Orleanna speculates about a “chance meeting” between a Belgian and an American. During this meeting, the two foreigners might have negotiated about their businesses, their politics, etc. Then, they might have decided how to divide up the Congo. The Belgian and the American would have treated the Congo like a game of chess, with Lumumba the “black king”—too dangerous to be allowed to live for long. Then, they would have chosen a successor, a young man named Joseph Mobutu.
Orleanna provides her usual gloss on politics and international relations in Africa. There’s a major change in the Congo, but it’s not the change we’d suspected. While the Europeans have ceased to exercise much control over the Congo anymore, a new foreign power is now taking control: the U.S. The U.S. doesn’t actually install mines and rubber factories in the country, but it nonetheless exerts enormous power over the Congo’s government.
In 1975, Orleanna notes, a group of U.S. senators looked into the CIA’s actions in the Congo, and found that the Eisenhower administration had agreed that Lumumba was a threat to the supremacy of the U.S. Allen Dulles, the head of the CIA at the time, organized an assassination, which would ensure that Lumumba would either die or be unfit to lead others.
In this ugly “marriage of convenience,” the U.S. government decides that it’s better off with a pro-capitalist dictator like Mobutu than with a democratic socialist like Lumumba. There were similar regime changes made in Indonesia, Chile, Cuba, Iran, etc. throughout the Cold War.
On the day that the CIA condemned Lumumba to die, Ruth May was feverish and Rachel was turning 17. The CIA told Mobutu that he would have America’s blessing when he seized power. Shortly afterwards, Lumumba was suddenly arrested, savagely beaten, and allowed to die of his wounds. Now, the Congo was in the control of “soulless, empty men.”
Orleanna parallels the changes in the Price family with the changes in the Congo: both are moving into an uncertain future. It’s worth noting that Lumumba was actually executed by a firing squad.
Orleanna sometimes wonders if there was a way that Lumumba’s life could have been saved. But she always comes to the same conclusion—it’s useless thinking “what if.” If she hadn’t married Nathan, for example, she would never have had her beautiful daughters.
Orleanna’s tone is regretful and bitter, and yet she also acknowledges that there’s nothing helpful about regret. One can’t fixate too much on the mistakes of the past, because it’s impossible to fix them.