Captive in the Congo: A Consul's Return to the Heart of Darkness
Summary of a meeting with Michael P. Hoyt, Former Consul in the Congo.
Hoyt presented a summary of his recent book, Captive in the Congo: A Consul's Return to the Heart of Darkness (Naval Institute Press, 2000), which details his capture by Simba rebels in July 1964 in the Congolese city of Stanleyville (now Kisangani). As the then newly-appointed American Consul in Stanleyville, Hoyt and his staff were held hostage for 111 days following the events that convulsed Congo in the aftermath of Lumumba's death. The rebels, sympathetic to Lumumba's cause, sought to reverse the gains made in reconstituting the country. Hoyt noted that their anti-Americanism stemmed from the U.S. role in supporting the new government of Mobutu. Moreover, the rebellion exploited the power vacuum that ensued in Eastern Congo and the weakness of the national army. Recounting the ordeal that befell his staff, Hoyt noted that the rebels threatened to execute the hostages, and in the three and half-months, held them in several places including the U.S. consulate, the central prison, and finally at the airport. Before they left the consulate, they succeeded in destroying secret documents, and were kept alive by the hope of eventual rescue. In the end, Belgian and American paratroopers rescued them, but not before the rebels had cold-bloodedly murdered a number of innocent missionaries in Stanleyville. For his role in the crisis, Hoyt was awarded the State Department's highest award in 1964. In subsequent years, Laurent Kabila, Congo's president between 1996 and 2001 led remnants of the Simba rebels and used them to build a political foothold in the East.
Following the presentation, Hoyt showed a short video that he took while a hostage, revealing the leadership of the rebels. Most of the members of the audience were curious about why the U.S had decided to establish a consulate in Stanleyville and the rebellion's links to the broader question of Lumumba's assassination. Hoyt responded that it was not unusual at this point in American presence in Africa to have a host of consulates in places such as Stanleyville. U.S. policy, he argued, was to expand and promote economic and political interests beyond the capital cities. On Lumumba, he asserted that there has been no credible evidence to link the assassination to America.