How CIA plans undermined the decolonisation of Africa, in collaboration also competition with the European colonial powers. The British historian, Susan Williams, describes how the USA and the Western colonial powers strangled Africa even after independence in order to secure Africa's raw materials and markets, including with political assassinations, such as of Patrice Lumumba. Now Congo is back in the headlines - not for its rich uranium deposits, so coveted by Washington in the 1940s and 50s, but for the cobalt and other minerals that are essential for a green energy transition. Cobalt mining is an ugly business. Of Congo's 255,000 cobalt miners, about 40,000 are children. They work in almost slave-like conditions, earning less than $2 a day. Their intensive work is extremely dangerous and there have been allegations that AFRICOM (from Stuttgart) is indirectly monitoring these mines. The context here is crucial. The D.R.C. is an extremely poor country. Life expectancy is 60 years. But the U.S. is greedy for the resources of the D.R.C., and has been since the 1940s.
For those who believe Africa was decolonized 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 twentieth century, had no intention of losing their investments or access to Africa’s vast mineral wealth. So, with the help of groups like the CIA, Europeans and Americans covertly recolonized the continent, with bribes, murders, loans, privatizations (aka looting) and the installation of western-friendly regimes. The latest and most noxious of these colonial iterations is the U.S. military’s AFRICOM, although a French oligarch “controls 16 West African ports through bribery and influence peddling,” as Margaret Kimberley recounted in Black Agenda Report, December 1. “Canadian companies control gold mining in Burkina Faso, Mali and D.R.C.…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 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 – toward the Soviets. That sealed his fate. “President Eisenhower authorized the assassination of Lumumba,” writes Susan Williams in her newly published book, White Malice: the CIA and the Covert Recolonization 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 U.S. government and installed by the CIA.” Now Congo again leaps into headlines – not because of its rich uranium deposits, so coveted by Washington in the 1940s and ‘50s, 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 labor conditions, earning less than $2 per day. Their intensive labor is extremely hazardous and there have been charges that AFRICOM indirectly oversees these mines. Context is key here. D.R.C. is an extremely poor country. Life expectancy is 60 years. But the U.S. craves D.R.C. resources, as it has, going back to the 1940s. So pretty much anything goes. Once again in Congo, Washington finds itself snarling imbecilically at a communist competitor – this time China. But unlike the struggle with the U.S.S.R., which had safely sequestered its economy from western capitalism, China is the U.S.’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 outmaneuvered by a supposed foe – when in fact China, recently an American friend until idiotic sachems in the U.S. 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 U.S. 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 toward 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 toward shared goals. Williams’ 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 1950s and ‘60s 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 ‘50s and ‘60s, 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 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 judgment. Which is why, as Williams notes, when CIA hands got together to boast of their dirty exploits, the CIA’s man in Congo, Devlin, so pivotal in schemes to trap and murder Lumumba, always carefully kept his mouth shut.
Susan Williams (historian)
is a historian and author, based in London. Her latest book is White Malice: The CIA and the Covert Recolonization of Africa, published in 2021. Her other publications include: The People's King: The True Story of the Abdication, a book about the abdication of Edward VIII, published in 2003; and Colour Bar: The Triumph of Seretse Khama and His Nation, published in 2006, on which the 2016 film A United Kingdom is based. Her book Who Killed Hammarskjold? (2011), about the death in 1961 of the then-United Nations Secretary-General, Dag Hammarskjöld, triggered a new UN investigation in 2015. In Spies in the Congo: America’s Atomic Mission in World War II. she tells the intricate tale of a special unit of the US Office of Strategic Services (OSS), the forerunner of the CIA, that was set up to purchase and secretly remove all the uranium from the unique uranium mine in Katanga province Shinkolobwe in Belgian Congo that the US could get its hands on and keep out of the hands of the Axis powers. The uranium was to be used in the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Williams is a senior research fellow at the Institute of Commonwealth Studies, University of London. Books