152. Memorandum of Conversation0


  • Conversation Between the Secretary and Prime Minister Lumumba of The Republic of The Congo1


  • United States
    • The Secretary
    • The Under Secretary
    • Mr. James K. Penfield, Acting Assistant Secretary, AF
    • Mr. C. Vaughan Ferguson, Jr., Director, AFS
  • Congo
    • Prime Minister Lumumba
    • Mr. Kasongo, President of the Chamber of Deputies
    • Mr. Kiwewe, Min. of State, Ministry of For. Commerce
    • Mr. Okito, Vice President of the Senate

The Secretary opened the conversation by telling Mr. Lumumba that it was a pleasure to have him here and by thanking him for the kind statement he had made at the airport.2 The Secretary added that [Page 360] he would be glad to discuss any problems confronting the government of the Congo.

The Prime Minister replied by expressing the emotion which he and all members of his delegation had felt in response to the welcome afforded them at the airport. This gave them, he said, the impression that the United States recognized the Congo on the same footing as any other sovereign state and that among the various difficulties the Congo faces, they know that they will find the aid they desire from the United States. He said that the people of the Congo have enormous confidence in the United States even in the most remote villages, and they know that the United States is anti-colonialist. The Prime Minister went on to say that the struggling of the Congolese had been only against a particular regime and that all who struggle for liberation are treated like bandits. The colonizers are able to present their version of the anti-colonial stories in the international press, leaving the other side silent. He remarked that the Congo can only build its independence with the help of the civilized world but that in so doing should be careful to ask themselves exactly what the aims are of the various countries offering assistance. He said that the Congo must be vigilant in consolidating its independence.

Mr. Lumumba went on to say that the first condition of the Congo is for peace and order. If there is permanent political unrest, no one will have confidence in the country and the foreign capital the Congolese need and want will stay away. In this connection the Prime Minister said that his Government would provide all guarantees necessary for the security of foreign investments. The Prime Minister pointed out that with independence there had been a complete break with Belgium insofar as the latter’s handling of Congolese affairs was concerned and the Congo could not accept any arrangement whereby they would deal with third countries through intermediaries. He said that the Congolese must learn to run things themselves.

Turning to the recent troubles in the Congo, Mr. Lumumba pointed out that Article Six of the Treaty of Friendship signed between Belgium and the Republic of the Congo gave the Belgians the right to intervene only if specifically requested to do so by the Congolese Government. He said no request was ever made. He then described the events leading up to the revolt of the Force Publique, pointing out that after the Round Table conference the Executive College, which was set up as a temporary government, tried to have a plan approved to Africanize the army, but that this was rejected three times by General Janssens. He said when he became Prime Minister he also assumed the Portfolio of Minister of Defense, with General Janssens subject to his orders. He told the General to obtain some African officers, but the General baldly refused, telling the army there would be no change. In the days following independence, the Force Publique [Page 361] thereupon revolted. The Prime Minister said that he and Chief of State Kasavubu studied the situation in order to seek its cause. They then toured the country trying to calm the army down.

The Prime Minister then went on to describe the serious emotional impact on the Congolese population when Belgium intervened with armed forces. He said that the Congolese population in many areas panicked under the impression that the Belgian troops were going to kill them. He said that many Belgian civil servants had fled needlessly from the country and that the reports of atrocities by the Force Publique were largely Belgian propaganda. Since there were no Congolese magistrates or lawyers, Mr. Lumumba said he asked the Belgian magistrates to bring all guilty persons to trial and to punish them, his aim being to protect everyone whether white or black. The magistrates, however, held no trials and condemned no one, although soldiers were placed at their disposal. The Prime Minister denied that there had been any molestation of white women.

The Prime Minister then remarked that the populace remained very excited and that Congolese soldiers were being killed daily. He said that he had called for calm and decided to appeal to the United Nations. Belgium, however, he said, still refuses to withdraw her troops although requested to do so by the Security Council and both houses of the Congolese Parliament. He said the situation had been aggravated by a letter from the Belgian Ambassador in Leopoldville3 to the effect that there would be no withdrawal of Belgian troops until such time as the United Nations had the situation in hand and that the United States, which stands for liberty and independence, was supporting Belgium in her desire to maintain her troops in the Congo, contrary to the wishes of the Security Council. Mr. Lumumba said that on receipt of this letter he and Mr. Kasavubu decided to study the situation and that if the United States did not wish to help, they would appeal to the United Nations, to the Soviet Union, and to any other country that would. He said that the Congolese Government had explained its position accordingly. Mr. Lumumba then said, in order to dissipate these misunderstandings he decided to go to the United States and establish contract with the Department. He then said that he subsequently learned from the Secretary-General of the United Nations that the statement in the Belgian letter had been incorrect and that the Security Council, including the United States, had voted unanimously to request the withdrawal of Belgian troops. Mr. Lumumba then read the letter in question, giving the Belgian interpretation of the Security Council resolution as permitting them to remain [Page 362] as long as 3 to 6 months. He said that if the United States had, in fact, supported this position, there would have been a rupture between it and the Congo.

The Prime Minister then went on to say there is in the Congo a glad feeling of friendship for Belgium and that there is no wish to break these ties. The Congolese, he said, wish the Belgians to know that they have everything to gain and nothing to lose by continuing this friendship. He added, however, that the continued killing of Congolese soldiers by Belgians makes the situation extremely difficult and the Congo still might be forced to appeal to all outside powers for assistance. Mr. Lumumba said that 5 minutes after the Belgian troops leave, order will be restored. He maintained that the secession of Katanga does not represent the will of the people of that territory and that Tshombe is being used as a Belgian tool. The Congo, he said, with its 6 provinces, forms a single state and is so recognized by all countries, including the United States. Tshombe is simply an instrument of the Belgians, and there is no Katanga state, according to the Prime Minister. Mr. Lumumba added that if Belgian troops remain in the Congo, there may be general riots. He said that if the United Nations does not provide satisfaction, the United States or some other country will have to help. He added that there is no further danger to any Belgian citizens and no reason, therefore, why the Belgian troops cannot be withdrawn.

The Prime Minister said that he desired the immediate restoration of order so that the capital may flow in in order to enable the country to carry out its plan of industrialization. He said it is his aim to seek a flow of American capital and technicians of all kinds so that the Congo, which has great natural resources, may be able to develop them. He pointed out that Belgium had impounded the Congo’s gold reserves and refused to permit the transfer of the seat of the Banque Centrale from Brussels to Léopoldville. He said the Congolese could not understand, and it appears that their entire patrimony has been confiscated by Belgium. As a result, the Government has no money of [with] which to pay its officials and workers; there is unemployment; a great shortage of doctors, etc. He said that absence of technicians created a serious situation. The Prime Minister said that the Belgian Government is doing everything in its power to devalue the Congolese franc and that he planned, therefore, to have conversations with the International Bank and [International] Monetary Fund. He will ask these agencies to send fiscal and customs experts and probably persons to control river traffic.

The Prime Minister said that he did not wish the Congo to emerge from a colonial status only to fall under the domination of some other form of dictatorship or ideological influence. We are, he said, Africans and wish to remain so and [with] our policy being one of positive [Page 363] neutralism. He remarked that he knew that the Congo had a friend in the United States because it, too, struggled to obtain its independence. He said that he sincerely wanted the United States to help. The Congo, he said, does not wish to be exploited and that if any conditions are attached to assistance it will not be accepted. He said that the United States needs Congolese resources such as uranium, and the Congo needs American products. He said he hoped the United States would use its influence with the Belgian Government [so] that the latter might understand that its actions are contrary to its own best interests and contrary to the interests of the West in general. He said that Belgium is trying to foster animosity between the Congo and the United States, even though the Congo desires reconciliation with Belgium.

For all of these reasons, the Prime Minister said, it is essential that Belgian troops leave the Congo, and he earnestly solicited United States assistance in persuading the Belgians to do so.4

The Secretary replied that he appreciated the Prime Minister’s frankness, and he hoped he could talk of the role the United States could play in assisting the Congo. He pointed out that following the Security Council’s resolution,5 the United States volunteered all possible assistance to the Secretary-General, although making it clear that troops should be from small nations, particularly African. The United States is, however, the Secretary said, providing every logistical support at the express request of the Secretary-General. He added the United States did not plan to inject itself into the situation except where agreeable to the Secretary-General. The Secretary stated that he understood the Secretary-General was currently studying the Congo’s requirements and that Mr. Dillon has talked with him on this subject.

Mr. Dillon said that he had talked with the Secretary-General the day before, explaining that the United States was prepared to give the Congo full support through the United Nations during the emergency period while the United Nations remains responsible. He said that Mr. Hammarskjold had told him that the United Nations was going to take the responsibility for some time, not only for technical assistance but also for such financial aid as might be necessary. He reported that the Secretary-General felt that it might be better to channel all aid through the United Nations so that there would be one central group aware of our problems. Mr. Dillon said that he agreed with this and that he told the Secretary-General that the United States would be prepared to extend assistance at his request.

[Page 364]

Prime Minister Lumumba expressed his appreciation for the above remarks and said he believed that there remained only a few questions of detail to be worked out with the Secretary-General. He repeated, however, the urgent financial requirements of the Congolese Government in order to meet current obligations and payrolls. He said he was optimistic about the future of his country since it is inherently rich, with the emergency being only of a temporary nature. He said that he wished to express his sincere gratitude, as well as that of the Chief of State of the Congo, who will be very happy when they learn of these discussions. Mr. Lumumba reiterated his concern over the status of the Congolese franc, and he said again that he would discuss it with the IMF.

The Secretary then said that he understood that Mr. Hammarskjold was asking a high-ranking member of his staff who was a specialist in IBRD and IMF matters, to go to Leopoldville to advise the Government of the Congo on this subject. Mr. Lumumba replied that perhaps if this were the case it would not be necessary for him to see the Fund in Washington. Mr. Dillon answered by saying that he believed it would still be most advisable that the Prime Minister establish contacts with both the Fund and the Bank.6

The Prime Minister then said he hoped to obtain an official loan from the United States, as well as private loans, during his visit. Mr. Dillon expressed his feeling that during the present period of emergency, with the United Nations willing to take the responsibility for improving the situation, the United States believed it would be more helpful if it operated through the Secretary-General. This would not, he said, be the case beyond the period of which the United Nations was willing to maintain responsibility and that at a later date it would be practical for the two countries to have direct financial relations. For the time being, however, Mr. Dillon said, the United States Government funds would be available through the United Nations. He said this was not, of course, the case with respect to loans from private sources.

Mr. Dillon then said that he wished to raise the question of the American businessman, Mr. Detwiler, who had signed a contract with the Congolese Government, claiming the moral support of the State Department. Mr. Dillon said that he wished to point out that this man had no connection with the United States Government and no access to the United States Government funds. He said that he wished to make this very clear and suggested that the Prime Minister make any [Page 365] inquiries he wanted to in this country concerning Mr. Detwiler’s ability to carry out his commitments. Mr. Dillon went on to say that there was one matter in which the United States could be of direct assistance outside of the United Nations, namely through the 300 scholarships which had been offered on the occasion of the Congo’s independence. He said that he thought these scholarships would be helpful in beginning a substantial program of technical cooperation.

The Prime Minister expressed his appreciation for the above and said that the Detwiler affair had been a complete misunderstanding. He said that the Congolese Government has not concluded any agreement with Mr. Detwiler and that any such agreement will require the approval of both the Administerial Commission [Council of Minsters?] and the Congolese Parliament. He said that Detwiler would never set foot in the Congo again.

The Prime Minister then raised the question of the INGA project, pointing out that all the necessary technical studies had been completed and the file submitted by Belgium to the IBRD. After independence the Belgians had proposed that the two governments share the project, but the Government of the Congo had refused, saying they would deal directly with the Bank, as was their sovereign right. He said that he wished the work on the INGA project to begin at once, since it is vital to the Congolese economy. Through it, he said, unemployment could be eliminated, the labor force put to work and the country’s resources developed. He therefore wished to ask the United States Government or private sources of financing, to give assistance as soon as possible. Mr. Dillon replied that the United States Government had known about the project in a general way, since the IBRD is interested. He said that the United States has encouraged the Bank to study the project and to be prepared to assist. He said that he believed that the Bank thought the project a good one. He pointed out, however, that the Bank only makes loans to members and it would be advisable, therefore, for the Congo to join the Bank. To do so, he pointed out, they must also join the Fund.

The Prime Minister said that he believed that he had now touched on all problems of particular concern to him but wished to repeat his request for United States intervention to effect a withdrawal of Belgian troops. The Secretary replied that the Department is in contact with Mr. Hammarskjold and that our understanding of the situation is the same as his. He said that the United States realized the difficulties of the situation and would do what it could to be of assistance. The Secretary added that he understood that the Secretary-General was trying to be of assistance in meeting the August 1 payroll of the Congolese Government. He said that Mr. Dillon had been discussing this matter with United Nations officials and that he hoped that their discussions would bear fruit.

[Page 366]

The Prime Minister then said that there was one thing which he had forgotten to mention, namely civil aviation. He said that Sabena is already operating in the Congo, the Belgian company in which there has been considerable Congolese participation. He said that the suggestion has been made that the corporate stock of Sabena be modified, but that the Government of the Congo prefers the creation of its own national airline. He asked the advice of the Department on this matter which he described as very urgent. The Prime Minister then stressed his own need for a small aircraft for himself and the Chief of State.

Mr. Dillon replied that the United States would be happy to study with the appropriate United Nations agencies the best way to solve the airline question. He pointed out the United States has assisted other countries in developing their civil aviation, such as Ethiopia. He said that he was sure that something could be done. With respect to the small aircraft for the Government, Mr. Dillon said he would be glad to look into it. The Secretary pointed out that the United States had placed at the disposal of the United Nations several small military aircraft without pilots. Mr. Dillon suggested that the Prime Minister discuss this matter with Dr. Bunche on his return to Leopoldville, to see if one of these aircraft might not be made available.

Mr. Lumumba returned to the general situation by saying that it is not up to any foreign country to make charges. The Congo is the only one entitled to make charges if they are justified. Referring to charges made by the Soviet Union, he said he did not suspect the intentions of the United States. If he did so, he should not have gone to this country but gone elsewhere.

The Secretary said he appreciated all of the Prime Minister’s remarks and was sorry that the President could not be in Washington during the time of the Prime Minister’s visit. He wished to assure him, however, of our willingness to assist him to see anyone in Washington or elsewhere in the United States, if the Congolese delegation so desired. The Prime Minister replied that he had been wondering if he might not pay his respects to the President and also to the Vice President and Senator Kennedy. The Secretary said that, unfortunately, he did not know what the President’s itinerary was but that he would discuss this matter with other officials of the Department. He said it would be impossible to make an appointment at that time but the matter could be re-examined when the Prime Minister’s travel plans became definite.7

  1. Source: Department of State, Secretary’s Memoranda of Conversation: Lot 64 D 199. Confidential. Drafted by Ferguson and approved by Herter. The drafting date on the source text is August 2. Charles Sedgwick of the Division of Language Services served as interpreter. His notes of the meeting, which he sent to Ferguson on July 29, are ibid., AF/AFW Files: Lot 63 D 148, Memoranda to AFW—1960.
  2. Lumumba visited Washington, July 27–29.
  3. The texts of the statements made by Herter and Lumumba at the welcoming ceremony at the airport on July 27 are printed in Department of State Bulletin, August 15, 1960, p. 245.
  4. According to Sedgwick’s notes, the letter was dated July 14.
  5. According to Sedgwick’s notes, Lumumba asked the United States to mediate between Belgium and the Congo. He also specified that the Belgian troops should leave immediately.
  6. Of July 14.
  7. Lumumba met with Eugene R. Black, President of the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development, on July 28. A memorandum of a telephone conversation between Black and Herter on that date prior to the meeting, discussing the Congo’s financial situation, is in Department of State, Secretary’s Memoranda of Conversation: Lot 64 D 199.
  8. According to a memorandum of a conversation between Ferguson and Bassompierre on July 28, Ferguson said that Lumumba had made a good impression on U.S. officials in that he appeared intelligent and there was no evidence that he was “crazy.” (Department of State, Central Files, 611.70G/7–2860) On September 2, 1975, Dillon testified before the Senate Select Committee To Study Government Operations With Respect to Intelligence Activities that Lumumba had given the impression that he was “just not a rational being”, that he was “impossible to deal with”, and that as a consequence, the U.S. attitude “sharpened very considerably”. See Senate Select Committee To Study Governmental Operations With Respect to Intelligence Activities, Alleged Assassination Plots Involving Foreign Leaders: An Interim Report, Senate Report No. 94–465, 94th Congress, 1st Session (Washington, 1975; hereafter cited as Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, Interim Report), p. 53.