Patrice Lumumba was known for his left-wing views and represented the victories of African peoples in the fight against colonialism for a long time. His role was acknowledged by renaming the Peoples’ Friendship University of Russia after him.
Patrice Lumumba was the first Prime Minister of the Democratic Republic of the Congo from 1961 to 1992. He had distant sympathizers from the soviet union, and because of that, an institution was changed to his name. Muscovites dubbed the institution “Lumumbarium,” and the unique surname of a politician was parodied in phrases like “If only Lumumba had a mind”. However, in his nation, Lumumba is remembered as an unbreakable warrior who met a terrible end when political opponents mercilessly killed him.
In the late 1950s, Africa was referred to in the world press as a “raging continent”. At the beginning of the century, Africa was divided among seven European powers – Spain, Italy, France, Britain, Germany, Portugal, and Belgium. After the end of the Second World War, the power of Europe was undermined, and the Soviet Union, not without reason, presented its claims to world leadership. The struggle for the independence of the peoples of the world has acquired unprecedented proportions. In 1960 alone, 17 countries became independent.
Belgium controlled the Congo Free State and Ruanda-Urundi, respectively, the modern Democratic Republic of the Congo, Rwanda, and Burundi. Belgium received Rwanda-Urundi under its control only in 1922 as a mandated territory of the League of Nations. Prior to this, the kingdoms of Rwanda and Burundi were colonies of Germany, but she lost in the First World War and lost her overseas territories.
Congo, on the other hand, was considered the personal possession of the Belgian King Leopold II since 1885. The colony was extremely cruelly exploited – by 1915, its population had halved compared to 1885: from 30 to 15 million people.
The state of the Congo, located in the heart of Africa, was simply robbed with weapons in their hands. The locals were exposed to plans for the supply of rubber, ivory, and food.
For unfulfilled conditions and refusal to work, the natives were maimed and killed. The problem of the Congo was loudly shouted by the best minds of our time. So, Conan Doyle published the book “Crime in the Congo”, and Mark Twain composed the satirical pamphlet “King Leopold’s monologue in defense of his dominion.” But this did not prevent, as the French journalist Edmond Din Morel noted, “to the Congo in exchange for ivory only soldiers, officers, and rifles with cartridges”.
Born in the heart of darkness
In 1925, Patrice Lumumba was born into the family of a Congolese peasant from the oppressed Batetela people. The majority of African leaders were taken under control by the colonizers very early, having been trained and educated in the metropolitan capitals.
On the other hand, Lumumba went to a Protestant school in his homeland and began working as a postal clerk. Patrice stood out among his peers with a subtle mind and knowledge. A promising young man in 1955 was even introduced to the King of Belgium, Baudouin, who then examined his African possessions.
Lumumba’s successful career was hampered by an arrest – he was accused of stealing postal orders worth the equivalent of about $2,500. Supporters of the politician still call the allegations of financial fraud unproven. Nevertheless, Patrice was imprisoned. For six months in prison, he was saturated with radical ideas and quickly parted with youthful moderate views. Now it was a principled supporter of the independence of the Congo.
Even before prison, Lumumba showed himself in political life. He wrote articles for the local press, led a semblance of a postal workers’ union, and joined the Belgian Liberal Party. In 1958, he already created his own party – the National Movement of the Congo (MNC).
At the end of 1959, Lumumba was arrested again. Now the colonial authorities have done this to eliminate a dangerous competitor. But the people were indignant at such obvious arbitrariness, and the politician had to be released.
At the beginning of 1960, a conference was held in Brussels, as a result of which the independence of the Congo was recognized. Lumumba was also present. Already in May, the first elections were held in the country, and his party won a third of the seats in parliament, and he became the country’s first prime minister in history. Joseph Kasa-Vubu, leader of the second major political force, the Alliance of Bakogo (ABAKO), was appointed president.
The Belgians did not plan to part with the colonies so quickly, their plans included a gradual withdrawal with the provision of full sovereignty by the mid-1980s. But time accelerated, and the older brothers from Moscow who supported Lumumba were invited to the celebrations in honor of the declaration of independence in Leopoldville (today Kinshasa). The Belgians were extremely dissatisfied with the Russian visit and openly demonstrated against it.
On June 30, 1960, a solemn ceremony was held in honor of the country’s independence. The Belgian king was also present, who showed that everything around was happening according to his good will.
In fact, Belgium expected to see a puppet government and formal statehood. Moderate President Kasa-Vubu spoke about the country’s modernization, multiracial society, and the desire to continue doing business with the former mother country. Patrice, in violation of protocol, followed up with an angry speech and uttered his famous phrase, “Nous ne sommes plus vos singes” (“We are no longer your monkeys!”).
Lumumba, at the head of the country, did not hesitate to change. He promoted the blacks in the ranks of the military and began to demand from the Belgians the withdrawal of their army. The country set its sights on the final elimination of colonialism, it was forbidden to withdraw funds abroad, and the leadership of Belgian companies that were sitting on the natural wealth announced their upcoming nationalization. A wave of violence swept across the country – locals took revenge on whites for decades of colonial suffering.
Western countries quickly declared Lumumba an ardent communist and enemy. They were afraid that the Belgians would really leave and that the USSR would have its own outpost in the very center of Africa.
In the CIA, Patrice was called the second Fidel Castro, then-President of the United States, David Eisenhower, did not hesitate to openly call for the elimination of the left-wing radicals from the Congo. When the assassination took place, the American media wrote that “another communist went to hell.”
The Belgians did not want to give rich lands to anyone, even to their indigenous people. With their centuries of experience in public administration, the Europeans quickly found a way to deal with the out-of-control upstart. They took advantage of the universal maxim known since the days of the Roman Senate – “Divide and rule.” In the young, restless Congo, a man was quickly found – Moise Tshombe. He was the son of the colonial Congo’s first millionaire, pro-Western, anti-communist, and allegedly a protege of the Belgian company Union Miniere.
Tshombe led the province of Katanga in the south of the country, in which almost all the minerals mined at that time are concentrated – diamonds, copper, cobalt, uranium. Moise announced that his region was seceding from the Congo and asked Belgium to help with money and weapons. The United States also joined. They could not allow the natural wealth of Katanga to fall into Moscow’s zone of influence. That is why the scenario of creating an independent state was launched, which lasted only two years. By the way, it was in Katanga that the Americans received uranium for the bombs dropped in 1945 on Japanese cities.
Leopoldville was quickly left without a main source of income, and President Kasa-Vubu stood in opposition to Lumumba. The Prime Minister did not give up. He broke off relations with Belgium and asked for help from the UN. However, the United Nations decided to support Tshombe and the Belgians. The separatists did not hide their intentions – they promised to stop the rebellion when Lumumba was removed from power.
Belgium used the unrest in the Congo as an excuse to send troops – she explained this by the need to protect her citizens. Moscow also did not stand aside. Soviet and Czechoslovak advisers were sent to the country, as well as ten military transport aircraft.
On August 9, 1960, the authorities declared a state of emergency in the Congo, but this did not help stop the collapse of the young statehood. In early September, Lumumba and Kasa-Vubu mutually removed each other from their posts. By this time, UN troops had already controlled the country’s central radio station and airfields.
Then in September, Lumumba was arrested again, but Antoine Gizenga’s supporter recaptured him. Soon, Patrice was again captured by the enemies, and in January 1961, he was brought to Katanga to the main one – Tshombe.
After that, the Western media wrote that Lumumba fell into the hands of the separatists and was shot without trial. For a very long time, the circumstances of the death of a politician were hidden from the general public. This dirty page of the era of the end of colonialism was brought to light by the son of Patrice Lumumba Francois. He turned to Belgium with an inquiry about how his father died, and only at the beginning of the 21st century, a special commission was created in the Belgian parliament to investigate this issue.
It turned out that associates of Mobutu Sese Seko, who later established his dictatorship in the country for more than 30 years, took part in the capture of Lumumba. It was he who renamed the Congo-Zaire and became famous for his leopard hat.
The captive Lumumba was visited by Tshombe himself and Belgian politicians. After insults and bullying, Patrice was shot and buried. The next day, the corpse was dug up, dismembered, dissolved in hydrochloric acid, and all that was left was burned. They decided to blame all these atrocities on the inhabitants of a neighboring village.
In 1992, Tshombe’s closest associate announced that he would tell in detail about the circumstances of the death of Patrice Lumumba. A few hours before the scheduled performance, he suddenly died.
In 2000, the documentary “Murder in Colonial Style” was released, the author of which spoke with many former employees of the CIA and the Belgian special services. There, for the first time, some of them were openly told about how the first Prime Minister of the Congo and his associates were killed, and body parts were removed.
It turned out that those who dealt with Lumumba pulled out his tooth. This is the only surviving biological specimen of a politician. Did this during his lifetime or posthumously – is unknown. The Belgian officer showed the tooth to the camera in the same film – after the execution, he took it for himself. On this occasion, a trial was held in Belgium. According to his decision, the tooth of the former security official was seized and handed over to the descendants of Lumumba.
On June 30, 2020, Congo celebrated the 60th anniversary of liberation from Belgian rule. The current king of the Belgians, Philippe, refused to travel to Kinshasa for the official ceremony because the visit was deemed inconvenient “under the current circumstances”. However, for the first time, he officially expressed regret over the violence and cruelty that the colonies had to endure from the Belgians.
Earlier, the former Belgian Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt had already officially apologized for the murder of Lumumba. True, it was formulated as resourcefully as possible. The Belgians then recognized their “moral responsibility” since their military trained the separatists of Katanga.
In Soviet times, streets in dozens of cities across the country were named after Lumumba. But even today, for example, in the small Yakut village of Aikhal, you can walk along Patrice Lumumba Street. Well, the followers of the Black lives matter movement, without a shadow of embarrassment, dragged Lumumba into their pantheon. Today they are smashing shops in Belgium and desecrating monuments of Leopold II.