97. Memorandum of Conversation Between the Ambassador in Belgium (Burden) and Patrice Lumumba0


  • Congolese Politics and Lumumba’s Views on the Future of the Congo

Patrice Lumumba arrived about a half an hour late for the appointment (which had been postponed twice before), having left a meeting in the Congo Minister’s office for the purpose. From the [Page 263] financial point of view, it is worth noting that Lumumba kept a taxi waiting in front of the Embassy for the forty minutes or so which was covered by our conversation.

Personally, Lumumba gave much the same impression in private conversation as he has in public appearances—a highly articulate, sophisticated, subtle and unprincipled intelligence. He seemed reasonably well aware of what his audience would be interested in hearing and of what would make a good impression on them, and showed considerable sophistication in general when discussing political aspects. On economics and more concrete subjects, however, he tended to deal more in clichés than in specific or consequent ideas. In short, he gives the impression of a man who would probably go far in spite of the fact that almost nobody trusts him; who is certainly for sale, but only on his own terms; and who would probably not meet the famous definition which was given a century ago of the honest politician as one who, when bought, stayed bought.

The following were the principal points of interest arising out of the conversation:

Attitude Toward Belgians. Lumumba maintained with us the public posture which he has taken up ever since he arrived at the Round Table—of a fundamental friendliness toward Belgium and a willingness or even desire to work with the Belgians in the period after independence. He pointed out to us that he had been among the first to take up a position against the Belgians and to insist on the need for immediate independence, at a time when Belgium was opposed to it. It had been necessary to fight until the Belgians had accepted this requirement. Now, however, that agreement had been reached on the date of independence, the important thing was to concentrate on what would happen once independence had arrived, and it was clear that during this period the Congo would have every need of Belgium’s help, in terms of technicians and economic aid. Therefore, said Lumumba, the Congo must be prepared to work loyally with Belgium and he, for one, intended to preach this doctrine in his electoral campaign. He also believed it very important that now that the promise of the date of independence had been received, the Congolese political leaders do everything in their power to prevent disorders which might lead to a postponement of this date. This is why he was intending himself to make an immediate swing around the Congo on his return in order to preach moderation and a calming of spirits.

Communism. On this subject Lumumba talked a very good game indeed. He spoke of the intense activity of the Soviets and Czechs at the Round Table and the fact that they had persuaded a certain number of his Round Table colleagues to pay visits to Eastern Europe. He himself, he said, had been approached with offers to visit the Soviet Union and, I believe, Communist China, but he had turned [Page 264] these down because he believed that these influences from the East were very bad from the point of view of the Congo. The Communists said they wanted to help the Congo, said Lumumba, but he was well aware that what they really wanted to do was to install a dictatorship there and thus substitute one form of imperialism for another. He had, therefore, turned down these invitations and had gone farther by attacking publicly at the Round Table the white advisers to certain of the Congolese groups (presumably in particular Jean Terfve, Belgian Communist Party member who was an official adviser to the CEREA delegation), and insisting they be forced to leave the Conference room.

(Comment: Lumumba is a smart-enough cookie to have been well aware that he was giving a line which would not fall upon unfriendly ears in this conversation. Nevertheless, the completeness of his argument and statement of position was interesting, and the fact that not only Lumumba but also Ngalula1 has spoken of Communist designs and activities in almost exactly the same terms shows that this problem has been a subject of discussion among the Congolese and that they are not quite as naive as might be expected. Nevertheless, Lumumba’s own disclaimers are not necessarily inconsistent with other reports that he is receiving money and support from Eastern Europe; the more likely explanation or resolution of these apparently conflicting positions is that Lumumba’s outside financial support has come largely from Accra and possibly from Conakry and that some of these funds in turn may originate in Soviet sources. In any case, it seems clear that if Lumumba is receiving any specific support from the East, he is perfectly prepared to betray these supporters to the fullest extent that suits his purposes.)

Economic Ideas. Lumumba’s specific ideas on economic development of the Congo, which he, of course, said he believed was of primordial importance, were rather vague. He spoke in general terms for both industrial and agricultural development, but he talked largely in clichés and without seeming to have any precise proposals at this time nor any particularly coherent doctrine, except that the unity of the Congo, which is the central core of his political doctrine, was necessary among other things for economic reasons.
Outside Assistance. Lumumba’s views on foreign aid follow roughly from his views on economic questions. He recognizes that considerable assistance will be necessary and talked in terms of technicians and financial assistance. He obviously looks primarily to Belgium, at least in the first stage, to provide this assistance, and his political campaign centers around this expectation. However, he clearly believes that the Congo will have to turn to other sources as well as time goes on. As to exactly what will be needed, however, he [Page 265] seems to have no clear or specific ideas except that at one point in the conversation he was quite emphatic on the special need for vocational education at the secondary level in the Congo, and he thought that this was something that the US might be particularly able to help with.
Foreign Investment. On this subject Lumumba’s ideas are considerably more clear and developed. In fact, he has been preaching ever since his visit to Brussels in April or May of 1959 the doctrine that the Congo would protect foreign investment, both Belgian and other, provided that an independent Congolese government were available for the purpose, and he has used this consistently as an argument for rapid movement toward independence. His basic line on this subject, then, is in terms of political guarantees for foreign investment, which is prepared to accept and work within the framework of Congolese independence. He gives the impression, however, that he is thinking essentially in terms of large industries such as Union Miniere and of the basic guarantees against expropriation and for the repatriation of profits, rather than in terms of specific investment in other realms. It would perhaps be natural that Lumumba should be primarily interested in working with the big companies which are already a political power in Congo, but he gave no particular indication one way or the other on this subject. The only specific investment which he mentioned in the course of the conversation was the INGA project,2 which he emphasized was most important and should be pursued as rapidly as possible. He thought that this should be one of the principal tasks of the new, independent government after the first of July.
The Image of America. While Lumumba did not go into as much detail on this subject as did Ngalula (see separate memorandum of conversation with Ngalula),3 he tended to confirm Ngalula’s statement that the Congolese have an “image” of the US which is very favorable and that this is due in no small measure to the feeling that the American Negroes come in important numbers originally from the Congo and are hence the “brothers” of the Congolese. Lumumba added one particular story in this connection—that people who had come to see him in jail in Stanleyville had told him on two occasions of the arrival of American planes in Stanleyville, which they believed had come to “liberate” him. This rumor, then, is not limited to Leopoldville alone.
Lumumba’s Plans. Lumumba said that immediately after his return to Leopoldville on February 28, he intended to make a quick swing around the Congo to make contact again with the population, a contact of which he has been deprived for some months, and at the [Page 266] same time to preach moderation and to prepare his political campaign. Although we opened the conversation by congratulating him on his appointment to the “Administrative Committee” attached to the Governor General, he had little or nothing to say on the subject, and gave the impression that he did not expect his membership on this committee to interfere severely with his travel in the interests of his political campaign. He made it very clear that he wanted an invitation to visit the US, that he would be able to go probably only for a week or a little more at most, and that it was possible for him to go only before the beginning of the political campaign—that is to say, in the course of the month of March. After that he would be involved in the campaign and after June 30 he expected to be too concerned with governmental affairs to do very much else. The matter of a possible invitation to Lumumba to visit the United States is dealt with in a separate communication to the Department.4

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, 755?.00/3–860. Confidential. Enclosure to despatch 966 from Brussels, March 8. Drafted by First Secretary of Embassy Stanley M. Cleveland, who was also present. The source text identifies Lumumba as President of the Mouvement National Congolais (Lumumba Branch).
  2. Joseph Ngalula of the Mouvement National Congolais.
  3. A planned hydroelectric power project.
  4. A conversation between Cleveland and Ngalula prior to the latter’s departure for the United States as a leader grantee is filed with despatch 967, March 8. (Department of State, Central Files, 755A.00/3–860)
  5. Telegram 985 from Brussels, March 1, recommended an invitation to Lumumba to visit the United States in March; telegram 216 to Léopoldville, March 3, approved the issuance of a visa to Lumumba. (Both ibid., 511.55A3/3–160)