Lumumba: The Man, the Idea, and the Crisis in the Congo

January 17th, 1961. This date may not mean much for most in the West, but this date marks what is perhaps one of the most watershed moments in the history of the 20th century. On this day, democracy died in the Congo, as well as one of the most principled humans this world has ever witnessed. Patrice Lumumba was the first democratically elected Prime Minister of the Democratic Republic of Congo, but his time in office would be cut short by a well-organized conspiracy to eliminate him from existence. January 17th of this year marked the 57th anniversary of his assassination, and considering the current climate, there is no better time to look back on the assassination of Lumumba and the crisis in the Congo. During a time when the US president and his lackeys are calling countries “shitholes”, and ignorance of global affairs in the West is at an all-time high, It’s time we tell the truth. In a world that is dominated by Western Imperialism, where the fate of nations is decided by the actions of the strong, there are no shithole countries. There are only aggressors and the aggressed upon. There is no country in the last 150 years that has faced the level of aggression that we have seen in the Congo from outside forces.

By the time of Lumumba’s ascension to Prime Minister, the Congo had already faced atrocities at the hands of Western Powers, in particular the Belgians. The reign of King Leopold II from 1885 to 1908 may have left as many as 10 million dead from atrocities committed by Belgian colonizers on rubber plantations. This was followed by a half century of dehumanizing Belgian colonial rule, which involved the plunder of Congolese resources by Belgian corporations. Belgium granted what seemed to be a conditional independence on June 30th, 1960, which is reflected in the speech of then King Badouin, who said “Don’t compromise the future with hasty reforms, and don’t replace the structures that Belgium hands over to you until you are sure you can do better.” This about sums up the history of western interaction with the Democratic Republic of Congo, basically saying ‘Don’t develop too fast without us, so our institutions can continue to exploit the resources of your land, because we were nice enough to hand to you what was yours in the first place, unless you can do better, but only on our terms.’

Patrice Lumumba was having no more of this talking down to from the western colonizers. His speech that day made it clear that going forward, an independent Congo would exist for the Congolese. While he put forth a clear picture of what the Congolese faced at the hands of colonialism, he made sure to paint their independence as one that was fought for. His first words during the independence day speech said “Congolese men and women, fighters for independence, who are today victorious…no Congolese worthy of the name can ever forget that it is by struggle that we have won our independence, a struggle waged each and every day, a passionate idealistic struggle, a struggle in which no effort, privation, suffering, or drop of our blood was spared”. Lumumba said in front of King Baudouin what many Congolese thought could never be said to white people. After that day, nothing was spared to take him from power and eliminate him. The Belgian government immediately began sabotaging the newly elected government by supporting the secession in Katanga, which was started by Moise Tshombe, a businessman in the region that despised Lumumba. President Eisenhower even called for the elimination of Lumumba during an NSC staff meeting, and the CIA attempted to poison Lumumba on multiple occasions. Lumumba was eventually removed from power, taken under arrest, beaten severely, and then brutally shot and killed. His remains were later dug up and cremated so as to remove his physical presence permanently from the Earth.

Since the assassination of Lumumba, the Congo has faced many crises, including the brutal 32 year dictatorship of Mobutu Sese Seko, backed and funded by the United States State Dept and the CIA. Mobutu amassed a wealth that some say is in the billions while most of his country was in dire conditions, and yet he was still backed by the west. The Congo has also faced what many outside observers call civil wars, but were actually wars that were inflamed by outside intervention, particularly from the western backed governments in Rwanda and Uganda. Some estimates put the death toll from war related causes as high as 6 million between the years of 1998 and 2007, and there have been hordes of casualties that have continued to mount to the present day. The crises in the Congo amount to what should be considered the greatest humanitarian catastrophe of the 20th and even 21st century, and has resulted in the presence of the largest UN Peacekeeping Contingent on the planet. Despite this, the situation in the Congo remains one of the most underreported in the world, especially in the West. Most of the reporting on the Congo highlights the stereotypical news that most Westerners view of Africa, among that being corruption, “tribal” warfare, and disease. No one is saying that none of that exists, but to report that without the necessary context of how outside influences, primarily from western powers, contribute to the crisis is dishonest and carries with it a nefarious agenda that seeks to paint a picture of a problem that is only caused by the people of the Congo, as if they are asking for everything they are experiencing.

One organization that is attempting to change this narrative is the Friends of the Congo, an organization that works with the Congolese to “raise the consciousness of the world community on the challenge of the Congo and support Congolese institutions in bringing about a peaceful and lasting change,” according to their mission statement on their website. I recently had the honor of attending their recent event commemorating the 57th anniversary of the assassination of Patrice Lumumba. The event itself consisted of a viewing of the movie Lumumba, followed by a panel discussion on the assassination of Lumumba. The discussion mainly highlighted the current political atmosphere in the Congo and the need for action to show solidarity with the Congolese who have been protesting the corrupt regime of Joseph Kabila, the current president of the Congo. Kabila, who came into power after the assassination of his father Laurent-Desire Kabila, has been in power since 2001. His second and final term ended in 2016, and a deal that was reached that required Kabila to step down, has been essentially ignored. The elections that were originally scheduled for 2016, have been moved to 2018, and there have been mass demonstrations against him. The Catholic Church, which is a major institution in the Congo, has been calling for and supporting protests since late last year. The response from the Kabila government has been to brutally crack down on anyone taking part in these demonstrations, with several deaths occurring and many injuries, as well as the shutting off of internet and phone services. This also isn’t the first time Kabila has faced resistance from the Congolese people, as protests broke out in the wake of the 2011 election results which Kabila won amongst controversy, with observers at the time questioning the integrity of the results.

The recent elections were the main focus of the question and answer discussion that took place at the event. The discussion was led by Maurice Carney, who serves as the Executive Director for Friends of the Congo, and Leontine Mafuta, a Congolese woman and activist who spoke to the room about her experience dealing with the Kabila government and how opposition movements are handling the current political climate in the Congo. There were many members of the Congolese diaspora in the room, and there was a great free flow of information and ideas. The situation in the Congo is very complex, but that still doesn’t excuse the lack of coverage from the news media on the situation there. I learned more about the Congo in that single evening than I have in a lifetime of attempting to understand through the media. It isn’t just the mainstream media that is guilty of this either, because even in the “independent” media there is a lack of coverage of what is taking place in the Congo, besides the superficial lip service paid to the corruption or violence of the regime, adding to the stigma that these problems were solely created by the people who are experiencing them. That is not the case, and many people in the West would be shocked to learn the connections that exist between the Kabila government in the Congo and western imperialism.

One such connection I became aware of was the existence of a significant Congolese lobby on Capitol Hill, with former politicians taking up the cause of the corrupt regime in Kinshasa. Bob Livingston, former Republican congressman from Louisiana, has a contract to represent the regime. The Congo has also signed a much larger deal with Israeli security firm Mer Security, which among other things “will hire/has hired U.S. entities to set up meetings with senior US administration officials and key policy makers in various Congressional committees.” That isn’t the only connection Kabila has to Israel, considering his close relationship with diamond mining tycoon Dan Gertler. Gertler originally established a relationship with Kabila’s father Laurent, with Gertler providing Kabila with $20 million in cash in exchange for a virtual monopoly on the DRC diamond trade. Gertler had so much influence with the Kabila government that no corporation could do business in the DRC without going through him. Glencore, the giant commodities trading corporation, gave a secret $45 million loan to Gertler so the tycoon could help them secure a mining agreement in the DRC. It wasn’t until the leaking of the Paradise Papers that any sanctions were applied to Gertler, with the US government sanctioning Gertler’s US assets in December after leaked documents confirmed the terms of the deal between him and Glencore. Glencore, we may recall has some interesting connections to the Clintons, with Glencore founder Marc Rich receiving a pardon from Bill Clinton on his last day in office after being on the run as a fugitive from the FBI. Bill Clinton also is a friend of Rwandan president Paul Kagame, whose government has interfered in the affairs of the Congo over the last 2 decades.

This reality is what the Congolese people are up against. The west, and in particular the US government, is complicit in the Congo crisis, and we in the US have a moral obligation to express solidarity with the Congolese people and support their demonstrations. One thing you can do is sign this petition put forward by Congo Faith demanding justice for Congolese civilians brutalized by the Kabila regime. One can also go to the website for the Friends of the Congo and keep an eye out for calls to action. Telema, a global Congolese movement consisting of Congolese in the Congo and the Diaspora, which was created during the January 2015 uprising in the Congo, is another organization that people should support. Since the Kabila regime has a lobbying presence on Capitol Hill there should be many chances to resist actions taken to favor the regime and give some of these lobbyists the hell they deserve. The Congo is a nation that has been exploited to the core, and the Congolese people have constantly faced obstacles to self-determination. By all accounts the Congo is one of the wealthiest nations on the planet, sitting on $24 trillion worth of mineral reserves. More than half of the world’s cobalt is produced in the Congo, which creates batteries used in everything from electric cars to the very cell phone that our modern lives depend on. The country’s minerals have also been exploited for evil, the biggest example being the uranium extracted from the Congo that was used to build the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Lumumba had a vision, shared by many in the Congo who supported him, of a Congo for the Congolese, where the wealth of the land would be used for the livelihood of the Congolese. Lumumba’s message of self-determination was seen as a threat, which is always how Congolese self-determination is seen. This is the obstacle the Congolese people have always faced, and not just corruption, nepotism, and tribal warfare. When there is that much wealth to exploit, always follow the money, and the money in this case leads to the western imperialist structure that dominates this entire world.

I want to end this piece with Lumumba’s last letter to his wife Pauline. It contains words of hope for the future of the Congo, and it was coming from the soul of a man who should have been broken, but wasn’t. I will let the words speak for themselves, and end saying that Lumumba’s vision is still being fulfilled, by those who stand against imperialism, but in particular by the Congolese people who continue to fight for a brighter future in the Congo. We in the west owe it to them to help ensure that vision one day becomes a material reality.

Other Sources:

The Assassination of Lumumba by Ludo De Witte


Patrice Lumumba’s Last Letter to His Wife Pauline (December 1960)

My Dear Wife,

I am writing these words not knowing whether they will reach you, when they will reach you, and whether I shall still be alive when you read them.

All through my struggle 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 I have devoted all our lives.

But what we wished for our country, its right to an honourable life, to unstained dignity, to independence without restrictions, was never desired by the Belgian imperialists and their Western allies who found direct and indirect support, both deliberate and unintentional amongst certain high officials of the United Nations, that organisation in which we placed all our trust when we called on its assistance.

They have corrupted come of our compatriots and bribed others. They have helped to distort the truth and bring our independence into dishonour. How could I speak otherwise?

Dead or alive, free or in prison by order of the imperialists, it is not I myself who count. It is the Congo; it is our poor people for whom independence has been transformed into a cage from beyond whose confines the outside world looks on us, sometimes with kindly sympathy but at other times with joy and pleasure.

But my faith will remain unshakable. I know and feel in my heart that sooner or later my people will rid themselves of all their enemies, both internal and external, and that they will rise as one man to say no to the degradation and shame of colonialism, and regain their dignity in the dear light of the sun.

As to my children whom I leave and whom I may never see again, I should like them to be told that it is for every Congolese, to accomplish the sacred task of reconstructing our independence and our sovereignty for without justice there is no liberty, without justice there is no dignity, and without independence there are no free men.

Neither brutality, nor cruelty, nor torture will ever bring me to ask for mercy, for I prefer to die with my head unbowed, my faith unshakable and with profound trust in the destiny of my country, rather than live under subjection and disregarding sacred principles.

History will one day have its say, but it will not be the history that is taught in Brussels, Paris, Washington or at the United Nations, but the history which will be taught in the countries freed from imperialism and its puppets. Africa will write its own history, and to the north and south of the Sahara, it will be a glorious and dignified history.

Don not weep for me, my dear wife. I know that my country, which is suffering so much, will know how to defend its independence and its liberty.

Long Live Congo, Long Live Africa

Michael Byrne is an antiwar activist who works in the Washington DC area. He holds a Master’s degree in International Relations from Cleveland State University. This is reprinted with permission from his blog.