Patrice Émery Lumumba was a Congolese independence leader and the first democratically elected prime minister of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). He was killed 53 years ago on January 17, 1961 under circumstances that still remain unclear.
Lumumba, an iconic figure of the struggle against colonialism in Africa, was removed from power because he opposed the Belgian-backed secession of the mineral-rich Katanga province. His successor, Joseph-Desiré Mobutu, along with Mobutu's squad arrested Lumumba and executed him shortly after. His death was the culmination of a period of political turmoil in the country known as the Congo Crisis.
Congolese citizens and observers the world over paid tribute to his uncompromising leadership on the anniversary of his death:
— Rosebell Kagumire (@RosebellK) January 17, 2014
They cut his body to pieces and then they dumped it into an acid tank. 53 years later, they still cannot deal with their act.
His last letter to wife Pauline before he died was widely shared online. Community blog Quartier Libres republished the letter, in which Lumumba wrote:
Que mort, vivant, libre ou en prison sur ordre des colonialistes, ce n’est pas ma personne qui compte.
C’est le Congo, c’est notre pauvre peuple dont on a transformé l’indépendance en une cage [..] L’Afrique l’Asie, et les peuples libres et libérés de tous les coins du monde se trouveront toujours aux côtés de millions de congolais qui n’abandonneront la lutte que le jour où il n’y aura plus de colonisateurs et leurs mercenaires dans notre pays.
A mes enfants que je laisse, et que peut-être je ne reverrai plus, je veux qu’on dise que l’avenir du Congo est beau et qu’il attend d’eux, comme il attend de chaque Congolais, d’accomplir la tâche sacrée de la reconstruction de notre indépendance et de notre souveraineté, car sans dignité il n’y a pas de liberté, sans justice il n’y a pas de dignité, et sans indépendance il n’y a pas d’hommes libres.
What I can say is this: dead or alive, free or in jail, it is not about me personally.
It is about Congo, our unhappy people, whose independence is being trampled upon. […] We are not alone. Africa, Asia, the free peoples and the peoples fighting for their freedom in all corners of the world will always be side by side with the millions of Congolese who will not give up the struggle while there is even one colonialist or colonialist mercenary in our country.
To my sons, whom I am leaving and whom, perhaps, I shall not see again, I want to say that the future of Congo is splendid and that I expect from them, as from every Congolese, the fulfillment of the sacred task of restoring our independence and our sovereignty. Without dignity there is no freedom, without justice there is no dignity and without independence there are no free men.
In the magazine CeaseFire, Georges Nzongola-Ntalaja, a professor of African and Afro-American studies at the University of North Carolina, and Jonathan Jacobs, a writer and activist based in London, explained the importance of Lumumba's legacy:
According to unconfirmed reports, Walter Kansteiner – US Secretary of State for African Affairs under George W. Bush, between June 2001 and November 2003 – designed a plan for the division of Congo into four countries. The justification for such a Balkanisation would be that, in its present dimensions, the country is too large and ungovernable. […] In fact, this would facilitate access to resources, and make their transfer to outside markets easier. […] the reality is that their project for the recolonisation of Congo will always stumble against the determination of the Congolese people to defend their unity, their national patrimony, and the territorial integrity of their homeland. The legacy of Patrice Lumumba, Pierre Lulele, André Kisase Ngandu and so many other martyrs brings women, men and children to shout “No” to balkanisation and “Yes” to a “United Congo, a strong nation.”