[News] Remembering Lumumba

Anti-Imperialist News news at freedomarchives.org
Thu Jul 8 15:59:40 EDT 2010

Remembering Lumumba

Mwaura Kaara
2010-07-08, Issue <http://www.pambazuka.org/en/issue/489>489


As the DRC commemorates 50 years of independence, 
Mwaura Kaara finds there’s little official 
acknowledgement of the life of Patrice Lumumba, 
Congo’s first and only elected prime minister, 
removed from office after two months and 
eventually assassinated. The celebration ‘should 
have reflected on Lumumba’s main contribution to 
the Congolese struggle’, writes Kaara, ‘his 
articulation of the idea of a united Congo, a 
vision that sought to build a united nations 
across all ethnic and tribal divisions despite fierce European opposition.’

On 17 January 1961 Patrice Lumumba, the 
charismatic first and only elected prime minister 
of Congo, was brutally murdered. The 
circumstances of his death remain a mystery, the 
identity of his killers unknown.

In 1956 Lumumba was a post office clerk; four 
years later he would be prime minister. In 
between he had been an ‘évolué’ – one of Congo's 
tiny black middle class, a beer salesman and a 
prisoner, twice for his political motivation.

His imprisonment radicalised him and by 1958 he 
had co-founded a political party, the National 
Congolese Movement, the MNC that was distinctively pan-Africanist.

Independence Day was celebrated on 30 June in a 
ceremony attended by many dignitaries including 
King Baudouin and the foreign dignitaries and 
press. Patrice Lumumba delivered his famous 
independence speech after being officially 
excluded from the event programme, despite being 
the new prime minister. The speech of King 
Baudouin praised developments under colonialism, 
his reference to the ‘genius’ of his great 
grand-uncle Leopold II of Belgium glossing over 
atrocities committed during the Congo Free State.

The King continued, ‘Don't compromise the future 
with hasty reforms, and don't replace the 
structures that Belgium hands over to you until 
you are sure you can do better... Don't be afraid 
to come to us. We will remain by your side, give you advice.’

In his speech, addressed directly to Belgium’s 
monarch and ministers, Lumumba reclaimed the 
history and dignity of the Congolese people in 
their decades-long struggle for independence:

‘For this independence of the Congo 
Congolese worthy of the name will ever be able to 
forget that it was by fighting that it has been 
won, a day-to-day fight, an ardent and idealistic 
fight, a fight in which we were spared neither 
privation nor suffering, and for which we gave 
our strength and our blood 
 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.’

Lumumba was prime minister for only about two 
months before he was removed illegally from 
office and eventually killed. This occurred under 
the auspices and coordination of a section of the 
United Nations loyal to the Belgian government, 
the Belgian authorities and the US Central Intelligence Agency.

On 11 July 1960, the resource-rich Katanga 
province announced it was seceding under the 
leadership of Moise Tshombe. Belgium’s troops 
promptly entered in support. This move provoked a 
wave of international outrage, in particular 
criticism by the socialist bloc, spearheaded by 
the Soviet Union, and the decolonising nations in 
Africa and Asia. The Belgians withdrew in favour 
of UN troops, but the UN did not nullify 
Tshombe’s secession. Prime Minister Lumumba 
appealed to the UN and United States, but the 
imperialist powers turned a deaf ear to the new 
African leader. He turned to the Soviet Union, 
which provided loyal forces with aid and 
transported troops to help end the secession.

On 5 September, the pro-imperialist president, 
Kasavubu, illegally removed Lumumba from office. 
Lumumba brought his case directly to the 
parliament, which reaffirmed his post. In 
response, Kasavubu dismissed the parliament.

UN General Secretary Dag Hammarskjold publicly 
endorsed Kasavubu’s move. A section of the UN 
forces loyal to the Belgian government had 
earlier hampered Lumumba by closing a radio 
station he was using to plead his case with the 
people. Amid the struggle, Colonel Joseph Mobutu 
took power in a CIA-backed coup d’état on the 
side of Kasavubu and the United States. Lumumba 
was placed under house arrest, ‘protected’ by UN 
troops actively intervening against his rule.

Lumumba understood that the UN was acting as the 
armed forces of the Western imperialist powers. 
Rather than stay under house arrest, he decided 
to flee. As he was fleeing, he was captured by 
Mobutu’s forces on 1 December 1960. Mobutu handed 
over Lumumba to the secessionist Tshombe, who had 
him executed on the very night of his capture. 
The whole capture by Mobutu and turnover to 
Tshombe was orchestrated by Belgian authorities 
with the full knowledge and aid of the CIA.

Mobutu gained in power under the new government, 
eventually ruling as a brutal dictator with the 
support of US imperialism until he was ousted in 1997.

This year, the Democratic Republic of Congo has 
celebrated 50 years of independence, and amidst 
the noise and cacophony, the name of one of 
Africa’s greatest ancestor and his significant 
contributions to the African liberation movement has gone silent.

The meaning of the life and the work of Patrice 
Lumumba was rooted in his determination to fight 
against the forces of domination and oppression, 
that were represented by the European world in 
the most turbulent period of the history of the 
Congo, and as such as the Democratic Republic of 
Congo held festivities to mark 50 years of 
independence and symbolically usher in a new era 
breathing in new ethos and values, focus should 
have been to reflect on the steadfast efforts of 
Lumumba in his quest for the real movement of the people of Africa.

The celebration should have been to reflect on 
Lumumba’s main contribution to the Congolese 
struggle, his articulation of the idea of a 
united Congo, a vision that sought to build a 
united nations across all ethnic and tribal 
divisions despite fierce European opposition. A 
vision that paralleled his Pan-African sentiment 
of African unity, both ideals that were 
unacceptable to the imperialist powers, which 
sought a Congo and Africa riven with internal 
strife in order to be held in submission.

As the political elite in the Democratic Republic 
of Congo continue to suffer from the hangover of 
toasting with their Belgian masters, after their 
heavy indulgence, and celebrations marked by the 
entertainment parading of their poverty-stricken 
populace, who could not comprehend what was 
happening, let us reflect on and walk the legacy 
of Patrice Lumumba. A legacy reflected in the 
pan-African aims, institutions and policies of 
the African Union and in the guiding ethos behind 
the adoption of the Ezulwini Consensus, which 
proposes a permanent African seat in a reformed 
United Nations Security Council.

His ability to evoke so powerfully the extent of 
his people’s subjugation, derived from a rare 
understanding of the inherent duplicity of the 
colonial discourse. As Jean Van Lierde put it:

‘He was the only Congolese leader who rose above 
the ethnic difficulties and tribal preoccupations 
that destroyed all the other parties. Lumumba was the first real pan-African.’

Shortly before his assassination, Lumumba penned 
the following words in a farewell letter: ‘The 
only thing we wanted for our country was the 
right to a decent existence, to dignity without 
hypocrisy, to independence without 
restrictions... The day will come when history will have its say.’

In conclusion, we can say that the external 
enemies, (or the enemies from without), and 
internal enemies (or the enemies from within), 
led to the demise and death of Patrice Lumumba. 
But, fortunately, his legacy lives on.


* Mwaura Kaara is the youth focal point at United 
Nations Millennium Campaign, Africa.
* Please send comments to 
<mailto:editor at pambazuka.org>editor at pambazuka.org 
or comment online at <http://www.pambazuka.org/>Pambazuka News.

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