Since January 17, 1961, no one has been held accountable for the brutal murder of Congo’s independence leader and first prime minister Patrice Lumumba who was shot dead with two of his ministers, Joseph Okito and Maurice Mpolo.
However, all fingers point to multinational perpetrators who sanctioned the elimination of one of Africa’s bravest politicians and independence heroes who stood his ground against colonizers.
He led the Democratic Republic of Congo to independence on June 30, 1960, after the country was passed on from King Leopold II, who took control of it as his private property in the 1880s, to Belgium in 1908 as a colony.
Lumumba was inspired by the independence movement of Africa after attending the All-African Peoples’ Conference in Ghana in 1958. This spurred him on to organise nationalist rallies in his country resulting in deadly protests that got him arrested and later released to negotiate Congo’s independence.
Independence came with lots of problems including a political divide and an unapologetic Belgium led by King Baudouin who minced no words during the independence declaration while praising his predecessor, the brutish King Leopold II.
“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. Don’t be afraid to come to us. We will remain by your side and give you advice,” he said.
An outraged Lumumba rather gave a damning speech highlighting “humiliating slavery, which was imposed upon us by force.” This heightened Belgium’s disinterest in Lumumba whose government was already being opposed by his political rival and president Joseph Kasavubu.
Only three months into the new and independent Congo, soldiers mutinied against Belgian commanders who refused to leave and some regions, including the mineral-rich Katanga and South Kasai, rebelled against the central government and seceded with the backing of Belgian troops who were sent to protect their interests.
The Congolese government called for the United Nation’s help and a resolution was passed by the Security Council calling on Belgium to withdraw its troops. UN peacekeepers were sent into the Congo to restore order and “use force in the last resort” to secure the country’s territories.
However, Belgium did not leave and the UN Secretary-General Dag Hammarskjöld failed to provide the Congolese government with military assistance as demanded by Lumumba and sanctioned by the Security Council. He also ignored the prime minister’s appeal to send troops to Katanga but rather chose to negotiate with secession leader Moise Tshombe.
Hammarskjöld died in a plane crash on his way to meet Tshombe in September 1961, winning him a posthumously Nobel peace prize. Meanwhile, the country was in turmoil and Lumumba got no help from the West and the United Nations. He called on Russia and the Soviet Union sent weapons and “technical advisors” which incensed the United States.
The U.S. was a strong ally of Belgium and had a stake in Congo’s uranium. It is suspected to have planned an assassination as disclosed by a source in the book, Death in the Congo, written by Emmanuel Gerard and published in 2015.
U.S. President Dwight Eisenhower was reported to have given the order without any discussion. Lawrence Devlin, CIA station chief in Congo at the time, told the BBC in 2000 that a CIA plan to lace Lumumba’s toothpaste with poison was never carried out.
By September, the Congolese President Kasavubu dismissed Lumumba as Prime Minister after receiving a telegram from Belgian Prime Minister Gaston Eyskens. Lumumba also declared Kasavubu deposed. This ushered in the takeover by army chief Colonel Mobutu Sese Seko who placed Lumumba under house arrest and guarded by his troops and the United Nations troops.
Lumumba escaped in late November with his wife and baby son hidden in the back of a car leaving his residence. They headed towards the east where he had loyal followers in Kisangani (then Stanleyville). He engaged villagers on his way and on the evening of December 2 as they waited for a ferry to cross the Sankuru River, Mobutu’s forces appeared.
He was captured and another plea to the United Nations to save him fell on deaf ears. He was flown to Léopoldville (now Kinshasa), where he was humiliated in public in the presence of journalists, UN officials and his wife, Pauline.