"Legendary freedom fighter and founding Prime Minister of the Democratic Republic of the Congo"
"What we want for our country is its right to an honorable life, to a dignity without stain and to an independence without restriction." Those were the words of the Honorable Patrice Lumumba, one of the greatest freedom fighters on the continent of Africa, who gave his life for freedom, justice and equality, and have been revered throughout the world by all oppressed peoples. The people of the Congo are still suffering today 48 years after his death because since his assassination, they have never had clear-cut visionary leadership or the freedom to follow the path Lumumba had laid out for them. Outside interference, agitators and "installed" leadership have been in power since Lumumba was captured and killed in concert with the imperialistic forces that have overrun the Congo. In order for the Congo to breathe a sigh of free, uncontaminated air, it is important to review in context, the life and work of its first prime minister, and to penetrate the facade that has systematically try to remove Lumumba from the consciousness of the people.
When Lumumba was born (1925) the Congo was known as the Belgian Congo because it was colonized (as was most of the African continent) by the Belgians before and during the first 60 years of the 20th century. He was a member of the Batetela tribe, a small tribe, and had three brothers. Since his family was Catholic, he naturally matriculated to a missionary school whose prime directive was to prepare Blacks for a life of manual labor and servitude. Lumumba began reading despite obstacles including no electricity and limited access to books. He drifted to different towns in search of work, eking out a survival subsistence and ended up working invariably as a nursing assistant, a beer company salesman and a postal clerk. While at the post office, Lumumba also began writing for several Congolese journals. The fact that he spoke French; there were places called Leopoldville and Stanleyville; and the currency was the franc; were glaring examples of an oppressive power at work.
At an early age Lumumba became politically aroused because of the inconsistencies that existed in his country. He wanted to do something to change the direction of his country and the condition of his people, so he joined the Liberal Party of Belgium. In addition to his writing experience, he also worked on editing and distributing literature for the party, while continuing to contribute to the Congolese press.
As he became more active in the party affairs, coupled with his involvement in the trade union (non-governmentally affiliated), Lumumba began to be noticed by the Belgians. He was sent to Belgium on a study tour–which in retrospect seemed like a charade–because on his return to the Congo, he was arrested. His time of imprisonment led to sharpen his political activities and after he was released, he founded the Congolese National Movement (Mouvement National Congolais–MNC) in 1958. Then in December, Lumumba attended the first All-African People's Conference in Accra, Ghana, where he met many revolutionary African freedom fighters whose struggles paralleled his own, including Kwame Nkrumah who had just led Ghana to independence and was leading the charge to do the same for all of Africa via Pan-Africanism.
Lumumba kept in touch with Nkrumah whom he had identified as his brother in the struggle and a mentor. The following year, Lumumba emerged as the sole, national figure in the Congo poised to lead his country out of the colonial clutches of the Belgians. His rival for leadership used the fact that they had come from large, powerful tribes to regionalize the struggle. Lumumba instead saw the struggle for independence as a movement encompassing the entire country rather than regions, tribes and factions, which would have ultimately weakened any national movement.
Differing styles of personalities and leadership created marked differences within the party, and Lumumba's growing prestige and firmness of purpose resulted in a split between some of the founders and the bulk of the rank-and-file. However, he retained the support of the latter. In November 1959, Lumumba journeyed to Brussels, (the capital of Belgium), to attend the Roundtable Conference where he was able to forcefully articulate his position and demonstrate his efforts in uniting the Congo under one national leadership. In addition, he was multi-lingual, an effective speaker, and was able to readily identify and communicate with the masses.
The Congo held general elections in May 1960 and Lumumba and his allies won enough seats in the National Assembly, for him to become the prime minister. Shortly afterwards, the Congo gained its independence. His stewardship was very brief; his incumbency was marred by a series of emergency crises. His rivals, aided by the Belgians and other outside interests were openly to his leadership of the newly independent country. Lumumba turned to the United Nations for assistance but was turned down. He then tried the Soviet Union and some of the independent African nations, but to no avail. The crisis in the Congo had been fomented by the Belgians, but it eventually became a Cold War proxy battle between the United States and the Soviet Union. Ultimately, the Congolese people suffered.
Since the new government reflected the parliamentary system (European- styled)–unlike the republic system (USA-styled)–Lumumba's post as prime minister and head of the cabinet paralleled a president, Joseph Kasavubu. Though supposedly ceremonial, the president was one of his rivals from the large, powerful Bakongo tribe who sought to undermine Lumumba's efforts of a unitary government by causing the country to secede into two breakaway regions, Kasai and Katanga. Kasavubu dismissed Lumumba from office and Lumumba apparently did the same to Kasavubu, but a brash young, army commander, Joseph Mobutu, used that rivalry and set his sights on ousting both Lumumba and Kasavubu. The National Assembly did not support Lumumba's dismissal and returned him to power. But Mobutu's power as, military commander, was greater than either of them and he had Lumumba arrested and held at a military camp.
About the same time, the independence movement was rampant throughout Africa–stories of the Mau-Mau in nearby Kenya created fear among the remaining Belgians–and that along with the support of the masses, had inspired Lumumba to concentrate on the vision of a unified, national government. With the help and influence of foreign interests, Mobutu successfully transferred Lumumba to one of his strongholds in the secessionist regions where, in January 1961, he was eventually murdered. Though the actual killing may have been committed by Congolese soldiers, there were Belgian and other foreigners' fingerprints on the assassination of Prime Minister Lumumba. His body was never recovered to have received a decent burial; according to the reports, his corpse was disposed of in a vat of sulphuric acid.
Though he was assassinated early in life, his legacy has been carried on by oppressed peoples throughout the world revealing the importance of his work. In his short life, he left large footprints besides the great African leaders including Osageyfo Nkrumah, Jomo Kenyatta, Gamal A. Nasser, Sekou Toure, Steve Biko, Julius Nyerere, Walter Sisulu, Kenneth Kaunda, Sam Njumo, Chief Albert Luthuli, Oliver Tambo, Mongosuthu Buthelezi, Bishop Desmond Tutu and Nelson Mandela.
(It is important to note that most of the names above have either been subject to numerous arrests, imprisonment and/or assassination. Since these men were not criminals, the world should ask the question: Why?).
Many of Lumumba's contemporaries around the world were inspired by his leadership and struggle as part of the international revolutionary movement against the evils of colonialism and imperialism. After Lumumba's death, Minister Malcolm X urged parents in the struggle to name their boy child "Lumumba" and if it's a girl, name her "Lumumbah."
Presently, Guy-Patrice Lumumba, the youngest son of the revered, martyred Prime Minister Patrice Lumumba, who was born after his father was killed, is in the U.S and traveling around the world to keep his father's legacy alive, and to seek assistance to rid his country of the stain of colonialism and foreign interference.