Wednesday, July 20, 2011

PATRICE LUMUMBA, DRC: The life, fate of a neo-colonialism martyr

“I know that history will have its say someday, but it will not be history as written in Brussels, Paris or Washington, it will be our own” Patrice Emery Lumumba on his last letter to Pauline, his wife.
Before exploring the life and the brutal murder of Patrice Lumumba barely a year into Congolese independence in 30th June 1960, it is imperative we delve into history of Belgian Congo before independence.

In 1878 the greed, ambition and lust for wealth by Belgian monarch Leopold II made him hire the Welsh-born journalist-explorer Henry Morton to curve him a territory on Congo River.
Within seven years, Congo Free State was born with Leopold becoming ‘King Sovereign’ by reaping ‘a slice of magnifique gateau Africain’ of ivory Palm oil, timber, copper and other minerals turning the region into chaos.
Over 10 million Congolese were killed by Belgians in their greed in ‘the vilest scramble for loot that ever disfigured the history of human conscience” according to Joseph Conrad’s famous book Heart of Darkness.
At this time Belgian colonialist offered administration, Catholic church controlled education while colonial mining cartels provided fund to run system where Congolese were not involved.
In 1955-56 black elites emerged and it was this time that Patrice Emery Lumumba came into political landscape as a pacifying conformist and later as a Pan-Africanist before his death.
Patrice Lumumba making of a martyr
Lumumba was born in Kasai on 2nd July 1925. From a Tetela ethnic group he worked as a postal clerk and beer salesman in Leopoldville (Kinshasa) and later Stanleyville (Kisangani).
In 1955 he joined the Liberal Party of Belgium where his high intelligence and restless energy saw him write and edit journals for the party and other papers. He travelled for 3 weeks for a study tour in Belgium.
“The essential wish of the Congolese elite is to be “Belgians” and have the right to same freedom and the same rights” Lumumba wrote as a pacifying conformist to the colonial bigotry.
After releases from a 1 year jail term for embezzlement of Postal Office funds, he aided in forming the Mouvement National Congolais (MNC) in 1958.
In December the same year Lumumba as president with three colleagues joined The Ghana’s All-African People’s Conference in Accra lead by Kwame Nkrumah.
Lumumba like other delegates came out transformed as a strong pan-Africanist. In 1959 violent riots broke out in Congo buoyed by Ghana’s independence, unemployment and discrimination.
When King Baudouin on official visit met rioters, Belgium was forced the establishment of political parties. A total of 120 were registered mostly on tribal lines. Lumumba from a minority clan choose a national outlook.
On October 1959 while addressing a political rally with his power of oration violence broke out where about 25 Africans were killed with him ending up in jail.
On January 1960, Lumumba was released from prison to attend an independence conference in Brussels which set Zaire independence for 30th June 1960. Other leaders included Moise Tshombe and Joseph Kasa-Vubu who aided in chaos that engulfed the country to date.
Belgium election intrigues to rig brought the first bad blood with them gambling for their backed parties to win the elections. This badly backfired with Lumumba winning and the 12 parties forming a loose coalition that was shaky like an extension ladder and lasted only a few days.
At independence King Baudouin gave a patronizing speech to Congolese about the role of the colonial power which irked Lumumba to give a scathing reply.
“Who can forget the volleys of gunfire in which so many of our brothers perished, the cells where the authorities threw those who would not submit to a rule where justice meant oppression and exploitation” Lumumba said “We are no longer your monkeys”
In the tension that followed later, the army controlled by 1,100 Belgian corps was the first to mutiny over poor pay compared to increased civil servants salary bringing chaos that forced white expatriates to flee the country.
 Using the chaos, Belgium hell bend to outset Lumumba liaised with the mining companies on 11th July to reinstate Moise Tshombe to declare Katanga, rich in mineral an independent state.
Against Zaire wishes Belgium in a guise of aiding fleeing expatriates flew in troops in the capital key installations causing the already distrustful Lumumba to seek UN help under Dag Hammarskjold. Within days on 15th July Lumumba also felled out with UN.
“Lumumba was crazy and reacted like a child” Ralph Bunche is quoted as saying after a meeting by Catherine Hoskyns in The Congo Since Independence, January 1960-December 1961.   At the fever pitch of cold war Lumumba made a fateful move leading to a cataclysm of event to his death, on 19th July to seek the assistance of Czech and Soviet Union.

The Cold War
The assistance was to aid in military expedition to rein Katanga and control an uprising in Kasai.
Alarmed the USA under president Eisenhower wanted to ‘eliminate’ Lumumba. The 1975 senate report on CIA alleged assassination attempts on foreign leaders was livid.
“The president would have vastly preferred to have him taken care of some way other than by assassination.” To them Lumumba was ‘a Castro or worse’ and “It’s safe to go on the assumption that Lumumba has been bought by the communists”
On 5th September the West sided Kasa-Vubu and parliament in sucking Lumumba as PM against Soviet bloc causing a void that lead to a dearth of authority.
Nine days later, on 14th September CIA aided their spy Mobutu Seseko to overthrow the government retaining Kasa-Vubu, sidelining Lumumba and expelling the East personnel stoking the tensions higher.
Lumumba was holed up in PM residence under UN guard against Mobutu forces forming an outer ring baying for his life. The West, Belgium liaising with their Congolese men wanted Lumumba neutralized in any means possible.
On 21st September CIA scientist Dr. Sidney Gottlieb designed a poison to be placed on Lumumba’s toothbrush but expired before being used. King Baudouin was also busy hatching out their plans.
Lumumba under arrest
On 1st December Lumumba with two colleagues, Maurice Mpolo and Joseph Okito made a fateful decision on their attempt to sneak to Stanleyville before being arrested four days later in Thysville.
The chaos that engulfed Congo brought in a motley crew of foreign in their otiose interests. Mobutu and Kasa-Vubu   in Leopoldville were propped by USA, Lumumba loyalist in Stanleyville by Cairo and Soviet bloc, Tshombe in Katanga was aided by Belgium and mining companies like Union Miniere.
The details are captured vividly by Ludo De Witte in Assassination of Lumumba which forced Belgium  to take responsibility on his death on 2011, 40 years later.
On 17th January 1961 the prisoners were tortured as they were transported by air to Elisabethville (Lubumbashi) before joining a pack of rabid Belgians, Katanganese and Tshombe for more torment.
Later that night at about 10 pm Tshombe, Katanga and Belgian forces under the command of Belgian Julien Gat and Police Commissioner Frans Verscheure lined the prisoners on a tree facing a firing squad.
“You are going to kill, aren’t you” Lumumba asked Verscheure.
“Yes” he replied. Lumumba was the last to be killed before they were buried. The death was formally announced on Katanga radio concocting a story that they were killed by patriotic villagers when they were trying to escape.
1961 USSR Lumumba stamp
Afraid that their dead would backfired, the corpse were exhumed and buried near Rhodesia border. Later the bodies were exhumed again, chopped to pieces with a hacksaw and dissolved in concentrated sulfuric acid. The bones and teeth were grounded and ashes scattered on the 120 miles journey back to Elisabethville for the murder not to be found.
In 199 Belgian police Gerard Soete who exhumed the bodies in televised interview displayed two teeth and a bullet he saved from Lumumba’s corpse as a souvenir.
Commissioner Versechuer kept the other bullets from Lumumba’s skull as a trophy.

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