The Tragic Story of Patrice Lumumba, Congo’s First Prime Minister

How he was deposed and assassinated in 1961

0
1339

Patrice Lumumba was the first Prime Minister of the Republic of the Congo to be democratically elected. He was a Congolese independence leader who founded the mainstream Congolese National Movement, (Mouvement National Congolais) (MNC) party and played a pivotal role in Congo’s struggle for independence from Belgium. Before becoming active in politics, he had been a writer and political organiser.

A committed nationalist, he called for Congo’s independence from Belgium and became a leading figure in the Congo’s independence movement. In June 1960, he became the first democratically elected Prime Minister of Congo. Nevertheless, his premiership did not last long, and his political career came to an abrupt end when he was assassinated in 1961.

Lumumba was said to have been poorly buried in an unmarked grave, then exhumed and finally dismembered, with pieces of his body dissolved in sulphuric acid while the bones were crushed and dispersed.

Who was Patrice Lumumba?

Born on July 2, 1925, in Katakokombe, Belgian Congo (now the Democratic Republic of the Congo), Patrice Émery Lumumba was a Congolese independence activist and politician.

patrice-lumumba
The Prime Minister of the Republic of the Congo, Patrice Lumumba, during a visit to UN Headquarters in New York, July 24, 1960/UN.

Lumumba served as the first Prime Minister of the Independent Democratic Republic of the Congo (then known as the Republic of the Congo) from June 24 to September 5, 1960.

In his thirties, Lumumba played a significant role in turning his country from a colony of Belgium into an independent country.

Popular as a pan-African and an African nationalist, he led his party, the Mouvement National Congolais (MNC), from 1958 to his gruesome murder in 1961.

What is Patrice Lumumba known for?

Soon after the independence of the Congo and the rise of Lumumba as Prime Minister in 1960, a revolt broke out in the army that marked the beginning of the Congo Crisis.

Lumumba appealed to the United Nations and the United States to help put an end to the Belgian-backed Katangan rebels led by Moise Tshombe.

They both declined, however, so the Prime Minister turned to the Soviet Union for assistance. This appeal led to increasing disagreements with Joseph Kasa-Vubu, the President, and Joseph-Désiré Mobutu, his Chief of Staff. It was also in dispute with the United States and Belgium, which were hostile to the Soviet Union as a result of the Cold War.

Lumumba’s contemporaries described him as an ‘elegant dresser and versatile dancer;’ brilliant and articulate, and no one could compete with him for national leadership, as there was only one famous winner in the 1960 elections.

patrice-lumumba
Prime Minister Patrice Lumumba (left) confers with a colleague from the Republic of the Congo shortly before a news conference during his visit to UN Headquarters in New York, July 25, 1960/UN.

Patrice Lumumba became Congo’s first prime minister just as Belgium, the colonial ruler of the region, was preparing to grant her independence on June 30, 1960.

When was Patrice Lumumba in power?

While being the country’s number one leader is one thing, exercising power and authority is another thing entirely.

Without the protection of the armed forces of the country, Lumumba’s power was on paper, his political authority as many crumpled ballot papers ready for incineration. 

The inability of the Prime Minister to deal with the military mutiny that began in July 1960, together with Belgium’s scheme of promoting the secession of Katanga because of its rich mineral, marked the beginning of its end.

READ ALSO: The 1994 Rwandan Genocide

Lumumba then went on to dance with the villains of that period, the Soviet Union, inviting Nikita Khrushchev to send military forces to put down another uprising in his country after the United Nations and the United States had rejected his appeal.

Still in pain over Fidel Castro‘s invasion of Cuba, the West would never forgive him for his friendship with Moscow. They saw him as a Marxist instead of a pan-African nationalist.

How did Patrice Lumumba die?

Therefore, the process of the political removal of Lumumba began, primarily involving the United States and Belgium, who were secretly appointed agents to get rid of the first and only elected prime minister of Congo.

In the end, Lumumba’s Congolese rivals, assisted by Washington and Brussels, put him under house arrest and beat him almost to death before eventually flying across the country to the secessionist Katanga on January 17, 1961, where he was exiled to a secluded place and disfigured by gunshots from the local gendarmerie.

Lumumba was poorly buried in an unmarked grave, then exhumed and finally dismembered, with pieces of his body dissolved in sulphuric acid while the bones were crushed and dispersed.

The Belgian man responsible for his death took out two of his teeth, covered with gold, as souvenirs (source).

Legacy

At a time of rising hope for an African independence period, what happened to Lumumba during his tenure is still a matter of concern, particularly in pan-African relations. Unfortunately, even to date, those responsible for the death of Lumumba have yet to be charged.

Nevertheless, Lumumba was a man of a strong character who had the intention of pursuing his policies, irrespective of the enemies he had made in his country or abroad. Furthermore, the Congo was a key area in Africa’s geopolitics, and because of its wealth, scale, and proximity to white-dominated southern Africa, the opponents of Lumumba had reason to fear the effects of a democratic or moderate Congo government.

Prime Minister Patrice Lumumba meets with United Nations Secretary-General Dag Hammarskjöld (right) during the former’s visit to the UN Headquarters, 24 July 1960; both men were to meet violent ends in the Republic of the Congo within 14 months of their meeting/UN.

The government’s justification for his death was immediately disputed, although it would take decades for the full circumstances surrounding his death to be made public.

Lumumba’s death caused a storm across Africa and beyond; retrospectively, even his critics called him a “national hero.”

Nevertheless, in 2002, Belgium formally apologised for his role in the assassination of Patrice Émery Lumumba.

READ ALSO: The tragic story of the first and only female pilot of Nigeria Airways

You can also subscribe to our YouTube channel for more interesting historical videos.

Further Reading

Patrice Lumumba: the most important assassination of the 20th century

The C.I.A. and Lumumba

How Patrice Lumumba was killed and dissolved in acid

Character Sketches: Patrice Lumumba By Brian Urquhart

Last Updated on

It's nice to have you here. Kindly share your thought(s) about the post in the comment box below!