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Lumumba’s tooth returns home, 61 years after murder!

BY: Brig Gen Dan Frimpong (Rtd)
Patrice Lumumba and his tooth
Patrice Lumumba and his tooth

On Monday, June 20, 2022, Belgium handed over a casket containing a gold-crowned tooth of Congo’s first Prime Minister (PM) Patrice Lumumba to his family in Brussels, 61 years after his murder.

At the ceremony, Belgian Prime Minister Alexander de Croo said “this is a painful and disagreeable truth, but must be spoken… A man was murdered for his political convictions, his words, his ideals!”

As I listened to the daughter of PM Lumumba, Juliana Lumumba, narrate on BBC how her father was tortured, killed and dissolved in acid, according to Belgian police commissioner, Soete, who took part in the act, my mind went back to Adam Hoschild’s 1999 book, “King Leopold’s Ghost: A story of Greed, Terror, and Heroism in colonial Africa.”

On Soete, Juliana Lumumba asked “what amount of hatred must you have to do that?”

Colonial history

The history of colonial rule in Africa by Europe is replete with unimaginable atrocities/crimes committed against Africans by the colonialists who claimed they were on a mission to civilise primitive Africans.

However, on a scale of one to 10 for cruel, grotesque savagery of man’s inhumanity to man, with 10 being the highest, perhaps Belgium could easily score 10, the way it treated the Congolese. Congolese limbs were hacked off simply for not meeting unreasonable rubber production targets given them by Belgian colonialists.

Probably the icing on the cake for Belgium was the glee with which it murdered Congo’s first Prime Minister, Patrice Lumumba, and police commissioner Soete’s gruesome description of the act in 2000.

Soete said he kept Lumumba’s tooth as a “hunting-trophy,” after supervising the dissolution of the body in acid.

So, who is/was Patrice Lumumba? Did he have any connection with Ghana?

Lumumba

According to Congolese Professor of Political Science/History in the US Prof. Georges Nsongola-Ntalaja on BBC during the week, Patrice Lumumba was a nationalist/Pan-Africanist firebrand of a leader who took after the style of his mentor, Osagyefo Dr Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana.

Obviously, colonialists preferred docile African leaders they could manipulate for resource exploitation, and not independent Pan-African thinkers who loved their country and people.

In his book, “The Challenge of the Congo”, Osagyefo Dr Kwame Nkrumah states that on May 10 1960, the Belgian senate passed “la loi fondamentale sur les structures de Congo.”

This provided the constitution on the Congo. There was to be a Head of State and ‘government directed by a prime minister’, and a Parliament consisting of a Chamber of Representatives and a Senate.

The Belgian Congo, then described by John Conrad as “the Heart of Darkness,” gained independence rather very hurriedly from Belgium on June 30, 1960. At independence, it had 17 university graduates with no doctors, no engineers and no lawyers!

Confusion seeds

The May 1960 elections produced no clear winner. Therefore, a triumvirate of the leaders of the three main parties was created.

Thirty-four-year-old Patrice Lumumba became the Prime Minister, Joseph Kasavubu, the President, and Moise Tsombe’s party was compensated with three ministerial portfolios.

Following grave political differences between the three, inter-ethnic fighting broke out on July 2, 1960, a day after independence. On July 5, 1960, the new Congolese Army mutinied as a result of Belgium’s refusal to improve service conditions for the troops.

PM Lumuba refused Belgium’s request to use Belgian troops in Congo to restore law and order. He then sacked the Belgian commander and promoted the senior-most Congolese soldier, Warrant Officer Victor Lindula to Maj-Gen. and Sgt Mobutu as Chief-of-Staff with rank of a Colonel.

Arguably, DRC is the world’s richest country in minerals including gold/diamond/coltan/columbite, water, and forests as well as biodiversity in flora and fauna.

Belgium reacted by a unilateral military intervention and assisted the mineral rich Katanga province to secede under the leadership of Moise Tsombe.

That marked the beginning of the confusion in DRC which continues today.

On July 12, 1960, both the PM and President requested the UN to assist Congo to restore internal security. Security Council Resolution 132 of July 13/14, 1960 was adopted.

The result was the establishment of the UN Operations in the Congo (ONUC).

Ghana’s involvement

The first two contingents to arrive in the Congo within 48 hours of Resolution 132 were Ghana and Tunisia. Indeed, even before Resolution 132, President Nkrumah/Ghana had a few days earlier deployed a platoon.

In what became known as the Port Francqui Massacre on April 28, 1961, 43 Ghanaian peacekeepers and their British officers serving with the United Nations Operations in Congo (ONUC) were cold-bloodedly murdered by the forces of Mobutu in Port Francqui, now Ilebo in the Kasai Province of the modern-day Democratic Republic of Congo(DRC). Later, it had been renamed Zaire.

From ONUC’s inception to its end, Ghana contributed 8800 of the 19,928 troops representing 44 per cent of the total troops committed. Of the 250 fatalities, 45 Ghanaians including four British officers lost their lives.

Discussion

Chiama Okafor restates what Adam Hoschild stated earlier in his book King Leopold’s Ghost that, about 10 million Congolese died of starvation in the first 23 years of King Leopold’s rule starting in 1885.

While condemning King Leopold/Belgian’s reprehensible role in making the Congo its slaughter house, and laying the foundation for a weak independent-state in 1960, how many post-independent African leaders have not been equally cruel to their people, either directly or indirectly.

While some African leaders glaringly stand out on the cruelty table for their callous/uncaring handling of their countrymen/women, others seemingly less invidious leaders far and near, are no better than King Leopold. Africa’s salvation lies in Nkrumah’s words “Africa must unite!

Professor Nsongola-Ntalaja on BBC during the week thanked Ghana and Egypt for the support Osagyefo Dr Kwame Nkrumah and President Nasser gave Lumumba in his short life, truncated at 34, and to his family after his death.

As Prime Minister Lumumba’s son Roland said, he hoped the return of his father’s tooth would help “finish their mourning” after 61 years, and bring closure and a new dawn to the DRC’s sad history.

May the souls of PM Lumumba, and the 43 Ghanaian soldiers who were cold-bloodedly murdered in 1961 at Port Francqui, and all Congolese who were killed by the Belgian colonialists rest in peace!

Leadership, lead! Fellow Ghanaians, Wake Up!

The writer is former CEO, African Peace Support Trainers Association, Nairobi, Kenya & Council Chairman, Family Health University College, Accra. E-mail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.