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Africa should set aside day for Lumumba

By Dominic Odipo | February 3rd 2014

By Dominic Odipo

Kenya: Early in the morning of January 17, 1961, they were collected from the army camp at Thysville and taken to an airfield at Moanda accompanied by three soldiers from Kasai, especially chosen for their hatred of the leader.

On the six-hour flight to Elizabethville, today Lubumbashi, the prisoners were savagely beaten by their guards.

Their clothes torn and bloodstained, they were met at the airport by a large contingent of Belgian officers and Katangese soldiers, hit with rifle butts, thrown into the back of a truck and taken to an empty house two miles from the airport guarded by troops and police under the command of a Belgian officer.

Tortured in plane

Held in the bathroom, they were repeatedly beaten and tortured. Tshombe and other Katangese ministers came by to taunt them, joining in the savagery. When Tshombe returned to his official residence, he was, according to his butler, “covered in blood”.

When they arrived, their graves had already been dug. Lumumba was the last to die, shot by a firing squad under the command of a Belgian officer.

The following night two Belgians and their African assistants dug up the corpses, hacked them into pieces and threw the pieces into a barrel of sulphuric acid.

Then they ground up the skulls and scattered the bones and teeth during the return journey, so that no trace of Lumumba and his companions would ever be found. Almost 54 years have now passed since that early morning in 1961 when Patrice Emery Lumumba was murdered and his remains dissolved in sulphuric acid. At the time of his death, Lumumba was the Prime Minister of the Democratic Republic of Congo, and probably the greatest anti-colonialist the African Continent had yet seen.

More than half a century later, the name and memory of Patrice Lumumba has refused to fade from both the Congo and the African continent as a whole.

Thousands of children in Africa have been named in his memory, as have been probably a million estates and streets. Authentic African heroes do not come bigger than Patrice Lumumba.

If there was an African hero unvarnished, it probably was Lumumba, who sprang from the tiny Batatela tribe of the Congo, without any advantage of the tyranny of numbers, but who rose to lead black Africa’s largest and richest country.


Unlike so many other African leaders, Lumumba clearly understood the correlation between colonialism and black Africa’s grinding poverty. And, having understood it, he did not keep quiet. He made it his life’s mission to sensitise every black African, wherever he was in the world, to the real meaning of colonialism.

And that is why he was murdered, and so many additional efforts made to erase his memory from the face of the Congo. Lumumba was a force that no colonial power, no matter how powerful, could have resisted. If his voice had not been stilled in time, his message would have sank into every corner of black Africa.

National hero

And the consequences for all the colonial powers would have been shattering. It is no exaggeration to say that Africa would have been a completely different place today if Lumumba had lived. And, in particular, Eastern Congo, which was his political stronghold, but which has seen so much death and destruction since his murder, would have been redeemed much earlier.

The account above appears in Martin Meredith’s African narrative, The Fate of Africa, and rightly concludes that, to many protestors, he was the victim of a neo-colonial conspiracy, cut down by Western powers because he challenged their hegemony.

“Overnight he entered the pantheon of liberation heroes”, and numerous songs, praising him as Congo’s national hero, were composed and sang by Congolese musicians, including the late Franco Luambo Makiadi.Like no other Congolese politician, Lumumba had a way with the ordinary black Congolese citizen. They loved the way he stood up to the white men, even at formal functions.

For example, on Congo’s Independence Day, he marched to the microphone and began lecturing the Belgian king on why he had no business telling the Congolese how to govern themselves, even though he had not even been listed to speak.

That fear of the white man, which most black Africans tended to have during those times, never afflicted Lumumba.

In that sense, he was a truly unique African. Much earlier than most of us, he understood that the white man was not superior to the black man merely because his skin was different. This simple message was dynamite in the 1970s.

No colonial power in the African continent could deal with it. In a sense, therefore, Congo’s Patrice Lumumba died for all black Africans, and so, perhaps, the day of his death, January 18, ought to be celebrated as a national holiday by every black African nation. Viva Lumumba, viva! 

The writer is a lecturer and consultant in Nairobi.

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