THE CONGO CABLES: The Cold War in Africa from Eisenhower to Kennedy by Madeleine G. Kalb

THE CONGO CABLES: The Cold War in Africa from Eisenhower to Kennedy

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KIRKUS REVIEW

The centerpiece of this almost day-to-day account of the 1960s Congo crisis is the US effort to get rid of firebrand Patrice Lumumba, by ""Fair Means or Foul""--as came to light in the hearings of the 1975 Select Committee on Intelligence Activities and was published in the Committee report. The ""Congo cables"" are some 2500 other, recently declassified documents--mostly State Dept. cables--which Kalb utilizes to fill out the story. Also, she was in Moscow during the period (with newsman-husband Marvin Kalb), so she has some material on the public Soviet reaction. All this must be laid out because the evidence, in effect, is the book: one comes away knowing, in minute detail, about the US vis-à-vis the warring Congolese leaders (Lumumba, Kasavubu, Tshombe, Mobutu), the US vis-à-vis the UN, US ambassador Timberlake vis-à-vis UN Congo commander Dayal, Timberlake vis-à-vis the State Dept., and so on; but, in the absence of shaping or stress (or selectivity), it makes for slow, unrewarding reading: until the death of Lumumba on the eve of Kennedy's 1960 victory, a morass of ""bizarre"" happenings and jockeying-for-position. The effort to undo/do-in the Russian-leaning Lumumba--the only semblance, damningly, to a US policy--stretches through chapter after chapter, in discomfitting cliffhanger fashion (e.g., ""Lumumba a Prisoner but Still a Menace""). The actual CIA assassination plot reduces to the notorious ""poison toothpaste"" caper and some ineffectual maneuvers to lure Lumumba away from UN protection. As to whether the CIA knew that Lumumba, at large and then captured by government forces, was about to be delivered over to his enemies, Kalb can only say that (as admitted) they would have made no attempt to save his life had they known. What is slightly interesting is her observation that the Congolese effort to dispose of Lumumba may have been stepped up for fear that the incoming, more Africa-minded Kennedy administration would be less hostile toward him. The second, unsensational part of the book deals with the Kennedy policies that kept the Congo pro-Western and resulted in the US choice, Mobutu, coming out (and remaining) on top. Here, again, the evidence demonstrates the degree of US involvement without materially altering the overall picture. And while the final chapter roughs in developments to the present, it has none of the analytical bite of Henry F. Jackson's new From the Congo to Soweto (p. 181). Specialists will be interested in the detail; otherwise, readers of last year's excerpt in the New York Times Magazine have already had the best of it.

Pub Date: May 24th, 1982
Publisher: Macmillan