transition. Mining cobalt is an ugly business. Roughly 40,000 cobalt miners are children, out of 255,000 Congolese cobalt miners. They work in nearly slave-labour conditions, earning less than $2 per day. Their intensive labour is extremely hazardous and there have been charges that AFRICOM indirectly oversees these mines. Context is key here. The Democratic Republic of the Congo is an extremely poor country. But the United States craves DRC resources, as it has, going back to the 1940s. So pretty much anything goes.

Once again in the Congo, Washington finds itself snarling imbecilically at a communist competitor — this time China. But unlike the struggle with the USSR, which had safely sequestered its economy from western capitalism, China is the US’s biggest trading partner; the two economies are inextricably intertwined. Insulting and threatening someone you regularly do business with may seem cretinous to the casual observer, but somehow it’s the best the American politicos can come up with lately.

So Washington fulminates in fury at being outmanoeuvred by a supposed foe, when in fact China, recently an American friend until idiotic sachems in the US declared it otherwise, has long invested in Africa, occasionally quite generously handed its infrastructure over to local governments, and, contrary to western financial barbarism, forgiven loans when African countries couldn’t pay. The US government long knew about the nature of these Chinese investments, but lately goes out of its way to distort and lie about them.

Trump’s secretary of state, Mike Pompeo fibbed about a port in Sri Lanka, which those supposedly devious Chinese had, he lied, repossessed as part of their ‘debt trap’ for Africa. This repossession never happened. Even comedian Trevor Noah flogged this bogus story, demanding to know what is going to be done about how those Asiatics ensnare poor nations to steal their infrastructure. And the most recent propaganda has been some nonsense about an airport in Uganda, supposedly stolen by China. It wasn’t.

The description of the CIA’s viperous attitude towards Lumumba, made by journalist Cameron Duodu and recounted in Williams’ book, unfortunately, still holds for today: ‘His country has got resources. We want them. He might not give them to us. So let us go get him.’ In addition, Washington bigwigs regard the entire African continent as a stage for their great game competition with China, which is disastrous. Africans of all nationalities will only suffer as a result.

So a history like White Malice could not arrive at a more opportune time. It shows how Ghanian president Kwame Nkrumah — ousted by a CIA plot in 1966 — dreamed of a united states of Africa. While Washington ensured that never emerged, African countries can still coordinate and work towards shared goals. Williams’s account spells out the cost of not doing so.

This book showcases three main villains — CIA director Allan Dulles, diplomat and arts patron William Burden, a one-time director of New York City’s Museum of Modern Art, which boosted the abstract expressionism the CIA so vigorously funded and promoted, and the crudely murderous Leopoldville CIA station chief, Larry Devlin. But behind these three monsters loomed a vast, homicidal military empire, piloted by capitalist ideologues, who did not value human life, to put it mildly, especially if that life belonged to black, brown or communist people.

In that sense, little has changed from the 1950–1960s to the present. Which should be cause for alarm. It probably is, to the Chinese, and to the Ethiopians, who find their prosperous country in imperial crosshairs, much as another once wealthy African nation, Libya, recently did. But otherwise, most of the world sleeps through this repeat performance of the African tragedy.

It shouldn’t. The CIA committed atrocious crimes in the 1950s and 1960s, and not just on the African continent. Williams cites the suspiciously premature deaths of left-leaning African notables, as well as that, in Paris, of the great African American writer, Richard Wright. And one of the most despicable of the CIA’s many murders was that of the Congo’s first elected leader. ‘Lumumba, Malcom X believed, was the “greatest black man who ever walked the African continent,”’ Williams writes. Malcom X was not alone in this judgement. Which is why, as Williams notes, when CIA hands got together to boast of their dirty exploits, the CIA’s man in the Congo, Devlin, so pivotal in schemes to trap and murder Lumumba, always carefully kept his mouth shut.