Influenced by Kwame Nkrumah. Influence to Che Guevara. Patrice Lumumba isn’t a name on many Black History rubrics but he cast a global shadow in life and most unfortunately, in death. His Pan-Africanist ideals were cemented after attending the All-African Peoples’ Conference in December of 1958. It was less than two years later, in 1960 that the Mouvement National Congolais won the first democratic election in Congo and Lumumba was elected as the country’s first prime minister.
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.
His time in office was marked by controversy, starting with an inflammatory speech at the inaugural Independence Day celebration and ending with his assassination. He was a quick striking politician and proud man with an uncanny ability to rouse a crowd and appeal to the sensibilities of his fellow Congolese citizens. His eagerness to act and the firmness with which he did act caused his eventual dismissal from the newly formed government.
Even in exile, Lumumba was threatening. He was sent to live in the Prime Minister’s palace, under close watch by UN soldiers but somehow managed to sneak out of his residence and rouse support for a new government. This show of complete disregard for his own safety is what makes Patrice Lumumba such a light in world history. His one and only desire was complete independence for his country.
That unfortunately, wasn’t in western interests. As the cold war intensified, it became even more imperative that Africans not gain effective control over their resources, lest those fall into the “wrong hands”. The US was a prime player in this game, having already used the resources of the Congo to fashion the atomic weapons that destroyed Hiroshima and Nagasaki. So when they learned that Lumumba was still fighting for a completely independent Congo, the US (in conjunction with Belgium) funded the factions responsible for Lumumba’s capture and subsequent death by firing squad.
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.
Eldridge Cleaver spoke to the idea that people can cope with the death of one of their heroes if it is a natural death or even an accidental death but when they are forcibly ripped from our lives, we react the strongest. I guess we can cope if we are sure that our heroes were allowed to go and rest in peace and freedom. Instead, Patrice Lumumba was wrested from the arms of his supporters, riddled with US funded bullets and buried unceremoniously, cut down before he was able to fully mature politically. When rumors of his death surfaced, his body was exhumed and reburied in an even more remote location, even further from his support only to be exhumed again. This time chopped up with a hacksaw and covered with acid to be sure that his only remains were those trophies taken by his enemies.
There was no peace for Patrice Lumumba. He fought as hard in death as he did in life. And his restless legacy lived on through others who fought for freedom and independence to and through their death. His selflessness and determination made him “the greatest black man who ever walked the African continent” according to Malcolm X and so many others.
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.
*quotes are from the poem “Weep, Beloved Black Brother” by Patrice Lumumba