Flashback: Belgium’s ‘apology’ for assassinating Patrice Lumumba

Europe sheds crocodile tears for Africa

Patrice Lumumba (July 2, 1925–January 17, 1961)

Patrice Lumumba (July 2, 1925–January 17, 1961)

I only gave voice to words of freedom and brotherhood, words they couldn’t accept. Just words. – Patrice Lumumba

Neither state nor individual terrorism is justifiable. But when the European rulers issue self-serving statements that the violence in Brussels is an attack on Europe – and further are silent on the terrorist attacks in Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Palestine and Yemen – then they too must be condemned and the issues gone into soberly. It is these rulers themselves whom, as the statement of CPC(M-L) points out, “block the peoples of Europe from sorting out the problems of nation-building in the 21st century, starting by disavowing the colonialist past and imperialist present of the big European powers and dismantling the U.S.-led aggressive military alliance NATO.”

For the information of readers, we are reproducing an article from our archives by BARRACK MULUKA on how Belgium disavowed its colonial past; the assassination on January 17, 1961 of one of Africa’s most outstanding independence leaders, Patrice Lumumba of the Democratic Republic of Congo. In 2001, an official inquiry in 2001 produced a painstaking account of how officials, ministers and even Belgium’s King Baudouin either plotted to kill Lumumba just months after independence or were aware that others were doing so. The American president, Dwight D. Eisenhower, had long given the green light for the CIA to plan the elimination of Lumumba, according to Madeleine Kalb in her book, Congo Cables, published by Macmillan in 1982 based on leaked State Department cables.

Under the reign of terror instituted by King Leopold II of Belgium (who ran the Congo Free State as his personal fief from 1885 to 1908), the population of the Congo was reduced by half — as many as 8 million Africans (perhaps even 10 million, lost their lives. Today, Belgium is providing “logistical support” as does Canada for the French military occupation and plunder of Mali, the aggression against Libya and the support of “jihadi” terrorists to overthrow the secular government of Syria.

Europe sheds crocodile tears for Africa

By BARRACK MULUKA, The East African Standard (Nairobi), February 10, 2002

The crocodile

The crocodile

THE crocodile has a strange eating way. You can never quite tell whether the gigantic reptile is happy or not, as he tackles his meal. Why, he seems to shed tears even as he eats.

The estuarine crocodile that lives by the sea has particularly been known to enjoy human flesh. More often than not, he swallows you whole, tears slowly rolling down its eyes. It is as if the animal is saying to its prey, ‘I’m very sorry to be doing this to you. Be assured my sympathies rest with you.’

The English do not trust votes of sympathy of this kind. They call them crocodile tears. Why should the crocodile eat you and mourn at the selfsame time?

Does Europe shed crocodile tears for Africa? Tuesday this week, Belgium officially apologised to the Democratic Republic of Congo for her role in the killing of the country’s first Prime Minister, Patrice Lumumba, who was murdered on January 17, 1961.

Belgium’s foreign minister, Louis Mitchell, told his country’s Parliament that Belgium ‘regretted’ the role her leaders of 1961 played in the death of Lumumba.

map.democratic republic of congoThe other western country usually associated with Lumumba’s death is the United States of America. Will she take the cue and repent too?

Lumumba, a former postal employee, galvanised the Congolese struggle for independence in the late 1950s and early 1960s.

He borrowed his political fire from the Pan-Africanist shimmering coals of Ghana’s Kwame Nkurumah and Guinea’s Ahmed Sekou Toure.

History has records of his bristling resentment for Western imperialism in Africa.

By the same token, the West resented him. He was a clear obstacle to their intentions to exploit copper in Katanga and diamond in Kasai.

If the style today is to label everyone the West disagrees with a ‘terrorist’, the fashion then was to call you a ‘communist’. Lumumba was declared a dangerous communist. He had to be annihilated. He did not live long after his country’s independence.

patrice-lumumba-2011-1-17-7-10-31As curious young boys and girls, we heard all manner of frightening tales about the death of Lumumba. Maybe now that Belgium admits her complicity in this grave matter she can be persuaded to lift the lid off the puzzle?

The story used to go that Lumumba was turned into jelly in a drum of concentrated acid. But they also used to say that he had been buried alive in a pit latrine.

Whatever the case, it is instructive that the apology comes when those who stage-managed the killing are long gone. They cannot pay for their sins.

If Belgium should be taken seriously in this generous gesture, what are the lessons to be learnt? Is it possible that this new spirit could be written wider? Patrice Lumumba is a metaphor for the African fight for freedom.

Shortly before his evaporation, he made a moving statement in which he condemned imperialists and their quislings.

In a speech that the BBC replays from time to time, we hear Lumumba’s shrill voice saying that those who do not love his people’s freedom are planning to kill him.

And they eventually did kill him. Is Belgium apologising for killing the spirit of Africa’s struggle for freedom?

If Belgium apologises for killing an African freedom fighter, is it possible for Europe and America to apologise for their contribution to the wretchedness in the continent generally? Could the annoying subject of reparations for sins against Africa be revisited?

Walter Rodney tells us how Europe underdeveloped Africa. For over five hundred years, they steadily ferreted away the best of the sons and daughters of Africa into slavery. When they were not doing this, they were colonising the continent. From Algiers to Nairobi, freedom fighters were demonised, massacred. When they said independence had come, they installed stooges that only served their interests.

And so Jaramogi Oginga Odinga cautioned us in 1967 that we had not yet got Uhuru. We still haven’t.

More ironically, the Europe that preaches good governance today is the selfsame Europe that sponsored some of the worst dictatorships in Africa. And so while Mobutu raped the Congo and Marcus Ngwema looted Equatorial Guinea, Europe looked the other side.

Sometimes the pretext was thrown away. Papa Valery Giscard D’Estang of France is remembered for his cronyism with the man-eating Jean Bedel Bokassa. They exchanged diamonds and wines freely in ornate and gilded palaces, while the people of the Central African Republic muddled in hopeless poverty. Does France not owe Africa an apology?

Does France owe Algeria an apology for the fighters who perished in the bloody war of independence? Would they consider apologising for the liquidation of Ibin Lafaiya Samori Toure and for destruction of the Mandinka Dyula civilisation in the nineteenth century?

It is British Prime Minister, Tony Blair, who has described Africa as ‘a scar on the conscience of the world.’ He has been visiting the scar this week, in Nigeria, Senegal, Sierra Leone and Ghana.

Mr Blair’s visit is largely seen as an expression of his faith in the ‘New African Initiative’ of Olusegun Obasanjo and Thabo Mbeki. The duo believes that Africa is able to re-define her relationship with the rest of the world. That a new Africa can raise her head high in the assembly of nations.

The situation on the ground could not have been more discouraging.

Mr Blair arrived in Nigeria in the wake of some of the most nauseating tribal clashes in Lagos where the Yoruba and the Hausa have recently slaughtered one another like they did in 1967, as a curtain-raiser to the Biafra war. A week earlier, hundreds more perished in a mysterious inferno linked to the military. And all this at a time when Britain’s arms sales to Africa are projected to quadruple in the next three years.

Nigeria worries you. You cannot help wondering whether the military is not rehearsing for another comeback. When they are not slaughtering one another in Lagos they are planning to stone to death women who have babies out of wedlock. When it is not this, the military is slaying villagers.

Amidst all that, the Obasanjo government appears quite powerless. Is the ‘new African initiative’ a high sounding nothing?

The happenings in Nigeria find replication in many parts of the Continent. What is the connection between this wretchedness and the colonial legacy? Such are the questions Europe should be asking, if she is truly remorseful about her history in Africa.

Eventually, people like Blair and Mitchell may want to be part of a comprehensive, deliberate, planned and sustained redemption plan for Africa. Sporadic bouts of stricken conscience and condescending fudge are unlikely to go beyond evoking images of mourning and feasting crocodiles. It is difficult to tell the two apart.

Source: allAfrica.com


Patrice Lumumba speaks

“Slavery was imposed on us by force! We have known ironies and insults. We remember the blows that we had to submit to morning, noon and night because we were Negroes!”

“We are neither Communists, Catholics nor socialists. We are African nationalists. We reserve the right to choose our friends in accordance with the principle of positive neutrality.”

“Who will ever forget the massacres where so many of our brothers perished; the cells into which those who refused to submit to a regime of injustice, oppression and exploitation were thrown?” (referring to atrocities committed against the Congolese people by the belgians since the time of the time of the Congo Free State)

Question: “Some of your political opponents accuse you of being a Communist. Could you reply to that?”
Lumumba’s Answer: “This is a propagandist trick aimed at me. I am not a Communist. The colonialists have campaigned against me throughout the country because I am a revolutionary and demand the abolition of the colonial regime, which ignored our human dignity. They look upon me as a Communist because I refused to be bribed by the imperialists.” – From an interview to a France-Soir correspondent on July 22, 1960

“…the greatest black man who ever walked the African continent. He didn’t fear anybody. He had those people [the colonialists] so scared they had to kill him. They couldn’t buy him, they couldn’t frighten him, they couldn’t reach him.” – Malcolm X (speaking about Lumumba at an Organisation of Afro-American Unity rally in 1964)

“We must move forward, striking out tirelessly against imperialism. From all over the world we have to learn lessons which events afford. Lumumba’s murder should be a lesson for all of us.” – Che Guevara 

Independence Day Speech

(June 30, 1960)

By Patrice Lumumba

Men and women of the Congo,

Patrice Lumumba, 1960 | Wikipedia

Patrice Lumumba, 1960 | Wikipedia

Victorious fighters for independence, today victorious, I greet you in the name of the Congolese Government. All of you, my friends, who have fought tirelessly at our sides, I ask you to make this June 30, 1960, an illustrious date that you will keep indelibly engraved in your hearts, a date of significance of which you will teach to your children, so that they will make known to their sons and to their grandchildren the glorious history of our fight for liberty.

For this independence of the Congo, even as it is celebrated today with Belgium, a friendly country with whom we deal as equal to equal, no Congolese worthy of the name will ever be able to forget that it was by fighting that it has been won [applause], a day-to-day fight, an ardent and idealistic fight, a fight in which we were spared neither privation nor suffering, and for which we gave our strength and our blood.

We are proud of this struggle, of tears, of fire, and of blood, to the depths of our being, for it was a noble and just struggle, and indispensable to put an end to the humiliating slavery which was imposed upon us by force.

This was our fate for eighty years of a colonial regime; our wounds are too fresh and too painful still for us to drive them from our memory. We have known harassing work, exacted in exchange for salaries which did not permit us to eat enough to drive away hunger, or to clothe ourselves, or to house ourselves decently, or to raise our children as creatures dear to us.

We have known ironies, blows that we endured morning, noon, and evening, because we are are Negroes. Who will forget that to a black one said “tu,” certainly not as to a friend, but because the more honorable “vous” was reserved for white alone?

We have seen our hands seized in the name of allegedly legal laws which in fact recognized only that might is right.

We have seen that the law was not the same for a white and for a black, accommodating for the first, cruel and inhuman for the other.

We have witnessed atrocious sufferings of those condemned for their political opinions of religious beliefs; exiled in their own country, their fate truly worse than death itself.

We have seen that in the towns there were magnificent houses for the whites and crumbling shanties for the blacks, that a black was not admitted in the motion-picture houses, in the restaurants, in the stores of the Europeans; that a black traveled in the holds, at the feet of the whites in their luxury cabins.

Who will ever forget the massacres where so many of our brothers perished, the cells into which those who refused to submit to a regime of oppression and exploitation were thrown [applause]?

All that, my brothers, we have endured.

But we, whom the vote of your elected representatives have given the right to direct our dear country, we who have suffered in our body and in or heart from colonial oppression, we tell you very loud, all that is henceforth ended.

The Republic of the Congo has been proclaimed, and our country is now in the hands of its children. Together, my brothers, my sisters, we are going to begin a new struggle, a sublime struggle, which will lead our country to peace, prosperity, and greatness.

Together, we are going to establish social justice and make sure everyone has just remuneration for his labor [applause].

We are going to show the world what the black man can do when he works in freedom, and we are going to make of the Congo the center of the sun’s radiance for all of Africa.

We are going to keep watch over the lands of our country so that they truly profit her children. We are going to restore ancient laws and make new ones which will be just and noble.

We are going to put an end to suppression of free thought and see to it that all our citizens enjoy to the full the fundamental liberties foreseen in the Declaration of the Rights of Man [applause].

We are going to rule not by the peace of guns and bayonets but by a peace of the heart and will [applause].

And for all that, dear fellow countrymen, be sure that we will count not only on our enormous strength and immense riches but on the assistance of numerous foreign countries whose collaboration we will accept if it is offered freely and with no attempt to impose on us an alien culture of no matter what nature [applause].

In this domain, Belgium, at last accepting the flow of history, has not tried to oppose our independence and is ready to give us their aid and their friendship, and a treaty has just been signed between our two countries, equal and independent. On our side, while we stay vigilant, we shall respect our obligations, given freely.

Thus, in the interior and the exterior, the new Congo, our dear Republic that my government will create, will be a rich, free, and prosperous country. But so that we will reach this aim without delay. I ask all of you, legislators and citizens, to help me with all your strength.

I ask all of you to forget your tribal quarrels. they exhaust us. They risk making us despised abroad.

I ask the parliamentary minority to help my Government through a constructive opposition and to limit themselves strictly to legal and democratic channels.

I ask all of you not to shrink before any sacrifice in order to achieve the success of our huge undertaking.

I ask you unconditionally to respect the life and the property of your fellow citizens and of foreigners living in our country. if the conduct of these foreigners leaves something to be desired, our justice will be prompt in expelling them from the territory of the Republic; if, on the contrary, their conduct is good, they must be left in peace, for they also are working for our country’s prosperity.

In conclusion, I ask you unconditionally to respect the life and the property of your fellow citizens and of foreigners living in our country. if the conduct of these foreigners leaves something to be desired, our justice will be prompt in expelling them from the territory of the Republic; if, on the contrary, their conduct is good, they must be left in peace, for they also are working for our country’s prosperity.

The Congo’s independence marks a decisive step towards the liberation of the entire African continent [applause].

Sire, Excellencies, Mesdames, messieurs, my dear fellow countrymen, my brothers of race, my brothers of struggle–this is what I wanted to tell you in the name of the Government on this magnificent day of our complete independence.

Our government, strong, national, popular, will be the health of our country.

I call on all Congolese citizens, men, women and children, to set themselves resolutely to the task of creating a prosperous national economy which will assure our economic independence.

Glory to the fighters for national liberation!

Long live independence and African unity!

Long live the independent and sovereign Congo!

Source: Robin McKown, Lumumba: A Biography. New York: Doubleday & Company, 1969.

Books on and by Patrice Lumumba

Lumumba (Panaf, 1973) / The Assassination of Lumumba (De Witte, 2001) / Lumumba Speaks: Speeches and Writings, 1958-1961 

Congo, My Country (1966)  / The Martyrdom of Patrice Lumumba (1971)  / Lumumba: A Biography (McKown, 1969)


King Leopold’s Ghost: A Story of Greed, Terror, and Heroism in Colonial Africa (Adam Hochschild)

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