Congolese Prime Minister Patrice Lumumba in 1960. Lumumba was the elected representative of the people who was overthrown and murdered by the imperialists and their stooges., a photo by Pan-African News Wire File Photos on Flickr.
Lumumba: From a mere man to a lasting symbol
Monday, 09 May 2011 19:48
Courtesy of the Zimbabwe Herald
Patrice Lumumba is one of the few African leaders who are still remembered 50 years after their death. Yet he only ruled for three month months! And he died at the young age of 35! So why is he still so fondly remembered? Cameron Duodu examines the phenomenon.
I can still remember it like yesterday - the day, 50 solid years ago, when Ghana's president, Dr Kwame Nkrumah, made a special broadcast to announce solemnly to the nation that he had "received information" that Patrice Lumumba, the Prime Minister of Congo, had been assassinated.
Lumumba had been arrested, first by Mobutu's troops, and then sent to Katanga province, where his worst enemy, Moise Tshombe, and his secessionist forces reigned supreme, despite the presence of United Nations troops in the area.
President Nkrumah did not disclose his sources, of course, but anyone who knew that he had excellent contacts with the USSR, whose intelligence service at the time were second to none, would have been a fool to doubt that his information was absolutely reliable.
Nkrumah went as far as to say that a "Belgian policeman" had been charge of the deed.
This was an incredible bit of prescience: it was not until the 2001 publication in Belgium of The Assassination of Patrice Lumumba by Ludo De Witte, that the exact circumstances of the assassination became widely known.
And they tallied exactly with the information Nkrumah gave his countrymen nearly half a century ealier.
Ghanaians were stunned.
For Nkrumah had involved the whole nation in trying to save Lumumba and his country from the machinations of the Belgians.
As will be seen later, Ghanaian troops were sent to Congo - the first time soldiers form an independent African country had gone to the service of another independent African country.
But more than that, all sorts of skilled Ghanaians also went to Congo - doctors, artisans, even journalists. (Edward Armah, a veteran of the Ghana Broadcasting Corporation, was, attached to the Ghanaian contingent to enable the soldiers to send messages to their families back home, and his colleagues in Accra contacted some of the families to send messages back to the soldiers. Special, powerful transmissions - "Interactive transmissions" - were carried out to enable this to occur.)
How did Lumumba, an obscure politician, who made his public outing on the international scene only when he attended the All-African People's Conference in Acra in December 1958, become an African icon, whose place in history is at the very top of the tree on which African heroes perch, where he will stay for ever?
Indeed, Lumumba is next only to Nelson Mandela in terms of being the all-time unblemished figure who most readily comes to mind when Africa is discussed in relation to struggle.
Even Mandela had lesser enemies to contend with: Lumumba was chased around by both the CIA and its Belgian subsidiary, with whom it co-operated through Nato!
Not only that - Mandela suffered tremendously. But he won.
Lumumba, on the other hand, lost - he lost power, he lost his country, and in the end, he lost his life.
All were forcibly taken from him by a combination of forces that were probably the most powerful ever deployed against a single individual in history.
In his book, Ludo De Witte calls Lumumba's murder "the most important political assassination in the 20th century."
The amazing thing is that Lumumba had done absolutely nothing against those who wanted his blood!
They just saw him as a threat to their interests; interests narrowly defined to mean, "His country has got resources. We want them. He might not give them to us. So let's get him".
I submit, though, that he should not be seen only as a victim of forces too powerful for him to contend with.
On the contrary, he should be seen as someone who fully recognised the power of the forces ranged against him and fought valiantly with every ounce of breath in his body and with great intelligence to try and save his country.
If Lumumba's fate contrasts with that of Mandela, who was imprisoned for tangible acts against South Africa's apartheid regime, we see that, in the history of the African people's struggle in the 20th century, Mandela and Lumumba represent different ends of the spectrum of activity.
We can say too that the two men represent the beacon of the light that shines sharply to bring absolute clarity into the evaluation of a history often mired in obfuscation and mendacity.
To those who say, "How wonderful it was to see in Mandela, the issue of oppression so peacefully resolved", we need only point to that picture of Patrice Lumumba, a torturer's hand in his hair, as he was brutalised in a truck by black Kantangese soldiers at Elizabethville (now Lubumbashi).
In that picture of Lumumba, serious students can spy unseen hands, steered by a "heart of darkness", bribing, mixing poisons, assembling rifles with telescopic sights, and finally propping an elected prime minister against a tree in the bush and riddling his body with bullets.
And then - could even Joseph Conrad, in his worst nightmarish ramblings, have imagined this?
First, burying Lumumba's body, then exhuming it a day later because the burial ground was too close to a road, and then hacking it to pieces, and shoving the pieces into a barrel filled with sulphuric acid, to dissolve it.
And would Joseph Conrad have been able to picture the murderer making sure to break off two front teeth from Lumumba's jaw, to keep as a memento to show off to the grandchildren in Brussels in years to come? As well as one of the bullets that killed him?
If Shakespeare could write black comedy, we might have got dialogue like this: "Grandpa, what didst thou do in the Congo?" "I exterminated Lumumba - and mark thee, that's why I live in comfortable retirement and, never ye forget this - that's wherefore ye went to such expensive schools. Here - see? Two of his very teeth that I broke off and brought home! And this - the bullet that finished the job!!"
A Belgian, nearly 60 years after Conrad published his Heart of Darkness - and 57 years after Roger Casement and E D Morel had made what they hoped was a definitive exposure of the crimes King Leopold II of Belgium had committed against the Congolese people - could still engage in such barbarities against a leader elected on the basis of a constitution signed into law by Leopold II's own grandson, King Baudoin I.
That sordid crime in the bush near Elizabethville 50 years ago was the logical conclusion of a bitter and vigorous campaign that Belgium, aided by the US, waged in Congo in 1960 to ensure that Lumumba would never get a chance to rule the country that elected him to be its leader.
Because of the action of Belgium and the USA, we actually do not know whether Lumumba would have made a good ruler or not. Which makes him even more important to history: for he was not assassinated merely as a person, but as an idea. What was that idead?
It was the idea of a Congo that was fully independent, non-aligned, and committed to African unity.
Lumumba's party, the Mouvement National Congolais (MNC-L - L for Lumumba), was the only one in Congo to organise itself successfully as a party that saw the country as one and indivisible, not as a conglomeration of ethnic groups. Thus, it gained 33 out of the 137 seats in the Congolese Parliament.
From this relatively strong base, Lumumba was able to inspire others with his vision and thereby to hatch alliances that enabled the MNC to command an over-all majority of the seats in the parliament.
When he was appointed Prime Minister by Brussels, many of the Belgians in Congo and in Belgium itself thought the heavens had fallen in. For he was not the Belgians' first choice!
They tried other Congolese "leaders" (such as Joseph Kasavubu) and it was only when these failed to garner adequate support that they unwillingly called on Lumumba.
The magnitude of the achievement of the MNC in organising its elf as a nationwide party, and managing to hatch viable alliances is not often appreciated, because few people realise that Congo is as big in size as all the countries of Western Europe put together!
As for Belgium itself, it is outrageous that it should have wanted to run Congo in the first place - Congo is 905,563 square miles in size, compared to Belgium's puny 11,780 square miles.
In other words, Belgium arrogated to itself the task of ruling a country almost 77 times its size! Not only is Congo huge, but think of a country the size of Western Europe that does not have good roads, railway systems, telecom facilities or modern airports.
And a Western Europe in which political parties are legalised only one year before vital elections - say, elections to put into power the parties that would decide whether there should be a European Union at all, or not!
The only thing to add is that in Congo, the first nationwide local elections held in 1959, which saw the emergence of the MNC, were even more crucial, for it was those elections that were to assess the strength of the various "parties" (in effect, ethnic movements) that would take part in deciding the future constitutional arrangements under which the country would be governed.
Who knew - perhaps the independence that Ghana (1957) and Guinea (1958) had achieved, might even come Congo's way and those elected might become ministers, who would form the first government of a new, independent Congo, after nearly 100 years of the most brutal colonial rule inflicted on an African country by a European ruler.
By the time the Belgians felt the need to call a constitutional conference in Brussels to decide how the new Congo was to be ruled, Lumumba was in prison.
Again! He had earlier been imprisoned on a charge of embezzlement while he was a postal clerk. It needs to be pointed out that the charge was brought against him while he was away in Brussels, touring the country at the invitation of the Belgian government. Was someone trying to blight a future political career?
The charge on which he went to prison a second time was more in line with colonial practice. "Inciting a riot"!
Ha - where have we heard that before?
Those who know African history can immediately see the parallels with what happened in Ghana, Kenya and Malawi: it was precisely the same colonial criminal code that had put Nkrumah in prison in Ghana in 1950, and in a slightly more tortuous manner, Jomo Kenyatta in Kenya in 1953, and Kamuzu Banda in the then Nyasaland (Malawi) in 1959.
Again, like Nkrumah in Ghana, Lumumba's party, the MNC contested local (provincial) council elections in 1959 while its leader was still in jail, and surprise, surprise, it too won a sweeping victory, as the electorate made no mistake in recognising why the leader had been jailed. In its main stronghold of Stanleyville (today's Kisangani), Lumumba's party obtained no less than 90 percent of the votes.
So, when in January 1960, the Belgian government invited all the Congolese parties to a Round Table Conference in Brussels to discuss political change, i.e. write a new constitution for the country, and the MNC refused to participate unless Lumumba was released and put at its head, the Belgian government had no choice but to release him and fly him to Brussels.
It was at this conference that Lumumba showed his mettle - rising above the divisive politics that the Belgians wanted to promote among the various ethnic groupings and uniting them on one central objective - independence. And he managed to get a date agreed for independence - 30 June 1960.
Lumumba returned from Brussels to contest the national elections that were held in May 1960: a mere one-month to independence. I draw your attention again to the size of Congo and the absence of anything in the country that resembled adequate infrastructure.
This made it well-nigh impossible to campaign for elections on a national scale and of the 50 parties that put up candidates only two - Lumumba's MNC-L and the Parti National du Progrès or PNP - fielded candidates in provinces other than where their leaderships originated from.
Here is how the larger of the 50 parties performed in the May 1960 general election: MNC-L was strongest in Oriental Province (Eastern Congo).
It won nearly a quarter of the seats in the lower house of parliament (33 out of 137) - thus garnering the highest number of seats for any single party.
In the province of Léopoldville, the Parti Solidaire Africain or PSA (led by Antoine Gizenga) narrowly defeated the ABAKO party of Joseph Kasavubu.
In Katanga province, the Confederation des Associations Tribales de Katanga or CONAKAT, led by Moise Tshombe, won narrowly over its main rival, the Association Generale des Baluba du Katanga, or BALUBAKAT, led by Jason Sendwe.
In Kivu, the Centre de Regroupement Africain, CEREA of Anicet Kashamura, won but didn't obtain a majority.
MNC-L came second there. MNC-L also won in Kasai, despite being obliged to fight against a splinter faction that had become MNC-K (under the leadership of Albert Kalonji, Joseph Iléo and Cyrille Adoula).
In the Eastern province, the MNC-L won a clear majority over the PNP, its only major adversary.
Finally, in the province of Equateur, PUNA (led by Jean Bolikango) and UNIMO (led by Justin Bomboko) were the victors.
But, as stated above, it was not Lumumba who, based on his performance at the elections, was first called upon by the Belgians to try to form a government.
That honour went to the ABAKO leader Joseph Kasavubu.
He failed, and it was then that Lumumba was asked to form a government.
To the Belgians' surprise, Lumumba succeeded in doing so.
He clobbered together a coalition whose members were: UNC and COAKA (Kasai), CEREA (Kivu), PSA (Leopoldville) and BALUBAKAT (Katanga).
The parties in opposition to the coalition were PNP, MNC-K (Kasai), ABAKO (Leopoldville), CONAKAT (Katanga), PUNA and UNIMO (Equateur) and RECO (Kivu).
It was at this stage that Lumumba demonstrated how far-sighted he was.
He convinced his coalition partners that the opposition parties should not be ignored and he proposed that they should elect Joseph Kasavubu, the ABAKO leader, as President of the Republic. Lumumba's coalition partners agreed, and the deal was announced on 24 June, 1960.
But unfortunately, Lumumba signed his own death warrant in appointing Kasavubu out of the best of intentions. In doing so, he implanted a poisonous Belgians spy into his bosom.
Lumumba's action was acclaimed as an act of statesmanship and was endorsed by a vote of confidence in both the Chamber of Deputies and the Senate.
However, the Belgians began to use what would have been Lumumba's political strengths against him.
They now cultivated Kasavubu, filling his head with sweet words about how Lumumba was young and inexperienced, whereas Kasavubu was experienced and sagacious, as recognised in Brussels.
He must not allow any "impulsive" acts of the young Prime Minister to go unchallenged.
And they backed their flattery with massive sums of money.
Even more important, the Belgians planted into the Office of the Prime Minister (Lumumba) as his principal aide, a former soldier called Joseph Mobutu.
He had been recruited as an agent by the Belgians, while attending the Exhibition of Brussels, following which he stayed on in Belgium as a student of "journalism".
With his military background, it would not have been difficult to teach him the tricks of espionage instead. - New African