Congolese independence leader Patrice Lumumba: 1960
Patrice Lumumba is shown in Brussels Belgium on January 26, 1960.
Lumumba was a long-time anti-colonial activist in the Congo where he founded the Movement National Congolais—a broad based anti-colonial group.
The Movement National Congolais won the majority in the general election held in May, 1960, and Lumumba became prime minister of the Congo, with his political rival Joseph Kasavubu as president.
Lumumba’s scathing denunciation of colonialism ruffled feathers not only in Belgium but also in the United States and Great Britain. Unfortunately, his tenure was brief and marred in crises. It began with the army revolt and secession in Katanga and Southern Kasai.
When the United Nations ignored his repeated appeals for intervention, Lumumba turned to the Soviet Union. This move only strengthened western opposition to his regime. Using the crises as an excuse,
Kasavubu dismissed Lumumba as Prime Minister. Though reinstated by the National Assembly, Lumumba was subsequently overthrown by Col. Joseph (later Sese Seko) Mobutu, and placed under house arrest.
He made the fateful attempt to escape to Stanleyville where his supporters had gained control. He was apprehended by secessionist rebels and assassinated on January 18, 1961.
The involvement of colonial powers in his assassination was later documented. The Belgians had ordered his execution. The United States made several attempts to assassinate him, including poison toothpaste. The British had their own operation to kill him. While none were found directly involved in his actual murder, they essentially “green-lighted” the killing by opposition forces.
Lumumba became a martyr and symbol of Congolese and African freedom. He is remembered today as one of only a handful of African leaders truly dedicated to national unity and genuine independence.
The following is Lumumba’s last letter to his wife Pauline:
My beloved companion,
I write you these words not knowing whether you will receive them, when you will receive them, and whether I will still be alive when you read them.
Throughout my struggle for the independence of my country, I have never doubted for a single instant that the sacred cause to which my comrades and I have dedicated our entire lives would triumph in the end. But what we wanted for our country — its right to an honorable life, to perfect dignity, to independence with no restrictions — was never wanted by Belgian colonialism and its Western allies, who found direct and indirect, intentional and unintentional support among certain high officials of the United Nations, that body in which we placed all our trust when we called on it for help.
They have corrupted some of our countrymen; they have bought others; they have done their part to distort the truth and defile our independence.
What else can I say? ‘That whether dead or alive, free or in prison by order of the colonialists, it is not my person that is important. What is important is the Congo, our poor people whose independence has been turned into a cage, with people looking at us from outside the bars, sometimes with charitable compassion, sometimes with glee and delight.
But my faith will remain unshakable. I know and feel in my very heart of hearts that sooner or later my people will rid themselves of all their enemies, foreign and domestic, that they will rise up as one to say no to the shame and degradation of colonialism and regain their dignity in the pure light of day.
We are not alone. Africa, Asia, and the free and liberated peoples in every corner of the globe will ever remain at the side of the millions of Congolese who will not abandon the struggle until the day when there will be no more colonizers and no more of their mercenaries in our country.
I want my children, whom I leave behind and perhaps will never see again, to be told that the future of the Congo is beautiful and that their country expects them, as it expects every Congolese, to fulfill the sacred task of rebuilding our independence, our sovereignty; for without justice there is no dignity and without independence there are no free men.
Neither brutal assaults, nor cruel mistreatment, nor torture have ever led me to beg for mercy, for I prefer to die with my head held high, unshakable faith, and the greatest confidence in the destiny of my country rather than live in slavery and contempt for sacred principles.
History will one day have its say; it will not be the history taught in the United Nations, Washington, Paris, or Brussels, however, but the history taught in the countries that have rid themselves of colonialism and its puppets. Africa will write its own history and both north and south of the Sahara it will be a history full of glory and dignity.
Do not weep for me, my companion; I know that my country, now suffering so much, ‘will be able to defend its independence and its freedom. Long live the Congo! Long live Africa!
--The biography of Lumumba is largely excerpted from The Black Past
For other random radicals, see www.flickr.com/gp/washington_area_spark/665MWE
Photo by Harry Pott. Source: Nationaal Archief Fotocollectie Anefo