Lumumba: Forgotten Slaying of a Revolutionary

Congolese Revolutionary

Patrice Lumumba, a Congolese revolutionary leader in the newly independent Congo, expressed his belief that his people deserved true freedom from exploitation, in order that that they could, for once, reap the fruits of their own soil. He believed in a free Africa. He was assassinated for his views.

I read an eye-opening article from the NYT the other day concerning an assassination of a man few Americans remember. Besides the subject matter, it is also simply a well-written article by a fitting candidate to write on the subject: Adam Hochschild, the author of King Leopold’s Ghost, a book concerning the various atrocities and legacy left by the Belgian occupation of the Congo.

In this article, Hochschild summarizes the chain of events that lead to the assassination of Patrice Lumumba, a revolutionary leader that emerged out of the newly independent Congo in 1960. Lumumba gave a great speech in front of fellow Congolese Parliament members in response to the truly lacking independence granted to the Congolese people by Belgian officials. Their proposal of independence paradoxically gave little new freedoms in terms of allowing the Congolese to run their nation and determine its course.

“Political independence was not enough…Africans had to also benefit from the great wealth in their soil.”

Lumumba had a vision for a better Africa, an Africa that would gain control of its own riches and start its own life free from the grip of foreign powers. Unfortunately, not everyone saw this as a good thing, specifically these certain foreign powers Lumuba imagined the Congo escaping from, such as the US and Beligium. Foreign interest groups were concerned with losing the immense profits they were gaining from Congo’s factories, plantations, and lucrative mines containing diamonds, gold, uranium and copper. It has become clear that the CIA, with white house approval, ordered his assassination. While the initial mission failed, the US and Belgium funneled money into the Congo to aid rival politicians, who eventually seized power and arrested Lumumba. The rest of the story grows bleaker, with Lumumba’s imprisonment ending in his death…

“There, on Jan. 17, 1961, after being beaten and tortured, he was shot. It was a chilling moment that set off street demonstrations in many countries.”

What’s most interesting about this article comes towards the end, when Hochschild explains the immense consequences of this assassination, including most prominently the 32 year reign of a harsh dictator named Joseph Mobutu, which essentially is what has led Congo to further corruption and ruin. When finally, in 1997, Mobutu was overthrown and passed away, “his country was in a state of wreckage from which it has not yet recovered.” Finally, I found it most intriguing when Hochschild ponders what might of happened if Lumumba had lived:

“Would he have stuck to his ideals or, like too many African independence leaders, abandoned them for the temptations of wealth and power?”

We can never say whether Lumumba would have been the man to give the Congo and potentially all of Africa the boost it needed for true independence, but its tragic to think of the possibilities we might have lost with this great man. In addition, it is terrifying to think our nation was involved in his death. It forced me to look upon his death with shame, “for we helped install the men who deposed and killed him.” We killed him and installed Mobutu, a man that George H.W. Bush was known to have called “one of our most valued friends”. Most valued friend? I don’t know about you, but what kind of valued friend bleeds his country dry so he can live his own life of luxury? Unless of course good ol’ H.W. was referring to the sad fact that American interest groups gained enormous profits and thus increase their “value” due to this “friend”. The saddest part for me is to see this kind of exploitation of a newly independent African nations being endorsed by America, especially considering the historical context. These events in the Congo are occurring 5 years after Rosa Parks had already “sat down to stand up for justice” and during a clear time of social change, where the previous conceptions of an “inhuman people” were finally being brought into question and torn down. It burns me to think that at a time where so much positive change was happening, the higher echelons of American government continued with dark acts of greed such as this…we killed a young revolutionary who had the African people’s interests at heart…we ended the life of one of the very leaders that could have carried the torch for this faraway continent’s own positive changes.

“We will never know the full death toll of the current conflict, but many believe it to be in the millions. Some of that blood is on our hands.”

We made a huge mistake. And in a time where we recognize anniversaries that highlight some of the darker aspects of reality/history such as this or the often more brightly depicted MLK day (also on January 17th), the least we can do is carry on the tradition and not forget what these people have done for us. In other words, I feel these two occasions should prompt us to not only remember these men as revolutionaries who fought for the people and justice, but as a reminder that the struggle continues and we should carry out our lives in such a way that their efforts were not made in vain. We should use their memory to propel us forward into a future where we get all the more closer to universal justice. Africa needs help getting back on its feet. Our Israeli and Palestinian brothers and sisters, our relatives in Afghanistan and throughout warring and disease-stricken nations all over the world need to be reminded that there are people fighting for universal justice and love. You can either sit back and contribute to the divide amongst peoples (as to do nothing is still, afterall, a choice) or stand up and fight for justice. Every five seconds a child dies of hunger somewhere in the world. I think somewhere within all of us we know that we have a responsibility to make sure this sad fact changes.


~ by Andru on January 19, 2011.

4 Responses to “Lumumba: Forgotten Slaying of a Revolutionary”

  1. Great Post. I have read a lot of posts on this topic and you have written about it the best. Keep it up!

  2. […] is the kind of willingness to be involved I was discussing earlier in my post concerning Patrice Lumumba’s assassination. This is the kind of courage most people seem to lack. This man, at a reasonable age to simply […]

  3. seul l histoire du congo sera ecrite par les congolais eu meme…

  4. naruto…

    […]Lumumba: Forgotten Slaying of a Revolutionary « livequality[…]…

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