This week’s open threads focused on folks who are considered either Nationalists or Revolutionaries. Today’s revolutionary is Patrice Lumumba.
Patrice Émery Lumumba (born Élias Okit’Asombo; July 2, 1925 – January 17, 1961) was a Congolese independence leader and the first democratically elected Prime Minister of the Republic of the Congo after he helped win its independence from Belgium in June 1960.
Within twelve weeks, Lumumba’s government was deposed in a coup during the Congo Crisis. The main reason why he was ousted from power was his opposition to Belgian-backed secession of the mineral-rich Katanga province.
He was subsequently imprisoned by state authorities under Joseph-Desiré Mobutu and executed by firing squad under the command of the secessionist Katangan authorities. The United Nations, which he had asked to come to the Congo, did not intervene to save him. Belgium, the United States (via the CIA), and the United Kingdom (via MI6) have all been implicated in Lumumba’s death.
Lumumba was born 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. 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’) and asombó (‘cursed or bewitched people who will die quickly’). 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 worked on editing and distributing party literature. After traveling on a three-week study tour in Belgium, he was arrested in 1955 on charges of embezzlement. His two-year sentence was commuted to twelve months after it was confirmed by Belgian lawyer Jules Chrome that Lumumba had returned the funds, and he was released in July 1956. After his release, he helped found the broad-based Mouvement national congolais (MNC) in 1958, later becoming the organization’s president. Lumumba and his team represented the MNC at the All-African Peoples’ Conference in Accra, Ghana, in December 1958. At this international conference, hosted by Pan-African President Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana, Lumumba further solidified his Pan-Africanist beliefs. Lumumba spoke Tetela, French, Lingala, Swahili, and Tshiluba.
In late October 1959, Lumumba, as leader of the organization, was arrested for inciting an anti-colonial riot in Stanleyville where thirty people were killed; he was sentenced to 69 months in prison. The trial’s start date of January 1960, was also the first day of a 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.
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