Congo eagerly ended a more than one decade break in relations with its old colonial ruler Saturday, welcoming Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt on the first visit by a Belgian leader since end of the the Cold War. At the same time, Congolese Prime Minister Joseph Kabila and his Ugandan counterpart Yoweri Museveni will meet in Tanzania on Wednesday for the first time to talk about the peace process in the Congo, which has been wracked by a regional war involving six countries–including Uganda–since 1998.
It’s a fitting moment for reflection, coming nearly forty-one years to the day after the Congo’s independence from Belgium. It’s also 76 years after the birth of Patrice Lumumba, the first Prime Minister of the Congo.
“Lumumba,” the new movie by Haitian-born film maker Raoul Peck, tells the story of Patrice Lumumba, who rose to power in 1960 as a leader the Congo’s independence movement and was assassinated just over six months later in January 1961.
Lumumba’s pan-Africanism and his vision of a united Congo gained him many enemies. Both Belgium and the United States actively sought to have Lumumba overthrown or killed. Belgium was determined to maintain control over its former colony, while the United States sought to protect its access to the Congo’s vast resources. The two countries turned to an ambitious young Colonel named Mobutu Sese Seko, who helped betray Lumumba and was implicated in his assassination.
Mobutu went on to rule the Congo with U.S. support for more than thirty years before he was ousted in 1997, after stealing billions from his country people.
The legacy of Lumumba’s assassination in the Congo, potentially one of the richest countries in Africa, is especially bitter. Six foreign armies are now fighting in the Congo and an estimated 2 million people have died from fighting, disease and starvation since Rwanda and Burundi invaded the Congo in 1998. Patrice Lumumba’s dream for the future of the Congo is today a walking nightmare.
These words are from the last letters Patrice Lumumba wrote, a note to his wife: “All during the length of my fight for the independence of my country, I have never doubted for a single instant the final triumph of the sacred cause to which my companions and myself have consecrated our lives.”
“We are not alone. Africa, Asia, and free and liberated people from every corner of the world will always be found at the side of the Congolese”
“History will one day have its say, but it will not be the history that Brussels, Paris, Washington or the United Nations will teach, but that which they will teach in the countries emancipated from colonialism and its puppets. Africa will write its own history, and it will be, to the north and to the south of the Sahara, a history of glory and dignity.”
When “Lumumba” premiered last week in New York at the Human Rights Watch International Film Festival I had a chance to speak to Raoul Peck. We sat upstairs as the film played in the theater below us.
- Raoul Peck, director of “Lumumba”