The Men who killed Lumumba

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By Brian Mulenga

Congolese politician Patrice Lumumba after he was captured by soldiers under the command of Joseph Mobutu in 1960 – Courtesy of Face2Face Africa

Lumumba’s murder brought him honour and renown he might never otherwise have acquired. History is unlikely to have revered him as an epic figure had he lived longer. Few African politicians who actually wielded power for any length of time after Independence came out with their reputations intact. A lot were toppled in coups, a lot clung to power and imprisoned any opposition, some became legendary for their obscene and corruptly obtained wealth while others ran their countries into the ground. Lumumba prevailed in death as he did not in life, especially as a crusader for Africa; in 1960 an array of Africans opposed him both locally and externally. The death of Patrice Emery Lumumba is always laid at the door of the CIA but a close study of Congolese history in 1960 actually reveals a much more complex affair. That the CIA wanted Lumumba dead there was no doubt ; however their efforts were amateurish and comic with Larry Devlin, the man who created the monster that became the dictator Mobutu, many years later appearing in numerous documentaries and interviews with titillating tales of all the bumbling and fumbling that was the various CIA assassination attempts on Lumumba’s life. However, the intemperate and rather provocative rhetoric of Lumumba meant that he created enemies and many of them at that and quite often needlessly. When Lumumba introduced his new government the world cheered. He was an authentic fighter for his nation’s freedom with one picture making him instantly famous, as he descended shoeless from a Sabena plane in the custody of a Belgian police officer on his way to jail. He had charisma, grace, intelligence, flair and the showman’s touch which he displayed confidently when he introduced his new Ministers pand ended with “and the prime minister, your servant, Lumumba.” His enemies were many and some of them were his friends or former friends. Lumumba’s tongue at times was too undiplomatic and acerbic. He can be said to have talked himself into trouble. His acceptance speech of Congolese Independence from Belgium was a classic. Lumumba answered the gracious words of the Belgian King with a stirring speech which declared we are no longer your monkeys and much, much, more. King Baudouin was not amused and most people felt Lumumba’s fate was sealed by that speech. The Belgians were out to get Lumumba. There was Joseph Desire Mobutu, Lumumba’s former private secretary and aide who was reprising his first career as a soldier and0 was now the Army commander. His immediate installation at the rank of Colonel was already meteoric for a former Sergeant, by the time Mobutu was done he was to make himself Field Marshal. Mobutu had tasted power and he now wanted it for himself. Lumumba was an obstacle. Kasa Vubu, the President, detested and hated Lumumba. He hated him for his nationalistic ideals which clashed with Kasa Vubu’s cherished dream to unite the Ba Kongo of Angola, Congo-Brazzaville and Western Congo in a new version of the Old Kongo kingdom. Abbe Fulbert Youlou, the first President of Congo Brazzaville and close friend of Kasa Vubu, was a proponent of the same Kongo Kingdom dream. He and Kasa Vubu wanted the old Kongo kingdom back and nationalists like Lumumba were anathema. Albert Kalonji of Kasai province was an enemy who despite sharing similar ethnic roots with Lumumba Kalonji considered Lumumba a dreamer and had broken with Lumumba. Despite being from the same political party and sharing a nationality, he however had a more tribalist view and considered his fellow Kasai and Luba first before a united Congo. He was also a believer in witchcraft, Lumumba a thoroughly modern man, thought that kind of stuff rubbish. Kalonji hated Lumumba and was also jealous of him. He even declared himself king of the Luba. Moise Tshombe, the son of a royal Lunda chief and married to a Lunda princess was a member of the Mwata Yamvo family of he Lunda kingdom. He wanted a separate and independent Katanga and he wanted a more traditional African country with adherence to traditional customs. A Methodist, he considered Lumumba, a dangerous Communist and an atheist. He also hated Lumumba’s nationalist and Pan African ideas. Godfied Munongo, the Interior Minister of Katanga Province, he not only hated Lumumba, he openly said it. He was xenophobic and wanted all Kasai out of Katanga and did indeed expel and kill Kasai in Katanga. With his visceral hate for Kasai, to have one, i.e. Lumumba as Prime Minister was anathema to him. He was alleged to have wished to get his hands on Lumumba so he could parade him like an animal in a zoo. Jean- Baptist Kibwe was minister of finance for Katanga. For him man, Lumumba typified the European style nationalistic impulses that would brush traditions aside. He too was a devout Christian who thought Lumumba was a Communist. Close to Munongo he too quite openly showed his antipathy and disdain for Lumumba. Lumumba was killed at a time when Congo was falling apart a bare 7 months after Independence.The assassination took place at a time when the country had fallen under four separate governments: the central government in Kinshasa (then Léopoldville) where Lumumba and Kasa Vubu were firing each other and fighting for power while Mobutu was positioning himself to seize ultimate power; a rival central government by Lumumba’s followers in Kisangani (then Stanleyville) led by Gizenga; and the secessionist regimes in the mineral-rich provinces of Katanga ruled by Tshombe and Kasai under Kalonji. Lumumba after some serious intrigue and infighting had been arrested and placed in military detention. He escaped and proceeded to drive East to try and reach safety in Kisangani. Lumumba in a convoy of cars was received wildly in every town he passed through on his way East and his vanity took over. He stopped everywhere to give fiery speeches and meet his supporters. His aides pleaded with him that that speed was of the essence but the intoxicating power of crowds cheering him seduced Lumumba. It was to prove a fatal error. When Mobutu’s troops caught Lumumba it was at a river crossing. He had already crossed but his wife and children were captured. He went back and gave himself up. Mobutu and Kasa Vubu very quickly realised they had a hot potato on their hand. His actual presence caused an army mutiny in the Army barracks he was being held.Mobutu could not bring himself to kill Lumumba. They had been friends after all. Unlike Blaise Compare who had his friend shot, Mobutu like Pontius Pilate elected to wash his hands of the problem. Abbe Youlou, across the river in Brazzaville did not want Lumumba while sending him to Kalonji was unpredictable. They sent him to Tshombe. To his certain death. The beatings and indignities visited upon Lumumba were filmed for posterity. He was pulled by his hair, repeatedly punched and kicked before he was hustled onto a plane and sent to Katanga. The plane landed in Katanga and Munongo had his wish.Lumumba was delivered to him trussed up like a chicken visibly swollen from the beatings while enroute to the exultant Munongo. He quickly whisked Lumumba to a lonely farm outside Lubumbashi. There indeed Lumumba was displayed like a zoo animal and beaten and tortured. Tshombe and his Ministers went to see him. Then Munongo on his own decided to kill Lumumba. He ordered his Belgian police officers to shoot Lumumba. Lumumba and his two companions were driven to a village near the Zambian border and shot. They were hastily buried. However an arm was sticking out of the ground. After reports of a mysterious burial with an arm sticking out of the ground came out an upset Munongo told the Belgians to do it properly. When the death was reported to Tshombe he literally turned gray. He was shocked.He ordered total secrecy. Meanwhile his government was trying to figure out how to spin the news. Unfortunately a drunk Minister began telling people while drinking in a bar, “We did it”, “We got rid of the little bugger” or words to that effect.The story was out. The bodies of Lumumba and his companions were to suffer one more indignity. They were dug up, cut into pieces and dumped into a vat of sulphuric acid. Why may you ask did this happen ? The fear that Lumumba might rise from the dead to haunt Munongo aparenty !! An implausible story was told of how Lumumba escaped and was captured and hacked to death by villagers. The story was so stupid no one believed it. Lumumba of course became immortalised. A symbol of the lengths great powers could go to further their goals. For me it was even more. Proof positive of how much tribal hatred and petty jealousy cab\n be exploited . The men who hated Tshombe killed him. The CIA helped and encouraged it but in the final analysis Africans were ready to kill other Africans for personal gain and for settling scores. The death of lumumba was the final nail in the coffin. The Congo was doomed and 58 years later the after effects of killing Lumumba are still felt.

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One Response to The Men who killed Lumumba

  1. The Biblical statement,’as it was in the beginning,so it is now,and so shall it be’ seems to always be a perfect description for Africans. We, Africans, are just like pawns in the hands of the whites. They seem to always use us for their sport.

    One wonders why the African political leaders are selfish to the point of their readiness to sacrifice national survival and development for their selfish benefits.

    Yinka Aderoju
    May 1, 2019 at 12:43 pm
    Reply

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Start: 2019-07-01 End: 2019-07-31