For seven months between 1960 and 1961, Patrice Lumumba was the Prime Minister of the Democratic Republic of Congo. He would only live for 36 years, the last seven months of which he spent in the supreme office of the Congolese government. Lumumba was assassinated on the 17th of January in 1961 under not so secret circumstances. It is now common cause that Belgium was the major player in the killing of a man whose pan-African legacy has been immortalized like the legacies of such African giants as Thomas Sankara and Kwame Nkrumah.
Mission: To make the Congo the pride of Africa
Lumumba’s tenure in office started with a moving speech that reminded the Congolese who they were and indeed even now, every black man is better for reading it. This was a man with an unprecedented consciousness of who he was and though he forgave, he did not forget. In his Independence Day speech, he rhetorically posed the question, “Who will ever forget the shootings which killed so many of our brothers, or the cells into which were mercilessly thrown those who no longer wished to submit to the regime of injustice, oppression and exploitation used by the colonialists as a tool of their domination?” He added, “All that, my brothers, brought us untold suffering.”
His goal was to lead his country to “peace, prosperity, and greatness”. The whole vision was encapsulated in the words, “We shall show the world what the black man can do when working in liberty, and we shall make the Congo the pride of Africa.” His ideas went as far as encouraging freedom of speech, eradicating discrimination and going past the armed struggle to “peace resting on concord and goodwill”.
However, the West was not about to let him have his way. What Lumumba stood for were futuristic democratic values even Western nations had not fully mastered. He was too intelligent, too conscious and too African.
A Pan-African Martyr
The Guardian referred to the assassination of Lumumba as the most important of the 20th century. The young leader was captured by his rivals in the country’s civil war and was killed on the 17th of January. Lumumba’s killing was a result of an American and Belgian plot and President Eisenhower of the USA is remembered for ordering that the CIA “eliminate” Lumumba. The USA had obvious interests in the Congo and would have wanted a puppet in charge. In fact, the USA is said to have made the Hiroshima nuclear bomb from uranium mined in the Congo. If Lumumba was to lead, America’s pass to loot and exploit would have been revoked. Reports suggest that, “…the US and Belgium used all the tools and resources at their disposal, including the United Nations secretariat…”
Though how Lumumba died was shrouded in secrecy for a long time, Emmanuel Gerard and Bruce Kuklick attempted to demystify the assassination in their book, Death in the Congo. They said Lumumba had been placed under house arrest but he escaped. He was caught and detained again and taken to the rebel leader, Katanga where he was shot. The men then buried Lumumba’s body in a shallow grave with the arm protruding and had to rebury the corpse. It was later taken again and body parts dissolved in acid.
The continent will always remember Lumumba as a man who could have changed the African narrative. He was clearly a martyr and though he is gone, his vision for the continent and blacks at large should be a guiding philosophy for all. His knowledge of who he was and where he came from is also a trait to emulate in a confusing world attempting to whitewash African and black history so as to undermine the struggle for freedom. Prejudice still exists, and only an African with an unconfused understanding of who he is can wade through its murky waters. Lumumba lives on!
Image Source: Kalangumag.com