Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Murder of Congolese Leader

It was on January 17, 1961 that Congolese independence advocate and former Prime Minister Patrice Lumumba was murdered. Since that time Belgium and the United States have been widely blamed for the death of the Congolese leader. The Belgian government even did a full investigation to please the Congo authorities and in 2002 apologized for 'moral responsibility' in not doing more to prevent the murder of Lumumba even though they found definitively that Belgium never ordered such an assassination. I don't know that the United States ever admitted to any role by the CIA in the events. But Lumumba, being killed so early on, has become like a god in the Congo even though his record was not one of success and he purposely put his country on a first step of needless antagonism between Congo and Belgium. He had pushed for independence for a long time, blaming all problems in the Congo on the presence of the Belgians, in his present time and in history. He was a former beer salesman and postal worker who was once put in jail for stealing money from the postal service. But, because of his agitation for independence he became a popular figure in the Congo over time.

When independence came this should have been the happy moment of victory for Patrice Lumumba but he could not let go of his past hatreds and turned the independence ceremony into an ugly scene. There had already been some unpleasantness but at the ceremony King Baudouin gave a speech trying to put the best light on everything. He advised the Congolese leaders not to do anything too radical, assured them that Belgium was ready to help them in any way possible if they needed it and wishing them the best. Lumumba, the new Prime Minister, then took the stage and began railing against the Belgians, even digging up the memory of King Leopold II, insulting Belgium with the most wicked accusations. Everyone today (not just in Africa) thinks this was some sort of brave and heroic speech but at the time few people thought so and instead said that it simply displayed the undiplomatic and unprofessional nature of the new native government, was needless antagonistic and only ensured that the olive branch offered by King Baudouin was slapped away in favor of a continued hostile attitude. The King was so upset at this public humiliation that he almost left the country immediately but his sense of duty prevented him.

Because he was assassinated later Lumumba is portrayed as a great leader now. But at the time, his government of the Congo was a series of bad decisions. He gave everyone a raise in pay except for the army which caused an outbreak of mutiny with soldiers running wild all over the country, killing looting and causing every kind of disorder. Belgians and all other Europeans were targeted for attacks, because of the breakdown in law and because of the hostile racial attitude Lumumba encouraged at the time of independence and so all Europeans fled the country which caused a big crisis for the economy. The mineral-rich province of Katanga wanted no part of all this and declared independence and the United Nations intervened to prevent the death of innocent peoples in the area. Lumumba wanted to crush the rebels and made friends with the Soviet Union to obtain the weapons he needed to do this. Because of his hostile attitude to the western powers none of them were going to help him wage war on his people but the Soviets were always eager to help insurgent, anti-colonial movements because they usually could use this to take control for the communists after it was over.

The President in the end dismissed Lumumba because of this crisis, but Lumumba would not give up power and declared the President removed from office. Their two factions began fighting for power and this gave the opportunity for Colonel Joseph Mobutu to step in, suppress both of them and eventually take power for himself. Lumumba tried to set up his own government and arm his own private army but Mobutu captured him and arrested him. The United Nations was split over the issue with the Communist powers supporting Lumumba and the anti-communist powers opposing any return to power for him. In the end he was taken by the Katanga authorities and executed by firing squad. Things did not get better afterwards but as the man in charge of the government, Lumumba was responsible for how bad things were. He took them to that point and it is unjust to blame others for the terrible state of affairs he presided over. Peace and friendship and an orderly consolidation of the new independent government could have led to a much better future for the Congo but it was Lumumba who first rejected that attitude and chose hostility and force instead. I cannot regard him as a great leader for anyone.


  1. I seem to recall hearing Patrice Lumumba during his raving actually seized our King's sword and broke it on his knee? The ultimate insult!
    A lunatic, Lumumba made poor decisions for his country and was only succeeded by another despote!

  2. I never heard that but I do know someone ran up to his car and stole his sword from him, I have seen photos of that. It is crazy to me to revere someone like Lumumba who behaved in such a way (North and South Koreans, China and Taiwan, East and West Germans officials never behaved such a way with each other) and the country fell apart under his rule. I know they blame us (and the Americans! lol) but when you get independence you can no longer blame others. It is very unfortunate that Congo has known almost non-stop misery since their independence.

  3. Glad to see you back in God's country BR. Hope you enjoyed your vacation. (ditto on the article btw)

  4. You were correct. It shows that 23 years in Congo does not mean someone knows it all. Being 6 years old at the time, I bow to your knowledge. Thanks for the clarification though!