Patrice Lumumba’s relevance
Ideas for today’s generation of African leaders
Antoine Roger Lokongo
2013-01-16, Issue 613
Patrice Lumumba was Congolese national hero of the Democratic Republic of Congo. He united all the ethnic groups and snatched independence from Belgium and became Congo’s first democratically elected leader. For Belgium, Congo’s former colonial power, Congo’s independence was like a fruit that was not ripe yet but which the wind of history forced it to fall. In fact, the proclamation of the new People’s Republic of China and the war of independence in Algeria had a great impact on the independence movement in Congo.
Lumumba was one of the ‘evolués’, that is Congolese elite who had assimilated so well the western way of living. After attending the All African Peoples’ Conference held in Accra, Ghana from 5 December 1958 to 13 December 1958 (Ghana being the first African country which achieved independence on 6 March 1957), Lumumba who met Kwame Nkrumah, Ghana’s first president, came back to the Congo a changed man, a staunch nationalist and Pan-Africanist. Nkrumah is often referred to as Lumumba’s ‘spiritual father.’
LUMUMBA’S CONTINUING RELEVANCE
Addressing the Conference, Lumumba said: ‘Despite the artificial borders that separate us, we all have the same African conscience, we are preoccupied with one thing: to make Africa a free continent, happy and freed from every colonial domination. We are happy to realize that we all have one common objective, outlined by this conference: the struggle against all internal and external factors which constitute an obstacle to the emancipation of our countries and the unification of Africa, including: tribalism, religious separatism, all of which constitute a serious hindrance to the birth of a harmonious and fraternal African society.’ These words of Lumumba still ring true today. Even the Belgians were convinced that Lumumba was the only Congolese leader who rose above ethnic difficulties and preoccupations that killed all the other parties.
Upon returning to Congo, Lumumba on 28 December 1958 organised a public meeting in Kinshasa, then called Leopoldville and 10,000 of his MNC (Mouvement National Congolais) supporters turned up. It was very successful. Abako (Association des Bakongo), a rival but ethnic based political party, led by Joseph Kasavubu, jealous of Lumumba’s success in their own stronghold, organised its own public meeting on 4 January 1959. It was not authorised by the colonial government. A revolt ensued and Lumumba’s supporters were attacked. Police opened fire and 300 people were killed. That sparked an insurrection movement of the Congolese masses until Belgium agreed to talk and fix the date of independence at the Brussels Round Table. On 30 June 1960, Congo became independent.
Lumumba’s coalition won the elections and formed the first government but the nationalist Lumumba, to seal national reconciliation, convinced his coalition partners to appoint Joseph Kasavubu as a ceremonial President of the Republic while the true power would remain in the hands of Prime Minister Lumumba.
PRIDE IN OUR AFRICAN IDENTITY
The first lesson we can learn from Patrice Lumumba despite all the woes of our African continent today, is that he was always proud to be an African and proud to be a Congolese. So, despite the ardent psychological warfare waged against Africa through the western media, public relations and western academia, we should not be ashamed to be Africans. If we give in to this massive intoxication and manipulation and turn our back on our continent who will make it better for us? Even China our true friend is there to support us. China cannot do everything in our place. China is not the saviour of Africa.
Yes, Patrice Lumumba was always proud to be an African and a Congolese. This is what he said: ‘I have no father, I have no mother, I have no tribe, I have no religion. I am an idea. Congo gave me life and made me who I am. It is my turn to make Congo a better place to live.’ Lumumba was always talking about a better Congo because Congo has had a terrible history. Since the slave trade up to now, the people of Congo have not been given any respite whatsoever because of the immense natural and mineral wealth that their country boasts.
LUMUMBA SPEAKS TRUTH TO POWER
On the solemn day of independence, King Baudouin turned the knife in the wound because in his speech he said: ‘The independence is the outcome of King Leopold’s ingenious works. King Leopold did not come to conquer you but to civilize you and free you from slavery and tribal infighting. Look well after the spiritual, moral, religious values and the state institutions we are now handing over to you. We will always be there if you need us…’
President Kasavubu’s response was: ‘Your august majesty’s presence here this day is yet again a shining and new testimony of your solicitude for the Congolese people whom you loved and protected. Eighty years of contact with Belgium has brought us but a lot of goods: language, legislation and culture. We are going to build on this foundation for future progress.’
Lumumba who was suspiciously not scheduled to speak, stood up and addressed himself directly to the most oppressed sections of society, the peasants, the workers and unemployed of Congo whom he had mobilised for total independence: ‘Men and women of the Congo, Victorious fighters for independence, today victorious, I greet you in the name of the Congolese government.’
Lumumba’s Pan-African vision comes out quite clearly in his speech: ‘Congo's independence marks a decisive step towards the liberation of the entire African continent’, he said. Then he proceeded to set the record straight stating clearly:
‘This was our fate for 80 years of a colonial regime; our wounds are too fresh and too painful still for us to drive them from our memory. We have known harassing work, exacted in exchange for salaries which did not permit us to eat enough to drive away hunger, or to clothe ourselves, or to house ourselves decently, or to raise our children as creatures dear to us. We have known ironies, insults, blows that we endured morning, noon and evening, because we are Negroes. Who will forget that to a Black one said “tu”, certainly not as to a friend, but because the more honorable “vous” was reserved for whites alone? We have seen our lands seized in the name of allegedly legal laws, which in fact recognized only that might is right. We have seen that the law was not the same for a white and for a Black – accommodating for the first, cruel and inhuman for the other. We have witnessed atrocious sufferings of those condemned for their political opinions or religious beliefs, exiled in their own country, their fate truly worse than death itself. We have seen that in the towns there were magnificent houses for the whites and crumbling shanties for the Blacks; that a Black was not admitted in the motion-picture houses, in the restaurants, in the stores of the Europeans; that a Black traveled in the holds, at the feet of the whites in their luxury cabins. Who will ever forget the massacres where so many of our brothers perished, the cells into which those who refused to submit to a regime of oppression and exploitation were thrown?’ [applause]
The new political theory according to which Africa should forget its past is to be rejected. We need people who set the record straight in Africa like Patrice Lumumba.
A LEADER OF PRINCIPLE
The king was not amused! Lumumba’s government was subsequently deposed in a coup. He was subsequently imprisoned and assassinated by firing squad on 17 January 1961 in Katanga, by Western powers – the United States, Belgium, France, England and the United Nations. It was in cahoots with local leaders such as Moise Tshombe and Joseph Desire Mobutu , ‘using an African hand to neutralize a fellow African who is not complying.’ That strategy has always worked in Africa!
With Lumumba’s assassination, Congo’s young democracy was also decapitated by the same western powers which preach democracy and Christianity to Africa.
Are we really sons and daughters of the same God when it is Africans who suffer slavery and colonialism? If we cannot freely choose our trading partners, how free are we? Why can’t we go where we will get a better deal according to the fundamental principle of the market economy and only trade with the ‘former colonial power?’
MALEVOLENT DISCOURSES IN THE WEST
There is a discourse in the West which holds that ‘We do not know what kind leader Lumumba would have been.’ I too don’t know. But I am going to tell you five actualities. First; Lumumba in his independence day speech said:
‘We are going to keep watch over the lands of our country so that they truly profit her children. We are going to restore ancient laws and make new ones which will be just and noble. We are going to put an end to suppression of free thought and see to it that all our citizens enjoy to the full the fundamental liberties foreseen in the Declaration of the Rights of Man [applause]. We are going to do away with all discrimination of every variety and assure for each and all the position to which human dignity, work and dedication entitles him. We are going to rule not by the peace of guns and bayonets but by a peace of the heart and the will.’ [applause]
Second; Lumumba refused to be bribed by President Eisenhower when he visited America. In his last letter to his wife Pauline Opango, Lumumba wrote:
‘No brutality, mistreatment, or torture has ever forced me to ask for grace, for I prefer to die with my head high, my faith steadfast, and my confidence profound in the destiny of my country, rather than to live in submission and scorn of sacred principles. History will one day have its say, but it will not be the history that Brussels, Paris, Washington, or the United Nations will teach, but that which they will teach in the countries emancipated from colonialism and its puppets.’
Third; Lumumba’s coalition won the elections and formed the first government. However, the nationalist Lumumba, to seal national reconciliation, convinced his coalition partners to appoint Joseph Kasavubu as a ceremonial President of the Republic while the true power would remain in the hands of Prime Minister Lumumba.
Fourth; Lumumba was the first leader in Africa to let the youth be in charge of the ministry of youth and the women to be in charge of the ministry of women.
Fifth; Lumumba believed in equal opportunity for all young people, independent of their ethnic origin. After all, Mobutu who betrayed Lumumba got a scholarship in the name of Lumumba’s party to study in Belgium
Therefore, it is up to each one of you to draw his or her own conclusion or make his or her own judgment whether or not Lumumba was going to be a dictator.
LUMUMBA MUST BE INTERNATIONALLY KNOWN
The way forward is African unity, for Congo is the engine of African development under ‘South-South Cooperation.’ Africans must exercise their power to deal with the rest of the world only on their own terms for the benefit of their people. To redress the current imbalance of power which is not tilting in their favour, African countries must give priority to South-South-Win-Win Cooperation (SSWW).
After Patrice Lumumba was murdered in Congo, Mao Zedong made a personal statement in solidarity with the Congolese people. Millions of people demonstrated in China and China supported the armed liberation struggle in the Congo led by figures such as Pierre Mulele and Laurent Kabila. I urge Chinese young academics to research more on the life of Patrice Lumumba and make him known to the Chinese people.
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* Antoine Roger Lokongo, Chinese name: 龙刚（Long Gang) is a native of the Democratic Republic of Congo. He is a journalist and PhD candidate at the Centre for African Studies, School of International Relations, Peking University, Beijing, China
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