Between 1961 and 1973, six African independence leaders were assassinated by their ex-colonial rulers, including Patrice Lumumba of Congo. Very few Black men and women in America have heard of Lumumba, but his might have been one of the most significant political assassinations of the 20th century.
Patrice Émery Lumumba (2 July 1925 – 17 January 1961) was the first legally elected Prime Minister of the Republic of the Congo after he helped win its independence from Belgium in June 1960. He would serve in his position under President Kasa-Vubu – widely believed to be a European sympathizer.
This is his story, and it should be taught and read by every Pan-African.
Rise To Power: The Patrice Lumumba Biography
Lumumba was born in Onalua in the Katakokombe region of the Kasai province of the Belgian Congo, a member of the Tetela ethnic group. Raised in a Catholic family, he was educated at a Protestant primary school, a Catholic missionary school, and finally the government post office training school, passing the one-year course with Honors. He subsequently worked in Leopoldville (now Kinshasa) and Stanleyville (now Kisangani) as a postal clerk and as a traveling beer salesman.
After traveling on a three-week study tour in Belgium, he was arrested in 1955 on charges of embezzlement of post office funds. His two-year sentence was commuted to twelve months, and he was released in July 1956.
Believing that his arrest was racially motivated, when Lumumba was released, he became increasingly more active in politics. At the time, the Congo was under Belgian colonial control. All authority was concentrated in the hands of King Baudouin, the elder son of King Leopold III, and a direct descendant of the satanic King Leopold I. His story was told in the documentary Congo: White King, Red Rubber, Black Death.
In October 1958 at the age of 33 he founded the Congolese National Movement (Mouvement National Congolais; MNC), the first nationwide Congolese political party.
In December he represented his party at Kwame Nkrumah’s first All-African People’s Conference in Accra, Ghana, where he met nationalists from across the African continent and was made a member of the permanent organization set up by the conference. The conference further solidified his Pan-Africanist beliefs.
In 1959 the Belgian government released the Congo from its colonial rule, and held elections in December of that year.
As students of Black history, we should understand the strategies that were being used by the Belgians up to this point: Belgium relied on the immense wealth of the Congo to sustain itself. After all, before the nation enslaved the Congo, Belgium was a poor, illiterate, and irrelevant nation.
But by holding on to the Congo as a slave colony, Belgium’s reputation would suffer on the world stage. The country needed a way to maintain control over the resources of the region without the objectionable practices of chopping off hands and burning down villages.
The solution was to give the world the impression that Belgium was setting the Congo free while maintaining its power through puppet leaders behind the scenes.
Patrice Lumumba and his political party had other ideas. He, his party, and the people of the Congo had suffered enough at the hands of their now former colonial masters. The wave of Pan-Africanism that had started with Marcus Garvey just a few decades prior had swept across the Continent. As far as Africans were concerned, there was no compromise or relapse.
SO when Belgium announced that it would hold and supervise elections, the followers of Patrice Lumumba rioted. They saw the elections for what they really were: an opportunity for Belgium to install puppet leaders.
Belgian police responded by killing rioters. On October 30, two months before the election, there was a clash in Stanleyville that resulted in 30 deaths. In the process, Lumumba was captured and thrown in jail on a charge of inciting to riot.
Instead of risking more lives, Patrice Lumumba’s political party decided to play by the rules. In two months, they organized the entire nation and swept the elections with such overwhelming numbers that the results were indisputable – the MCN won 90 percent of the votes. Their first act as the new party of power was demanding the immediate release of Lumumba, who had remained incarcerated during the election.
Belgium had two options: concede to the demands of the people or risk losing control of everything in an orgy of violence. Lumumba was released and flown to Brussels to discuss the terms of the handover of power.
Blood and Fire: The Patrice Lumumba Speech That Signed His Death Warrant
Belgium could no longer ignore the will of the Congolese people, and decided that it was better to capitulate publicly while maintaining their power privately. But as a final insult to the Congo, the King of Belgium, Baudouin, would preside over the Ceremony of the Proclamation of the Congo’s Independence. He would deliver his speech first, followed by hand picked Congolese leaders. Lumumba, who had been elected Prime Minister was not allowed to speak.
The date was set for June 23, 1960.
On the day of the speech, Lumumba sat quietly and listened. The weeks prior, Lumumba and his supporters had debated as to whether to attend, whether to speak out, or whether to remain silent. Black leaders that feared retribution from Belgium had urged Lumumba to stay silent.
As he sat and listened quietly, the Belgian king one sentence after another insulted the Congolese and praised Belgium
“The independence of the Congo is formed by the outcome of the work conceived by King Leopold II’s genius…”
“Do not compromise the future with hasty reforms, and do not replace the structures that Belgium has given you…”
While the Belgian King espoused all the benefits his nation had given to the Congo (you can read his speech here), images of children with hacked off hands and of mass graves surely flashed before the eyes of Black listeners in the audience.
Patrice could take no more. He took to the podium and interrupted the kings speech with his own speech – called Blood and Fire.
Here is the full text of the speech:
Men and women of the Congo,
Victorious independence fighters,
I salute you in the name of the Congolese Government.
I ask all of you, my friends, who tirelessly fought in our ranks, to mark this June 30, 1960, as an illustrious date that will be ever engraved in your hearts, a date whose meaning you will proudly explain to your children, so that they in turn might relate to their grandchildren and great-grandchildren the glorious history of our struggle for freedom.
Although this independence of the Congo is being proclaimed today by agreement with Belgium, an amicable country, with which we are on equal terms, no Congolese will ever forget that independence was won in struggle, a persevering and inspired struggle carried on from day to day, a struggle, in which we were undaunted by privation or suffering and stinted neither strength nor blood.
It was filled with tears, fire and blood. We are deeply proud of our struggle, because it was just and noble and indispensable in putting an end to the humiliating bondage forced upon us.
That was our lot for the eighty years of colonial rule and our wounds are too fresh and much too painful to be forgotten.
We have experienced forced labour in exchange for pay that did not allow us to satisfy our hunger, to clothe ourselves, to have decent lodgings or to bring up our children as dearly loved ones.
Morning, noon and night we were subjected to jeers, insults and blows because we were “Negroes”. Who will ever forget that the black was addressed as “tu”, not because he was a friend, but because the polite “vous” was reserved for the white man?
We have seen our lands seized in the name of ostensibly just laws, which gave recognition only to the right of might.
We have not forgotten that the law was never the same for the white and the black, that it was lenient to the ones, and cruel and inhuman to the others.
We have experienced the atrocious sufferings, being persecuted for political convictions and religious beliefs, and exiled from our native land: our lot was worse than death itself.
We have not forgotten that in the cities the mansions were for the whites and the tumbledown huts for the blacks; that a black was not admitted to the cinemas, restaurants and shops set aside for “Europeans”; that a black travelled in the holds, under the feet of the whites in their luxury cabins.
Who will ever forget the shootings which killed so many of our brothers, or the cells into which were mercilessly thrown those who no longer wished to submit to the regime of injustice, oppression and exploitation used by the colonialists as a tool of their domination?
All that, my brothers, brought us untold suffering.
But we, who were elected by the votes of your representatives, representatives of the people, to guide our native land, we, who have suffered in body and soul from the colonial oppression, we tell you that henceforth all that is finished with.
The Republic of the Congo has been proclaimed and our beloved country’s future is now in the hands of its own people.
Brothers, let us commence together a new struggle, a sublime struggle that will lead our country to peace, prosperity and greatness.
Together we shall establish social justice and ensure for every man a fair remuneration for his labour.
We shall show the world what the black man can do when working in liberty, and we shall make the Congo the pride of Africa.
We shall see to it that the lands of our native country truly benefit its children.
We shall revise all the old laws and make them into new ones that will be just and noble.
We shall stop the persecution of free thought. We shall see to it that all citizens enjoy to the fullest extent the basic freedoms provided for by the Declaration of Human Rights.
We shall eradicate all discrimination, whatever its origin, and we shall ensure for everyone a station in life befitting his human dignity and worthy of his labour and his loyalty to the country.
We shall institute in the country a peace resting not on guns and bayonets but on concord and goodwill.
And in all this, my dear compatriots, we can rely not only on our own enormous forces and immense wealth, but also on the assistance of the numerous foreign states, whose co-operation we shall accept when it is not aimed at imposing upon us an alien policy, but is given in a spirit of friendship.
Even Belgium, which has finally learned the lesson of history and need no longer try to oppose our independence, is prepared to give us its aid and friendship; for that end an agreement has just been signed between our two equal and independent countries. I am sure that this co-operation will benefit both countries. For our part, we shall, while remaining vigilant, try to observe the engagements we have freely made.
Thus, both in the internal and the external spheres, the new Congo being created by my government will be rich, free and prosperous. But to attain our goal without delay, I ask all of you, legislators and citizens of the Congo, to give us all the help you can.
I ask you all to sink your tribal quarrels: they weaken us and may cause us to be despised abroad.
I ask you all not to shrink from any sacrifice for the sake of ensuring the success of our grand undertaking.
Finally, I ask you unconditionally to respect the life and property of fellow-citizens and foreigners who have settled in our country; if the conduct of these foreigners leaves much to be desired, our Justice will promptly expel them from the territory of the republic; if, on the contrary, their conduct is good, they must be left in peace, for they, too, are working for our country’s prosperity.
The Congo’s independence is a decisive step towards the liberation of the whole African continent.
Our government, a government of national and popular unity, will serve its country.
I call on all Congolese citizens, men, women and children, to set themselves resolutely to the task of creating a national economy and ensuring our economic independence.
Eternal glory to the fighters for national liberation!
Long live independence and African unity!
Long live the independent and sovereign Congo!
The speech spoke to the soul of the people. It gave no quarter to the British. And it was a message that few other African leaders had the courage to deliver. That speech sealed his death warrant.
Within 3 months, a mutiny broke out in the army, marking the beginning of the Congo Crisis. Lumumba appealed to the United States and the United Nations for help to suppress the Belgian-supported Katangan secessionists. No help was coming.
Instead, the entire white world had conspired to get rid of Lumumba. Belgian and United States operatives recruited spies, informants, and dissidents to spread misinformation and sabotage the new Lumumban regime. The entire cabinet was compromised, and even his chef de cabinet, Damien Kandolo, was often absent and acted as a spy on behalf of the Belgian government.
On September 5, 1960, President Kasa-Vubu announced over radio that he had dismissed Lumumba and six of his ministers from the government. The United Nations seized government offices and barred Lumumba from radio stations in an attempt to silence him.
In the chaos and the power vacuum that ensued, Mobutu Sese Seko was somehow able to overthrow the entire Kasa-Vubu/Lumuba administration. He was then somehow able to send delegates to the United Nations General Assembly, who voted to recognize Mobutu as the new leader of the Congo.
Foreshadowing the dawn of a dark period in African history, Mobutu’s first act was to have Lumumba and his supporters arrested and held at a military detention camp. But Lumumba was too charismatic a figure to be contained. He continued to rally support among the prisoners.
And so, in the middle of the night on January 17, 1961, Lumumba was driven to a secluded location, tortured, and shot to death by a firing squad. His body was dismembered, his flesh was melted away with acid, and his bones were ground up and scattered across the countryside.
He was 36 years old.
Mobutu Sese Seko would usher in a Congolese dark age whose horrors rivaled that of King Leopold himself. As of this article’s writing, the Congo has still not recovered.
Who Killed Patrice Lumumba
The death of Lumumba took place after white powers had divided the country against itself into four separate governments: the central government in Kinshasa (then Léopoldville); a rival central government by Lumumba’s followers in Kisangani (then Stanleyville); and the two secessionist regimes in the mineral-rich provinces of Katanga and South Kasai.
The two regions that were richest in mineral wealth were the two regions where the uprising began. This is not a coincidence. Congo was too rich, too big, and too important for the west to lose control as they would have had Lumumba lived.
Instead, the west maneuvered Mobuto Sese Seko into place; a man that had been an ally of the United States for 30 years. During his rule, Mobutu would run his country, bursting with natural resources, into the depths of poverty even as foreign corporations hauled trillions of dollars of minerals away.
Today, at least five countries are fighting in Congo and Lumumba’s son, an opposition leader, spent several weeks in a Kinshasa jail cell on politically motivated charges.
The world wrote the death of Patrice Lumumba off as an act of native violence at the hands of Mobuto. However, Belgian troops later confessed to disposing of Lumumba’s body by chopping it into pieces and melting his body down with acid. Each of the men kept one of his teeth as souvenirs.
The Belgian government officially apologized for the death of Patrice Lumumba in 2002. While the United States refuses to admit wrongdoing this day, CIA agent John Stockwell gave this interview to Democracy Now!
JOHN STOCKWELL: The CIA had developed a program to assassinate Lumumba, under Devlin’s encouragement and management. The program they developed, the operation, didn’t work. They didn’t follow through on it. It was to give poison to Lumumba. And they couldn’t find a setting in which to get the poison to him successfully in a way that it wouldn’t appear to be a CIA operation. I mean, you couldn’t invite him to a cocktail party and give him a drink and have him die a short time later, obviously. And so, they gave up on it. They got cold feet. And instead, they handled it by the chief of station talking to Mobutu about the threat that Lumumba posed, and Mobutu going out and killing Lumumba, having his men kill Lumumba.
INTERVIEWER: What about the CIA’s relationship with Mobutu? Were they paying him money?
JOHN STOCKWELL: Yes, indeed. I was there in 1968 when the chief of station told the story about having been, the day before that day, having gone to make payment to Mobutu of cash — $25,000 — and Mobutu saying, “Keep the money. I don’t need it.” And by then, of course, Mobutu’s European bank account was so huge that $25,000 was nothing to him.
The decision to kill Lumumba came straight from the top: President Eisenhower himself. Forty years after the murder of the Congolese independence leader Patrice Lumumba, evidence has emerged in Washington that President Dwight Eisenhower directly ordered the CIA to “eliminate” him. The evidence comes in a previously unpublished 1975 interview with the minute-taker at an August 1960 White House meeting of Eisenhower and his national security advisers on the Congo crisis. The minute-taker, Robert Johnson, said in the interview that he vividly recalled the president turning to Allen Dulles, director of the CIA, “in the full hearing of all those in attendance, and saying something to the effect that Lumumba should be eliminated”.
Mr Johnson recalled: “There was stunned silence for about 15 seconds and the meeting continued.”
Why The Congo Catches Hell
Why so much political maneuvering and cloak and dagger over the Congo? The answer here is simple; if countries were measured by their mineral wealth, the Congo would be the richest country on Earth.
White nations enjoy a high standard of living despite having comparatively few resources of their own because they are able to extract the wealth of the nation, bribe its leaders with a small percentage of their loot, and cart the rest off well below market value.
A stable and self- respecting Congolese government would demand fair prices for its natural resources, and would bring its people up from poverty and destitution – likely making the Congo an African superpower. The Congo could be the Wakanda of our dreams, powered not by vibranium, but by tantalum (used in cellphones, DVD players, laptops, hard drives, and gaming devices), tungsten, tin, and gold.
The United States and NATO work hard to keep the country in a state of confusion, division, and warfare so they can keep carting away resources without giving any material benefit to the people of the land. Anyone that tries to change the status quo – be he Lumumba, Nkunda, Nkrumah, or anybody else, meets the wrath of the rich white alliance called the United Nations.
What We Can Learn From Patrice Lumumba’s Story
As students of Pan-Africanism, we can learn three things from the assassination of Patrice Lumumba:
1. DIVISION IS A MORE POWERFUL WEAPON THAN ANY BOMB OR BULLET
The division between Lumumba and his President – instigated by Belgium – created a power vacuum that allowed Mobutu to seize power. Ideological differences were also used to separate Marcus Garvey from WEB Dubois, Malcolm X from Martin Luther King Jr, and myriad political parties across the African Diaspora.
In the wake of these divisions, in-fighting, finger pointing, and pointless debate, has played us right into the hands of white supremacy.
2. NO MOVEMENT CAN SUCCEED WITHOUT UNIFIED PRINCIPLES
Lumumba’s party won sweeping victory because the principles it stood for were not based on a particular ethnicity, but on the universal principles of self-determination, sovereignty, and nationalism. For those of us building our movements today, its important that you not construct your philosophy based on religion (Christianity, the Nation of Islam), on one tactical philosophy (militarism, economic sovereignty, spirituality), or the philosophies of one ethnic group (Blacks in America, Blacks in Brazil, Ethiopian Blacks, Sub-Saharan African Blacks).
3. THE CIA AND FBI TACTICS THAT WORKED THEN, WORK NOW
To formulate a strategy against these tactics in the future, look to the past. COINTELPRO, the United States backed program to “expose, disrupt, misdirect, discredit, or otherwise Neutralize” the activities of pro-Black groups was created specifically to “prevent the rise of a Black Messiah” (source). The program used intimidation, harrassment, Black informants, blackmail, and murder to achieve its goals. Understand that any Black liberation efforts will expoise you to the same tactics used against leaders like Lumumba.
In Congo, Lumumba’s assassination was a black eye on the country’s already dismal history. It was a stumbling block to the ideals of national unity, economic independence and Pan-African solidarity that Lumumba had championed, as well as a shattering blow to the hopes of millions of Congolese for freedom and prosperity. And for a people who forgets their past, history is doomed to repeat itself.