Lumumba assassination: A lesson for Africa
It seems that the African continent's name is so much associated with wars, famine, ethnic cleansing and brutal corrupt dictatorships. That's what we keep hearing in the Western mainstream media and that's what we get from the Western political discourse.
But rarely do we hear about the people's struggles to end these plights and ills, let alone about the root causes of their predicaments: the legacy of centuries of barbaric colonialism, dehumanising slavery and the insidious neo-colonialism that strangles revolutions and installs submissive impotent bourgeoisies.
For those who see history as a competition, Africa's backwardness and poverty are merely the result of its failures; we lost, others won. But to paraphrase the Latin American writer Eduardo Galeano: “the winners happen to have won thanks to our losing”.
The history of Africa's (Latin America and Asia's too) underdevelopment is an integral part of the history of world capitalism's development.
This is vividly demonstrated in Aimé Césaire's powerful play “A Season in the Congo” that has been produced for the first time in English this year at the Young Vic in London. The play was written in 1966 and is the second play in his trilogy of “Decolonisation Dramas” along with “The Tragedy of King Christophe” (1963) about post-independence Haiti and “A Tempest” (1969), an adaptation of Shakespeare's, transposed to a colonial Caribbean setting.
These plays cemented Césaire's reputation as an intellectual fully engaged in the post-colonial struggle of that time. Alongside Franz Fanon, he was at the vanguard of the black intellectual struggle for racial equality and liberation from the oppressive, exploitative colonial yoke.
“A Season in the Congo” examines Patrice Lumumba's efforts to free the Congo from colonial Belgian rule and the political struggles that led to his murder in 1961. Lumumba's sin was his opposition to Belgian-backed secession of the mineral-rich Katanga Province and his desire to achieve a genuinely Independent Congo, politically and economically.
It was obviously a sin big enough to warrant his assassination and his body's dissolution in acid. Lumumba knew how duplicitous his enemies were and how perilous his struggle was, but his love for his Congo and his beautiful dreams for a united strong Africa kept him going till the end.
Lumumba's Congo wanted to break away from the “eternal” division of labour among nations, where some specialise in winning and others in losing.It wanted to end its seemingly unchangeable “fate” of existing at the service of others' needs, as a source and reserve of the raw minerals such as gold, diamond and copper, always for the benefit of the foreign metropolis of the moment.
The violent contrast we still see today between the abundance of natural resources in Congo and the deprivation of its people was the reason Lumumba was fighting.
Three months before a Western-backed assassination, involving the Belgians, Americans and the British, Lumumba foresaw his fate but believed in his Congo: “Dead, living, free, or in prison on the orders of the colonialists, it is not I who counts. It is the Congo, it is our people for whom Independence has been transformed into a cage where we are regarded from the outside … History will one day have its say, but it will not be the history that Brussels, Paris, Washington, or the United Nations will teach, but that which they will teach in the countries emancipated from colonialism and its puppets … a history of glory and dignity.”
Indeed it is not the history of the powerful that should be heeded but the history of peoples' struggles for emancipation.
We thus must learn about the Western sponsored-coups to end popular democratically elected governments or to assassinate anti-imperialist revolutionaries who were threatening their interests and influence, not only in Africa but all over the world: Nkrumah (Ghana), Sankara (Burkina Faso), Kabral (Guinea-Bissau), Allende (Chile), Che Guevara (Argentina) and Chavez (Venezuela).
The revolutionaries realised that perpetuation of the existing order is perpetuation of the crime and fought for the recovery of their countries' destiny, lands and resources that have always been usurped.
The fight is still ongoing, especially when we see our ruling elites squandering our resources and submitting to foreign capital, when we see Western-backed, ruthless and corrupt despots at the head of our so called “sovereign” states.
Today, things appear to have changed very little. People rise and revolt against tyranny and oppression, but their revolutions and uprisings are derailed or betrayed, just because they are an aberration to a profoundly unjust global order, and because they are perceived as a threat to Western hegemony.
El Sissi's Egypt in 2013 is a strong demonstration of the dangers of such counter-revolutions that crush people's aspirations for freedom. Communities all over the world are still showing an arduous resistance to the imperialist-capitalist system that is grabbing their lands, robbing their resources and destroying their lives.
Because of the damnation of the world's majority inscribed in the Manichean geographies, so well described by Fanon in “The Wretched of the Earth”, the rationality of rebellion is made absolutely clear in the struggles of the oppressed. The events of the “Arab Spring” are only an episode in this history.
Grassroots social movements, thanks to their sacrifice and commitment to radical change, surely win some battles on the ground.
But the challenge is so great to the point that what is bestowed on us by nature seems to be doomed to appropriation by imperialism, and any resistance to this sacrosanct commandment is faced with the wrath of a revengeful god.
Any velleity for some economic patriotism is swiftly neutralised by neo-colonialist instruments like the IMF, World Bank and World Trade Organisation, if not by imperialist interventions. Are we condemned to a life of humiliating bowing to the foreign masters?
Is everything forbidden us except to fold our arms and to wait for a miracle? Is this system, which generates oppression after oppression, written in the stars? No condition is permanent; we need just to learn the lessons and do better the next time.
Che Guevara put it eloquently: “We must move forward, striking out tirelessly against imperialism. From all over the world we have to learn lessons which events afford. Lumumba's murder should be a lesson for all of us.” Lumumba's legacy therefore continues nowadays, as history belongs to the people; it's the people who continue to make history!
• Hamza Hamouchene is an Algerian activist who works for Platform and Algeria Solidarity Campaign. You can follow Hamza Hamouchene on twitter.com/bentoumert
A Hero’s Last Letter
On January 17, 1961, Congolese collaborators working with Belgian agents and with the tacit approval of America’s CIA and then US President Dwight Eisenhower murdered Patrice Emery Lumumba. Lumumba was not alone when he was murdered that day. With him were his two comrades, Maurice Mpolo and Joseph Okito. After being tortured and killed by a firing squad, Lumumba's body was buried in an unmarked grave. On the evening of January 21, 1961, Belgian agents dug up the grave, cut the body up with a hacksaw, and dissolved it in concentrated sulfuric acid. All that remained of his body were some teeth and a fragment of skull, which Belgian agents have kept to this day as souvenirs. But that is not all that Lumumba left. He also wrote a letter to his beloved wife, Pauline Lumumba – the mother of their five children, one of whom was born six months after the murder. We reproduce that letter here.
I am writing this without knowing whether you will ever get it, or when, or whether I shall be alive when you read it.
Throughout my struggle for the Independence of my country I have never for one instant doubted that the sacred cause to which my friends and I have given our lives would triumph in the end.
But what we have wanted for our country, the right to honorable life, untarnished dignity, to unrestricted freedom – these things have never been desired on our behalf by those important officials in the UN in whom we put our trust, and upon whom we called for help, because, whether they knew it or not, they were directly or indirectly supporting the colonialism of Belgium and her friends in the West.
They have corrupted the minds of some of our compatriots, others they have simply bought, and they have played their part in distorting truth and shackling our Independence.
What else can I say? Dead or alive, free or imprisoned by the colonialists, it is not I who matter. It is the Congo, it is our poor people whose Independence has been turned into a cage in which we can be watched by those outside, either with positive pleasure, or with benevolent compassion. But my faith remains unshaken.
I know, and I feel in my heart, that sooner or later my people will shake off all their enemies, inside and outside our land, and that they will rise as one man to say “no” to the same and degradation of colonialism, and to assume once again their dignity under clear skies. We are not alone.
Africa, Asia and the free and freed peoples all over the world will always stand beside those millions of Congolese who will not give up the struggle until the day when no colonisers and no mercenaries are left on our soil.
I would like my children, whom I am leaving and may perhaps never see again, to be told that the Congo has a great future, and that it is up to them, as to every Congolese, to carry out the sacred task of rebuilding our Independence and our sovereignty; for where there is no dignity there is no freedom, and where there is no justice there is no dignity, and where there is no Independence there are no free man.
No brutality, no agony, no torture has ever driven me to beg for mercy, for I would rather die with my head high, my faith unshaken, and a profound trust in the destiny of my country, than live in subjection, seeing principles that are sacred to me laughed to scorn.
History will have its say one day – not the history they teach Brussels, Paris, Washington or the United Nations, but the history taught in the countries set free from colonialism and its puppet rulers.
Africa will write her own history, and both north and south of the Sahara it will be a history of glory and dignity. Do not weep, my love; I know that my country, which has suffered so much, will be able to defend its Independence and liberty.
Long live the Congo! Long live Africa!