Are there any angels in Politics? Gandhi, but so few others. No one is perfect, as the saying goes, and perception is probably 9/10 of the problem.
There are a number of political biographies that I read in my teens and twenties, and which have haunted me ever since. Martin Luther King Jnr., Sukarno, Aung San Suu Kyi, Nelson Mandella, Steve Biko, And Patrice Lumumba (photo above). My blood still boils at the injustices they have suffered.
It was the early 1960s, African nationalist movements were in full swing, independence was coming. The Cold War was the context, and African minerals were the agenda, especially uranium, and the West would do anything to preserve their access. If you then place a leader who is a strong nationalist in power and who then pursues independence and who rails against the old colonial powers, you have the risk of losing those minerals. What to do? Kill that leader of course. But first make sure that his country, and then the world, see that leader as deeply flawed, incompetent, corrupt, a communist, an extremist, anti-western, and so on. Then shoot them.
Lumumba was a Pan-African, he wanted to see an interdependent cooperative Africa, and to be free of colonial control. He believed that african nations could be great nations under their own people. He was intensely critical of the colonial powers, in particular, Belgium, who had ruled his own country Congo and had a murky record in governance of Congo. He was for nonalignment – the stance of not choosing sides between the US and the Soviet Union. His main principle of governance was “National Unity.”
No sooner had independence been grudgingly and conditionally granted to Congo by Belgium, that Lumumba had won government with his party Mouvemnet National Congolais (MNC). But then a crisis developed over political direction and dependence on Belgium. Lumumba began to extract Congo from colonial trade and patterns, this caused anxiety in the US, UK, and Belgium, all who were worried that this young primeminister would turn to the Soviet Union for trade and support. The western nations are implicated in wanting to remove Lumumba, but none have been directly connected to the firing squad that murdered him.
Lumumba was deposed, arrested and imprisoned by the military, tortured and later shot. The man who was behind this was Colonel Mobutu Sese Seko (with western suport), who installed a government under his own control, and later in 1965, he overturned that government and became direct military ruler of the Congo until 1997. The only real winners in all of this were the western powers, notably, Congo has never thrived, it has given western nations its minerals at great cost to itself.
Patrice Lumumba had strong core vlaues, his was a selfless desire to lead Congo into a strong independent nation, he wanted his people to have access to health and education, he had hopes to provide modernization, and decolonialisation. He wanted Congo to benefit from its own natural wealth. He talked of an egalitarian community where everyone was valued. For this he was painted as a communist and as a dangerous leader. For these values he was murdered.
In his famous speech before independence, a speech highly criticized by western leaders, Lumumba said: “The colonialists care nothing for Africa for her own sake. They are attracted by African riches and their actions are guided by the desire to preserve their interests in Africa against the wishes of the African people. For the colonialists all means are good if they help them to possess these riches.”
How prophetic! He was absolutely right. He is still right.
Patrice Lumumba’s life ended in tragedy, but it wasn’t completely in vain. He inspired his people to seek the best for Congo. Many of his political ideals have been picked up across Africa, and in the Democratic Republic of Congo, his thinking has been embraced on a number of fronts.
For me, Lumumba’s story is a reminder that there is a cost for integrity in political leadership. For Lumumba there was no other way, there would have been a cost for him personally had he caved in to Mobutu and the West. He was true to his vision and core values. He was far from perfect, but he died for his vision for the future of Congo, and that vision lives on.