Democratic Republic of the Congo

 

patrice lumumbaPatrice Lumumba

Patrice Lumumba was an African nationalist leader, the first prime minister of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (June-September 1960).  He was forced out of office during a political crisis, and assassinated a short time later.

Lumumba was born in the village of Onalua in Kasai province, Belgian Congo. He was a member of the small Batetela tribe, a fact that was to become significant in his later political life. His two principal rivals, Moise Tshombe, who led the breakaway of the Katanga province, and Joseph Kasavubu, who later became the nation's president, both came from large, powerful tribes from which they derived their major support, giving their political movements a regional character. In contrast, Lumumba's movement emphasized its all-Congolese nature.

After attending a Protestant mission school, Lumumba went to work in Kindu-Port-Empain, where he became active in the club of the évolués (educated Africans). He began to write essays and poems for Congolese journals. Lumumba next moved to Léopoldville (now Kinshasa) to become a postal clerk and went on to become an accountant in the post office in Stanleyville (now Kisangani). There he continued to contribute to the Congolese press.

lumumba arrestIn 1955 Lumumba became regional president of a purely Congolese trade union of government employees that was not affiliated, as were other unions, to either of the two Belgian trade-union federations (socialist and Roman Catholic). He also became active in the Belgian Liberal Party in the Congo. Although conservative in many ways, the party was not linked to either of the trade-union federations, which were hostile to it. In 1956 Lumumba was invited with others to make a study tour of Belgium under the auspices of the Minister of Colonies. On his return he was arrested on a charge of embezzlement from the post office. He was convicted and condemned one year later, after various reductions of sentence, to 12 months' imprisonment and a fine.

When Lumumba got out of prison, he grew even more active in politics. In October 1958 he founded the Congolese National Movement (Mouvement National Congolais; MNC), the first nationwide Congolese political party. In December he attended the 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. His outlook and terminology, inspired by pan-African goals, now took on the tenor of militant nationalism.

In 1959 the Belgian government announced a program intended to lead in five years to independence, starting with local elections in December 1959. The nationalists regarded this program as a scheme to install puppets before independence and announced a boycott of the elections. The Belgian authorities responded with repression. On October 30 there was a clash in Stanleyville that resulted in 30 deaths. Lumumba was imprisoned on a charge of inciting to riot.

The MNC decided to shift tactics, entered the elections, and won a sweeping victory in Stanleyville (90 percent of the votes). In January 1960 the Belgian government convened a Round Table Conference in Brussels of all Congolese parties to discuss political change, but the MNC refused to participate without Lumumba. Lumumba was thereupon released from prison and flown to Brussels. The conference agreed on a date for independence, June 30, with national elections in May. Although there was a multiplicity of parties, the MNC came out far ahead in the elections, and Lumumba emerged as the leading nationalist politician of the Congo. Maneuvers to prevent his assumption of authority failed, and he was asked to form the first government, which he succeeded in doing on June 23, 1960.

A few days after independence, some units of the army rebelled, largely because of objections to their Belgian commander. In the confusion, the mineral-rich province of Katanga proclaimed secession. Belgium sent in troops, ostensibly to protect Belgian nationals in the disorder. But the Belgian troops landed principally in Katanga, where they sustained the secessionist regime of Moise Tshombe.

The Congo appealed to the United Nations to expel the Belgians and help them restore internal order. As prime minister, Lumumba did what little he could to redress the situation. His army was an uncertain instrument of power, his civilian administration untrained and untried; the United Nations forces (whose presence he had requested) were condescending and assertive, and the political alliances underlying his regime very shaky. The Belgian troops did not evacuate, and the Katanga secession continued.

Since the United Nations forces refused to help suppress the Katangese revolt, Lumumba appealed to the Soviet Union for planes to assist in transporting his troops to Katanga. He asked the independent African states to meet in Léopoldville in August to unite their efforts behind him. His moves alarmed many, particularly the Western powers and the supporters of President Kasavubu, who pursued a moderate course in the coalition government and favoured some local autonomy in the provinces.

On September 5 President Kasavubu dismissed Lumumba. The legalities of the move were immediately contested by Lumumba. There were thus two groups now claiming to be the legal central government. On September 14 power was seized by the Congolese army leader Colonel Joseph Mobutu (president of Zaire as Mobutu Sese Seko), who later reached a working agreement with Kasavubu. In October the General Assembly of the United Nations recognized the credentials of Kasavubu's government. The independent African states split sharply over the issue.

In November Lumumba sought to travel from Leopoldville, where the United Nations had provided him with provisory protection, to Stanleyville, where his supporters had control. With the active complicity of foreign intelligence sources, Joseph Mobutu sent his soldiers after Lumumba. He was caught after several days of pursuit and spent three months in prison, while his adversaries were trying in vain to consolidate their power. Finally, aware that an imprisoned Lumumba was more dangerous than a dead Prime Minister, he was delivered on January 17, 1961, to the Katanga secessionist regime, where he was executed the same night of his arrival, along with his comrades Mpolo and Okito. His death caused a national scandal throughout the world, and, retrospectively, Mobutu proclaimed him a "national hero."

The reasons that Lumumba provoked such intense emotion are not immediately evident. His viewpoint was not exceptional. He was for a unitary Congo and against division of the country along tribal or regional lines. Like many other African leaders, he supported pan-Africanism and the liberation of colonial territories. He proclaimed his regime one of "positive neutralism," which he defined as a return to African values and rejection of any imported ideology, including that of the Soviet Union.

Lumumba was, however, a man of strong character who intended to pursue his policies, regardless of the enemies he made within his country or abroad. The Congo, furthermore, was a key area in terms of the geopolitics of Africa, and because of its wealth, its size, and its contiguity to white-dominated southern Africa, Lumumba's opponents had reason to fear the consequences of a radical or radicalized Congo regime. Moreover, in the context of the Cold War, the Soviet Union's support for Lumumba appeared at the time as a threat to many in the West.

For more information: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Patrice_Lumumba

Poems

Weep, Beloved Black Brother

O black man, beast of burden through the centuries,
Your ashes scattered to the winds of heaven,
There was a time when you built burial temples
In which your murderers sleep their final sleep.
Hunted down and tracked, driven from your homes.
Beaten in battles where brute force prevailed.
Barbaric centuries of rape and carnage
That offered you the choice of death or slavery.
You went for refuge to the forest depths,
And other deaths waylaid you, burning fevers,
Jaws of wild beasts, the cold, unholy coils
Of snakes who crushed you gradually to death.
Then came the white man, more clever, tricky, cruel,
He took your gold in trade for shoddy stuff,
He raped your women, made your warriors drunk,
Penned up you sons and daughters on his ships.
The tom-toms hummed through all the villages,
Spreading afar the mourning, the wild grief                                                                                 
At news of exile to a distant land
Where cotton is God and the dollar King.
Condemned to enforced labor, beasts of burden,
Under a burning sun from dawn to dusk,
So that you might forget you are a man
They taught your to sing the praises of their God,
And these hosannas, tuned in to your sorrows,
Gave you the hope of a better world to come.
But in your human heart you only asked
The right to live, your share of happiness.
Beside your fire, your eyes reflect your dreams and suffering,
You sang the chants that gave voice to your blues.
And sometimes to your joys, when sap rose in the trees
And you danced wildly in the damp of evening.
And out of this sprang forth, magnificent,
Alive and virile, like a bell of brass
Sounding your sorrow, that powerful music,
Jazz, now loved, admired throughout the world,
Compelling the white man to respect,
Announcing in clear loud tones from this time on
This country no longer belongs to him.
And thus you made the brothers of your race
Lift up their heads to see clear, straight ahead
The happy future bearing deliverance.
The banks of a great river in flower with hope
Are yours from this time onward.
The earth and all its riches
Are yours from this time onward.
The blazing sun in the colorless sky
Dissolves our sorrow in a wave of warmth.
Its burning rays will help to dry forever
The flood of tears shed by our ancestors,
Martyrs of the tyranny of the masters.
And on this earth which you will always love
You will make the Congo a nation, happy and free,
In the very heart of vast Black Africa.

Dawn in the Heart of Africa

For a thousand years, you, African, suffered like beast,
Your ashes strewn to the wind that roams the desert.
Your tyrants built the lustrous, magic temples
To preserve your soul, reserve your suffering.
Barbaric right of fist and the white right to a whip,
You had the right to die, you also could weep.
On your totem they carved endless hunger, endless bonds,
And even in the cover of the woods a ghastly cruel death
Was watching, snaky, crawling to you
Like branches from the holes and heads of trees
Embraced your body and your ailing soul.
Then they put a treacherous big viper on your chest:
On your neck they laid the yoke of fire-water,
They took your sweet wife for glitter of cheap pearls,
Your incredible riches that nobody could measure.
From your hut, the tom-toms sounded into dark of night
Carrying cruel laments up mighty black rivers
About abused girls, streams of tears and blood,
About ships that sailed to countries where the little man
Wallows in an ant hill and the dollar is king,
To that damned land which they called a motherland.
There your child, your wife were ground, day and night
In a frightful, merciless mill, crushing them in dreadful pain.
You are a man like others. They preach you to believe
That good white God will reconcile all men at last.
By fire you grieved and sang the moaning songs
Of a homeless beggar that sinks at strangers' doors.
And when a craze possessed you
And your blood boiled through he night
You danced, you moaned, obsessed by father's passion.
Like furry of a storm to lyrics of a manly tune
From a thousand years of misery a strength burst out of you
In metallic voice of jazz, in uncovered outcry
That thunders through he continent like gigantic surf.
The whole world surprised , wakes up in panic
To the violent rhythm of blood, to the violent rhythm of jazz,
The white man turning pallid over this new song
That carries torch of purple through the dark of night.

The dawn is here, my brother! Dawn! Look in our faces,
A new morning breaks in our old Africa.
Ours alone will now be the land, the water, mighty rivers
Poor African surrendered for a thousand years.
Hard torches of the sun will shine for us again
They'll dry the tears in eyes and spittle on your face.
The moment when you break the chains, the heavy fetters,
The evil cruel times will go never to come again.
A free and gallant Congo will rise from black soil,
A free and gallant Congo-black blossom from black seed!

Lumumba’s Last Letter—Written to His Wife, December 1960.

My dear companion,

I write you these words without knowing if they will reach you, when they will reach you, or if I will still be living when you read them. All during the length of my fight for the independence of my country, I have never doubted for a single instant the final triumph of the sacred cause to which my companions and myself have consecrated our lives. But what we wish for our country, its right to an honorable life, to a spotless dignity, to an independence without restrictions, Belgian colonialism and its Western allies-who have found direct and indirect support, deliberate and not deliberate among certain high officials of the United Nations, this organization in which we placed all our confidence when we called for their assistance-have not wished it.

They have corrupted certain of our fellow countrymen, they have contributed to distorting the truth and our enemies, that they will rise up like a single person to say no to a degrading and shameful colonialism and to reassume their dignity under a pure sun.

We are not alone. Africa, Asia, and free and liberated people from every corner of the world will always be found at the side of the Congolese. They will not abandon the light until the day comes when there are no more colonizers and their mercenaries in our country. To my children whom I leave and whom perhaps I will see no more, I wish that they be told that the future of the Congo is beautiful and that it expects for each Congolese, to accomplish the sacred task of reconstruction of our independence and our sovereignty; for without dignity there is no liberty, without justice there is no dignity, and without independence there are no free men.

No brutality, mistreatment, or torture has ever forced me to ask for grace, for I prefer to die with my head high, my faith steadfast, and my confidence profound in the destiny of my country, rather than to live in submission and scorn of sacred principles. History will one day have its say, but it will not be the history that Brussels, Paris, Washington or the United Nations will teach, but that which they will teach in the countries emancipated from colonialism and its puppets. Africa will write its own history, and it will be, to the north and to the south of the Sahara, a history of glory and dignity.

Do not weep for me, my dear companion. I know that my country, which suffers so much, will know how to defend its independence and its liberty. Long live the Congo! Long live Africa!

Patrice

May Our People Triumph

Weep, O my black beloved brother deep buried in eternal, bestial night.
O you, whose dust simooms and hurricanes have scattered all over the vast earth,
You, by whose hands the pyramids were reared
In memory of royal murderers,
You, rounded up in raids; you, countless times defeated
In all the battles ever won by brutal force;
You, who were taught but one perpetual lesson,
One motto, which was—slavery or death;
You, who lay hidden in impenetrable jungles
And silently succumbed to countless deaths
Under the ugly guise of jungle fever,
Or lurking in the tiger's fatal jaws,
Or in the slow embrace of the morass
That strangled gradually, like the python....
But then, there came a day that brought the while,
More sly, more full of spite than any death.
Your gold he bartered for his worthless beads and baubles,
He raped and fouled your sisters and your wives,
And poisoned with his drink your sons and brothers,
And drove your children down into the holds of ships.
'Twas then the tomtom rolled from village unto village,
And told the people that another foreign slave ship
Had put off on its way to far-off shores
Where God is cotton, where the dollar reigns as King.
There, sentenced to unending, wracking labour,
Toiling from dawn to dusk in the relentless sun,
They taught you in your psalms to glorify
Their Lord, while you yourself were crucified to hymns
That promised bliss in the world of Hereafter,
While you—you begged of them a single boon:
That they should let you live—to live, aye—simply
live. And by a fire your dim, fantastic dreams
Poured out aloud in melancholy strains,
As elemental and as wordless as your anguish.
 It happened you would even play, be merry
And dance, in sheer exuberance of spirit:
And then would all the splendour of your manhood,
 The sweet desires of youth sound, wild with power,
On strings of brass, in burning tambourines.
And from that mighty music the beginning
Of jazz arose, tempestuous, capricious,
Declaring to the whites in accents loud
That not entirely was the planet theirs.
O Music, it was you permitted us
To lift our face and peer into the eyes
Of future liberty, that would one day be ours.
Then let the shores of mighty rivers bearing on
Their living waves into the radiant future,
O brother mine, be yours!
Let the fierce heat of the relentless middaysun
Burn up your grief!
Let them evaporate in everlasting sunshine,
Those tears shed by your father and your grandsire
Tortured to death upon these mournful fields.
And may our people, free and gay forever,
Live, triumph, thrive in peace in this our Congo,
Here, in the very heart of our great Africa!

Source: Patrice Lumumba.  Patrie Lumumba, The Truth about a Monstrous Crime of the Colonialists, (Moscow, Foreign Languages Publishing House, 1961).

© 2022 Charter for Compassion. All rights reserved.