Lumumba is the only leader by far who managed to unite the Congolese people, won electorate majority while he was in prison, scared not only Washington (Eisenhower government) and Belgium forces, (Leopold and his living ghosts) but also African dictators and sell-outs; Mobutu Sese Seko, Joseph Kasavubi and others from Katanga region. Lumumba’s assassination was as tragic as it was brutal. The most gruesome, given Belgium’s need to erase all evidence of the man and his ideas. After he was ridden with bullets, he was buried but that was not enough. The Belgian mercenaries who carried out the horrendous deed realized even in the grave he may not be silenced. So they unburied him, cut his body to pieces, and dropped the pieces in a barrel of sulfuric acid. I’m yet to know of another assassination with equal intent for erasure and horror. Lumumba was killed, but not his message. In a letter to his dear wife he wrote:
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!
That was December 1960, a few months after he’d ushered in Congo’s independence and taken office as the first Prime Minister of the Congo. He was only 35 when he was assassinated in January 1961. Two years later, JF Kennedy was assassinated. He was 45. In his inaugural speech, JF Kennedy captured the imagination of the youth of America just the way Lumumba had captured the hearts and minds of all the Congolese masses. Lumumba’s Independence Day Speech.
You might think JFK borrowed a leaf from Lumumba: Ask not what your country can do for you…that was exactly Lumumba’s concern as he urged the Congolese to make Congo the radiance of all nations, free and independent, proud of the struggle, and never to forget that they had won Congo’s Independence through fighting. It wasn’t delivered to them as Belgium wanted it perceived.
Lumumba knew the times in which he mobilized the masses to unite. He was ready to carry any burden and pay any price, and he did. JF Kennedy later did too. The 1960’s saw a number of visionaries paying with their lives. Those were dangerous times because the world was busy killing its messiahs. Has it stopped? We’re yet to see. In fact compared with Lumumba, only JF Kennedy lived a bit longer. Malcolm X was assassinated in 1965 aged 39. He may have been a controversial figure but he raised enough rabble in the fight for justice and freedom. He was a revolutionary. What America needed at the time, though we may not all agree on his revolutionary style. Martin Luther King Jr was assassinated in 1968, also aged 39, and other revolutionaries in other times who never crossed 39 are Thomas Sankara who died at 37, Che Guevara, who died at 39 having dedicated his life to revolutions of positive change around the world, and Steve Biko who died aged 30.
Thomas Sankara was killed after four years as President of Burkina Faso, at the hands of his oldest friend who took over office. Familiar? (Just the way Mobutu betrayed Lumumba). The revolution Sankara led between 1983 and 1987 was one of the most creative and radical that Africa ever produced. He even renamed the country from the French ‘Upper Volta’ to Burkina Faso—Land of upright men. (I’m still waiting for Ivory Coast to cease being Ivory Coast). And like other radical African leaders such as Lumumba and Amilcar Cabral, Sankara was assassinated. An incorruptible man, Sankara was the world’s poorest president who refused to use the air conditioning in his office because ‘such luxury was not available to anyone but a handful of Burkinabes.’ He also refused that his portrait be hung in public places. It’s common knowledge that his murderer, still in power has pursued nothing but self-enrichment, cheap politics and is loved by the West for his compliance. Africa is in the mess it’s in because the continent’s stooges and false Western allies have been busy grabbing, plundering, strategizing, plotting, and killing our saviors.
But this is no time to give mileage to the fools. It’s time to remember our heroes, to sing Lumumba, to celebrate his vision, ideas and work, and hope that someday, the independence, integrity, justice and radiance he saw before his assassination becomes true of Congo and the rest of Africa. Long live Lumumba in our hearts.