LUMUMBA: PATRICE ÉMERY THE GREAT AFRICAN MARTYR
From its independence from Belgium in 1960, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) has been left with an unstable political system as its tribal leaders have had more power than the central government. Prevalent on the world’s mind when DRC is mentioned a
from 1971 to 1997, the country was officially the Republic of Zaire; a change made by then ruler Gen. Mobutu Sese Seko to give the country what he thought was a more authentic African name. “Zaire” is a variation of a term meaning “Great River” in local Kongo language; like the country’s current name, it refers to the Congo River, which drains a large basin that lies mostly in the republic. Unlike Zaire, however, the name Congo has origins in the colonial period, when Europeans identified the river with the kingdom of the Kongo people, who live near its mouth. Following the overthrow of Mobutu in 1997, the country’s name prior to 1971, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, was reinstated. Congo subsequently was plunged into a devastating civil war; the conflict officially ended in 2003, although fighting continued in the eastern part of the country. A nation as big as Western Europe, the Democratic Republic of Congo is a topic for most political, social and human rights activists for decades. A quarter century of experimentation with Marxism was abandoned in 1990 and a democratically elected government took office in 1992. A brief civil war in 1997 restored former Marxist President Denis Sassou-Nguesso, and ushered in a period of ethnic and political unrest. Southern-based rebel groups agreed to a final peace accord in March 2003, but the calm is tenuous and refugees continue to present a humanitarian crisis. Has all this fighting made us forget what the Republic of Congo offers us as a continent? Congo is rich in natural resources. It boasts vast deposits of industrial diamonds, cobalt, and copper; one of the largest forest reserves in Africa; and about half of the hydroelectric potential of the continent. And what about the Congolese leaders that have defiled and defined new political directions in the country and hence affected Africa as a whole? Perhaps, to this day, the most celebrated is Patrice Émery Lumumba. THE BIRTH OF A MARTYR Born in 1925 during Belgium’s rule of the Congo, Patrice Émery Lumumba was brought into a world of racial segregation. Large numbers of white immigrants, many from Belgium, who moved to the Congo after the end of World War II, came from across the social spectrum, but were nonetheless always treated as superior to black people. From the tiny village of Onalua in northeastern Kasai, a Congolese province, at the time of his birth, the Congo was still a colony of Belgium. As a child, Patrice Lumumba attended Protestant and then Catholic schools run by white missionaries. At the mission schools, Lumumba proved to be a fine student, even though the mud-brick house he lived in had no electricity and he could not study after
dark. In addition, the mission schools were poorly equipped, with few textbooks or basic school supplies. Nevertheless, Lumumba's teachers spotted his quick intelligence and loaned him their own books, encouraging him to advance. Some teachers also found that his intelligence caused them problems, feeling he asked too many troublesome questions. A NOBLE STRUGGLE Coming from a home with four brothers and two simple farmer parents, Lumumba joined the Liberal Party of Belgium, where he worked on editing and distributing party literature after working odd jobs such as a beer salesman and postal clerk. His release from serving a twelve month sentence in prison for embezzling saw Patrice come back to help resurrect the broad-based Mouvement National Congolais (MNC) in 1958. The party was a united front organisation dedicated to achieving independence and bringing together members from a variety of political backgrounds in order to achieve independence. Lumumba had charisma, the gift of the gab and soon galvanised the party into action with his oratory skills. However, his rhetoric was too radical for some in the party and they broke away to form a new party. In the year 1959, Lumumba gained recognition as the only truly national figure on the Congo’s political scene. His persuasive, attractive personality dominated the political meeting called the Luluabourg Congress in April 1959, in which all the political groups who favoured a unified form of government for the Congo, one that would unite tribes and regions into one nation, Lumumba attempted to establish a common front. Patrice Lumumba famously said at his Independence Day speech, “We are proud of this struggle, of tears, of fire, and of blood, to the depths of our being, for it was a noble and just struggle, and indispensable to put an end to the humiliating slavery, which was imposed upon us by force.” However, Lumumba's growing reputation and seemingly radical views caused hostility among other MNC leaders. The result of this disagreement was a split in the party in July 1959. Most of the party's original founders supported Albert Kalonji as
We are proud of this struggle, of tears, of fire, and of blood, to the depths of our being, for it was a noble and just struggle, and indispensable to put an end to the humiliating slavery which was imposed upon us by force.”
their representative, while Lumumba held onto the loyalty of most other party members. Nevertheless, in the election in May 1960, Lumumba's MNC gained a stunning majority, in Stanleyville (Kisangani). While the MNC did not by any means gain a national majority its showing was indicative of substantial support for national identification and a rejection of ethnicity-based politics. A coalition government with the ABAKO party, led by Joseph Kasavubu, was formed with the MNC accepting Kasavubu as president and Lumumba as Prime Minister of the Republic. Seemingly a brilliant move at the time, it however set in motion a political drama of epic proportions. The charismatic nationalist, Lumumba led the only party in parliament with a nationwide rather than ethnic or regional base. Within days, however, Congo’s troops mutineered against their allwhite officer corps (a holdover from the colonial era) and started terrorising the European population. Belgium responded by sending forces to reoccupy the country and helping Congo’s richest province, Katanga, to secede. Their objective was to secure European interests and protect white settlers from the ensuing violence. This action however infuriated Lumumba privately, but he condoned the intervention publicly. However, he sought UN intervention and demanded that a neutral UN peacekeeping force be deployed rather than a partisan Belgium 6000 strong force. When Lumumba was not able to induce the UN force to invade and capture control of Katanga, and having no luck from the United States, he called on Soviet aid. Other Congolese politicians recognised what the introduction of Soviet forces into the Congo imbroglio would mean. What followed was a chain of events that plunged the Congo into a deep political crises with dire ramifications that were to be endured by the population for decades to come. When Kasavubu dismissed Lumumba as prime minister, it had the opposite effect and given Lumumba’s nature, Lumumba himself provoked a constitutional crisis by attempting to fire Kasavubu in turn and when that failed, he attempted to set up an alternative government in Stanleyville (Kisangani). According to historical reports years later, what transpired was a quagmire of subterfuge that involved Belgium officers, the CIA, MI6 the British Intelligence, and the Katangan authorities themselves. Lumumba was arrested under orders from the Belgian Minister of Colonies by and forcibly taken to the state of Katanga. He arrived in Elizabethville, now Lubumbashi, on 17 January 1961. It was here, where he was tortured and beaten with 2 other politicians, Maurice Mpolo and Joseph Okito, and eventually assassinated by firing squad in the evening by Belgian and Katangan forces, while Katangan President Tshombe and his cabinet deliberated on what to do with Lumumba. All three politicians were executed one after the other, their bodies eventually buried, and then dismembered, dissolved in sulphuric acid and vanishing without a trace. Declassified documents would later reveal, however, that the CIA had plotted to assassinate Lumumba, other Congolese leaders such as Mobutu Sese Seko and Joseph Kasavubu were complicit and received money and weapons directly from the CIA. The US Government believed that Lumumba was a communist and was siding with the Soviet Union. Yet another report released in 2017 revealed that the American role in Lumumba's murder was only under consideration by the CIA, but the plan was not carried out. In Congo, Lumumba's 1961 assassination is viewed as the country's original sin. Coming less than seven months after independence, it was a stumbling block to the ideals of national unity, economic independence and Pan-African solidarity that Lumumba had championed, as well as a shattering blow to the hopes of millions of Congolese for freedom and material prosperity. The assassination took place at a time when the country had fallen under four separate governments: the central government in Kinshasa (then Léopoldville); a rival central government by Lumumba's followers in Kisangani (then Stanleyville); and the secessionist regimes in the mineral-rich provinces of Katanga and South Kasai. Patrice Lumumba is, next to Nelson Mandela, possibly one of the most iconic African figures that most readily come to mind when Africa is discussed in relation to its struggle against imperialism and racism. Leaving behind his legacy, Lumumba was the first Congolese to espouse views contrary to traditional Belgian views of colonisation, while highlighting the suffering of the indigenous population under European rule. He was alone among other leaders by in-
“No brutality mistreatment, or torture has ever forced me to ask for grace, for I prefer to die with my head high, my faith steadfast, and my confidence profound in the destiny of my country, rather than to live in submission and scorn of sacred principles.”
cluding all Congolese people in his rhetoric thereby creating a solid base for the birth of a national identity and unity. Lumumba viewed the state as a necessary organ, instrumental for the public welfare and intervention within Congolese society to ensure equality, justice, and social harmony. The ideology doctrine of Lumumba is known as Lumumbisme (French for Lumumbism), a complex set of fundamental principles consisting of nationalism, Pan-Africanism, nonalignment, and social progressivism. Many Congolese political parties today claim Lumumba's political and spiritual heritage with his image continuing to serve as an inspiration in contemporary Congolese politics. In the end, Lumumba lost power, his country, and his life. All were forcibly taken from him by a combination of forces that were very powerful, all deployed against a single individual. Ludo De Witte, in his book, “The Assassination of Patrice Lumumba”, calls Lumumba’s murder “the most important political assassination in the 20th century”. Despite all this, Lumumba never lost his most powerful possession and left a legacy for those who struggled as an inspiration to all. In his last letter to his wife Pauline, Patrice Lumumba states; “No brutality, mistreatment, or torture has ever forced me to ask for grace, for I prefer to die with my head high, my faith steadfast, and my confidence profound in the destiny of my country, rather than to live in submission and scorn of sacred principles. History will one day have its say, but it will not be the history that Brussels, Paris, Washington or the United Nations will teach, but that which they will teach in the countries emancipated from colonialism and its puppets. Africa will write its own history, and it will be, to the north and to the south of the Sahara, a history of glory and dignity”.
Patrice Lumumba at city hotel in Montreal, July 29, 1960. He became the firstt Prime Minister of the new country.