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Saturday, May 25, 2024

The quintessential revolutionary: Remembering Lumumba (Personalities not principles move the ages – Oscar Wilde)

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Beyond the myth and legends, there lies true and beautiful soul inspiring stories, of those same men we all relate to. One of these men was a son of the Congo and a child of the Africa land. His name was Patrice Lumumba.  To me, he was the promise and fullness of African freedom.

Lumumba was a magnificent African man who understood the struggles of his people. He lived and died for freedom from domination and total liberation from the clutches of colonialism and imperial hegemony. This young African leader was by far the only hope that Congo had at that epoch of their history, and truthfully so, he personified the one thing all revolutionaries have in common – the spirit of struggle coupled with deep empathy. 

A revolution is only considered successful when it’s borne out of love for the masses of the people and not hatred for others. The theory and practice of revolution dictates that the revolutionary is in touch with the sufferings and cries of the people. Lumumba was the embodiment and archetype of this dictation.

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Few are the men who will choose the path of suffering and death for the people. Many traded their lives for vain glory and the riches and wealth of the good earth, thereby living a life dedicated to the mundane pursuits of the human being. Lumumba could have been one of them. He was a man educated and cultured, and he was suited for those positions that the colonial masters offered the natives, to further their own evil agendas. But our hero was not one who would settle for such trivial gains at the expense of his people’s suffering and indignity. What made him stand out from the galaxy of revolutionaries and freedom fighters was his mission of restoring not only the material wealth of the Congolese people, but also his quest to reinvent the basic human dignity which got lost in the wake of the inhumane domination of the colonialist.

Here is a man who gave up his own liberty for the recognition of the liberty and freedom of others. Early on in his struggle, he showed with his actions that he was ready to die, if need be, so that freedom will define the landscape of a land once known for its free people and great empires. He was close to the hearts of his people for the simple reason that he took upon himself to suffer, which is the history of that nation. 

Since the day the white man set foot upon Congo, it has known nothing but immeasurable suffering. Its history is woven in suffering and subjugation. The Congo was on the search for its saviour, at a time when most of her sons and daughters either sold out to the oppressor or are threatened into silence and resigned to acceptance. It was at such a time that Lumumba stood on the stage and proclaimed his message. He was a politician of liberation and with his heralding the Congo had finally found its saviour and she was on the path to ultimate freedom.

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Lumumba was not only a son of his land but a child of the African continent as a whole. He didn’t see his struggle as one restricted by the borders that mark his land. He was a pan-Africanist who understood the necessity of linking his land’s liberation with the ultimate liberation of the entire African land.  In a speech he gave at a conference he organised for African countries to further the cause of African liberation, he said:

“For my government, for all of us Congolese, your presence here at this moment is living proof of African reality, the reality that our enemies have always disallowed. But you know that this reality is stubborn and that Africa is hale and hearty. It refuses to die… We all know and the whole world knows that Algeria is not French, that Angola is not Portuguese, that Kenya is not British, that Ruanda-Urundi is not Belgian…. We know what the West is aiming at. Yesterday they split us up on the level of tribes and clans. Today, when Africa is steadfastly liberating itself, they want to divide us on the level of states. In Africa they seek to set up opposing blocs, satellite states and then, on that basis, to start a ‘cold war’, to widen the split and to perpetuate their trusteeship. But I know that Africa wants to be united and that it will not give way to these machinations….”

And he was one of those who sincerely agitated for African unity, which was the great dream of all genuine African leaders. Lest we forget, this was the same man who signed an agreement with Nkrumah to unite Ghana and the Congo, which was to be a forerunner to the unity of the entire African continent. And according to the renowned historian Dr John Henrik Clarke, Lumumba’s hero was Nkrumah who was the ideological and theoretic powerhouse of the concept of African unity. And the model state for him was Ghana, which at that time was the shining beacon of a liberated and fast developing nation emerging from the clutches of hegemony.

But for us to understand the whole life and struggle of this man, we must, needs be, revisit his own vision and through that understand his whole existence. For it won’t be a mistake to conclude that his whole earthly existence was marked by a constant struggle in suffering. In a letter he wrote to his wife in the last weeks of his life, while in prison he stated:

“Throughout my struggle for the independence of our country I have never doubted the victory of our sacred cause, to which I and my comrades have dedicated all our lives. But the only thing which we wanted for our country is the right to a worthy life, to dignity without pretence, to independence without restrictions. This was never the desire of the Belgian colonialists and their Western allies, who received, direct or indirect, open or concealed, support from some highly placed officials of the United Nations, the body upon which we placed all our hope when we appealed to it for help. They seduced some of our compatriots, bought others and did everything to distort the truth and smear our independence. 

What I can say is this—alive or dead, free or in jail—it is not a question of me personally. The main thing is the Congo, our unhappy people, whose independence is being trampled upon. That is why they have shut us away in prison and why they keep us far away from the people. But my faith remains indestructible. I know and feel deep in my heart that sooner or later my people will rid themselves of their internal and external enemies, that they will rise up as one in order to say ‘No’ to colonialism, to brazen, dying colonialism, in order to win their dignity in a clean land.”

In these words, he summed up his entire vision. No complexities, which riddled some of his contemporaries in their struggle to harmonise ideology with practice. And it was commitments to these beliefs that brought him martyrdom. A revolutionary is considered a dangerous personality when he becomes an impending threat to the system he fights, and judging by those standards, Lumumba have become the leader of a breed of revolutionaries that threatened the entire system of colonialism. Seeing this young man rising with such power the Belgians decided he must go.

Using his own countrymen, the great Lumumba was brought down. But even those days when he was humiliated and dragged through the streets, he stood resolute and defiant, ever so proud and unflinching in his belief of an independent Congo. Herein is a man humiliated for what he believe was right and it didn’t stop with that, he was finally assassinated, his persecutors hoping to silence him forever, but they were wrong. Like he prophesied the writing of a glorious history of the African continent one day, we are writing these words to glorify his spirit. It’s proven beyond doubt that the greatness of Lumumba lies in his defiance to the point of death. And for that he inspired the zeal and zest of revolutionary fervor in a generation of not only African youths, but all struggling people the world over. 

We might not agree with everything he said and did. Like any other human being he was prone to the fallibility of human existence. But it is only true that his struggle, sacrifice and effort to bring about dignity to his people and by extension all African people overshadowed his errors and mistakes. His life was lived in the realm of purpose and meaning and seeing him through that prism, he become an infallible-like creature. And finally what he meant to us all in death  – for he was more potent in death, I would say, than he was in life itself – is I believe beautifully summarised by Dr  Clarke in a touching and deeply moving article written shortly after Lumumba’s assassination:

“In the killing of Lumumba, white neo-colonialists and their black African puppets frustrated the southward spread of independence movements. Lumumba had pledged to give assistance to the African nations to the east and the south of the Congo who are still struggling to attain independence, particularly Angola. Lumumba was a true son of Africa, and in his short unhappy lifetime he was accepted as belonging to all of Africa, not just the Congo.

The important point in the Lumumba story, briefly related, is this: He proved that legitimacy of a postcolonial regime in Africa, relates mainly to its legal mandate; but even more, legitimacy relates to the regime’s credentials as a representative of a genuine nationalism fighting against the intrigues of new-colonialism. This is why Lumumba was and is still being extolled this “best son of Africa,” this “Lincoln of the Congo,” this “Black Messiah,” whose struggle was made noble by his unswerving demand for centralism against all forms of Balkanisation and rendered heroic by his unyielding resistance to the forces of neo-colonialism which finally killed his body, but not his spirit. This man who now emerges as a strange combination of statesman, sage, and martyr, wrote his name on the scroll of African history during his short and unhappy lifetime.”


With Alieu A Bah (Immortal X)


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