A new book published in London recently tells how the famous poison dispatched by Washington to kill Lumumba in 1960, was in fact "designed to produce one of the diseases endemic to central Africa so that Lumumba's death would look like an unfortunate accident". Even the CIA station chief in Kinshasa at the time was so shocked that he shouted: "Jesus Christ, isn't this unusual?"
For those known contemptuously as "conspiracy theorists", Michela Wrong's book, In The Footsteps of Mr Kurtz -- Living On the Brink of Disaster In The Congo, published recently by Fourth Estate, is a godsend.
For years, since the advent of HIV and Aids in 1980, the "conspiracy theorists" have sought to provide evidence to show that HIV was developed as part of the American germ warfare/population control programme which started in 1945 -- a programme which, they say, has had dire consequences for today's world, particularly Africa where Aids is said to be the biggest killer.
The American authorities, as expected, have dismissed the claims so vehemently that the "conspiracy theorists" have looked like "nutters".
Yet, from time to time, revelations such as contained in Michela Wrong's new book keep coming up, which tend to lend some credibility to the "discredited" claims.
Michela is not one you can possibly call a "conspiracy theorist". The official introduction that comes with her book says: "As a foreign correspondent for Reuters news agency, Michela began her career reporting on papal pronouncements in Rome and fashion collections in Paris. She later moved to Africa, where she spent six years covering events across the continent for Reuters, BBC and the Financial Times. She is now based in London."
While researching the book, Michela spoke to a lot of the movers and shakers who made Congo what it is today. One of them is Larry Devlin, the former CIA station chief in Kinshasa, who is now enjoying his retirement in Virginia, USA.
"[Devlin's] role in the traumatic events of Congo's post-independence period," Michela writes, "was to leave him one of the most notorious CIA men in history, an example of how far the United States was willing to go in that epoch to sabotage the Soviet Union's plans for global communist expansion.
"Mr Devlin's life had been one of commotion: a bete noire for a generation of Africans still fuming over the way superpower intervention dictated events on the continent during the Cold War, he had been accused by conspiracy theorists of engineering the murder of Patrice Lumumba -- Congo's first, inspirational prime minister."
'Lumumba was no communist'
From his home in Virginia, Devlin told Michela that Lumumba was no communist. "Poor Lumumba," Devlin said. "He was no communist. He was just a poor jerk who thought, 'I can use these people'. I'd seen that happen in Eastern Europe. It didn't work very well for them, and it didn't work for him."
What really shocks is Devlin's admission that he personally handled the famous poison (see NA, Feb & Jul/Aug 2000) that the CIA sent from Washington to Kinshasa in 1960 to kill Lumumba. The justification was that Lumumba was a "dangerous loose canon."
Says Michela: "With Mobutu in charge, Lumumba was now in detention, but his Napoleon-like ability to whip up the crowds and convert waverers to his cause -- even at times his own jailers -- meant he remained a dangerous loose canon.
"In August of that year , the CIA director himself had told Devlin that Lumumba's removal was an 'urgent and prime objective', an instruction that presumably could have covered anything from encouraging Lumumba's rivals to topple him by legal means to funding a coup.
"Now Washington moved to direct action. Shortly after Mobutu's takeover [on 14 September 1960], Devlin was advised by headquarters that 'Joe from Paris' would be coming to Leopoldville on an urgent mission. 'I was told I'd recognise him, and I did. He was waiting at a cafe across from the embassy and he walked to my car and we went to a quiet place where we could talk'.
Michela continues: "The man was a top CIA scientist and he had come to Kinshasa with a poison for Lumumba. Devlin, he said, was to arrange for it to be slipped into the prime minister's food, or his toothpaste. The poison was cleverly designed to produce one of the diseases endemic to central Africa so that Lumumba's death would look like an unfortunate accident. 'Jesus Christ, isn't this unusual?' was Devlin's astonished reply.
"Joe from Paris acknowledged that it was [unusual], but said authorisation came from President Eisenhower himself.
"It was a job the usually conscientious Devlin somehow never got around to performing. He insisted, and has testified before a US Senate committee hearing, that while he held no moral objections to the principle of political assassination when demanded by circumstances, the killing of Lumumba was never a step he personally considered necessary or intended to carry out. 'If I had had Hitler in my sights in 1941 and I'd pulled the trigger, maybe 20 or 30 million people would be alive today. But I just never felt it was justified with Lumumba. I was hoping the Congolese would settle it amongst themselves, one way or another'."
Although Devlin had access to Lumumba's entourage, he stalled. "The months passed, with the CIA considering first...