Patrice Lumumba

Ohio University Press has a series of "Short Histories of Africa". I recently decided to pick up most of the collection for potential use as reading materials for classes. This post covers "Patrice Lumumba" (2014) by Georges Nzongola-Ntalaja. This is a great summary, but might have since been overshadowed by a book published the year after this one Death in the Congo (2015). Nonetheless, like other biographies in this series, it focuses on the full picture of the person, whereas that other book is more focused on his killing. A few notes:

"Responding to demands by educated Africans for special recognition of their elite status, the Belgians took steps toward granting to Congolese évolués the status of honorary Europeans and exempting them from racist regulations applying to Africans. Following the example set by France, in 1892 the Leopoldian regime had already adopted legislation providing for assimilating a select group of Africans to European status, but this was never put into practice … A carte du mérite civique (civil merit card) was introduced in 1948, only to be quickly superseded in importance in 1952 by a new status called immatriculation (matriculation), for those Africans deemed sufficiently "evolved" culturally and otherwise to be treated like Europeans." (p. 44-45)

"This chapter intends to show that if the cold war provided the ideological pretext or justification for his political and physical elimination by a coalition of Western interests, the major reason for his assassination lies in the Western-backed counterrevolution against the national liberation struggle in Central and Southern Africa." (p. 101)

"At the very time that African countries were achieving their independence from European colonial rule, this counterrevolution against national liberation was rearing its ugly head from the Congo basin all the way to the Cape of Good Hope, with mining companies, white settlers, and their backers in the Western establishment waging a vigorous campaign to preserve European interests and white supremacy in Central and Southern Africa." (p. 105)

"For Washington and its Cassandras, nonalignment was a dirty word and leaders like Lumumba who espoused it were either "communist sympathizers" or naïve about the communist threat. Using this cold war discourse as a rationalization of their hostility to independent-minded leaders, U.S. policy makers thus agreed with Belgium that Lumumba had to be removed from power. The question was "how to do it," and the answer was "by all means necessary," including hired killers, corrupt politicians, and the United Nations." (p. 108-109)

"It should be noted that UN troops stood by as Lumumba was tortured by his captors at Ilebo and in Kinshasa, on December 2, 1960, and at the Lubumbashi airport on January 17, 1961. When this is added to decisions taken by the secretary-general and his executive assistant mentioned above, it is evident that for the plot against Lumumba to succeed, the support, or at the very least the apparent neutrality, of the UN Secretariat was indispensable. At every critical juncture in Lumumba's drama, UN officials and troops were involved, by acts of commission or omission. Thus, even if the United Nations was not directly involved in Lumumba's assassination as Belgium and the United States were, it was nevertheless an accessory before the fact." (p. 129) 

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Kofi Annan – Interventions

Kofi Annan (1938-2018) was the Secretary-General of the United Nations from 1997 to 2006, a turbulent time to say the least. He penned "Interventions: A Life in War and Peace" (2012) with Nader Mousavizadeh to provide some of the high, lows, challenges and successes of his time leading the UN. The book is a recounting of events, for those versed in the time period, not a lot that is new, barring a few interesting reflections. A few include:

  • "The world abandoned Somalia, allowing it to create for the world whole new forms of civil chaos and human suffering. Somalia would from then on [after 1993] be ignored by Western countries – until years later, when international terrorists emerged there in force, and when scores of well-organized pirates took to the high seas to threaten one of the lifelines of international commerce." (p. 45-46)
  • "We were not along in our optimism. The international development community had been engaged for years in Rwanda, and right up to March 1994, reports were still being written by leading development organizations that praised Rwanda as an unusual success story. But the international community had a thin appreciation of Rwanda's society and history and the force at play there." (p. 51)
  • "The core problem at the top of the UN's power structure is the composition of the Security Council. Today we have five permanent members with veto powers – the United States, Britain, Russia, France, and China – based essentially on the geopolitical reality that existed at the end of World War II. The other ten nonpermanent members are elected by the General Assembly for two-year terms, on the basis of geographical representation. This situation is intolerable to some; unjustifiable to most. Japan and Germany pay the second- and third-largest contributions to the UN but do not have a fixed seat at its most important table. India has over a sixth of the world's population but no seat. There is no permanent member from Africa or Latin America." (p. 141-142)
  • "It is true that Africa's short and intense experience of colonialism was destructive and divisive. It is also true that many African countries are landlocked and so denied the vital economic asset of direct access to seaborne trade – which many economists emphasize as an essential part of the explanation for Africa's previous poor economic performance as a whole. However, it is inaccurate and, worst of all, irresponsible for Africans to blame colonialism alone. Similarly, if you consider some of the great failures of African development, such economic impediments are not the heart of the problem." (p. 176)
  • "The responsibility lies with Africans, their systems of rule, and their leaders. Africa has had the experience it has, most of all, because of the decisions made by individuals and the systems of rule deliberately enacted by leaders and their supporters. Africa, the poverty of Africa, the violence of Africa, is not the inexorable product of its environment but rather the consequence of choices and decisions made by its leaders." (p. 177)
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International Development & Diplomacy Internship Programme

Now in its 19th year, the International Development & Diplomacy Internship Programme (IDDIP) (formerly known as the UNPPP), is honored to be able to continue investing in the future of Canadian global citizens. The United Nations Association in Canada (UNA-Canada) appreciates Canadians want international experience through direct participation in international organizations and agrees that the unique mosaic Canada possesses translates into something significant to offer international organizations. As one of the UNA-Canada's prestigious programmes, the IDDIP provides a unique avenue for qualified and motivated Canadian graduates and professionals to participate in the United Nations system as Junior Professional Consultants (JPCs).

UNA-Canada's competitive IDDIP offers a limited number of six-month internships to UN Agencies.

These internships provide successful applicants with invaluable, demanding, deeply meaningful work experience, as well as a proven bridge to employment. The IDDIP recruits, prepares, and supports qualified Canadians, and negotiates highly matched ToRs with UN agencies. UNA-Canada has sent hundreds of JPCs to UN agencies worldwide with over 98% of those JPCs finding related work within six months of completing the programme. Are you flexible, adaptable, comfortable in challenging situations? Can you see yourself working in a UN office promoting human rights, the rule of law, and sustainable development?

More details.

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Blinded by Humanity (2015)

Interested in international development, NGOs or the United Nations? Martin Barber's "Blinded by Humanity: Inside the UN's Humanitarian Operations" (2015) provides insight on the challenges and lessons learned.

On good intentions:

  • "…if there is one message that I would pass on to young people wanting to do good in the world, it is this: be passionate, but know your world. Everybody can have good intentions, and indeed, most people do. If you fail to understand the context in which you are working and the people you are working with, and if you do not assess, with infinite care, the likely impact of your actions on them, you may find that you will do more harm than good." (218)
  • "Supplies and equipment had already arrived in Vientiane, and the team was on its way. We could have to find something else for them to do. We did but it was not enough to keep them fully occupied… There would be many times in the future when I could recall this story, either to myself, or in discussions with colleagues anxious for a quick fix or a high-profile gesture which would show the world that we were 'doing something', even if what we were doing was a diversion, more for show, for publicity, than to meet a defined and realistic objective. It was an early introduction to the idea that good intentions are not enough." (17)

On politics:

  • "… should UNHCR have insisted that the Hmong refugees at Ban Vinai be moved to a site further from the border? And should UNHCR have sought to identify people who were using the camp as a base for resistance activities in Laos and had them excluded from the camp? Of course, we should have. But, if UNHCR wants to put pressure on a government to changes its policy, it needs allies among the governments of other countries… in that Cold War theatre, the US was quite happy to turn a blind eye to resistance efforts in Laos by the Hmong and others; and so the support for UNHCR to insist on compliance with principles was not forthcoming. For idealistic young staff of UNHCR in Thailand, this was an early lesson in realpolitik and in the toothless nature of our organization." (33)

On priorities:

  • "…we had the greatest difficulty persuading any of the many NGOs to provide us with sanitation engineers. The president of one of the very best of the American refugee NGOs came to my office in Bangkok to tell me that his NGO would be able to provide three fully equipped medical teams. I told him that was great news, but I would be grateful if he could swap two of them for sanitation teams. He didn't think he could do that, but he would try for one. A few days later, he called from the US to say that he had tried his best, but that he could not persuade the donors of any of the medical teams to spend money on sanitation instead. It was just no sexy." (45)
  • "During the many years I spent working on Afghanistan, the projects I felt were most successful were those with the least involvement of international staff and the greatest 'ownership' by Afghans." (214)

On celebrities:

  • "At first sight, VIP visitors may not appear to achieve much. But they bring the work of the agency to the attention of the most senior people in the government of the affected country. They also attract media coverage. The main beneficiaries of such visits are often the national officials acting as counterparts to the UN agency. It gives them face-time with their most senior leadership and allows them to advertise the programme's achievements in the press. Handled well, such visits can have a very positive impact on the relations between the UN agency and its national counterparts." (27)


  • "Overnight my income had multiplied by ten. I was not longer required to eke out my existence on the modest VSO allowance or an equally miserly research grant. This included the first of what would be a series of losing battles with my conscience over the ethics of being well paid in very poor countries for doing work that I considered essentially charitable." (19)

Our common humanity:

  • "In the face of appalling things happening in their country, how did the Lao themselves react? I suspect the answer is, 'Much like almost everybody does, all over the world'. They felt anger, but soon discovered there was little to be gained from it. They felt compassion for the victims, but they had few resources to share with them. Above all, they felt confusion – why was this happening in their country? And because their politicians seemed to be the pawns of bigger powers whose leaders were so remote, they felt powerless to do anything about it." (15)
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