Born: July 2, 1925 in Onalua, Belgian Congo (now the Democratic Republic of the
Patrice Émery Lumumba was an African nationalist leader who became the first democratically elected Prime Minister of the Republic of the Congo after he helped win its independence from Belgium in June 1960. Just twelve weeks later, he was deposed in a coup, primarily because of his opposition to Belgian-backed secession of the mineral-rich Katanga province.
In 1958, Lumumba helped launch the Congolese National Movement (MNC), the first nationwide Congolese political party. In December he attended the first All-African People’s Conference in Accra, Ghana. The Belgian government responded to the growing nationalist sentiment by announcing a program intended to lead to the Congo’s independence. However, Congolese nationalists boycotted the elections, suspecting the offer was a scheme to install puppets before independence. The Belgian authorities responded with repression, and Lumumba was imprisoned on a charge of inciting to riot.
Changing tactics, the MNC entered the elections, winning a sweeping victory. It refused to participate in a Round Table Conference convened in Brussels without Lumumba, who was then released from prison. Despite ongoing Belgian maneuvering, Lumumba formed the Republic of the Congo’s first government on June 23, 1960.
A few days later, some army units rebelled, followed by Moise Tshombe’s proclamation that the mineral-rich province of Katanga was seceding from the Congo. Tshombe’s regime was supported by Belgian troops who were ostensibly sent to protect Belgian nationals.
The member of a relatively small ethnic group, Lumumba was surrounded by enemies both internally and abroad. The Congo’s proximity to white-dominated southern Africa combined with the Soviet Union’s support for Lumumba drew the wrath of white capitalist powers from South Africa to the United States.
After Lumumba was removed from power, he was imprisoned and brutally beaten and tortured before being executed by firing squad just three days before the inauguration of President John F. Kennedy. (There was reportedly fear within the CIA that Kennedy would support Lumumba.) The United Nations, which he had asked to come to the Congo, did not intervene to save him. The governments of Belgium, the United States and Great Britain all played a role in Lumumba’s termination, according to various accounts.
In 1965, Latin American revolutionary Che Guevara arrived in the Congo to continue the fight for liberation. However, he was rebuffed by a coalition of South African mercenaries, Cuban exiles and the CIA. Today, the Congo remains a land of child soldiers, corrupt police and weary miners who extract precious metals that end up in smart phones and computers around the world.