On this day in history, one of Africa’s most vocal critics of colonialism, anti-colonial leader, Pan-Africanist and the first Prime Minister of the newly Independent Congo at the age of thirty-five, Patrice Emery Lumumba, was born in 1925 in Onalua in the Katakokombe region of the Kasai province of the Belgian Congo.
“”I prefer to die with my head unbowed, my faith unshakeable and with profound trust in the destiny of my country, rather than live under subjection and disregarding sacred principles.”Patrice Emery Lumumba
Patrice Lumumba came from a family of agriculturists. His father, François Tolenga Otetshima was a farmer in Onalua. With just primary education, Patrice Emery Lumumba emerged to become one of the leading anti-colonial critics in Africa, and one of the most popular Africans.
Because he was raised in a Catholic family, Patrice Emery Lumumba started school at a Protestant primary school, a Catholic missionary school. Young Lumumba developed interests in grassroots union activities and went on to joined the government Postal Union/post office training school, where he passed the one-year training course with distinction. He worked as a postal clerk for eleven years, and also worked as a travelling beer salesman in Leopoldville. Lumumba went on to become the secretary-general of the Postal Union. Focused and intelligent Lumumba had an interest in the ideologies of French philosopher and writer Jean-Jacques Rousseau, and French writer, historian, and famous philosopher Francois-Marie Arouet popularly known as Voltaire. This helped him to developed his writing and oratory skills and gained vast knowledge in politics and governance, in which he embraced the view that his country’s vast mineral wealth should benefit the Congolese people rather than foreign powers (Belgium, the USA, and England). His versatility and love for poetry led him to write many poems centred on colonialism and imperialism.
Four years after he married his wife Pauline Opangue in 1951, Patrice Emery Lumumba became the head of the Cercles of Stanleyville in 1955. In 1958, after a study tour in Belgium in 1956, Lumumba founded the Mouvement National Congolais Party (MNC) or in English the Congolese National Movement. In December 1958, another anti-colonial leader and Pan-Africanist, Kwame Nkrumah, after being heard about Lumumba, invited Patrice Emery Lumumba to the anticolonial All African People’s Conference, which gained the attention of more than three hundred (300) delegates from twenty-eight (28) African countries and colonies.
In October 1959, Patrice Emery Lumumba was arrested for allegedly inciting an anti-colonial demonstration in Stanleyville in which thirty (30) people were killed by security forces. Lumumba was sentenced to six months imprisoned. Following massive anti-colonial demonstrations and riots, the Belgian government summoned a conference in Brussels, the Congolese Round Table Conference, to discuss the future of the Congo. Confronted by the MNC Party threat to boycott the said conference, the government released Lumumba. Lumumba and his party members were in Belgium for the conference. At the conference, Lumumba boldly condemned Belgian rule in the Congo and asked for immediate independence. After the two months’ duration of the conference, the following resolutions were adopted:
1. The declaration of independence of the Congo on June 30, 1960.
2. The principles of the Congolese constitution, voted by the Belgian Parliament in May 1960.
3. The structural organization of the state and the separation of powers.
Before the onset of independence, Lumumba wanted to ensure that independence would bring a legitimate improvement in the quality of life for the Congolese and to unify the country as a centralized state by unifying his country against tribalism and regionalism. To achieve this, he believed that “Africanisation” would play a great role and would be necessary. But the Belgians were quick to oppose the idea, as it would create a sense of awareness which would lead to a stop in their political, social and economic interference in the Congo. Lumumba tried to enact Africanisation before independence but failed. Most of Lumumba’s ideas and policies were constantly ignored by the Belgians, this made Lumumba fear that independence would not appear “real” to the average Congolese.
Despite the intimidations and arrests of Lumumba and his supporters by the Belgium-backed government in Congo, the Congolese National Movement Party headed by Patrice Lumumba decisively won the national elections. Lumumba took office in June 1960, which made him the first Prime Minister of the newly independent Congo. Lumumba’s progressive populist proposals and his oppositions to the Katanga secessionists movement, which was led by the white-ruled colonial states of Southern Africa and proclaimed its independence from the Congo on July 11 1960, angered foreign corporate interests: The Belgian colonial state, foreign companies extracting the Congo’s vast mineral resources at the expense of the average Congolese. The Belgians, the USA and England began to set plans as to how they could get Lumumba “out of their way”.
On the 5th September 1960, Lumumba’s journey as the Prime Minister of the Congo came to an end when President Kasa-Vubu announced over the radio that he had dismissed Lumumba and six others from the government. Upon hearing the broadcast by the President, Lumumba went to the national radio station, despite being barred from entering the station which was under the United Nations guard, the UN troops allowed him to enter. Lumumba boldly denounced his dismissal by the President as illegitimate and called Kasa-Vubu a traitor.
As tensions grew – the Belgians wanted Lumumba dead, the USA wanted him dead, and England wanted him dead – Lumumba feared for his life as he turned to the United Nations for support, he was rejected. Lumumba decided to turn to Russia, his last straw, for assistance. On September 14 1960, Lumumba’s close friend Joseph Mobutu announced a coup. Joseph Mobutu was a junior minister to Prime Minister Lumumba and a former soldier, that was appointed as a colonel and Army chief of staff by Lumumba. November 24 1960, the United Nations voted to recognize Mobutu’s new delegates to the General Assembly, thereby disregarding Lumumba’s appointees. November 27 1960, Lumumba left the capital for Orientale Province border with his wife Pauline and their youngest child. But for the love he had for his people, Lumumba decided to delay his travel by touring scores of villages with the message of hope and resilience. After the tour, they left. Lumumba and his advisers Mwamba and Mulele had made it to the far side of the bank, but his wife and child were left on the other side. Lumumba took the ferry back, against the advice of Mwamba and Mulele, fearing for the safety of his wife and child, Mwambe and Mulele feared they would never see Lumumba again, bid him farewell. Lumumba was captured by Mobutu’s men and was taken to Port Francqui the next day, and flown back to Leopoldville. Mobutu, in a statement, claimed Lumumba would be tried for inciting the army to rebellion and other crimes.
December 3rd 1960, Lumumba and others were sent to Thysville military barracks Camp Hardy, as per the directives of Mobutu and his Belgian counterparts. They were fed poorly by the prison guards, as per Mobutu’s orders. “In a word, we are living amid absolutely impossible conditions; moreover, they are against the law,” said Lumumba in his last documented letter he wrote to Rajeshwar Dayal. Harold Charles d’Aspremont Lynden, the last Belgian Minister of the Colonies, ordered the relocation of Lumumba, Mpolo, and Okito to the State of Katanga. In Katanga, Lumumba, Mpolo, and Okito were brutally beaten and tortured by the Katanga Katangan and Belgian forces. In the middle of the night, Lumumba was driven to an isolated location where three firing squads (Congolese and Belgians) had been assembled and commanded by the Belgian contract officers Julien Gat, as per orders from Mobutu, President Tshombe, and the Belgians. That night, on the 17th January 1961, between 21:40 and 21:43, Lumumba was executed alongside Mpolo and Okito. As per orders from the Katangan Interior Minister Godefriod Munogo, Belgian Gendarmerie officer Gerard Soete and his team dug up and dismembered the corpses, and dissolve them in sulfuric acid while the bones were ground and scattered.
It took the government three weeks to announced the death of Patrice Emery Lumumba. Before they could have announced his death, the government engaged in deceitful radio announcements that, Lumumba, Mpolo, and Okito had escaped. Katangan radio station announced that Lumumba was “killed by enraged villagers three days after escaping from Kolatey prison farm”.
The death of Lumumba caused massive street protests in the Congo, and surprisingly, several European countries held street protests; in Belgrade, in London, in Moscow, in New York, etc.
Patrice Emery Lumumba was only trying to liberate his people and make the Democratic Republic of Congo a better country. His dream to liberate his people from the chains of imperialism and foreign corporate interests were cut short by a devastating coup supported by the Belgian, the United States of America, and the United Nations.
“The murder of Lumumba and his replacement by the US-backed dictator Mobutu Sese Seko laid the foundation for the decades of internal strife, dictatorship, and economic decline that have marked postcolonial Congo. The destabilization of Congolese society under Mobutu’s brutal rule — lasting from 1965 to 1997 — culminated in a series of devastating conflicts, known as the first and second Congo wars (or “Africa’s world wars”). These conflicts not only fractured Congolese society but also engulfed nearly all of the country’s neighbours, ultimately involving nine African nations and around twenty-five armed groups. By the formal end of the conflict, around 2003, nearly 5.4 million people had died from the fighting and its aftermath, making the war the world’s second-deadliest conflict since World War II.
Particularly in light of the Congo’s turbulent trajectory following his assassination, Lumumba remains a source of despair, debate, and inspiration among radical movements and thinkers across Africa and beyond.” ~ Sa’eed Husaini