miércoles 29 de mayo de 2024
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The CIA and the recolonization of Africa

London (Morning Star): Ian Sinclair speaks to Susan Williams about Britain and the US’s dark machinations against African leaders and nations they decided were at odds with their geopolitical interests in the 20th century -and the ongoing cover-up attempts.

Published in paperback last year, Susan Williams’s book White Malice: The CIA and the recolonization of Africa tells the story of how the independence and democratic yearnings of Ghana and the Congo were strangled at birth by the US.

   Dr Williams, a senior research fellow in the School of Advanced Study, University of London, talks to Ian Sinclair about the CIA’s covert intervention, Britain’s role, and how these two nations are currently obstructing a UN investigation into the death of the UN secretary-general in 1961.

   IS: What was the extent and outcome of the CIA covert interventions in the Congo and Ghana during the 1950s and ’60s?

   SW: A thick web of CIA operations and dirty tricks wrecked the hopes and vision of the newly independent Congo and Ghana. Only ten weeks after the Congo’s freedom from Belgium on June 30 1960, the government of Patrice Lumumba -the nation’s first democratically elected Prime Minister- was overthrown by the army, led by Joseph-Desire Mobutu. Full credit for the coup was later claimed by Larry Devlin, the CIA station chief. Devlin also led a plot to assassinate Lumumba, who was to be savagely murdered on January 17 1961. In Ghana in 1966, Kwame Nkrumah, the nation’s first president and a prominent proponent of Pan-Africanism, was toppled from power in a CIA-backed military coup. All over Africa, the CIA sought to advance the US’s aims: through sowing conflict between political groups, targeting trade unionists, bribing African representatives at the UN, and surveillance. CIA fronts were established and funded through a range of conduits. Proprietary airlines operated undercover and fighter jets were delivered to Katanga, illegally seceded from the Congo. Also in the mix were soft-power initiatives, including the secret creation and infiltration of educational organizations, cultural centers, and publishers. The American Society of African Culture, a CIA front based in New York and Paris, for example, organized a music festival in Lagos in 1961, featuring Nina Simone and other artists. Not one of them knew it was sponsored by the CIA. When [Nigerian writer] Wole Soyinka discovered that he had been unwittingly funded by the CIA, he was outraged. “Nothing, virtually no project, no cultural initiative,” he said bitterly, “was left unbrushed by the CIA’s reptilian coils.”

   IS: What was Britain’s role in the Congo and Ghana during this period?

   SW: Britain largely shared the aims of the US and has been described as its junior partner. Official British documents reveal that in September 1960 a senior official in the Foreign Office advocated “Lumumba’s removal from the scene by killing him.” A colleague agreed, wishing that “Mobutu can get him arrested and executed promptly.”

   Daphne Park, the head of MI6 operations in the Congo, shared Devlin’s antipathy towards Lumumba and the UN. In Ghana, which became independent from Britain in 1957, Britain conducted a propaganda campaign to pursue regime change against Nkrumah. As shown by a recent article by Mohamed Elmaazi for Declassified UK, it aimed to replace Nkrumah with a “more Western-oriented government.”

   IS: The publication in 1965 of Nkrumah’s book, Neo-Colonialism: The Last Stage of Imperialism, led to an escalation of covert British attacks on his reputation.

   SW: Nkrumah’s book analyzed the impact on Ghana of British and US neo-colonialism: when a state is independent in theory, with “all the outward trappings of international sovereignty,” but its economic system and political policy are directed from outside. And this, argued Nkrumah, was driven by ruthless business and strategic interests. His analysis was swiftly vindicated after the overthrow of his government: Ghana’s state corporations were privatized and state-run projects were abandoned. Foreign multinationals took control.

   IS: The US government frames their intervention as part of the cold war -to stop the USSR from gaining influence in Africa. In contrast, William Blum, author of Killing Hope: US Military and CIA Interventions Since World War II, argues: “The thread common to the diverse targets of US intervention” is “a policy of ‘self-determination.’”    What drove US intervention in the Congo and Ghana?

   SW: This question goes to the heart of any assessment of the US’s role in Africa in the period of decolonization. Nkrumah and like-minded leaders believed that the way forward for African nations was not a case of choosing between US capitalism and Soviet communism, but of following their own path. This was the aim of the All-African People’s Conference in Accra in 1958: “Hands Off Africa! Africa Must Be Free!” But the policy of nonalignment did not please the US, which took a wholly US‑centered position: if you are not with us, you are against us. And there was an additional factor: racism. At a meeting of the National Security Council in January 1960, vice-president Richard Nixon asserted: “Some of the peoples of Africa have been out of the trees for only about 50 years.” A senior official then said he had “formed the impression that many Africans still belonged in the trees.” No-one at the meeting -including president Eisenhower- challenged these deeply offensive characterizations.

Nixon argued that the US should associate with “the strong men” in Africa: “We must recognize, although we cannot say it publicly, that we need the strong men of Africa on our side.” In some cases, he added, it might be necessary to “develop military strong men.” Eisenhower agreed. The US was working strenuously to present itself as the world champion of democracy. But there was a tragic disconnect between this image and the reality.

   IS: You argue the premature deaths in the 1960s of several prominent men involved in Africa’s struggle for freedom -Nkrumah, Frantz Fanon, George Padmore and Richard Wright- means “it is reasonable to ask questions” about the CIA. What evidence and context lies behind this claim?

   SW: In 1975, a US Senate committee chaired by the Democrat senator Frank Church investigated the intelligence activities of the US government. The committee’s 14 reports include Alleged Assassination Plots Involving Foreign Leaders, which records the US’s role in assassination plots in five countries: against Fidel Castro in Cuba; Lumumba in the Congo; Rafael Trujillo in the Dominican Republic; General Rene Schneider in Chile; and Ngo Dinh Diem in South Vietnam. The Church Committee also found evidence of CIA involvement in plans to assassinate president Sukarno of Indonesia and “Papa Doc” Duvalier of Haiti. Stephen Kinzer’s book Poisoner in Chief documents the sinister experiments of the chemist Sidney Gottlieb, the head of the CIA’s MK-Ultra mind control project. Gottlieb was part of a “health alteration committee,” which came together in 1960 “as a response to President Eisenhower’s renewed conviction that the best way to deal with some unfriendly foreign leaders was to kill them.” Gottlieb produced toxins of disease which could kill without a trace. Given the scale and extent of these plots, it seems not only reasonable -but necessary- to ask questions about the premature deaths of those who were perceived by the CIA as enemies of the US.

   IS: Earlier this month the Guardian reported “the US and Britain have been accused by university researchers of obstructing a UN inquiry into the 1961 plane crash [in Northern Rhodesia, now Zambia] that killed the UN secretary-general Dag Hammarskjold,” noting your 2011 book Who Killed Hammarskjold? contributed to the reopening of the UN investigation. Why do you think the US and Britain are impeding the inquiry?

   SW: Initial investigations into the 1961 crash were conducted under the conditions of British colonialism and white minority rule, so that the crucial testimony of black witnesses was dismissed. The Rhodesian inquiry identified pilot error as the cause, but without any actual evidence. After the reopening in 2015 of the earlier UN investigation, UN member states with potential information were asked to identify all relevant records in their intelligence, security, and defense archives. The majority of these states, including Belgium, Sweden and Zimbabwe, responded in a serious manner. But neither the US nor Britain has disclosed any significant information since 2017, according to Justice Mohamed Chande Othman, who was appointed by the UN secretary-general to lead the inquiry. Othman reported in 2022 that in the case of Britain, “Not a single document has been disclosed in that period. The US provided one document in 2018-19 and a further document in 2021, both of which were publicly available.” This lack of compliance by the US and Britain is consistent with their decision in late 2022 not to co-sponsor the recent UN general assembly resolution authorizing the continuation of the investigation. This is significant, since the US and Britain are two of the five permanent members of the security council. But their position did not impede the passage of the resolution, which was co-sponsored by 142 member states (out of 193). There is now a global momentum to seek out the truth. Since 2015, Justice Othman has obtained new information and reviewed earlier evidence. It appears plausible, he states, “that an external attack or threat may have been a cause of the crash.” But without the co-operation of the US and Britain -which “must be almost certain to hold important undisclosed information”- the investigation cannot be properly concluded.

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