× Digital News Videos Africa Health & Science Opinion Columnists Education Lifestyle Cartoons Moi Cabinets Arts & Culture Gender Planet Action Podcasts E-Paper Tributes Lifestyle & Entertainment Nairobian Entertainment Eve Woman TV Stations KTN Home KTN News BTV KTN Farmers TV Radio Stations Radio Maisha Spice FM Vybez Radio Enterprise VAS E-Learning Digger Classified Jobs Games Crosswords Sudoku The Standard Group Corporate Contact Us Rate Card Vacancies DCX O.M Portal Corporate Email RMS


So, what really made Congo’s Lumumba tick?

By | Aug 8th 2011 | 4 min read


"He was an irrational, almost psychotic personality. He would never look you in the eye. He looked up at the sky and a tremendous flow of words came out. His words didn’t ever have any relation to the particular things we wanted to discuss. You had the feeling that he was a person that was gripped by this fervour that I can only characterise as messianic. He was just not a rational being."

These words, written in reference to Patrice Emery Lumumba, the first prime minister of the Democratic Republic of Congo, appear in the published notes of Mr Douglas Dillon who, as President Dwight Eisenhower’s under-secretary of state, met Lumumba in Washington DC in July, 1960.

Granted, Dillon was a very senior American establishment figure who, only a few months later, was to be made Treasury Secretary by President JF Kennedy, But glance through these lines once more. Do they ring true, or did Dillon add some salt here to serve his country’s special interests?

Mboya’s real role

In particular, was Lumumba an irrational, psychotic personality? Did he ordinarily look up to the sky when talking to people, avoiding eye contact? Did he ordinarily talk about irrelevant issues at top diplomatic and political meetings?

Good questions, all of these, but what are the objective answers? Within seven months of Dillon’s observations, Lumumba was brutally assassinated by people believed to have been sponsored by the Belgians and the Americans. The rest, as they say, is history.

When I saw the gigantic statue of Tom Mboya erected in Nairobi last week, my mind raced back to Lumumba.

For me, the most important function of this statue is that, every day, it will be pushing us to ask ourselves what Mboya’s real role in this country’s historical development was. It will push us to ask about Mboya some very fundamental questions. But that will be another day. For now, let’s return to Lumumba.

Fifty years after his assassination, debate still rages in many quarters about what sort of person Patrice Lumumba really was and what his true position in Congolese history is.

On one side are those who, like Dillon, argue that Lumumba’s image has been grossly inflated and that, in effect, he was a shortsighted, irrational, immature and politically tactless man who let the Congolese people down supremely in the three months that he served as prime minister.

On the other side are those who idolise the man, claiming he was one of the greatest leaders to emerge, not only from the Congo but from the entire continent.

To them, Lumumba stands in the same exalted ranks as Samora Machel of Mozambique, Julius Nyerere of Tanzania and Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana.

Here are just a few of the critical facts that we remember from Lumumba’s brief premiership in the latter half of 1960.

During the Independence celebrations in Leopoldville, today Kinshasa, on June 30, 1960, Belgian authorities refused to grant Lumumba the honour and respect due to his office and even failed to give him time to make his formal speech.

Highly incensed, Lumumba stalked to the podium anyway and scathingly attacked the Belgians, including the king himself who was present, ending with the potently loaded line "Nous ne sommes plus vos singes." (We are no longer your monkeys).

Foreign interests

Second, within a week of Lumumba’s premiership in July, the Congolese army rebelled against its Belgian officers and, and in response, Lumumba dismissed its Belgian commander, Gen Emile Janssens, replacing him with a black Congolese. From that point on, Lumumba became the deadly enemy of all Belgian interests in the Congo

Third, within two weeks of Lumumba’s accession to the premiership, Moise Tshombe, the Katanga strongman, with the support of the Belgian mining interests there, engineered the secession of that Congolese province, effectively throwing the country into civil war.

So, within only one month of Lumumba becoming prime minister, the Congo did not exist as one country and all the Belgian and other foreign business interests there had been aligned against him. How was he supposed to operate in such circumstances?

But why had these forces been ranged up against him?

First, Lumumba made no secret of the fact that, for more than 60 years, the Belgians had so misgoverned and exploited the Congo that they no longer had any moral right to tell the Congolese people what to do.

Second, Lumumba publicly declared that all the natural resources of the Congo, including all its diamond and copper deposits, rightly belonged to the Congolese people, not Belgian, American or any other foreign interests. If this belief had been turned into policy and implemented, Congo would be a very different country today.

Third, Lumumba was an unreconstructed Pan-Africanist who believed in African union a la the USA. With such unity, foreign exploitation of the continent’s natural resources would have been much harder to effect.

So, was Lumumba what Dillon says he was or was he much more and a mere victim of the circumstances in which he unwittingly found himself?

In a forthcoming piece, we shall try to answer this question.

The writer is a lecturer and consultant in Nairobi.

[email protected]

Share this story
Political party coalition clause unnecessary in new laws
In recent days, coalition party formation has taken center-stage during the debate on the Political Parties’ Bill. The Commission for implementation of the Constitution chairmanCharles Nyachae has argued for clause 10 of the Bill to be amended to comply with Article 108 of the Constitution which allows for political party coalition building after elections.
When Njonjo almost resigned over coffee smugglers
Known as the era of black gold, it began in 1976 when Ugandan farmers decided to sell their coffee in the private market.