“But this is a people robbed and plundered, all of them are trapped in holes and hidden in prisons; they have become a prey with no one to rescue, a spoil with no one to say, ‘Restore!” Is 42:22
Like the people of Israel before their return from exile in Babylon, Congo today appears to be a land adrift, a nation state which has lost its bearings and its vision of what this newly independent nation in Africa might become. It is therefore to be lamented that Patrice Lumumba’s comprehensive and compelling vision for the nation is largely neglected if not contradicted by the current regime and not known by the Congolese people, few of whom were alive in 1960.
Following the dedication of the Lumumba monument and statue in Kinshasa, the 2002 placement of Laurent Desire Kabila’s ostentatious mausoleum across from the Palais de la Nationsignaled where the current regime’s roots lie. In contrast to the international recognition and respect accorded the
legacy of Patrice Lumumba, the father of the current president has the reputation of a cowering opportunist whose rise to power in Congo resulted from Rwanda’s desire to unseat Mobutu and exploit the resources of eastern Congo. The closest Laurent Kabila comes to resembling Lumumba is in his also having been assassinated.
In a 2008 article by investigative journalist Christian Parenti titled “In Search of Lumumba: Congo’s Landscape of Forgetting” investigative journalist Christian Parenti found no traces of Lumumba’s political thought in the country’s politics or daily life today. Parenti found that even those with access to the mass media outlets of Kinshasa have only a rudimentary understanding of Lumumba’s rise to power and what he stood for. “He was our first President” a handyman at a Catholic mission told Parenti, and “he became a Communist” responded a university student. An English teacher at a Jesuit high school told Parenti that in the Mobutu era, Congo history lessons focused on the President, “his family, his life”. Parenti sums up his findings with “ Once dead, the memory of Lumumba is erased, then revived to prop up a dictator, then to legitimize the rebel who overthrew that dictator”.
So what of the Lumumba legacy can be recovered and applied to the restoration of the Congolese nation today? Above all, there is the writing and speeches of a gifted and passionate defender of the rights of the Congolese people. Within the pages of Lumumba Speaks, edited by Jean Van Lierde, there can be uncovered the outline of a plan of action for the rise of a free Congo as well as a free Africa. There are excerpts which reveal Lumumba as a political pragmatist seeking to encourage the understanding if not the support of his opposition,
“Europeans must recognize and come to accept the idea that the liberation movement that we are engaged in throughout Africa is not directed against them, nor against their possessions, nor against their persons, but purely and simply against the regime of exploitation and enslavement that we are no longer willing to tolerate. If they agree to put an immediate end to this regime instituted by their predecessors, we will live in friendship and brotherhood with them.” (from his speech at the University of Ibadan, March 22, 1959, sponsored by the Congress for the Freedom of Culture)
And there are excerpts so prescriptive and truthful regarding the history of his nation and the entire continent of Africa over the past fifty years as to rank him among the major prophets of the last century. The words that follow were tape recorded during Lumumba’s last days in prison shortly before his death,
“The powers that are fighting us or fighting my government, under the false pretense that they are fighting communism, are in fact concealing their real intentions. These European powers favor only those African leaders who are tied to their apron strings and deceive their people. Certain of these powers conceive of their presence in the Congo or in Africa only as a chance to exploit their rich resources to the maximum by conniving with certain corrupted leaders.
This policy of corruption whereby every incorruptible leader is called procommunist and every leader who is a traitor to his country pro-Western must be fought.
We don’t want to tag along with any bloc. If we aren’t careful, we will risk falling into a neocolonialism that would be as dangerous as the colonialism that we buried last June 30. The imperialists’ strategy is to maintain the colonial system in the Congo and simply change the cast, as in a stage play, that is to say, replace the Belgian colonialists with neocolonialists who can be easily manipulated.”
Among his speeches and writings, I have found no words associating the U.S. with the “European powers” determined to enforce a neocolonial status on Africa. In the next blog, we will look at Lumumba’s trust of the U.S. as an inspiring former colony of the British Empire. We will also lift up his emphasis on the rights of women and the priority he envisaged in the new Congo of educating women.
Copies of Lumumba Speaks are unfortunately hard to come by. There is one copy in the County of Los Angeles Public Library system. Congo, My Country by Lumumba is an extended essay on the country’s march to self rule written in early 1958; the first book is essential for reading his mature political thought.
More accessible today are the film by Raoul Peck Lumumba, available on Netflix for instant view, and the biography by Leo Zeilig Lumumba: Africa’s Lost Leader (Life and Times)
The Christian Parenti article cited above is from the January 30, 2008 edition of In These Times magazine and though there are errors (Lumumba did NOT study abroad as stated) it is worth reading at: