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  • Writer's pictureWhat is Happening in Congo?

Patrice Emery Lumumba: The Martyr

There are a few names that come up in regards to Pan-Africanism and the liberation of African countries from colonial powers. Ghana has Kwame Nkrumah, Burkina Faso has Thomas Sankara and The Democratic of Republic of Congo has Patrice Emery Lumumba. He had humble beginnings as a postal clerk and went on to be the face of the revolution in the world's most mineral rich country, known as Belgian Congo at the time. Although his legacy was large and far reaching, it sadly ended due to the greed of the west and the fear of the Congolese elites. At the mere age of 35, Lumumba was assassinated and his remains were dissolved in acid. The only evidence that remains of this huge figure are his legacy, his progeny and his tooth.

Lumumba [is] the greatest black man who ever walked the African continent... - Malcolm X

Patrice Emery Lumumba was born July 2, 1925 in Onalau, in the Kasai Province. He belonged to the small Batetela ethnic group. His ethnic belonging is of relevance due to the fact that his two biggest political rivals, Moise Tshombe of the Lunda ethnic group of Katanga and Joseph Kasa-Vubu of the Mukongo ethnic group from Congo Central, came from large ethnic groups. It was due to their belonging to their respective ethnic groups that they amassed huge support. This was in contrast to Lumumba, who managed to garner support beyond that of ethnic affiliation. This revolutionary figurehead had very humble beginnings, having been born in a small village in Onalau. Lumumba was forced to live in the deplorable conditions most Congolese natives were subjected to when the DRC was still a Belgian colony. He and his family resided in a mud-brick house that had no running water or electricity. Lumumba attended schools run by white missionaries, where he was stated to have been a fine student, regardless of his circumstances and the fact that mission schools were oftentimes ill-equipped, without adequate textbooks and basic school supplies. His intelligence led him to asking "troublesome questions" that made his teachers uncomfortable. At a young age, Patrice Lumumba, was already exhibiting his revolutionary, confrontational nature.

Right out of a Protestant mission school, Lumumba joined the évolués club after getting a job in Kindu-Port-Empain. In addition to that, he had been writing essays as he worked as a postal clerk and other jobs that forced him to meet people from all walks of life. It was in various encounters that he was confronted with the misery of his people. His literary work showcased his concerns and was riddled with his patriotic musings. His poetry would infiltrate even the most alienated parts of the country when they were published in the Independence newspaper. One of his most popular works read as follows:

“Weep, O my black beloved brother deep buried in eternal, bestial night…

…Let them evapourate in everlasting sunshine,

Those tears shed by your father and your grandsire

Tortured to death upon these mournful fields,

And may our people, free and gay forever,

Live ,triumph, thrive in peace in this our Congo,

Here, in every heart of our great Africa!”

Lumumba went on to publish many articles decrying the evils of the colonist regime. In Stanleyville he supported Uhuru, a freedom newspaper which was used for freedom fighting in Congo. The year 1955 saw Lumumba take the role of regional president of the only trade union whose members were Congolese government employees that had no affiliation to the two Belgian trade-union federations; this was in addition to him becoming active in the Belgian Liberal Party. After a short stint in Belgium for a study program he was accused of embezzling $2500, for which he spent a year in prison in 1956, on top of paying a fine. This wouldn’t be the last time he found himself in prison.

"I prefer to die my head high, steadfast faith and deep trust in the destiny of my country, rather than living in submission and contempt of sacred principles."

After his stint in prison, Lumumba began rethinking his status as an evolue and began adopting Pan-Africanism and Congolese nationalism. It was this staunch nationalist ideology that would facilitate the blending of ethnic lines and allow all congolese people to come together and combat their colonial subjugators. Lumumba would speak at rallies and trade unions about the importance of resistance as a nation against the exploitation and abuse of Belgium. His passion and calm disposition garnered the support of many whilst he still lived in Stanleyville. When he had to move to Leopoldville to work as a sales director for a brewery he most likely had no idea that the course of his life and of a nation was about to change forever. 

In 1958, Lumumba had no intentions of stopping his political activities, even after his move to Leopoldville. It was then that he founded his own political party. Whilst many political parties were founded on the basis of ethnic belonging like Joseph Kasavubu’s Alliance des Bakongo that was made up of people that belonged to the Mukongo tribe and associated with said tribes nobility; Lumumba had a different approach, countrywide unity and that’s how Congo National Movement (MNC) came to be. By mid-1959 MNC had become one of the most popular parties in Congo. MNC had a non-violence stance and imposed it whilst standing for the complete independence of Congo. They had several cells across the country that stayed in close contact with the population. Lumumba had said “In the struggle for independence, we must count not on individual party leaders, who are often opportunist-minded, but on the people who are dissatisfied with their condition”- a sentiment that can still be emphasized in the current Congolese political landscape. The Congolese population found hope in Lumumba who had become a figurehead for Congolese liberation. He also became active on a continental level. Patrice Lumumba was an active member of the Permanent Committee of All-African Peoples’ Conference, it was in this community of African freedom fighters that he solidified his political inclinations and found ways to advance in the fight for Congo’s liberation. 

Of course, the Belgians would not leave the country easily. As the Congolese population, led by the likes of Lumumba and other politicians demanded liberation, the Belgians found ways to suppress them. When they realized that they would possibly have to concede to the Congolese, they began depleting Congolese resources. They had managed to steal 15 tons of gold from the Congolese reserves. January 4, 1959 there was to be a rally in Leopoldville where Lumumba and other members of the Congolese delegation that had been in Accra for the All-African Peoples’ Conference would address the masses. The Belgian authorities prohibited the rally out of fear and this enraged the Congolese population. The population defied the ban and went out anyway, they marched out in the face of armed police officers who began shooting on the order of the Belgians. This led to a general strike and uprising, police stations were stormed and they used sticks and stones to attack soldiers. Liberation was imminent, the ball had begun rolling and the Congolese were no longer going to back down. 

"African unity and solidarity are no longer dreams. They must be expressed in decisions."

In a hypocritical attempt to quell tensions, the Belgian King Baudoin I on January 13, 1959 gave a vague promise of independence. As the months went on it was clear that the Belgians were in no rush to make good on their promises. In October 1959, the MNC organized a meeting that would be attended by Lumumba, toward the end of the meeting the Belgians had tried to capture Lumumba but they lost him in the masses that came together to shield him. In anger, the Belgians ordered they shoot into the crowd. Lumumba and the MNC revolted and organized protests in response, and the Belgians retaliated with increased firepower. This time, the nation would not be silenced, the colonists would have to adhere to their demands of independence.

The Belgians scheduled the Round Table Conference in Brussel and invited Congo’s main political leaders to discuss the terms of the independence. Even at the table, the Belgians were not ready to give the Congolese complete independence. They wanted to enforce an independence conditional to Belgium maintaining domination over Congo and ensuring they would still control the monopolies that placed Congolese wealth in their hands. Lumumba found himself as the leader amongst the leaders that wanted the most radical changes. They demanded complete independence and a transfer of full power. Belgium was forced to return Congo’s sovereignty to the Congolese. All the while the Belgians continued to plot to ensure they still had control of the economy, and they made an instrument out of Moise Tshombe the leader of the Katanga party CONAKAT, who would be pivotal in the betrayal of Patrice Lumumba.

June 30, 1960 was set as the date for the proclamation of independence,  general elections were to be held to set up a republican forming of a government. The general elections were held in May of 1960. Lumumba was chosen as the first prime minister of Congo and Joseph Kasavubu was elected to be the first president of the new republic. On May 31, 1960 the new prime minister made an announcement that he would be responsible for the forming of the government. June 30th arrived and Patrice Lumumba emphatically shared the struggles his party and the Congolese faced to regain the nation's independence.

“...This struggle, involving tears, fire and blood, is something we are proud of in our 

deepest hearts, for it was a noble and just struggle, which was needed to bring an end to

The humiliating slavery imposed on us by force..”

He would go on to say,

“...We shall put an end to all suppression of free thought, and make it possible for all our

Citizens to enjoy to the full those fundamental freedoms spoken of in the Declaration of 

Human Rights. We shall effectively suppress all discrimination of every kind and give 

Everyone his true place as dictated by his human dignity, his work and dedication to his 


But he wasn’t done yet,

“...The independence of Congo marks a decisive step towards the liberation of the whole

Of the African continent… Our government, strong, national and popular, will be the

Salvation of this country. I urge all Congolese citizens men, women, and children, to set 

Resolutely to work to create a prosperous national economy and thus guarantee our 

economic independence. Honour to those who have fought for national liberty! 

Long live the independence and unity of Africa!

Long live the sovereign and independent Congo!”

This speech left the Belgians deeply unsettled, so much so that they realized that their time was truly up, especially because they never truly intended on following through with the arrangements made. This became all too clear when unrest broke out on July 5, 1960. General Janssens entered the military camp at Thysville (Mbanza-Ngungu) and told the soldiers that “Independence is for political chatterboxes. But here, my officers and I are in command!” The soldiers were not having it and yelled at him in anger. “Down with the Belgian officers! Long live Lumumba” Lumumba raced to the base, and removed General Janssens from the army command and he was ordered to leave the country. Unwilling to leave, Belgian officers broke into Lumumba’s home. July 9, the military launched an attack against the new republic. Belgian soldiers occupied Leopoldville airport. They were scrambling due to their failure to have a say in the formation of the republic's government. They believed that had the likes of Tshombe or Kasavubu been the heads of government they would have been able to maintain some sort of control of the government. That was out of the question with Patrice Lumumba as Prime MInister. In light of these new developments, Lumumba stated that ties be severed with Belgium and asked the UN for assistance.

It is from this point that many experts would begin to ask whether or not Lumumba was not too stubborn. They speculate that he would have been able to spare his life had he made some concessions. It is however important to note that speculations and concessions are a privilege, especially for the Congolese people of that time. That was the beginning of the end for the politician, everything that could go wrong in addition to the Belgian colonists refusing to leave, went wrong. The Congolese elites felt just as threatened as the Belgians about their place in this new society. They feared Lumumba’s nationalism and democratic inclinations and began to revolt against his power. Not to mention, the Southern Kasai province under the leadership of Albert Kalonji and the Katanga province led by Moise Tshombe had seceded. In a faut pas, Lumumba sent troops to Southern Kasai to salvage the situation but this resulted in the death of thousands of Congolese civilians. The very same UN he turned to for assistance, declared it a massacre and said that Lumumba was to blame. The West was beginning their campaign against Patrice Lumumba, which would ultimately lead to his premature death.

Lumumba was unwilling to bend to the whims of classism and global imperialists and he was about to pay severely for it. After Belgium and the UN denied Lumumba assistance to regain control of the situation in Congo, he turned to the Soviet Union. He requested they send him military assistance against the secessionist Katanga and Southern Kasai. The labels “Moscow’s Agent” and “Communist” began following him. He went on to say “Some call me Communist, though I am not one. They call me a Communist because they failed to corrupt me” adding “If my death becomes inevitable tomorrow, I’ll die for my motherland.” That was when Kasavubu took the opportunity to dismiss Lumumba from office on September 5, 1960 and in a radio statement stated that a new government would be appointed; which was illegal according to the constitution. The National Assembly ordered that Lumumba be reinstated but Mobutu, the West's new darling, a Colonel in the Congolese Army and supposed friend of Lumumba placed him under house arrest aided by Ghanaian troops of the UN force. 

“If my death becomes inevitable tomorrow, I’ll die for my motherland.”

All the while the CIA had set up a task force to rid the world of Lumumba. This secret program would see to the elimination of Patrice Lumumba and the instating of Joseph Mobutu as head of state and government.  Allen Dulles on a call stated that Lumumba’s removal was absolutely necessary. The program prepared mass demonstrations against Lumumba and spread anti-Communist pamphlets. The CIA, with collaboration of the British M16 had planned to poison him using toothpaste on the instruction of former US president, Eisenhower. After two months of house arrest he escaped on the evening of November 27, however four days later on December 1, he was recaptured with the Minister of Defence, Maurice M’polo and the President of the Senate Joseph Okito. They were taken to a prison in Binza. In an unprecedented move, President Kasavubu visited Lumumba in jail and offered him a deal but Lumumba told him he doesn’t talk to traitors. With that Lumumba’s fate was sealed, he was handed over to Moise Tshombe. 

On January 17, 1961, Lumumba, M’polo and Okito were taken to Elizabethville (modern day Lubumbashi) in complete secrecy where they were severely and incessantly beaten. Patrice Lumumba, Joseph Okito and Maurice M’polo lost their lives at the hands of Belgians, Colonel Hughe and Captain Gat in a small house outside of Elizabethville. They made sure that they wiped away every trace of the three men by savagely chopping up their bodies and dissolving the body parts in acid. Only a tooth survived from the man that was known as Lumumba. 

The truth surrounding Lumumba’s death only became known in November of 1961 when the UN published a special report. Lumumba had written a letter to his wife Pauline Opango Lumumba whilst in prison in Thysville,

“My Dear Wife,

I write these words to you without knowing if they will get to you, when they reach you, and if I will be alive when you read them.

Throughout my struggle for the independence of my country, I have never doubted the final triumph of the sacred cause to which my companions and I have dedicated all our lives.

But what we wanted for our country, its right to an honorable life, to a dignity without stain, to independence without restrictions, Belgian colonialism and its Western allies – who have found direct and indirect, deliberate and non-deliberate support, among some senior United Nations officials, this organization we placed all our trust in when we called on its assistance – never wanted it. They corrupted some of our compatriots, they helped twist the truth and stain our independence.

What else can I say? Whether dead, alive, free or in prison by order of the colonialists, it is not my person that matters. This is Congo, it is our poor people whose independence has been transformed into a cage from which we look at us from outside, sometimes with this volunteer compassion, sometimes with joy and pleasure. But my faith will remain steadfast.

I know and feel deep inside myself that sooner or later my people will get rid of all its inner and external enemies, that they will rise as one man to say no to degrading and shameful capitalism, and to regain their dignity under one pure sun. We are not alone.

Africa, Asia and the free and free people from all corners of the world will always stand alongside millions of Congolese people who will not abandon the struggle until the day there will be no more colonizers and their mercenaries in our country.

To my children whom I leave, and that maybe I will never see again, I want them to say that the future of Congo is beautiful and expect from them, as he expects of every Congolese, to perform the sacred task of the Reconstruction of our independence and sovereignty, for without dignity there is no freedom, without justice there is no dignity, and without independence there are no free men.

No brutality, abuse or torture have ever led me to ask for grace, for I prefer to die my head high, steadfast faith and deep trust in the destiny of my country, rather than living in submission and contempt of sacred principles.

History will one day say its word, but it will not be the history that will be taught in Brussels, Washington, Paris or the United Nations, but the one that will be taught in countries free from colonialism and its puppet.

Africa will write its own story and it will be in the north and south of the Sahara a story of glory and dignity. Don’t cry on me, my companion.

I know that my country, which suffers so much, will defend its independence and freedom.

Long live Congo! Long live Africa!

– Patrice Lumumba"

They killed the man but they could not kill his spirit. In every Congolese person there is a bit of Patrice Lumumba. Sixty-Three years on and the fight persists against whatever form the oppressor manifests in. In the spirit of liberation we have seen new national heroes like Rossy Mukendi, live and die for Congolese freedoms. How do we honour the life of a man who refused to succumb to the pressure of the powers that be? The liberation of Congolese civilians would not be bargained with, not whilst he lived. Lumumba, Okito and M'polo died for a liberation they knew they'd never get to experience. So as we go on we remember, we remind and we follow in the footsteps of the martyr. We’re a step closer because our forefathers bled and it would be a shame to give up now.

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