Patrice Lumumba

Patrice Lumumba
1st Prime Minister of the Republic of the Congo
In office
24 June 1960  5 September 1960[lower-alpha 1]
President Joseph Kasa-Vubu
Deputy Antoine Gizenga
Preceded by position established
Succeeded by Joseph Iléo
Minister of Defence of the Republic of the Congo
In office
24 June 1960  5 September 1960
Personal details
Born Élias Okit'Asombo[1][2][3]
2 July 1925
Katakokombe, Belgian Congo
(now Democratic Republic of the Congo)
Died 17 January 1961 (aged 35)
Near Élisabethville, Katanga
(now Lubumbashi, Democratic Republic of the Congo)
Political party Mouvement National Congolais

Patrice Émery Lumumba (alternatively styled Patrice Hemery Lumumba;[4] 2 July 1925 – 17 January 1961) was a Congolese politician and independence leader who served as the first Prime Minister of the independent Democratic Republic of the Congo (then Republic of the Congo) from June until September 1960. He played a significant role in the transformation of the Congo from a colony of Belgium into an independent republic. Ideologically an African nationalist and Pan-Africanist, he led the Mouvement National Congolais (MNC) party from 1958 until his death.

Shortly after Congolese independence in 1960, a mutiny broke out in the army, marking the beginning of the Congo Crisis. Lumumba appealed to the United States and the United Nations for help to suppress the Belgian-supported Katangan secessionists. Both refused, so Lumumba turned to the Soviet Union for support. This led to growing differences with President Joseph Kasa-Vubu and chief-of-staff Joseph-Désiré Mobutu, as well as with the United States and Belgium.

Lumumba was subsequently imprisoned by state authorities under Mobutu and executed by a firing squad under the command of Katangan authorities. Following his death, he was widely seen as a martyr for the wider Pan-African movement.

Early life and career

Patrice Lumumba was born on 2 July 1925 to a farmer, François Tolenga Otetshima, and his wife Julienne Wamato Lomendja, in Onalua in the Katakokombe region of the Kasai province of the Belgian Congo.[5] He was a member of the Tetela ethnic group and was born with the name Élias Okit'Asombo. His original surname means "heir of the cursed" and is derived from the Tetela words okitá/okitɔ́ ('heir, successor')[6] and asombó ('cursed or bewitched people who will die quickly').[7] He had three brothers (Ian Clark, Émile Kalema, and Louis Onema Pene Lumumba) and one half-brother (Tolenga Jean).[5] Raised in a Catholic family, he was educated at a Protestant primary school, a Catholic missionary school, and finally the government post office training school, where he passed the one-year course with distinction. Lumumba spoke Tetela, French, Lingala, Swahili, and Tshiluba.[5]

Outside of his regular studies, Lumumba took an interest in the Enlightenment ideals of Jean-Jacques Rousseau and Voltaire. He was also fond of Molière and Victor Hugo. He wrote poetry, and many of his works had an anti-imperialist theme.[8]

He worked in Léopoldville and Stanleyville as a postal clerk and as a travelling beer salesman. In 1951, he married Pauline Opangu. In 1955, Lumumba became regional head of the Cercles of Stanleyville and joined the Liberal Party of Belgium, where he edited and distributed party literature. After a study tour in Belgium in 1956, he was arrested on charges of embezzlement from the post office. He was convicted and condemned one year later to twelve months' imprisonment and a fine.[9]

Leader of the MNC

After his release, he helped found the Mouvement National Congolais (MNC) party on 5 October 1958, and quickly become the organization's leader.[8]

The MNC, unlike other Congolese parties, did not draw on a particular ethnic base.[10] It promoted a platform that included independence, gradual Africanization of the government, state-led economic development, and neutrality in foreign affairs. Lumumba himself had a large popular following, due to his personal charisma, excellent oratorical skills, and ideological sophistication.[10] This allowed him more political autonomy than his Belgian-dependent contemporaries.[11]

Lumumba was one of the delegates that represented the MNC at the All-African Peoples' Conference in Accra, Ghana, in December 1958. At this international conference, hosted by Ghanaian President Kwame Nkrumah, Lumumba further solidified his Pan-Africanist beliefs. Nkrumah was personally impressed by Lumumba's intelligence and ability.[12]

In late October 1959, Lumumba, as leader of the organization, was arrested for inciting an anti-colonial riot in Stanleyville; 30 people were killed. He was sentenced to 69 months in prison. The trial's start date of 18 January 1960 was the first day of the Congolese Round Table Conference in Brussels to finalize the future of the Congo.

Despite Lumumba's imprisonment at the time, the MNC won a convincing majority in the December local elections in the Congo. As a result of strong pressure from delegates upset with Lumumba's trial, he was released and allowed to attend the Brussels conference.

Independence and election as prime minister

The conference culminated on 27 January with a declaration of Congolese independence, and set 30 June 1960 as the independence date with national elections to be held from 11–25 May 1960. Lumumba and the MNC won this election and formed a government, announced on 23 June 1960, with the 34-year-old Lumumba as prime minister and Joseph Kasa-Vubu as president. In accordance with the constitution, on 24 June the new government, a unitary system, secured a vote of confidence from the Congolese Chamber of Deputies and Senate.

At the onset of his premiership Lumumba had two main goals: ensure that independence would bring a legitimate improvement in the quality of life for the Congolese and unify the country in a centralised state by eliminating tribalism and regionalism.[13] He was also worried that opposition to his government would appear rapidly and had to be managed quickly and decisively.[14]

To achieve the first aim, Lumumba figured a comprehensive "Africanisation" of the administration, in spite of its risks, would be necessary.[15] The Belgians were opposed to such an idea, as it would create inefficiency in the Congo's bureaucracy and lead to a mass exodus of unemployed civil servants which they would be unable to handle back in Europe.[16] All the same it was too late to enact before independence. Seeking another gesture that might excite the Congolese people, Lumumba proposed to the Belgian government a reduction in sentences for all prisoners and an amnesty for those serving a term of three years or less. Ganshof feared that such an action would jeopardize law and order and he evaded taking any action until it was too late to fulfill the request. Lumumba's opinion of the Belgians was further soured by the affair, which also contributed to his fear that independence would not appear "real" for the average Congolese.[15]

In eliminating all notions of tribalism and regionalism in the Congo Lumumba was heavily inspired by the personality and undertakings of Kwame Nkrumah and by Ghanaian ideas of the leadership that was necessary in Africa. One of the main vehicles through which he sought to achieve this was the MNC. Lumumba intended to combine it with its parliamentary allies—CEREA, the PSA, and possibly BALUBAKAT—to form one national party with a following in each province. From there he hoped it would absorb other parties and become a unifying force for the country.[15]

Independence Day was celebrated on 30 June in a ceremony attended by many dignitaries, including King Baudouin of Belgium and the foreign press.[17] Baudouin's speech praised developments under colonialism, his reference to the "genius" of his great-granduncle Leopold II of Belgium, glossing over atrocities committed during the existence of the Congo Free State.[18] Belgian prime minister Gaston Eyskens, who checked the text, considered that this passage went too far. He wanted completely to get rid of this reference to Léopold II. The King had limited political power in Belgium, but he was free to write his own speeches (after revision by the government).[19] The King continued, "Don't compromise the future with hasty reforms, and don't replace the structures that Belgium hands over to you until you are sure you can do better. Don't be afraid to come to us. We will remain by your side, give you advice."[20] President Kasa-Vubu thanked the King.

Lumumba, who had not been scheduled to speak, delivered an impromptu speech that reminded the audience that the independence of the Congo had not been granted magnanimously by Belgium:[17]

[...] For this independence of the Congo, although being proclaimed today by agreement with Belgium, an amicable country, with which we are on equal terms, no Congolese worthy of the name will ever be able to forget that it was by fighting that it has been won, a day-to-day fight, an ardent and idealistic fight, a fight in which we were spared neither privation nor suffering, and for which we gave our strength and our blood. We are proud of this struggle, of tears, of fire, and of blood, to the depths of our being, for it was a noble and just struggle, and indispensable to put an end to the humiliating slavery which was imposed upon us by force. [...] [21]

Most European journalists were shocked by the stridency of Lumumba's speech.[22] The Western media lashed out at Lumumba. Time spoke of a 'venomous attack'. In the West, many saw this speech as a call to arms opening up Belgian-Congolese hostilities, plunging the former Belgian colony into chaos.[23]

Prime Minister

"Every morning at seven o'clock he sat at the huge desk, embellished with the forgotten coat of arms of colonial Belgium; a golden lion in a blue shield. There the Premier first received his immediate assistants, set up the schedule for the day, went over correspondence, which he answered. Without a stop until evening he was receiving salesmen, petitioners, donors, experts, businessmen, and diplomats, the most variegated crowd that ever walked on the market...The special delegate of UNESCO, the delegate of the Ford Foundation, directors of large international press agencies, directors of various commercial companies, experts—everybody wanted to deal exclusively with Lumumba."

Prime Minister's Press Secretary Serge Michel[24]

Independence Day and the three days that followed it were declared a national holiday.[25] The Congolese were preoccupied by the festivities which occurred in relative peace.[26] Meanwhile, Lumumba's office was overtaken by a flurry of activity. A diverse group of individuals, Congolese and European, some friends and relatives of him, hurried about their work. Some undertook specific missions on his behalf, though sometimes without direct permission.[27] Numerous Congolese citizens showed up at the office at whim for various reasons.[28] Lumumba, for his part, was mostly preoccupied with a lengthy itinerary of receptions and ceremonies.[29] On 3 July he declared a general amnesty for prisoners, but it was never implemented.[30] The following morning he convened the Council of Ministers to discuss the unrest among the troops of the Force Publique.[31] Many soldiers hoped that independence would result in immediate promotions and material gains, but were disappointed by Lumumba's slow pace of reform. The rank-and-file felt that the Congolese political class—particularly ministers in the new government—were enriching themselves while failing to improve the troops' situation. Many of the soldiers were also fatigued from maintaining order during the elections and participating in independence celebrations.[32] The ministers decided to establish four committees to study respectively the reorganisation of the administration, the judiciary, and the army, and the enacting of a new statute for state employees. All were to devote special attention to ending racial discrimination.[33] Parliament assembled for the first time since independence and took its first official legislative action by voting to increase the salaries of its members to FC 500,000. Lumumba, fearing the repercussions the raise would have on the budget, was among the few to object, dubbing it a "ruinous folly".[34][35]

On the morning of 5 July General Émile Janssens, commander of the Force Publique, in response to increasing excitement among the Congolese ranks, summoned all troops on duty at Camp Léopold II. He demanded that the army maintain its discipline and wrote "before independence = after independence" on a black board for emphasis. That evening the Congolese sacked the canteen in protest of Janssens. He alerted the reserve garrison of Camp Hardy, 95 miles away in Thysville. The officers tried organise a convoy to send to Camp Léopold II to restore order, but the men mutinied and seized the armoury.[36] The crisis which followed would come to dominate the tenure of the Lumumba Government.[37]

The next day Lumumba dismissed Janssens and promoted all Congolese soldiers one grade, but mutinies spread out into the Lower Congo.[38] Although the trouble was highly localized, the country seemed to be overrun by gangs of soldiers and looters. This caused a media sensation, which highlighted the Europeans fleeing the country.[39] In response, Lumumba announced over the radio, "Thoroughgoing reforms are planned in all sectors. My government will make every possible effort to see that our country has a different face in a few months, a few weeks." In spite of government efforts, the mutinies continued.[40] Mutineers in Leopoldville and Thysville surrendered only upon the personal intervention of Lumumba and President Kasa-Vubu.[41] On 8 July, Lumumba renamed the Force Publique the "Armée Nationale Congolaise" (ANC). He Africanized the force by appointing Sergeant Major Victor Lundula as general and commander-in-chief and chose junior minister and former soldier Joseph Mobutu as colonel and Army chief of staff. These promotions were made in spite of Lundula's inexperience and rumours about Mobutu's ties to Belgian and American intelligence services.[42] All European officers were replaced, with a few retained as advisers. By the next day the mutinies had spread throughout the entire country.[38] Five Europeans, including the Italian vice-consul, were ambushed and killed by machine gun fire in Élisabethville and nearly the entire European population of Luluabourg barricaded itself in an office building for safety.[43] An estimated two dozen Europeans were murdered in the mutiny.[44] Lumumba and Kasa-Vubu embarked on a tour across the country to promote peace and appoint new ANC commanders.[43]

Belgium intervened on 10 July, dispatching 6,000 troops to the Congo, ostensibly to protect its citizens from the violence. Most Europeans went to Katanga Province, which possessed much of the Congo's natural resources.[4] Though personally angered, Lumumba condoned the action on 11 July, provided that the Belgian forces acted only to protect their citizens, followed the direction of the Congolese army, and ceased their activities once order was restored.[40][41][44] The same day the Belgian Navy bombarded Matadi after it had evacuated its citizens, killing 19 Congolese. This greatly inflamed tensions, leading to renewed Congolese attacks on Europeans. Shortly thereafter Belgian forces moved to occupy cities throughout the country, including the capital, where they clashed with Congolese soldiers.[41] On the whole, the Belgian intervention made the situation worse for the ANC.[44]

The State of Katanga declared independence under regional premier Moïse Tshombe on 11 July, with support from the Belgian government and mining companies such as Union Minière.[45] Lumumba and Kasa-Vubu were denied use of Élisabethville's airstrip the following day and returned to the capital, only to be accosted by fleeing Belgians.[46] They sent a protest of the Belgian deployment to the United Nations, requesting that they withdraw and be replaced by an international peacekeeping force.

The UN Security Council passed United Nations Security Council Resolution 143, calling for immediate removal of Belgian forces and establishment of the United Nations Operation in the Congo (ONUC). Despite the arrival of UN troops, unrest continued. Lumumba requested UN troops to suppress the rebellion in Katanga, but the UN forces were not authorized to do so under their mandate. On 14 July Lumumba and Kasa-Vubu broke off relations with Belgium, and sent a telegram to Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev, requesting that he closely monitor the situation in the Congo.[47]

Lumumba had originally desired technical assistance from Belgium and the West, but wanted to avoid taking sides with either the United States or the Soviet Union in the Cold War. By maintaining a policy of "positive neutralism", he hoped to create a unique and independent country.[12] Since the United Nations refused to help subdue Katanga, Lumumba sought Soviet aid in the form of arms, food, medical supplies, trucks, and planes to help move troops to Katanga. His decision to turn to the Soviet Union alarmed the West, particularly the United States.

On 24 July, Lumumba traveled to New York City, where he met with UN Secretary-General Dag Hammarskjöld. African delegates, who had extended the original invitation, suggested arranging a meeting with the American State Department in Washington, D.C. President Dwight D. Eisenhower was on vacation at the time and unable to meet Lumumba. He had a lengthy interview with Secretary of State Christian Herter, much to the chagrin of the Belgian government. Lumumba expressed his dissatisfaction with the Belgian troops in the Congo and requested American aid. Herter reiterated that the U.S. would assist the Congo only as part of a greater UN effort.[48]

"The government has declared a state of emergency throughout the whole country...Those who confuse subversive maneuvers with freedom, obstruction with democratic opposition, or their personal interest with that of the nation will soon be judged by the people. Those who are paid today by the enemies of freedom for the purpose of maintaining sedition movements across the country and thereby disturbing the social peace will be punished with the utmost energy..."

Lumumba's statement to the press, 10 August 1960 (translated from French)[49]

On 9 August Lumumba proclaimed an état d'exception throughout the Congo.[49][lower-alpha 2] He subsequently issued several orders in an attempt to reassert his dominance on the political scene. The first outlawed the formation of associations without government sanction. A second asserted the government's right to ban publications that produced material likely to bring the administration into disrepute. On 11 August the Courrier d'Afrique printed an editorial which declared that the Congolese did not want to fall "under a second kind of slavery". The editor was summarily arrested and four days later publication of the daily ceased, followed shortly thereafter by the delivery of shut-down orders against the Belga and Agence France-Presse wire services.[51] The press restrictions garnered a wave of harsh criticism from the Belgian media.[52] Lumumba also decreed the nationalisation of Belga, creating the Agence Congolaise de Presse,[53] as a means of eliminating a centre of biased reporting and creating a medium through which the government's platform could be more easily communicated to the public.[54][lower-alpha 3] Another order stipulated that official approval had to be obtained six days in advance of public gatherings.[50] On 16 August Lumumba announced the installation of a régime militaire spécial for the duration of six months,[56] including the establishment of military tribunals.[57][lower-alpha 4]

Lumumba immediately ordered Congolese troops under Mobutu to put down the rebellion in South Kasai, which was home to strategic rail links that would be necessary for a campaign in Katanga. The operation was successful, but the conflict soon devolved into ethnic violence. The army became involved in massacres of Luba civilians. The people and politicians of South Kasai held Lumumba personally responsible for the actions of the army.[58] Kasa-Vubu publicly announced that only a federalist government could bring peace and stability to the Congo, breaking the tenuous political alliance Lumumba had with him and tilting the political favour in the country away from Lumumba's unitary state.[59] Ethnic tensions rose against him (especially around Leopoldville) and the Catholic Church openly criticized his government.[60]

Even with South Kasai subdued, the Congo lacked the necessary strength to retake Katanga.[58] Lumumba had summoned an African conference in Leopoldville from 25–31 August, but no foreign heads of state appeared and no country pledged military support.[61] Lumumba demanded once again that UN peacekeeping soldiers assist in suppressing the revolt, threatening to bring in Soviet troops if they refused. The UN subsequently denied Lumumba the use of its forces, and the possibility of a direct Soviet intervention became increasingly likely.[58]


President Kasa-Vubu began fearing a Lumumbist coup d'état would take place.[lower-alpha 5] On the evening of 5 September, Kasa-Vubu announced over radio that he had dismissed Lumumba and six of his ministers from the government for the massacres in South Kasai and for involving the Soviets in the Congo.[63] Upon hearing the broadcast, Lumumba made his way to the national radio station, which was under UN guard. Though they had been ordered to bar Lumumba's entry, the UN troops allowed the prime minister in, as they had no specific instructions to use force against him. Lumumba denounced his dismissal over the radio as illegitimate, and in turn labeled Kasa-Vubu a traitor and declared him deposed.[64]

He proceeded to Parliament and launched into a debate in which he, in the words of American Ambassador Clare Timberlake, "devastated the points raised by the opposition" and "made Kasa-Vubu look ridiculous."[65] The newly appointed prime minister, Senate leader Joseph Iléo, failed to secure a vote of confidence,[58] which Lumumba won in the Senate on 8 September, 41 to 2 (with 6 abstentions).[66] Still, Parliament did not back Lumumba's dismissal of Kasa-Vubu, creating a constitutional crisis. Numerous African diplomats and newly appointed ONUC head Rajeshwar Dayal attempted to get the president and prime minister to reconcile their differences, but failed.[63] On 13 September, the Parliament held a joint session between the Chamber of Deputies and the Senate. Though several members short of a quorum, they voted to grant Lumumba emergency powers.[62]

On 14 September, a coup d'état organised by Colonel Mobutu politically incapacitated both Lumumba and Kasa-Vubu.[39] Lumumba was placed under house arrest on the next day at the Prime Minister's residence. UN troops were positioned around the house to prevent his arrest at the hands of Mobutu's troops, who formed an outer circle around the residence to prevent his escape.[67] On 24 November, the UN voted to recognize Mobutu's new delegates to the General Assembly, disregarding Lumumba's original appointees. Lumumba resolved to join Deputy Prime Minister Antoine Gizenga in Stanleyville and lead a campaign to regain power. Three days later he fled Léopoldville.[68]

With logistical support from the United States and Belgium, Mobutu's troops managed to capture Lumumba in Lodi on 1 December. He was moved to Port Francqui the next day and flown back to Léopoldville. UN forces did not interfere.[68] Mobutu claimed Lumumba would be tried for inciting the army to rebellion and other crimes.

UN response

Secretary-General of the United Nations Dag Hammarskjöld made an appeal to Kasa-Vubu asking that Lumumba be treated according to due process. The Soviet Union denounced Hammarskjöld and the First World as responsible for Lumumba's arrest and demanded his release.

The United Nations Security Council was called into session on 7 December 1960 to consider Soviet demands that the UN seek Lumumba's immediate release, the immediate restoration of Lumumba as head of the Congo government, the disarming of the forces of Mobutu, and the immediate evacuation of Belgians from the Congo. The Soviets also requested the immediate resignation of Hammarskjöld, the arrests of Mobutu and Tshombe, and the withdrawal of UN peacekeeping forces.[69] Hammarskjöld, answering Soviet criticism of his Congo operations, said that if the UN forces were withdrawn from the Congo "I fear everything will crumble."

The threat to the UN cause was intensified by the announcement of the withdrawal of their contingents by Yugoslavia, the United Arab Republic, Ceylon, Indonesia, Morocco, and Guinea. The pro-Lumumba resolution was defeated on 14 December 1960 by a vote of 8–2. On the same day, a Western resolution that would have given Hammarskjöld increased powers to deal with the Congo situation was vetoed by the Soviet Union.

Final days and execution

Lumumba was sent first on 3 December 1960 to Thysville military barracks Camp Hardy, 150 km (about 100 miles) from Léopoldville. He was accompanied by Maurice Mpolo and Joseph Okito, two political associates who had planned to assist him in setting up a new government. They were malnourished by the prison guards as per Mobutu's orders. In Lumumba's last documented letter, he wrote to Rajeshwar Dayal: "in a word, we are living amid absolutely impossible conditions; moreover, they are against the law".[40] In the morning of 13 January 1961, discipline at Camp Hardy faltered. Soldiers refused to work unless they were paid. Some supported Lumumba's release, while others thought he was dangerous. Kasu-Vabu, Mobutu, Foreign Minister Justin Marie Bomboko, and Head of Security Services Victor Nendaka personally arrived at the camp and negotiated with the troops. Conflict was avoided, but it became apparent that holding a controversial prisoner in the camp was too great a risk.[70] Harold d'Aspremont Lynden, the former Belgian Minister of the Colonies, ordered that Lumumba, Mpolo, and Okito be taken to the State of Katanga.[71]

Lumumba was forcibly restrained on the flight to Elisabethville on 17 January 1961.[72] On arrival, he and his associates were conducted under arrest to the Brouwez House where they were brutally beaten and tortured by Katangan and Belgian officers,[73] while President Tshombe and his cabinet decided what to do with him.[74][75][76]

Later that night, Lumumba was driven to an isolated spot where three firing squads had been assembled. A Belgian commission of inquiry found that the execution was carried out by Katanga's authorities. It reported that President Tshombe and two other ministers were present, with four Belgian officers under the command of Katangan authorities. Lumumba, Mpolo and Okito were lined up against a tree and shot one at a time. The execution is thought to have taken place on 17 January 1961, between 21:40 and 21:43 (according to the Belgian report). The Belgians and their counterparts later wished to get rid of the bodies, and did so by digging up and dismembering the corpses, then dissolving them in sulfuric acid while the bones were ground and scattered.[77]

Announcement of death

No statement was released until three weeks later, despite rumours that Lumumba was dead. His death was formally announced over Katangan radio on 13 February, when it was alleged that he was killed by enraged villagers three days after escaping from Kolatey prison farm.[69]

After the announcement of Lumumba's death, street protests were organized in several European countries; in Belgrade, capital of Yugoslavia, protesters sacked the Belgian embassy and confronted the police, and in London, a crowd marched from Trafalgar Square to the Belgian embassy, where a letter of protest was delivered and where protesters clashed with police.[78] In New York City, a demonstration at the United Nations Security Council turned violent and spilled over into the streets.[79][80]

Foreign involvement in his death

Both Belgium and the U.S. were influenced by the Cold War in their positions toward Lumumba. He seemed to gravitate toward the Soviet Union, although according to Sean Kelly, who covered the events as a correspondent for the Voice of America, this was not because he was a communist, but because the USSR was the only place he could find support for his country's effort to rid itself of colonial rule.[81] The US was the first country from which Lumumba requested help.[82] Lumumba, for his part, not only denied being a communist, but said he found colonialism and communism to be equally deplorable. He professed his personal preference for neutrality between the East and West.[83]

Belgian involvement

On 18 January, panicked by reports that the burial of the three bodies had been observed, members of the execution team went to dig up the bodies and move them for reburial to a place near the border with Northern Rhodesia. Belgian Police Commissioner Gerard Soete later admitted in several accounts that he and his brother led the original exhumation. Police Commissioner Frans Verscheure also took part. On the afternoon and evening of 21 January, Commissioner Soete and his brother dug up Lumumba's corpse for a second time, cut it up with a hacksaw, and dissolved it in concentrated sulfuric acid.[84][85] In a 1999 interview on Belgian television in a program on the assassination of Lumumba, Soete displayed a bullet and two teeth that he claimed he had saved from Lumumba's body.[85]

According to the 2001 Belgian Commission investigating Lumumba's assassination: (1) Belgium wanted Lumumba arrested, (2) Belgium was not particularly concerned with Lumumba's physical well being, and (3) although informed of the danger to Lumumba's life, Belgium did not take any action to avert his death. The report concluded that Belgium had not ordered Lumumba's assassination.[86]

Lumumba's execution was carried out by a firing squad led by Belgian Captain Julien Gat;[87][88] another Belgian, Police Commissioner Verscheure, had overall command of the execution site.[87]

Ludo De Witte found written orders from the Belgian government requesting Lumumba's execution and documents on various arrangements, such as death squads.[89]

In February 2002, the Belgian government apologized to the Congolese people, and admitted to a "moral responsibility" and "an irrefutable portion of responsibility in the events that led to the death of Lumumba".[90]

United States involvement

The report of 2001 by the Belgian Commission mentions that there had been previous U.S. and Belgian plots to kill Lumumba. Among them was a Central Intelligence Agency-sponsored attempt to poison him, which came on orders from U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower.[91] CIA chemist Sidney Gottlieb, a key person in this plan, devised a poison resembling toothpaste. In September 1960, Gottlieb brought a vial of the poison to the Congo with plans to place it on Lumumba's toothbrush.[92][93][94] However, the plot was later abandoned; allegedly because the CIA Station Chief for the Congo, Larry Devlin, refused permission.[93][95]

As Kalb points out in her book, Congo Cables, the record shows that many communications by Devlin at the time urged elimination of Lumumba.[96] Also, the CIA station chief helped to direct the search to capture Lumumba for his transfer to his enemies in Katanga; Devlin was involved in arranging Lumumba's transfer to Katanga;[97] and the CIA base chief in Elizabethville was in direct touch with the killers the night Lumumba was killed. John Stockwell wrote in 1978 that a CIA agent had the body in the trunk of his car in order to try to get rid of it.[98] Stockwell, who knew Devlin well, felt Devlin knew more than anyone else about the murder.[99]

The inauguration of John F. Kennedy in January 1961 caused fear among Mobutu's faction and within the CIA that the incoming administration would shift its favor to the imprisoned Lumumba.[100] While awaiting his presidential inauguration, Kennedy had come to believe that Lumumba should be released from custody, though not be allowed to return to power.[58] Lumumba was killed three days before Kennedy's inauguration on 20 January, though Kennedy would not learn of the killing until 13 February.[101]

Church Committee

In 1975, the Church Committee went on record with the finding that CIA chief Allen Dulles had ordered Lumumba's assassination as "an urgent and prime objective".[102] Furthermore, declassified CIA cables quoted or mentioned in the Church report and in Kalb (1982) mention two specific CIA plots to murder Lumumba: the poison plot and a shooting plot. Although some sources claim that CIA plots ended when Lumumba was captured, that is not stated or shown in the CIA records.

The Committee later found that while the CIA had conspired to kill Lumumba, it was not directly involved in the actual murder.[103]

U.S. government documents

Declassified documents reveal that the CIA had plotted to assassinate Lumumba. These documents indicate that the Congolese leaders who killed Lumumba, including Mobutu Sese Seko and Joseph Kasa-Vubu, received money and weapons directly from the CIA.[93][104] This same disclosure showed that at that time the U.S. government believed that Lumumba was a communist and feared him because of the Cold War.[105]

In 2000, a newly declassified interview with Robert Johnson, who was the minutekeeper of the U.S. National Security Council at the time in question, revealed that U.S. President Eisenhower had said "something [to CIA chief Allen Dulles] to the effect that Lumumba should be eliminated."[103] The interview from the Senate Intelligence Committee's inquiry on covert action was released in August 2000.[106]

In 2013, the U.S. State Department admitted that President Eisenhower authorized the murder of Lumumba.[107] However, documents released in 2017 revealed that an American role in Lumumba's murder was only under consideration by the CIA.[108][109] CIA Chief Allan Dulles had allocated $100,000 to accomplish the act, but the plan was not carried out.[110]

British involvement

In April 2013, in a letter to the London Review of Books, British parliamentarian David Lea reported having discussed Lumumba's death with MI6 officer Daphne Park shortly before she died in March 2010. Park had been posted to Leopoldville at the time of Lumumba's death, and was later a semi-official spokesperson for MI6 in the House of Lords.[111]

According to Lea, when he mentioned "the uproar" surrounding Lumumba's abduction and murder, and recalled the theory that MI6 might have had "something to do with it", she replied, "We did. I organised it."[112] BBC reported that, subsequently, "Whitehall sources" described the claims of MI6 involvement as "speculative".[113]

Political ideology and rhetoric

Lumumba did not espouse a comprehensive political or economic platform.[114] He was the first Congolese to articulate a narrative of the Congo that contradicted traditional Belgian views of colonisation, highlighting the suffering of the indigenous population under European rule. Lumumba was alone among his contemporaries in encompassing all Congolese people in his narrative (the others confined their discussions to their respective ethnicities or regions),[115] offering a basis for national identity predicated upon the survival of colonial victimisation, dignity, humaneness, strength, and unity.[116] This humanism also included the values of egalitarianism, social justice, liberty, and the recognition of fundamental rights.[117]

Lumumba viewed the state as a positive advocate for the public welfare and its intervention in Congolese society necessary to ensure equality, justice, and social harmony.[117]


Despite his brief political career and tragic death—or perhaps because of them—Lumumba entered history through the front door: he became both a flag and a symbol. He lived as a free man, and an independent thinker. Everything he wrote, said and did was the product of someone who knew his vocation to be that of a liberator, and he represents for the Congo what Castro does for Cuba, Nasser for Egypt, Nkrumah for Ghana, Mao Tse-tung for China, and Lenin for Russia.

Thomas Kanza, friend and colleague of Lumumba, 1972[119]


Lumumba's position in African historiography is not well established.[120] Academic discussion of his legacy was largely limited until the later stages of Mobutu's rule in the Congo.[118] Belgian literature in the decades following the Congo Crisis portrayed him as incompetent, demagogic, aggressive, ungrateful, undiplomatic, and communist.[121] Most Africanist historians, such as Jean-Claude Willame and David Van Reybrouck, view Lumumba as an intransigent, unrealistic idealist without any tangible programme who distanced himself from his contemporaries and alienated the Western world with radical anti-colonial rhetoric.[120][122] They see him as greatly responsible for the political crisis that resulted in his downfall. A minority, such as Jean-Paul Sartre, share the belief that Lumumba's goals were unattainable in 1960 but nevertheless view him as a martyr of Congolese independence at the hands of certain Western interests and the victim of events over which he had little control. According to historian Ludo De Witte, both of these perspectives overstate the political weaknesses and isolation of Lumumba.[120] Lumumba's exploits are usually celebrated as the work of him as an individual—not that of a larger movement—because long after his death few political entities had attempted or succeeded in incorporating his ideas into a comprehensible political programme.[123]

Political impact

Due to his relatively short career in government, quick removal from power, and controversial death, Lumumba's political legacy has not been widely discussed. His downfall was detrimental to African nationalism movements, and he is generally remembered only for his murder.[123] Journalist Michela Wrong said, "He really did become a hero after his death, in a way that one has to wonder if he would have been such a hero if he had remained and run the country and faced all the problems that running a country as big as Congo would have inevitably brought."[124] Popular memory of Lumumba has often discarded his politics and reduced him to a symbol.[125] The ideological legacy of Lumumba is known as Lumumbisme (French for Lumumbism). Rather than a complex doctrine, it is usually framed as a set of fundamental principles consisting of nationalism, Pan-Africanism, nonalignment, and social progressivism.[126] Mobutism built off of these principles.[117] According to historian Georges Nzongola-Ntalaja, Lumumba's "greatest legacy...for the Congo is the ideal of national unity". Nzongola-Ntalaja further posited that, as a result of Lumumba's high praise of the independence movement and his work to end the Katangese secession, "the people of the Congo are likely to remain steadfast in their defense of national unity and territorial integrity, come hell or high water."[127]

Following the suppression of the rebellions of 1964 and 1965, most Lumumbist ideology was confined to isolated groups of intellectuals who faced repression under Mobutu's regime. Centers of Lumumba's popularity in his lifetime underwent a gradual decline in fidelity to his person and ideas. According to Africanist Bogumil Jewsiewicki, by 1999 "the only faithful surviving Lumumbist nucleus is located in Sankuru and Maniema, and its loyalty is questionable (more ethnical, regional, and sentimental than ideological and political)."[128]

Political parties

At least a dozen Congolese political parties have claimed to bear Lumumba's political and spiritual heritage.[118] The image of Patrice Lumumba continues to serve as an inspiration in contemporary Congolese politics. In the 2006 elections, several parties claimed to be motivated by his ideas, including the People's Party for Reconstruction and Democracy (PPRD), the political party initiated by the incumbent President Joseph Kabila.[129] Antoine Gizenga, who served as Lumumba's Deputy Prime Minister in the post-independence period, was a 2006 Presidential candidate under the Unified Lumumbist Party (Parti Lumumbiste Unifié (PALU))[130] and was named prime minister at the end of the year. His campaign platform was based on Lumumba's ideas. Other political parties that directly utilise his name include the Mouvement National Congolais-Lumumba (MNC-L) and the Mouvement Lumumbiste (MLP).

Family and politics

Patrice Lumumba's family is actively involved in contemporary Congolese politics. Patrice Lumumba was married to Pauline Lumumba and had five children; François was the eldest followed by Patrice Junior, Julienne, Roland and Guy-Patrice Lumumba. François was 10 years old when Patrice died. Before his imprisonment, Patrice arranged for his wife and children to move into exile in Egypt.

Lumumba's youngest son, Guy-Patrice, born six months after his father's death, was an independent presidential candidate in the 2006 elections,[131] but received less than 10% of the vote.

The image of Lumumba appears frequently in social media and is often used as a rallying cry in demonstrations of social defiance.[122] His figure is prevalent in art and literature, mostly outside of the Congo. Among the most prominent works featuring him are Aimé Césaire's 1966 play, Une Saison au Congo, and Raoul Peck's 1992 documentary and 2000 feature film, Lumumba, la mort d'un prophète and Lumumba, respectively.[118] In popular painting he is often paired with notions of sacrifice and redemption.[132] Lumumba is relatively absent in Congolese writing, and his appearances are often subtle or ambiguous in nature. In tributes to Mobutu, Lumumba is usually portrayed as an adviser to the former. Writer Charles Djungu-Simba observed, "Lumumba is rather considered as a vestige of the past, albeit an illustrious past".[133]


  • In 1966 Patrice Lumumba's image was rehabilitated by the Mobutu regime and he was proclaimed a national hero and martyr in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. By a presidential decree, the Brouwez House, site of Lumumba's brutal torture on the night of his murder, became a place of pilgrimage in the Congo.[134]
  • A major transportation artery in Kinshasa, the Lumumba Boulevard, is named in his honour. The boulevard goes past an interchange with a giant tower, the Tour de l'Echangeur (the main landmark of Kinshasa) commemorating him. On the tower's plaza, the first Kabila regime erected a tall statue of Lumumba with a raised hand, greeting people coming from N'djili Airport.
  • The Peoples' Friendship University of the USSR was renamed "Patrice Lumumba Peoples' Friendship University" in 1961, but it was later renamed "The Peoples' Friendship University of Russia" in the post-Soviet landscape in 1992.[135]
  • In 1964 Malcolm X declared Patrice Lumumba "the greatest black man who ever walked the African continent".[136]
  • A Lumumba is a popular name for hot or cold long drink of chocolate with rum.[137]

See also

  • Democratic Republic of the Congo portal


  1. Though Lumumba was dismissed from his post on 5 September 1960 by President Kasa-Vubu, Parliament continued to recognize his authority. Lumumba rivaled his replacement, Iléo, over control of the government until a coup on 14 September definitively suspended the parliamentary system and removed both from power.
  2. According to Govender, "Lumumba had always been reluctant to declare a state of emergency, but with the intensification of hostile acts against his regime by Congolese plotters and their Western friends, he felt that a state of emergency would help his poorly equipped security forces and administration to act more effectively against the trouble-makers."[50]
  3. Govender wrote that with the exception of the Belga case, "Lumumba took no steps against [foreign correspondents]. He allowed them complete freedom of movement and the right to express their opinions."[55]
  4. The government was able to successfully institute the tribunals in only a few locations. The relevant ordinance for the régime militaire was withdrawn on 4 November.[57]
  5. There is sufficient evidence to suggest that Lumumba was growing impatient with the Parliamentary system and was seeking alternatives to achieve his agenda. At the same time, he did not begin to plan for a coup until he grew suspicious of his opponents' intentions to depose him.[62]


  • Le Congo, terre d'avenir, est-il menaçé?" (1961)
  • Congo, My Country (1962) London: Pall Mall Press. ISBN 0-269-16092-2.


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Political offices
Preceded by
Position created on independence from Belgium
Prime Minister of the Democratic Republic of the Congo
24 June – 5 September 1960
Succeeded by
Joseph Ileo
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