Patrice Lumumba: May Africa breathe the air of freedom
June 22, 2020 12:48 PM   Subscribe

‘We have long suffered and today we want to breathe the air of freedom. The Creator has given us this share of the earth that goes by the name of the African continent; it belongs to us and we are its only masters. It is our right to make this continent a continent of justice, law, and peace. All of Africa is irrevocably engaged in a merciless struggle against colonialism and imperialism. We wish to bid farewell to the rule of slavery and bastardization that has so severely wronged us. Any people that oppresses another people is neither civilized nor Christian. The West must free Africa as soon as possible.’
‘Westerners must understand that friendship is not possible when the relationship between us is one of subjugation and subordination.’
Patrice Émery Lumumba was born on the 2nd of July 1925 in the Kasai province of what is now known as the Democratic Republic of Congo. He was once a postal clerk and also a travelling beer salesman. Tall, slim, and handsome, Lumumba had a dazzling smile, and piercing eyes that glittered through a signature pair of spectacles. He had 3 wives and many relationships – a danger to the ladies. But it was when he got into politics that Lumumba became truly dangerous to the old colonial order.
posted by Mrs Potato (12 comments total) 31 users marked this as a favorite
When Americans were SO HORRIFIED at the idea that one nation would meddle in another nation's elections, all I could think about was Patrice Lumumba and the post-colonial Congo that could have been. It's such an infuriating tragedy. Thank you for putting this thread together - I'm especially excited to learn more about him beyond his assassination.
posted by ChuraChura at 1:54 PM on June 22 [17 favorites]

The CIA has much to answer for, as does the fragility of White Economic Supremacy.
posted by Mrs Potato at 2:44 PM on June 22 [12 favorites]

There was also a pretty decent movie made about his rise to power and his final months.
posted by mwalimu at 4:53 PM on June 22 [2 favorites]

Mrs. Potato, while I heartily agree in general with your statement, in specifics-- the last time I read extensively on Patrice Lumumba (a few years ago), it was still being reported that the CIA Station Chief for the Congo, Larry Devlin, refused to allow the agents sent to assassinate him to complete their mission because he could not verify their orders were valid.

It's hard to know what is true of any Intel operations, for sure, but this is still factual enough to remain on PL's Wikipedia entry, with two references you can track back if you are interested. So, while the CIA does indeed have much to answer for, in this particular case they have to answer for preventing an agency "contractor" from assassinating PL with a poisoned toothbrush (you can't make this stuff up). Not that it helped out in the long run, *sigh*.

Surprisingly, I have thought about Patrice Lumumba almost every day this last month. I think because like many white Americans my age, I first heard his name in the 1970 Neil Diamond song "Done Too Soon", and the nerd in me demanded I look up every name I didn't already recognize. (Hello also, Caryl Chessman.)

And last month that song for some unknown algorithmic reason surfaced again on my playlist after an absence of many years. And the history of PL I had read just resonated with current events, and with my evolving views on colonialism.

I think that people who generally criticize the UK for making a clean break in India have no idea how much worse it was in the Congo where Belgium stayed on and made a slow transition and tried to remain involved-- so much worse.

I think about how terrified the Western Political establishment was of PL, when all he did was assert a common sense view that Africa was for Africans, and it was time for that to happen.

And I think every day how much worse the Mobutu regime that killed Lumumba was for the Congo-- a true murderous dictator with the blood of thousands on his hands and decades of Congolese poverty to answer for. Congo should have been one of the richest nations on Earth by now if even only mildly incompetent leaders had been in charge since 1965.

Mainly I think about the western reaction of fear and hatred to PL's dignity and assertions of equality, and I worry that his fate will be repeated in some places. And that moderates in the BLM movement will be displaced as PL was, and that authoritarian governments will repeat the mistake of killing the leaders who would stand up for the rights of everyone, and instead a new generation of Mobutus will arise, who are not willing to compromise, not willing to agitate and protest for change, but will have had proven to them that peace is not possible, and things will never get any better-- with all the bloodshed and suffering that entails.

And I think about how to stop it.

Right now I don't have a complete answer, except to try and engage with the people who fear the BLM movement, to say this kind of thing has happened before, and if we are not careful, things in (yourhome) will go as poorly as they did in Congo without Patrice Lumumba and with Mobutu.

My best and only hope is that millions of people all over the world finally feel the same way and together we can make things a little better.
posted by seasparrow at 8:37 PM on June 22 [6 favorites]

seasparrow, I cannot agree with you regarding the CIA's role, based not only on what my Congolese friends say, but also people who worked in the region for the CIA decades ago. I'll leave it at that.

Wikipedia is the last source I would consider in this matter. I do not imagine it would be able to objectively tell a tale containing a black man.

As for those who fear the BLM movement, they are increasingly a very small group (in proportion to the world's population) and very geographically clustered. That tide turned over the course of this weekend, imo, as regions begin to recognize that perpetuating racism offers no security of any sort, be it public health, or economic.
posted by Mrs Potato at 3:21 AM on June 23 [6 favorites]

Mainly I think about the western reaction of fear and hatred to PL's dignity and assertions of equality, and I worry that his fate will be repeated in some places.

With the exception of the United States, under control of white supremacists, and perhaps their poodles across the water, I do not expect any responsible adults to contemplate such tactics.

"Fear and hatred of the Other's dignity and equality" is an obsolete framework that won't fly far in 2020, beyond spluttering on zoom. Seriously, "the West" isn't the "the West" of yore.
posted by Mrs Potato at 3:30 AM on June 23 [2 favorites]

Thanks for this post.

I hadn't heard of Patrice Lumumba until I read The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver in 2002. That story lead me to the Lumumba film (mentioned by mwalimu above) which had been released 2 years previous.
posted by terrapin at 7:05 AM on June 23 [1 favorite]

ChuraChura: When Americans were SO HORRIFIED at the idea that one nation would meddle in another nation's elections, all I could think about was Patrice Lumumba and the post-colonial Congo that could have been.

I wonder if part of becoming an empire is giving up the Golden Rule or Kant's Categorical Imperative or whatever rule of equal treatment you'd like. It's not about being horrified that nations would meddle in each other's elections, it's about about being horrified that they are meddling in our elections, that we no longer have the strength (and they no longer have the respect) to keep the relationship asymmetrical.

How would Belgians have reacted if some Congolese had managed to assassinate a Belgian Prime Minister? They'd be horrified, and it'd be horror that a principle of hierarchical morality had been violated. The king can insult a peasant, but it's a moral shock if a peasant insults the king. Lumumba declared that the Congo was not a peasant among nations, and that was not tolerated.
posted by clawsoon at 8:28 AM on June 23 [3 favorites]

Lumumba declared that the Congo was not a peasant among nations, and that was not tolerated.


I was having a conversation with a Kenyan friend (20+ years in increasingly senior UN etc positions) recently about this. Yes, there were countrymen of ours who fawned over power and wealth and due to the imbalance of relative wealth and centuries of colonial domination by the white man this was reflected in a vast majority of the population, enough so that when faced with people of privilege and class, who had ancestors to point to, and no need to fawn for crumbs of wealth or influence/social capital, this was the shock that the colonizer could not bear. But sir, you are a poor Indian beast of burden, behave like one. Or else.
posted by Mrs Potato at 11:55 AM on June 23 [2 favorites]

Today is the 60th anniversary of Lumumba's government's Independence Day of the DR Congo from their colonizer (and owner) Belgium.
posted by Mrs Potato at 6:22 AM on June 30

Remembering the Congolese women who fought for independence
The women who lived and died for African liberation should no longer be confined to the margins of history
posted by Mrs Potato at 8:33 AM on June 30 [2 favorites]

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