Stolen Opportunity

The Poster Boy of Infamy
April 2, 2016
Patrice Lumumba
The Seeds of Destruction
April 4, 2016
Democratic Republic of Congo

By Satish Sekar © Satish Sekar (April 2nd 2016)

Decolonisation 

Despite the examples of recent African history, such as the Mau Maus. Colonialism had to go. Britain belatedly realised it and its post Mau Mau process was relatively peaceful. France, however, was reluctant to let its African colonies go. It was not alone.

Belgium and Portugal proved reluctant too. Belgium’s resulted in chaos, as it simply withdrew without a decolonisation process. Instead the Congo had a destabilisation process. No sooner had the country achieved independence than divisions rose to the surface. The President, Joseph Kasa-Vubu was conservative and favoured a federal republic. The Prime Minister, one of the outstanding leaders of Africa’s liberation struggles, Patrice Lumumba, was a nationalist, who favoured a centralised republic.

From Bad to Worse

Relations between the former colony and colonial power began badly on June 30th 1960 at independence. The Belgian King Baudoin I told the Congolese how benevolent and beneficial Belgian rule had been for them. This outraged the Congo’s young Prime Minister. Lumumba swiftly disabused the Belgians of such notions.

“We have witnessed atrocious sufferings of those condemned for their political opinions or religious beliefs, exiled in their own country, their fate truly worse than death itself”, Lumumba told Baudoin and the Belgian delegation. “Who will ever forget the massacres where so many of our brothers perished, the cells into which those who refused to submit to a regime of oppression and exploitation were thrown?”

And then there was the genocide – one of the worst in history – that Baudoin’s ancestor Leopold II had inflicted on the Congo. Colonialism had been anything but beneficial for the Congo, and it had sown the seeds for yet more misery. The die had been cast.

Destabilisation

And then there were the secessionists. Katanga was a mineral rich province, still ripe for exploitation, both economic and political. Led by Moïse Tshombe, Katanga, attempted to secede. Its ‘army’ largely consisting of Belgian mercenaries served a ‘movement’ fomented and utilised by Belgian colonialists and industrialists who feared the future and were keen to protect their interests and privileges.

This, combined, with the internal disputes within the government, created a toxic situation and it marked Lumumba for assassination. Then US President Dwight Eisenhower and British Prime Minister Harold Macmillan, among others, wanted a permanent solution to the ‘Lumumba problem’.

Exploited

The growing divisions between Lumumba and Kasa-Vubu provided the pretext needed. The government was ineffective. It had failed to resolve the secessionist problem and the disagreement in the government had rendered it ripe for an unscrupulous take-over. The conditions required to disguise a coup as being in the national interest had been carefully fomented.

On September 5th 1960 Kasa-Vubu announced that he had dismissed Lumumba. The Prime Minister refused to accept it and countered by informing the President that he had dismissed him. The situation degenerated further. On September 14th, with the tacit approval of the western governments, Joseph Désiré Mobutu turned on his mentor.

Lumumba was arrested and he was kept under house arrest until he was allowed to escape – the pretext to deny responsibility for his murder.

National Hero

Lumumba was betrayed into capture and murder by Mobutu, a man Lumumba had misread and promoted. Lumumba was murdered on the orders of secessionist leader Moïse Tshombe. Few tears were shed by the western powers for Lumumba then, yet from the chaos that followed, a brutal kleptocratic dictator seized power and inflicted over three decades of poverty and misery on his people.

Faced with an insurrection, led by long-term foe Laurent-Désiré Kabila, Mobutu eventually fled to Morocco. One of the most brutal and corrupt tyrants in African history died in exile in September 1997, a few months after he fled. Mobutu’s legacy of brutality and corruption cost the Democratic Republic of Congo dear. Kabila was killed by members of his Presidential Guard in 2001. He was succeeded by his son Joseph.

Never Recovered

The former Zambian President Kenneth Kaunda once said that Africa never recovered from the February 1966 coup that overthrew Dr Kwame Nkrumah. There’s stiff competition in very dirty processes in many countries for events that Africa has not recovered from.

A decade of change – the 1960s – began with hopes that were soon dashed. Five years before the coup that toppled Nkrumah, the Father of Pan-Africanism, Lumumba was murdered.

In 1965 Mobutu seized power after a coup. This was his second coup. Five years earlier Mobutu, with the support of Belgium, Britain and the USA, led a coup that placed Lumumba under arrest. He was allowed to escape. In reality, he was delivered into the hands of Tshombe’s secessionist mercenaries to be killed.

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