Remembering Patrice Lumumba

Photo: AFP Photo

Forty-five years ago, Congolese liberation leader Patrice Lumumba was assassinated in a CIA-organized death trap. He was 43 years old.

Patrice Lumumba was born in 1925, in the Kasai province of what was then known as Belgian Congo. At that time, much of Africa, Asia, the Middle East and Latin America were divided into colonial possessions among the Western imperialist powers. By the time of his death on Jan. 17, 1961, the majority of the world’s former colonial people were breaking from the shackles of colonialism—only to face the recalcitrant opposition of their former colonial masters and the imposition of the neocolonial system.

The Congo was among the most brutally oppressed of the African colonies. It was also one of the richest, abounding with mineral wealth like diamonds and copper.

Belgian King Leopold II’s colonial rule of the Congo, from 1885 to 1909, was infamous for its brutality. Belgian troops massacred whole villages. Workers’ hands were cut off for “stealing” that which belonged to their land or not reaching work quotas. An estimated 10 million people were killed during Leopold’s reign.

Following World War II, countries under the yoke of imperialism struggled for independence. This was the setting in which Patrice Lumumba began political organizing. Beginning as a trade union leader in 1955, he helped found the Congolese National Movement (MNC) in 1958, which became a leading force for independence from Belgian rule. The MNC won elections in December 1959 with a plurality of the votes. Running on a non-regional, non-tribal platform for a unified Congo, the MNC emerged ahead of the middle-class-based Abako party of Joseph Kasavubu. Lumumba became the first prime minister.

Lumumba’s main contribution to the Congolese struggle was his articulation of the idea of a united Congo. This vision sought to build a united nation across all ethnic and tribal divisions, despite fierce European opposition. Lumumba’s national vision paralleled his Pan-African sentiment of African unity. Both ideals were unacceptable to the imperialist powers, which sought a Congo and Africa riven with internal strife in order to be held in submission.

One of Lumumba’s best-known speeches was the one he gave at the Congo’s Independence Day ceremonies on June 30, 1960. Lumumba put truth to the lie of the European apologists for colonialism, who claimed it had a beneficial “civilizing” effect and that Europe was “granting” the Congolese their independence.

In his speech, addressed directly to Belgium’s monarch and ministers, Lumumba reclaimed the history and dignity of the Congolese people in their decades-long struggle for independence.

“For this independence of the Congo … no Congolese worthy of the name will ever be able to forget that it was by fighting that it has been won, a day-to-day fight, an ardent and idealistic fight, a fight in which we were spared neither privation nor suffering, and for which we gave our strength and our blood.

“We are proud of this struggle, of tears, of fire, and of blood, to the depths of our being, for it was a noble and just struggle, and indispensable to put an end to the humiliating slavery which was imposed upon us by force.”

Lumumba was prime minister for only about two months before he was removed illegally from office and eventually killed. This occurred under the auspices and coordination of the United Nations, the Belgian authorities and the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency.

On July 11, 1960, the resource-rich Katanga province announced it was seceding under the leadership of Moise Tshombe. Belgium’s troops promptly entered in support. This move provoked a wave of international outrage, in particular criticism by the socialist bloc, spearheaded by the Soviet Union, and the decolonizing nations in Africa and Asia. The Belgians withdrew in favor of UN troops, but the UN did not nullify Tschombe’s secession.

Prime Minister Lumumba appealed to the UN and United States, but the imperialist powers turned a deaf ear to the new African leader. He turned to the Soviet Union, which provided loyal forces with aid and transported troops to help end the secession.

On Sept. 5, the pro-imperialist president, Kasavubu, illegally removed Lumumba from office. Lumumba brought his case directly to the parliament, which reaffirmed his post. In response, Kasavubu dismissed the parliament.

UN General Secretary Dag Hammarskjold publicly endorsed Kasavubu’s move. UN forces had earlier hampered Lumumba by closing a radio station he was using to plead his case with the people.

Amid the struggle, Col. Joseph Mobutu took power in a CIA-backed coup d’etat on the side of Kasavubu and the United States. Lumumba was placed under house arrest, “protected” by UN troops actively intervening against his rule.

Lumumba understood that the UN was acting as the armed forces of the Western imperialist powers. Rather than stay under house arrest, he decided to flee.

As he was fleeing, he was captured by Mobutu’s forces on Dec. 1, 1960. Mobutu handed over Lumumba to the secessionist Tshombe, who had him executed on the very night of his capture. The whole capture by Mobutu and turnover to Tshombe was orchestrated by Belgian authorities with the full knowledge and aid of the CIA.

Mobutu gained in power under the new government, eventually ruling as a brutal dictator with the support of U.S. imperialism until he was ousted in 1997.

Patrice Lumumba’s defiance in the face of colonial racism and his devotion toward building a national movement against imperialist intervention and intrigue remains a model for revolutionaries around the world.

Articles may be reprinted with credit to Socialism and Liberation magazine.

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