Image of True Hero: Patrice Lumumba

Image of True Hero: Patrice Lumumba

Patrice Lumumba.

Patrice Hemery Lumumba: was an African Nationalist and the first prime minister of the Republic of the Congo. He was born on the 2nd of July 1925 in Onalua in the Democractic Republic of the Congo which was known as the Belgian Congo then. Patrice Lumumba was a leading figure in the Congo and was a major figure in the Congo’s attainment of independence from Belgium, which had controlled the country since the late nineteenth century. Patrice Lumumba was forced out of office and murdered shortly after in 1961 during a political crisis in the Congo. Patrice Lumumba is a symbol of the struggle for champions of African nations’ attempts to unite and to break free of the influence of the European powers that once colonized the continent.

Lumumba was born in a small village to a farmer, François Tolenga Otetshima, and his wife, Julienne Wamato Lomendja, in Onalua in the Katakokombe region in the northeastern kasai province in Belgian Congo called Onalua. He had three brothers and a half-brother. He attended a protestant mission School run by white missionaries and also the government post office training school, passing the one-year course with distinction..   He worked at Kindu-Port-Empian and was very active in the club of the évolués. He also began writing poems and essays for journals in the Congo.  Lumumba moved to Leopoldville (now Kinshasa) to become a postal clerk and then became an accountant in the post office in Tsnleyville (now Kisangani), by this time, he had applied and gotten his full Belgian citizenship. He didn’t stop contributing to the Congolese press. In 1951, he married Pauline Opangu

Patrice Lumumba became regional president of a purely Congolese trade union of government employees that was called Cercles of Stanleyville in 1955. He also joined the the Belgian Liberal Party in the Congo where he worked on editing and distributing party literature. In 1956 Lumumba was arrested on return from a study tour of Belgium he was invited with others under the auspices of the minister of colonies. He was arrested on a charge of embezzlement from the post office and was convicted and charged with a two-year sentence which was commuted to twelve months after various reductions of sentence, and a fine.

After his time at prison, Lumumba came out and became more active in Politics. The Congolese National Movement (Mouvement National Congolais; MNC), was launched by him and other Congolese leaders in October 1958. It was the first nationwide Congolese political party and he later became the president of the organization. In December, he and his team represented MNC in the first All-African Peoples Conference in Accra, Ghana where he was able to meet other nationalists from across the African continent. Patrice Lumumba was made a member of the permanent organization set up by the conference. His Pan-African beliefs were further  solidified.

The nationalist movement in the Belgian Congo intensified thus leading the Belgian government to introduce a program that was aimed at leading the pathway for the independence of the Congo. It started with local elections in December 1959. General opinion amongst the nationalists in the country was that the program was a scheme to install puppets before independence and this led them to announce a boycott of the elections. The Belgian authorities then resolved to force. On the 30th of October 1959 there was a clash in Stanleyville that resulted into 30 deaths. Lumumba, the leader of the organization, was arrested for inciting an anti-colonial riot in Stanleyville resulting into the death of thirty people. He was sentenced to 69 months in prison

The MNC then decided to enter the elections, and won a sweeping victory in Stanleyville (90 percent of the votes). On the 18th of January 1960 the Belgian government held a Round Table Conference in Brussels of all Congolese parties to discuss and finalize on the future of the Congo. The MNC however, refused to participate without Lumumba. Lumumba was then released from prison and allowed to attend the Brussels conference. The conference agreed on a date for independence, June 30, with national elections in May (11-25). Lumumba and  the MNC came out far ahead of other parties in the elections, and 34 year old Lumumba emerged as the leading nationalist politician and the Prime Minister of the Congo with Joseph Kasa –Vubu as its president. All sorts of maneuvers to prevent his assumption of authority failed, and he was asked to form the first government, which he did on June 23, 1960. On the 24th of June, the new government passed a vote of confidence and was ratified by the Congolese Chamber and Senate.

The Independence Day was celebrated on 30 June. The ceremony was attended by many dignitaries including the Belgian King Baudouin and the foreign press. King Baudin, President KAsa-Vubu and Patrice Lumumba gave speeches. The king advised the Congolese government to keep their structures and reform them when they were certain of being able to do better, he praised colonial development and told them they were free to come for advice anytime.  The president in his speech thanked the King while Lumumba delivered an inpropmptu speech reminding the audience that the independence of the Congo was not granted easily by Belgium. Lumumba made the fateful decision to raise the pay of all government employees except for the army.

Days after independence, units of the army rebelled, mostly due to objections to their Belgian commander. MoiseTshombe took advantage of the ensuing confusion, and used it as an opportunity to proclaim that the mineral-rich province of Katanga was seceding from the Congo. Belgium sent in troops, ostensibly to protect Belgian nationals in the disorder, but the Belgian troops landed principally in Katanga, where they sustained Tshombe’s secessionist regime.

The Congo appealed to the United Nations to expel the Belgians and help them restore internal order as his army was an uncertain instrument of power.


The United Nations forces didn’t help suppress the Katangese revolt, Lumumba then appealed to the Soviet Union for planes to aid in moving his troops to Katanga. He asked for a meeting of the independent African states in Léopoldville in August to unite their efforts behind him. His moves was stunning to most Western powers and also supporters of President Kasa-vubu.

On September 5 Lumumba was dismissed by President Kasa-vubu. Lumumba immediately contested the legalities of the move. He also declared Kasa-Vubu deposed and won a vote of confidence in the Senate, the newly appointed prime minister however failed to gain parliament’s confidence. The country was torn by two political groups and this led to the formation of two groups now claiming to be the legal central government.

The Congolese army seized power On September. The coup d’état was organized by the army leader Colonel Joseph Mobutu who incapacitated both Lumumba and Kasa-Vubu. Lumumba was placed under house arrest at the Prime Minister’s residence, with UN troops around the house. Lumumba sought to escape to Stanleyville where his supporters were in control in November. His intention apparently was to set up his own government and army.

He was caught by troops loyal to Mobutoin Port Francqui and arrested on the 1st of December 1960. He was then flown to Leopdville (now Kinshasa) in ropes, not handcuffs. Mobuto said Lumumba was to be tried for inciting the army to rebellion and other crimes

Lumumba was forcefully restrained on the flight to Elizabethville (now Lubumbashi) on 17 January 1961. On arrival, he was conducted under arrest to Brouwez House where he was brutally beaten and tortured by Katangan and Belgian officers. That night, Lumumba was driven to an isolated spot where three firing squads had been assembled The execution took place on 17 January 1961. Lumumbas death caused a scandal throughout Africa; retrospectively, even his enemies proclaimed him a “national hero.”

In February 2002, the Belgian government apologized to the Congolese people, and admitted to a “moral responsibility” and “an irrefutable portion of responsibility in the events that led to the death of Lumumba”.

The image of Patrice Lumumba stands as an inspiration in contemporary Congolese politics. Lumumba was a man of strong character who intended to achieve his policies regardless of any situation, he had an exceptional viewpoint. He stood for the unity of the Congo and against division of the country. 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.

Tunde is a very versatile African traveler with visits to close to 20 countries on the continent and 10 others outside Africa. He enjoys photography and meeting people from different background.

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