Patrice Lumumba

Great African leaders

Patrice Lumumba

Patrice Lumumba (1925-1961) was a Congolese anti-colonial leader and politician who played a key role in the decolonization of Africa. He was the first democratically elected Prime Minister of the Republic of Congo (now the Democratic Republic of Congo) after the country gained independence from Belgium on 30 June, 1960.

How Lumumba came to power

In the parliamentary elections of May 1960 in the Republic of Congo, the Mouvement National Congolais (MNC-L) led by Patrice Lumumba emerged as the leading nationalist movement and won the election. Following this, Lumumba was elected as the first Prime Minister of the country on June 24, 1960. The parliament also elected Joseph Kasa-Vubu, a member of the Alliance des Bakongo (ABAKO) party, as the President. This marked a significant milestone in the country’s history as it became the first African colony to gain independence from European colonial powers. However, this period was marked by political turmoil, which ultimately led to Lumumba’s removal from power and his eventual assassination.

Coup and Assassination

Lumumba was a charismatic leader who advocated for the rights of the Congolese people and their right to self-determination. He worked towards establishing a strong and independent Congo, free from foreign influence and exploitation. However, Lumumba’s vision for an independent Congo was short-lived.

The young leader was faced with a series of secessionist movements, predominantly from the province of Katanga (led by Moïse Tshombe) and South Kasai. The ensuing violence forced many foreigners to flee the resource-rich nation. Try as he did, Lumumba could not secure the aid of the United Nations to put down those secessionist movements and restore order in Congo.

Lumumba therefore turned his attention to the Soviet Union – an action which drew the ire of the United States, Britain and other Western nations. And following the Congolese armed forces’ invasion of South Kasai, he was dismissed from office by then-Congolese President Kasa-Vubu on 5 September 1960. The latter, like many Western nations, was angry at Lumumba for seeking aid from the Soviets.

Shortly after, a fierce power-struggle would ensue between Kasa-Vubu and Lumumba, with the latter describing his dismissal as unconstitutional. The president appeared to have the backing of the military and a host of Western nations; while Lumumba had the support of both chambers of Parliament, which vehemently denounced Kasa-Vubu’s action.

Just months after taking office, Lumumba was deposed in a coup by Colonel Joseph-Désiré Mobutu. The leaders of the 1960 Coup took advantage of the constitutional crisis and placed Lumumba under house arrest. It was later revealed that the coup was orchestrated with the help of Western powers who feared Lumumba’s socialist and anti-colonial views.

After he managed to escape house arrest, the Congolese leader fled to Stanleyville where he reasoned he could marshal some bit of support against the coup leaders.

However, the Congolese independence fighter was captured by forces allied to Mobutu at Lodi on December 1, 1960. He was imprisoned and tortured before being executed in January 1961 by Katangese troops near Élisabethville, which was then the capital of the secessionist state of Katanga.

Following news of Lumumba’s execution, there was widespread international condemnation. Demonstrations took place in major cities across the globe, including London, New York, and Belgrade, where protesters attacked the Belgian Embassy. In South Kasai, seven Lumumbists were also executed for “crimes against the Baluba nation,” including the first President of Orientale Province, Jean-Pierre Finant. In retaliation, soldiers loyal to Lumumba’s political ally, Antoine Gizenga, shot over a dozen political prisoners, including Lumumba’s former Minister of Communications, Alphonse Songolo.

Patrice Lumumba’s death was a blow to the African independence movement and a tragic reminder of the lengths to which foreign powers were willing to go to maintain their control over African nations.

Belgium’s apology for its involvement in the execution of Lumumba

In 2001, an investigation by the Parliament of Belgium found Belgium to be “morally responsible” for the assassination of Patrice Lumumba. Belgium has since issued an official apology for its involvement in the events leading up to his death. The investigation revealed that Belgian authorities had played an active role in the Congolese leader’s removal from power and his subsequent assassination, and that they had worked in collusion with foreign governments, including the United States, to achieve this goal. The findings of the investigation were widely praised for their frankness and their acknowledgement of the historical injustices committed against Lumumba and his supporters.

What is he best remembered for?

Lumumba is remembered as a symbol of African resistance against colonialism and imperialism. His legacy continues to inspire leaders and activists in Africa and around the world who are fighting for freedom, justice, and equality.