On Patrice Lumumba

“In the middle of 1960, the Congo, until then a Belgian colony, celebrated its independence.

Speech followed speech, and the audience was melting from heat and boredom. Belgium, a strict teacher, warned of the dangers of freedom. The Congo, grateful pupil, promised to behave.

Then Patrice Lumumba’s speech exploded and ruined the party. He spoke out against the ‘empire of silence,’ and through him the silenced found a voice. He paid homage to the fathers of independence, the murdered, the imprisoned, the tortured, and the exiled, who throughout so any years had fought to ‘bring an end to the humiliating slavery imposed on us by force.’

His words, received in icy silence by the Europeans present, were interrupted eight times by ovations from the Africans in the audience.

That speech sealed his fate.

Lumumba, recently released from prison, had won the first free elections in Congo’s history, and headed up its first government. But the Belgian press called him a ‘delirious and illiterate thief.’ In Belgian intelligence cables, Lumumba was dubbed Satan. The director of the CIA, Allen Dulles, sent instructions to his agents:

“The removal of Lumumba must be an urgent objective.”

Dwight Eisenhower, president of the United States, told British Foreign Secretary Lord Alec Douglas-Home:

“I wish Lumumba would fall into a river full of crocodiles.”

Lord Douglas-Home took a week to reply:

“Now is the time to get rid of Lumumba.”

At the beginning of 1961, a firing squad of 8 soldiers and 9 policemen commanded by Belgian officers shot him along with his two closest collaborators.

Fearing a popular uprising, the Belgian government and its Congolese tools, Mobuto Sese Seko and Moise Tshombe, covered up the crime.

Two weeks later, the new president of the United States, John Kennedy, announced:

“We will not allow Lumumba to return to the government.”

And Lumumba, who by then had already been killed and dissolved in a barrel of sulphuric acid, did not return to the government.”

– Eduardo Galeano, ‘Mirrors’

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