Symbol of the Struggle Against European Colonization:

Patrice Emery Lumumba was born on 2 July 1925, at Onalua village near the Katako-Kombe Town in the Sankuru district of north-eastern Kasai, Congo (modern day the Democratic Republic of Congo). . Lumumba’s tribe was the Batetela (Tetela) which is a dynamic branch of the Mongo-Nkutshu family of central Congo [1]. He grew up in a mud-brick house. The Congo was a colony of Belgium and, as such, he attended both Protestant and Catholic schools run by white Belgian missionaries.  Lumumba was intelligent and used to ask too many problematic questions [2].

Lumumba was ambitious and aimed for social mobility, predominantly to form part of the “evolue”, the upper strata of the middle class; the highest-level indigenous Congolese could attain in the Belgian colony [3].  His first employment was at the Postal Office as a postal clerk in Stanleyville City in 1954. However, Lumumba was accused of embezzlement and was jailed in 1955. Due to an extensive interview with King Baudouin, when he visited the Congo in 1955, Lumumba’s sentence was reduced in 1956 [4]. Lumumba, after working for almost three years,was appointed as the sales director for a brewery company in Léopoldville (currently known as Kinshasa) in 1957. This is how Lumumba left Stanleyville (currently known as Kisangani) for the Congo’s capital city, Kinshasa [5].

While Lumumba was working in Stanleyville, he joined the Belgian Liberal Political Party. When he relocated to Léopoldville to work at the brewery, he helped to find the Movement National Congolais (MNC) political party.  Lumumba’s good personality and public speaking skills won him many admirers, making him a focal point within the party [6]. While in prison in 1955, Lumumba reconsidered his status as an evolue and made a major shift towards Pan-Africanism and Congolese nationalism. The notion of nationalism enabled different ethnic groups that made up the Congolese society to come together and fight against colonial economic exploitation, political repression and cultural oppression [7].

The Belgian led government, in 1959, announced that Congolese local elections should take place within five years to full Congolese independence. At the Luluabourg Congress meeting in April 1959, various political groups and some members of MNC that favoured a unitary form of government for the Congo chose Lumumba to lead them. Within the MNC, however, there were other leaders that considered Lumumba’s views as radical and not good for the nation. It is argued that the result of this difference of opinion was a split in the MNC party in July 1959 with a majority of the members following Albert Kalonji. Even though Lumumba had left Stanleyville, he was briefly detained on charges of encouraging the outbreak of riots in Stanleyville in November 1959. He was released from detention in time to attend the Round Table Conference in Brussels which paved the way for Congo’s general elections. Lumumba was an effective speaker in each of the Congo’s major vehicular languages as well as in French when compared to other Congolese leaders and this helped his campaigning [8].

After the May 1960 general elections, Congo achieved independence on 30 June 1960 with Lumumba as the leader of the largest single party. He was selected to become the Congo’s first prime minister and his political rival, Joseph Kasavubu, became president of the Congo.

As the prime minister, Lumumba faced sudden emergencies. The Congolese elite feared Lumumba’s notion of nationalism and participatory democracy and thus they started revolting against him. The revolt of the army and the secession of the provinces of Katanga and Southern Kasai were further emergencies. Lumumba sent Congolese troops to Southern Kasai province in attempt to restore the situation but the poorly trained soldiers killed thousands of Congolese civilians.  The United Nations, through Secretary General Hammerskjöld, blamed Lumumba for the massacre of civilians.  Lumumba disliked Belgium and the UN for not helping to restore order and unity in Congo. It is believed that some Congolese elite conspired with foreign states, specifically the CIA and US administration, to get rid of Lumumba [9]. When Lumumba asked for military help from the Soviet Union against the secessionist provinces of Southern Kasai and Katanga, President Kasavubu dismissed him from office on 5th September 1960 [10]. This was the beginning of the end of the political life of Patrice Lumumba. The Congolese National Assembly disagreed with the decision of the president and ordered Lumumba back in power as prime minister. This did not happen since a faction of the Congolese army, under Colonel Mobutu, took over the government instead and put Lumumba under the house arrest under the protection of Ghanaian troops of the UN force.  Lumumba managed to get out of the house arrest in Kinshasa and attempted to leave for Stanleyville, but he was arrested by an army patrol and held prisoner in a military camp at Thysville [11].

From the military camp, Lumumba was transferred to Elisabethville, Katanga on January 18, 1961 despite the presence of United Nations troops he was picked up by a small group led by Katanga’s interior minister, Godefroid Munongo. Lumumba was taken to a nearby house where he was assassinated [12].

Lumumba’s assassination made him a symbol of struggle for champions of African nations’ attempts to bond and set themselves free from the influence of the European Colonizers [13]. 

https://sahistory.org.za/people/patrice-emery-lumumba