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It’s pretty obvious why British governments have been anxious to keep the history of their secret service secret for so long. In the case of decolonisation, which is the subject of Calder Walton’s book, revelations about dirty tricks even after fifty years might do irreparable damage to the myth carefully cultivated at the time: which was that for Britain, unlike France, say, or the Netherlands, or Belgium, the process was smooth and friendly. Britain, so the story went, was freely granting self-government to its colonies as the culmination of imperial rule, which had always had this as its ultimate aim – ‘Empire into Commonwealth’, as the history books used to put it. If for no other reason, the myth was needed in order to make ordinary Britons feel better.

Letters

Vol. 35 No. 7 · 11 April 2013

From David Lea

Referring to the controversy surrounding the death of Patrice Lumumba in1960, Bernard Porter quotes Calder Walton’s conclusion: ‘The question remains whether British plots to assassinate Lumumba … ever amounted to anything. At present, we do not know’ (LRB, 21 March). Actually, in this particular case, I can report that we do. It so happens that I was having a cup of tea with Daphne Park – we were colleagues from opposite sides of the Lords – a few months before she died in March 2010. She had been consul and first secretary in Leopoldville, now Kinshasa, from 1959 to 1961, which in practice (this was subsequently acknowledged) meant head of MI6 there. I mentioned the uproar surrounding Lumumba’s abduction and murder, and recalled the theory that MI6 might have had something to do with it. ‘We did,’ she replied, ‘I organised it.’

We went on to discuss her contention that Lumumba would have handed over the whole lot to the Russians: the high-value Katangese uranium deposits as well as the diamonds and other important minerals largely located in the secessionist eastern state of Katanga. Against that, I put the point that I didn’t see how suspicion of Western involvement and of our motivation for Balkanising their country would be a happy augury for the new republic’s peaceful development.

David Lea
London SW1

Bernard Porter
Harper, 411 pp, £25.00, February, ISBN 978 0 00 745796 0
[*] Cambridge, 449 pp., £25, December 2012, 978 1 107 00099 5.

Find this story at 21 March 2013