In 1960, U.S. Ambassador to the Congo, Claire Timberlake, reported to Washington on Patrice Lumumba’s powerful leadership skills. He commented that if Lumumba had entered a conference of Congolese politicians as a waiter, he would still have emerged by the meeting’s end as their elected leader
Since Lumumba’s assassination fifty years ago today his vision of a united, democratic and truly independent Congo has become the polar star for the nation. Both leading candidates for the presidency in 2005 claimed to be the heirs of Lumumba’s legacy of national leadership. His statue stands atop a lofty pillar on the route from the airport to the capital city of Kinshasa. No one has and no one is likely to ever dislodge Lumumba as the Jefferson and the Washington of the Congolese nation.
The source of Lumumba’s power was aptly described by Martin Luther King in Where Do We Go From Here, his last book, described by Cornel West as “his most prophetic challenge to powers that be”. In the final chapter of that book, “The World House”, Rev. King wrote, “Once the aspirations and appetites of the world have been whetted by the marvels of Western technology and the self-image of a people awakened by religion, one cannot hope to keep a people locked out of the earthly kingdom of wealth, health and happiness. Either they share in the blessings of the world or they organize to break down and overthrow those structures or governments which stand in the way of their goals.”
The Congolese people remain far from the “earthly kingdom” King refers to, and in their struggle against “governments which stand in the way of their goals” Lumumba’s words, political stands and martyrdom continue to inspire and empower. Once again, at the end of this year, a national election holds the promise of the formation of a government which truly serves the Congolese people first and foremost.
The presence of the largest U.N. peacekeeping force in the word today represents the best hope for a peaceful transition to government by the people and for the people in Congo. The sizable contingent of African troops in the U.N. force in Congo have a special interest in the transition to more democratic rule in Congo. Lumumba declared on the occasion of Congolese independence June 30, 1960,
“The independence of the Congo represents a decisive step toward the liberation of the entire African continent”.
Listen to the Lumumba speech on June 30, 1960 at the following YouTube address:
For a nine minute overview of Lumumba’s contributions to the movement for democracy and unified nationhood in Congo, see the video at the following address:
Within hours of being flown to the secessionist Province of Katanga, Patrice Lumumba and two compatriots were shot by a Belgian firing squad fifty years ago today.
Read a commentary from today’s New York Times Opinion page on the Lumumba assassination’s long shadow cast over Congolese and, indeed, over African history since 1960. Written by Adam Hochschild, the piece places the event in the context of the long history of exploitation of the country’s vast natural resources by foreign powers. Go to: