Remembering Patrice Lumumba

The legacy of Patrice Lumumba is 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.”

Seeing clearly these machinations he gave little thrift to King Baudouin’s 1960 Independence Day assertion that the Congo had benefited “from the genius of Leopold”. He could have remained seated and held his tongue but instead stood up and systematically denounced the horrors of Belgian rule. Perhaps the Belgians had the measure of the man and knew because he was one of those rare souls who pined more than anything for justice for his people he would be thus unable to contain himself when Baudouin produced this litany of inflammatory nonsense extolling the virtues of the monstrous Leopold. If this were the case, then they achieved their ends superbly.

Leopold, for his part, halved the 20 million or so population of the Congo Free State in fifteen years. He was motivated not by ideology or necessity but pure greed – the rubber boom had his mind warped by the pursuit of profit. Worst still, he had the hypocrisy of cloaking it all under the veneer of philanthropy and done everything to halt the publication of British Consul, Roger Casement’s report on the atrocities. Leopold was a truly loathsome creature who made even the 1885 Berlin Conference’s pathetic entreaties on human rights look respectable. Lumumba, however, unrehearsed and constitutionally incapable of sustaining the colonial lie, responded on the spot;

“Fighters for independence, today victorious… I salute you in the name of the Congolese government. All of you, my friends who’ve unstintingly fought at our side. We have known mockery, insults… blows from morning to night… because we were negroes. We knew that the law was never the same… for whites and blacks. Who will forget the firing squads… the brutal arrests of those who refused to bow… to the regime of injustice, oppression and exploitation. Belgium has understood the price… that we attach to our liberty and dignity. She understands that we Congolese… will not be hostile. We just want to abolish the colonial system…that was the shame of the twentieth century.”

The Belgian ranks were horrified and Baudouin’s moustache twitched with rage. The following day every international newspaper and local radio station carried the headlines and talked of this “outrageous snub”. Africans themselves were stunned, unused to such defiance. Kasavubu, blinkered by his desire to see a resurgent Kikongo kingdom and offered empty assurances on such by the Belgian paymasters annulled Lumumba’s premiership after he had raised the pay of native Congolese in the armed ranks. Larry Devlin, CIA station chief, was given orders, apparently directly from Eisenhower to “get rid of this man”, who was not “our kind of guy” who would humbly play ball, unlike their protege Mobuto who was being groomed as a counterfoil to a deeply exaggerated and poorly understood Soviet “expansion”. Mobuto would eventually run the country into the ground, preparing more than anything the seeds for a Congolese Civil War in 1998-2003 that would claim 5 million lives, the largest death toll in a conflict since World War II. Devlin was given a tube of poisonous toothpaste which he could slip into Lumumba’s quarters but eventually decided for himself that to assassinate him would be disastrous for the US’s long term interests in the region.

Lumumba was eventually arrested when he tried to halt the Katangan secessionists with the help of a small thousand-strong Soviet troop detachment. Lumumba had declared repeatedly that he was not a communist and nothing in his programme for government suggested he had any intentions of developing a centrally planned economy. The UN had promised to dispatch forces but when they arrived they did nothing to interfere with the Katangan rebels. Katanga, a fifth of it’s land area, was the richest province in the Congo and this uprising was supported surreptitiously by the Belgians with the help of local governor Moise Chombe aka the ‘cash register’ or ‘the Jew’ as Gerard Soete described him, the Belgian police officer who was eventually charged with dismembering Lumumba and burning his remains in acid.

Earlier, when Lumumba had slipped under the net of the Belgian authorities and was making good his escape through the rough interior of the Congolese jungle he was compelled by tribal leaders through each village he passed to give them a briefing on the “real” independence struggle, as opposed to the propaganda now emanating from Kinshasha. Thousands gathered at each of these multiple stops and despite reports of Mobuto’s men closing in, Lumumba, with scant regard for his own personal safety would stay for hours at a time to impress upon all the need to abandon their divisive tribalism and adopt the pan-African philosophy of political engagement, which he had learnt from his mentor Joshua Nkrumah in Ghana.

In the end, it was this passion to engage his people, at all costs, which led to his capture. Mobuto’s forces caught up with him, took him to Katanga, and there, under the eye of the Belgian authorities, was brutally murdered. His family weren’t even given a body to mourn; they were told he had tried to escape and was slain by local villagers. A pathetic fabrication that fooled no-one, least of all Laurent Kabila, one of his most able deputies, who fled to South Kivu, just north of Katanga, where he would wait almost thirty years before having the satisfaction of deposing the autocratic stooge with a penchant for palace-building, Mobuto.

Patrice’s daughter, Julianna Lumumba, who remembers sitting quietly in his study while he penned letters to party supporters back in the late 50’s and who is now the Secretary-General of the African Union’s Chamber of Commerce has called his murder a “crime against humanity”. She is not bitter, however, and instead shares her father’s compassion and broader understanding. I will leave you finally the with the words of his friend Jean Van Lierde, a salutary reminder to that invidious dimension of colonial paternalism that found itself incapable and unwilling of absorbing the most passionate voices of dissent;

“The image he projected, by his use of vocabulary and his manner, frightened some people. He gave the impression that he was not a man who could be dominated. And a man who could not be dominated was dangerous.”


1 Comment

  1. Enca Caen said,

    June 22, 2010 at 6:59 pm

    ROYALTY – Leopold II – “Ketens der hebzucht”, SIKITIKO?

    Dit kunstwerk “ketens der hebzucht”,wil getuigen van een symbolische teruggave van alle door Belgen onterechte gestolen rijkdom en vermoorde levens in Kongo. Het is tevens eens aanklacht tegen de monarchie en Belgische staat, 2010 hoog tijd voor België om haar historische verantwoordelijkheid te erkennen met excuses gewenst.
    De monarchie en haar kolonialen, allemaal weten zij dat ze bepaalde zaken beter niet hadden begaan: de vele slagen met de chicotte, het afhakken van handen der onwillige slaven, hun grote openheid voor de zwarte vernedering. Een blank ras, de brute macht, de vele doden, de geile blikken gericht op bloedgeld en rijkdom waarop zij verliefd waren.
    Congo!!!, hun nostalische herinnering aan een kolonie waarop België zo fier is en grotendeels haar huidige bestaansvorm aan te danken heeft.
    Zonder Congo, de vele doden en het vele leed der congolese bevolking had België al lang opgehouden te bestaan.
    Wij spreken hier over een ZWARTE HOLOCAUST met 10 miljoen doden kortom één van de belangrijkste misdaden in de geschiedenis van de mensheid. Over het monster zelf, de” zwarte prins” die zijn eigen land het onbeduidende koninkrijk België diep minachtte zijn dochters verstootte en wiens hebzucht geen grenzen kende. Alle paleizen die hij bouwde, een groot deel van het monumentale Brussel dat we nu kennen en zijn plannen voor een oprijlaan van Laken naar zijn pompeuze badstad Oostende, het bouwen van Franse kastelen om zijn hoertjes in onder te brengen. Dat alles op de rug van miljoenen rubberslaven die als kannonenvlees figureerden in deze zwarte holocaust van Congo. De Belgische regering was en is zijn medeplichtige,
    Na de canvas-collectie wil ik dit kunstwerk overhandigen aan de Republiek Congo en zal dan ook vragen dat onze Koning Alberthet meeneemt n.a.v. zijn bezoek aan Congo bij de feestelijkheden rond de 50 jarige onafhanklijkheid. Laat dit kunstwerk een spiegelbeeld zijn voor president Kabila die moet stoppen met zijn bevolking te verkrachten en te vermoorden. (Bron: Enca Caen)
    Kunstwerk te bezichtigen op http://www.canvascollectie.bedoorklikken op “ketens der hebzucht”.

    Met vriendelijke groeten Enca Caen,
    Ambassadeur vredesgemeente Merelbeke.

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