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

Nomad Africa Magazine - - Patrice Lumumba - Words: KRISTIE OMAR

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.

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