Tuesday, December 13, 2011


(2 July 1925 – 17 January 1961)

“If you have nothing to die for, you have nothing to live for”

Not sure where I heard it or if those are even the exact words, but the above line is one of the many sayings that live in my head. Many times when I see myself pushing enthusiastically for what I want and making big sacrifices that can have long-term effects, the line comes to my head.

And history has a long list of people who have laid down their lives for what they believe. Stephen around 34AD, Bhai Dhayala in 1675, Maximilian Kolbe in 1941 and on and on. People of ilk. Men of men. Human beings of class and repute. And recently I came across another. Patrice Lumumba.

Lumumba was the first prime minister of the DRC. Like many other African states, the rich nation of the Democratic republic of Congo had been under colonial rule of the Belgian nation. And like so many other colonial authorities, Belgium was not in a hurry to let this country so rich in natural resources out of its grasp.

DRC was under Belgian rule. The indigenes were oppressed. But somehow in 1960, there was an election where Lumumba’s party won control of the parliament. He was appointed prime minister at the age of 34. But did he step up to the plate or what?

Patrice Lumumba

Now let’s get something straight, the country had a vast reserve of natural resources. The colonial powers certainly wouldn’t let him have all the control where they had no say whatsoever in the expending of the reserves. How can a black man rule over his own country without their supervision? No way! How can this young country have control over its own affairs? Lumumba wouldn’t play ball and they wouldn’t let that happen. Or maybe they’ll just wait and see how ‘sensible’ this new kid on the block would be.
Well, any lingering doubts as to whether Patrice would be a puppet were erased at the very celebrations to mark the independence of the country. Some Belgian dude had gone on the podium to give a speech about how magnanimous Belgium had been to the DRC. He had spoken in glowing terms about how the independence was all a part of the grand plan of the Belgian nation. It was all lies of course. Everyone knew he was lying, but they all kept quiet in the name of diplomacy. No one wanted to spoil the celebration. No one except our young prime minister. He walked up to the microphone without being scheduled to and just spoke.  He spoke nothing but the truth. The truth about Belgian oppression. The persecution of the native African indigenes. He spoke of how the independence of the Congolese nation was not a magnanimous act but a struggle. Young Patrice spoke his mind. He spoke the truth and his fate was sealed.

No way would they have this smart, intelligent boy running the show without them. Patrice had to go.

But Lumumba was popular. The people loved him. He was intelligent. He gave rousing speeches and there was no way they could turn the Congolese people against him. So they had to use the Congolese politicians. They had to turn to the greedy ones. The ones who didn’t care what the average person thought.

They instigated a secession movement from the southern part of the country. The Katanga province led by one Moise Tshombe declared a republic. And the whole world watched as Lumumba desperately sought help to put his country back together. At least he was just some black kid who was prime minister over a country a couple of weeks old. Who cared what he thought. There was this particular occasion when he visited the United States and the president wouldn’t even receive him talk less of listening to what he has to say. The only country willing to lend a helping hand was the USSR. And again, Lumumba’s fate was sealed a second time. There was no way the US would let their cold war enemy have such a rich country on the African continent.
The CIA and the Belgians set out to ‘work’. The UN did nothing meaningful to help the poor Lumumba. UN resolutions were carefully grafted, in my opinion with the US pulling the background strings, to frustrate all his efforts.
One thing stands out in my mind. Through it all, the youthful prime minister remained graceful. The western media made him look evil. He was painted as ‘anti-western’ when all he wanted was to have one independent country. With every move made to frustrate his efforts, he never lost the affection of his people.

His government was toppled by his onetime chief of Army staff, Joseph Mobutu (later Sese Seko Mobutu). He was finally captured on the first of December 1960. He was humiliated in front of the world press. He was tied with ropes and made to sit on the floor of an open van. They had him. They had his body, but his soul was unbroken.

Openly Humiliated

Lumumba was killed on the 17th of January the following year. He was shot. His body was exhumed by the Belgians and cut to pieces. Burnt. And dipped in acid. Let me say that again. The illegally deposed prime minister of a country was killed, cut to pieces, burnt and decimated with acid by a foreign power. If that’s not a crime against humanity then the holocaust was nothing more than a civil disturbance!

Lumumba lost his life and on the long run we all know what Mobutu did to the country of Zaire as he later called it.
In the death of Lumumba, Africa lost a hero. We lost someone who could stand up to the powers that be harmed with nothing but the truth and sheer will. We had lost someone who wasn’t going to sit in his revolving chair being fed grapes by pretty girls while his people died and suffered for lack of basic amenities. We had lost someone who saw true and good human values and was going to stick up for them even when it seemed fool hardy. Lumumba’s death marked the end of a life spent showing us we don’t have to lick the feet of those more powerful than ourselves even if they are more threaten us with fire and brimstone.

Patrice is no longer with us but what he stood for lives on!

Well done sir and like you said all those years back when in the dungeons of the evil ogres “Congo has a bright future!” I guess we can look forward to a bright future for our dear green continent. You’ve shown us it’s possible to get to where we want.
In the words of Malcolm X “Lumumba is the greatest black person to ever walk on the African continent!” Maybe some will disagree, but I’m sure no one will disagree Lumumba was some hero and a shining light even in this dark times.