The Guardian/UK, July 1, 2010
“Much that is incredible, extravagant, ambiguous and unjust has been written about Patrice Lumumba”, his friend Thomas Kanza once noted. He was right. Congo’s first prime minister, a hero of independence 50 years ago this week, was overthrown and murdered less that a year after taking office. Of all the deaths in that country’s terrible history, Lumumba’s is the best remembered: a man whose killing doomed hopes of African independence. It is too easy to think that, had he lived, the Congo would have thrived. Lumumba was not a saint and the challenge of running a vast country whose population had been denied basic education by Belgian rulers interested only in exploiting its wealth would have sunk any government. But the Congo, which became Zaire, would have been spared the autocracyof President Mobutu and perhaps the hideous war that followed his death. This week the Belgian king arrived in Kinshasa to mark Congo’s half century as an independent state, a peculiar re-enactment of his predecessor’s role granting independence in 1960. Then, Lumumba, denied a formal place at the ceremony, denounced colonial rule. Belgium conspired to overthrow him; so did the United States. No one knows who ordered his death, only that Belgian troops were involved in it. Now Lumumba’s sons say they want justice. More than that, though, DRC needs peace and prosperity, rather than the continued abuses of its latest discredited government. That would be the best tribute to its lost leader.