Patrice Émery Lumumba (alternatively styled Patrice Hemery Lumumba) was a Congolese independence leader and the first democratically elected leader of the Congo as prime minister. As founder and leader of the mainstream Mouvement National Congolais (MNC) party, Lumumba played an important role in campaigning for independence from Belgium.
Shortly after Congolese independence in 1960, a mutiny broke out in the army, marking the beginning of the Congo Crisis. Lumumba appealed to the United States and the United Nations for assistance in suppressing the Belgian-supported Katangan secessionists. Both parties refused, so Lumumba turned to the Soviet Union for support. This led to growing differences with President Joseph Kasa-Vubu and chief-of-staff Joseph-Désiré Mobutu as well as to foreign opposition from the United States and Belgium. Lumumba was subsequently imprisoned by state authorities under Mobutu and executed by a firing squad under the command of Katangan authorities. The United Nations, which he had asked to come to the Congo, did not intervene to save him. Belgium, the United Kingdom, and the United States have all been accused of involvement in Lumumba's death, the latter due to American commercial interests in the Congo and as part of Cold War rivalry with the Soviet Union, a country the Americans were determined should not gain access to Congo's uranium riches used to make nuclear bombs.
Patrice Lumumba – the man and his political project Who is Patrice Lumumba, and why was he so violently assassinated by the forces of counter-revolution? Born on 2nd July 1925 in Onalua, a small village in the region of Katako-Kombe, Lumumba received his education at primary school as well as among Belgian Catholic missionaries at Tshumbe Sainte-Marie and the famous Methodist mission in Wembo Nyama. He was not appreciated there, neither among the representatives of the colonial trinity (the State, big business, the Catholic Church) nor by the American missionaries – themselves fervent believers in the ideology of white supremacy prevalent in the Southern states of the USA, and too weak to contest colonial repression.
An intellectually precocious pupil who rebelled against the thundering paternalism of the missionaries, the young Lumumba decided to leave Sankuru in 1944 without obtaining his certificate of study in order to spread his wings elsewhere. After several months in the region of Kindu, he would go on to pursue a career as a bureaucrat in Kisangani (then Stanleyville). It was during this long stay at Kisangani (1944-57) that Lumumba developed his characteristic traits; moral and intellectual integrity, immovability on points of principle, and exceptional bravery even in the face of death. As one of the members of the firing squad which killed him recalled, Lumumba maintained a glacial calm in front of the executioners.
Political leadership: Leader of the MNC After his release, he helped found the Mouvement National Congolais (MNC) party on 5 October 1958, quickly becoming the organization's leader. The MNC, unlike other parties, didn't draw on the unity of a particular ethnic base, but promoted a platform that included independence, gradual Africanization of the government, state-led economic development, and neutrality in foreign affairs. Lumumba himself had a large popular following, due to his personal charisma, excellent oratorical skills, and ideological sophistication. This allowed him more political autonomy than his contemporaries who depended on Belgian support.
Lumumba was one of the delegates that represented the MNC at the All-African Peoples' Conference in Accra, Ghana, in December 1958. At this international conference, hosted by Ghanaian President Kwame Nkrumah, Lumumba further solidified his Pan-Africanist beliefs. Nkrumah was personally impressed by Lumumba's intelligence and ability. Lumumba raises his arms, injured by shackles, after his release from prison in January 1960. In late October 1959, Lumumba, as leader of the organization, was arrested for inciting an anti-colonial riot in Stanleyville where thirty people were killed; he was sentenced to 69 months in prison. The trial's start date of 18 January 1960 was also the first day of the Congolese Round Table Conference in Brussels to finalize the future of the Congo. Despite Lumumba's imprisonment at the time, the MNC won a convincing majority in the December local elections in the Congo. As a result of strong pressure from delegates upset with Lumumba's trial, he was released and allowed to attend the Brussels conference.
Legacy Hardly had this process of unification finished before a radical social movement pronouncing a ‘second independence’ rose up to contest the neo-colonial state in Kinshasa and its pro-Western leaders. This mass movement brought together peasants, workers, the urban unemployed and students, alongside low and mid-ranking officials, who found an enthusiastic leadership among the former lieutenants of Patrice Lumumba, of which the majority had reformed to create the Conseil National de Libération (CNL) in October 1963 in Brazzaville. Divided on the field into two wings – the Kwilu front, led by Pierre Mulele, and the Eastern front under Christopher Gbenye, Gaston Soumialot and Laurent-Desiré Kabila – the strengths and weaknesses of the movement can be used to gauge the global heritage of Patrice Lumumba, for Congo and the whole of Africa. The most positive aspect of this legacy is reflected in Pierre Mulele’s dedication to a radical programme of change to satisfy the deep aspirations of the Congolese people for democracy and social progress. On the other hand, the Lumumbists of the Eastern front were more interested in power, and the privileges it conferred, than in genuine social change. In the latter case, it was all rhetoric and no action. In effect, the challenge for all those who want to follow in the footsteps of Lumumba is to make the leap from words into action.