By MURPHY BROWNE (Abena Agbetu)
How can a beret coloured blue erase, just like that, the prejudices of conservative officers from Sweden, Canada or Britain? How does a blue armband vaccinate against the racism and paternalism of people whose only vision of Africa is lion hunting, slave markets and colonial conquest; people for whom the history of civilization is built on the possession of colonies?
Naturally, they would understand the Belgians. They have the same past, the same history, the same lust for our wealth.”
Patrice Lumumba quoted in The Assassination of Lumumba published in 1999 by Ludo De Witte.
Patrice Lumumba was the first Prime Minister of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) when he was elected in 1960. The elections were held from May 11 to 25, 1960 and ratified on June 24 with an independence date set for June 30, 1960. The blue beret to which Lumumba referred is the headgear of the United Nations’ peacekeeping forces who are supposed to “monitor and observe peace processes in post-conflict areas and assist ex-combatants in implementing the peace agreements they may have signed.”
Apparently, Lumumba did not have much faith in the UN peacekeeping forces. It turns out he had good reason because they were of no use to him in his hour of need. Lumumba was assassinated a few months after becoming Prime Minister in spite of the UN peacekeeping presence.
His assassination was announced on February 13, 1961, almost one month after he and two Congolese colleagues, Maurice Mpolo and Joseph Okito, were killed as a result of the machinations of a cabal serving American and Belgian interests. There has been speculation that Lumumba was murdered on January 17, 1961 after being kidnapped and brutalized by Belgian forces. For decades, the myth that he had been killed by African villagers was spread by the Europeans, who were the architects of his assassination, and the few Africans who imagined that they were benefitting politically.
It is generally thought that Lumumba’s fate was sealed when he gave a speech on June 30, 1960 (Independence Day) which contradicted the Belgian monarch. Kris Hollington author of Wolves, Jackals and Foxes: the assassins that changes history (published 2007) writes: Sometimes it’s what a leader says in a single angry moment that seals their end. For the Congo’s Patrice Lumumba, it was a case of angering just about everybody who had an interest in his country, so much so that it became an extraordinary race between the Americans, the English, the Belgians and the Congolese to see who would get to him first – until they realise that cooperation was the way forward.
However, with the recent unsealing of information that had been kept secret for decades, it is clear that Lumumba was in danger of being assassinated even if he had not said a word on that fateful day.
On January 21, 2011, while interviewing Adam Hochschild, author of King Leopold’s Ghost: A Story of Greed, Terror, and Heroism in Colonial Africa, on the popular American radio program Democracy Now, host Amy Goodman commented: “Lumumba’s pan-Africanism and his vision of a united Congo gained him many enemies. Both Belgium and the United States actively sought to have him killed. The CIA (Central Intelligence Agency) ordered his assassination but could not complete the job. Instead, the United States and Belgium covertly funneled cash and aid to rival politicians who seized power and arrested Lumumba.
“On January 17, 1961, after being beaten and tortured, Lumumba was shot and killed.”
Hochschild, a professor at the University of California at Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism, explained some of the circumstances surrounding the European lust for Lumumba’s destruction:
“For Belgium, as for the other major European colonial powers, like Britain and France, giving independence to an African colony was O.K. for them as long as it didn’t disturb existing business arrangements. As long as the European country could continue to own the mines, the factories, the plantations, well, O.K., let them have their politics.
“But Lumumba spoke very loudly, very dramatically, saying Africa needs to be economically independent as well. And it was a fiery speech on this subject that he gave at the actual independence ceremonies, June 30, 1960, where he was replying to an extremely arrogant speech by King Baudouin of Belgium. It was a speech he gave on this subject that I think really began the process that ended two months later with the CIA, with White House approval, decreeing that he should be assassinated.”
The declassification of CIA documents (2006) and the Belgian Commission report (2001) verified that those two nations were ultimately responsible for Lumumba’s assassination.
In February 2002, the Belgian government released an official apology to the Congolese people and, in a thousand page report, admitted to a “moral responsibility” and “an irrefutable portion of responsibility in the events that led to the death of Lumumba”.
In spite of this apology, however, author De Witte says differently.
“The whole operation took less than 15 minutes. Who was in charge of the execution? The known facts point to Commissioner Verscheure and Captain Gat.”
Frans Verscheure and Julien Gat were both Belgians, policing in the Congo. Following the assassination there was an elaborate “cover up”; first with the exhumation of the bodies of the three men which were then hacked to pieces and thrown into a barrel of sulphuric acid. Belgian Police Commissioner Gerard Soete and his brother, Michel Soete, an engineer in the public works department, led the next phase to ensure that the bodies of Lumumba, Mpolo and Okito would “disappear once and for all!”
“Nothing was left of the three nationalist leaders; nowhere could their remains, even the most minute trace of them, be found,” wrote DeWitte.
There actually were traces left, at least of Lumumba, because the Belgians, as part of their final barbaric, macabre act, took parts of his body (index and little finger from his right hand as well as a few teeth from his upper jaw) as souvenirs.
A few weeks later, on Friday, February 13, 1961 during a press conference held by Interior Minister Godefroid Munongo, the world learned that Congolese Prime Minister Patrice Lumumba, Minister of Youth, Maurice Mpolo and former Vice-President of the Senate, Joseph Okito, “had fallen into the hands of bush villagers who had immediately killed them”.
Munongo displayed three death certificates signed by a Belgian doctor, Guy Pieters.
Congo was independent but the Belgians and other Europeans were still in power having successfully dispatched the vocal opposition of Lumumba. As we approach February 13, 2012, 51 years since the day the assassination of Lumumba was made public, the wealth of the Congo remains in the hands of Europeans and other non-Africans. Lumumba’s fate has been shared with many other African leaders who worked to liberate their people, both on the continent and in the Diaspora. We can name them, we know them.
The question for us as African people remains the same as the Honourable Nesta Robert “Bob” Marley asked in his 1980 released Redemption Song (from the album Uprising): How long shall they kill our prophets while we stand aside and look?
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