the congo upheaval has sent Fleet Street into orgasms of wild delight. The Congo crisis has brought out the worst in most sections of the Press. The Daily Express has been able to rap out its staccato contradictions, and beat down all parties but the few British “chaps out there”; the News of the World and the Pictorial have found ample material for their rape catalogues, (the News of the World managed to get Lumumba into the Society scandals by announcing that he had been in a “Brawl at the Ritz”); while the Guardian and the Times have been displaying an unfailing capacity for ambiguity and lack of comprehensive analysis, cloaking their editorials and reports in regal ermine and attempting to present the British attitude with platitudinous objectivity.
The earlier reports were generally more sympathetic to the Congolese than one might have expected from Fleet Street’s past performances on African issues. Yet, only the Guardian, Observer, Times and the Sunday Times included articles of length reviewing Congo prospects for independence, and their material was largely conjectural and based on the usual synthetic sentiments for success. Reporting the Independence Day celebrations, the Guardian set the style for its later treatment of Congo events. While the Irish Press (Dublin) sympathetically bannered its report “Lumumba Indicts Colonialists”, accompanied by an editorial that expressed appreciation that the Congo state was not going to indulge in hypocricies over Belgian rule, the Guardian austerely declared: “Congo Festivities Marred”, and claimed that M. Lumumba’s speech was “offensive”.
In fact, M. Lumumba’s speech followed one of self-praise by King Baudouin, in which the Belgian sovereign stated that “the independence of the Congo is the crowning of the work conceived by the genius of Leopold II . . . For eighty years Belgium has sent to your land the best of her sons . . . to bring together the different tribes . . . to form the greatest of the independent States of Africa.” One need only read the Roger Casement report, with its sickening detail of the effects of “the genius of Leopold II”, the murders, tortures, and sadism, to feel how odiously hypocritical was the King’s speech. Lumumba spoke only the truth when he said: “. . . Our wounds are too fresh and too smarting for us to be able to chase them from our memory.” But the Guardian, though admitting that the King’s speech contained “no apologies for the colonial system, but was intended as a vindication of it”, could find no sympathy for Lumumba’s indictment.
Following the sacking of Belgium officers on the 8 of July, the British Press came into its own. Although reporters may have had difficulty in assessing the facts of the fighting and rioting, there seems little excuse for the predominance that was given to rumours of rapes and slaughters around the 10 of July. In spite of the fact that the Congo was now a Free State, and that the Belgian officers had been dismissed by a Congolese Prime Minister recognised by the Belgians, almost all reports coming out of Congo referred to the Congolese troops as “rebels” or “mutineers”. While the Belgian paratroopers were trying to take Matadi on the 11, the News Chronicle report referred to the Congolese soldiers in control as “rebels”, and the Times used the terms “rebels” and “mutineers” so frequently that it was difficult to understand the situation.
The resolution passed in the Security Council on July 14 contained the words “authorises the Secretary-General to take the necessary steps, in consultation with the Government of the Republic of the Congo, to provide the Government with such military assistance, as may be necessary, until, through the efforts of the Congolese Government with the technical assistance of the United Nations, the national security forces may be able, in the opinion of the Government, to meet fully their tasks.” This was clearly a mandate for supporting the Lumumba government in its attempts to bring the country to order. The press, on the other hand, immediately began to overestimate the Katanga strength. What was described in the Observer of July the 10 as “separatist tendencies coming to the surface” in Katanga, had become by the Times of July 15, a “cabinet” which was “leaving for the United Nations” (complete with President and Public Relations Officers). Although the Daily Telegraph said, at a date as late as July 27, that Katangan “independence” was a “masquerade”, and that “Tshombe, the self-styled President, is today far more under the domination of Belgian officials than he was as an obscure politician before Congo independence”, the UN hedged in its mandate to support the Congo government, thus giving scope to the separatist movements.
As the crisis entered its second month, the Press coverage appreciably shifted in emphasis. The case for Katangan independence seemed to have been won. But in Kasai and among the Abako leaders, new challenges to Lumumba began to develop. The UN failed to act against these federalist and autonomous factions, and their growth naturally assisted in the weakening of M. Lumumba’s power. The villains now became the Russians, the Lumumba Government, Guinea, Ghana, or the United Nations forces, according to the sympathy of Editors.