56 years ago the United States of America and Belgiam orchestrated the assassination of Patrice Lumumba, who was the first democratically elected prime minister of the Democratic Republic of Congo. Lumumba’s killers hacked his body to pieces and dissolved it in sulphuric acid. In an attempt to commemorate this horrific event, the Belgian magazine, Humo, published an interview with Godelieve Soete, daughter of Gerard Soete, one of the officials who disposed of Lumumba’s body and during which she produced one of Lumumba’s teeth that her late father had kept as a macabre souvenir. Lumumba’s power, his country, and his life were forcibly taken from him by a combination of forces that was probably the most powerful ever deployed against a single individual in history.
“These divisions, which the colonial powers have always exploited the better to dominate us, have played an important role — and are still playing that role — in the suicide of Africa”. African Unity and National Independence speech, March, 1959.
Lumumba was killed for his ideas of African liberation and self determination. This great African leader was seen as a threat to the interests of the colonizers which were access to African resources. Many writers argue that Lumumba was not only a victim of the brutality of the most powerful forces at the time but a leader who “fought valiantly with every ounce of breath in his body and with great intelligence to try and save his country.”
“Without dignity there is no liberty, without justice there is no dignity, and without independence there are no free men”. Letter to his wife, Letter from Thysville Prison, Congo, My Country.
On January 18, 1961, Lumumba was flown to Elisabethville, the capital of Katanga. There, despite the presence of UN troops, he was picked up by a small group led by Katanga’s interior minister and included white mercenaries. He was taken to a nearby house and murdered.
In an attempt to cover up his murder, the Katanga government failed to convince the international community of its interest in his killing as the shock waves traveled around the world to an extent that the international pressure caused the United Nations Security Council to permit the use of force as a last resort by UN forces in the Congo. Lumumba will forever be remembered as a passionate believer in the power of African nations to shape their own destinies and free themselves from colonial influence.
“The colonialists care nothing for Africa for her own sake. They are attracted by African riches and their actions are guided by the desire to preserve their interests in Africa against the wishes of the African people. For the colonialists all means are good if they help them to possess these riches”. Speech at the All-African Conference in Leopoldville August, 1960.
Lumumba “was the first Congolese to articulate a narrative of the Congo that contradicted traditional Belgian views of colonisation, highlighting the suffering of the indigenous population under European rule.” He is largely remembered to have told his country’s colonizers face to face how they have demagaed Africa and that they have no place in the continent any more, during the famous humiliation leading to his murder he was made to eat that speech. Thomas kanza, one of Lumumba’s friend believes that “Despite his brief political career and tragic death—or perhaps because of them—Lumumba entered history through the front door: he became both a flag and a symbol. He lived as a free man, and an independent thinker. Everything he wrote, said and did was the product of someone who knew his vocation to be that of a liberator, and he represents for the Congo what Castro does for Cuba, Nasser for Egypt, Nkrumah for Ghana, Mao Tse-tung for China, and Lenin for Russia.”