On the 52nd anniversary of the vicious assassination of Patrice Lumumba, Ama Biney reflects on both the current state of the DRC and Africa, arguing that the Congo is not only a ‘world problem’ but remains critical to the future unity of Africa due to its resources and geo-strategic location
My dear Patrice,
On the 52nd anniversary of your brutal assassination on 17 January 1961, your people of 60 million have continued to see no peace, justice, nor liberation. The people have continued to profusely bleed to death. Rape has become a weapon of war against thousands of Congolese women. Between August 1998 and April 2007, up to six million Congolese have died through unspeakable atrocities, disease, starvation and malnutrition. This figure is almost the same number as the Jews who died in the Holocaust, which leads one to ask: is it because they are black skinned Africans that global humanity responds with paralysis and indifference? If they had been Europeans, would the killings have been averted or lessened? Surely the unfolding catastrophe in the Congo is of similar proportions to that of the Cambodian and Rwanda genocides, the Vietnam War, the wars in Europe known as the First World War, Second World War and the Balkans war? If you were alive today what would you say to the Congolese women who have been gang raped by fellow Congolese? How would you comfort the children left orphaned by the multitude of vicious male warlords seeking self-aggrandisement and personal riches from the wealth of the Congo? What would you say to the hundreds of street children, uneducated and unemployed youths who were enticed into the rebel armies to commit horrific crimes against fellow Congolese? How is it possible that after 50 odd years of so-called independence the life expectancy of a Congolese woman is 47 years and that of a Congolese man is 42 years?
CONGO’S RICHES VITAL TO WESTERN LIFESTYLES
Che Guevara was correct when he wrote in his diary in 1965 that ‘the Congo problem was a world problem.’  Furthermore, Che could also see that ‘Victory [in the Congo"> would have repercussions throughout the continent, as would defeat’.  Indeed the Congo remains a ‘world problem’ when it continues to provide 64 percent of the world’s reserves of coltan used in cellular phones, laptops, pacemakers, video cameras, jet engines, prosthetic devices, rockets, hearing aids, amongst other products.  Most of these products are only affordable in the developed world, yet the raw material is to be located in the Congo. This reinforces the reality that Africans produce what they do not consume and consume what they do not produce. To put it differently, the consumer lifestyles of most Westerners is dependent on the cheap exploitation of Africans and African wealth whilst most Africans remain impoverished due to the structural linkages of this relationship. Much has not changed since the era of colonialism. In the 19th century, the Congolese were being forced by the Belgians in savage conditions to produce quotas of rubber from which up to 10 million Congolese died and many lost their limbs for failure to meet production quotas. Now the pillage, plunder and looting of coltan by Congolese rebel groups with their backers in Rwanda, Uganda, US, Britain and various Western multi-national companies profit enormously from this wealth at the expense of the Congolese people who see little of this wealth invested in their country. As individuals upgrade their cellular phones as a matter of ‘natural’ entitlement, it seems ‘blood diamonds’ now co-exist with ‘blood coltan.’
Your close colleague Kwame Nkrumah wrote of the challenge of the Congo. You and I know that many of those challenges remain today in new and complex permutations; the challenge to create and sustain a democratic centralised or federalised government in which all of Congo’s 200 ethnic groups have a voice in governance; that the phenomenal economic resources of the Congo primarily meet the needs of the Congolese masses instead of being siphoned out of the country to meet the needs of outside interests; that the imperialists are fully aware of the fact that the Congo – the size of Western Europe - borders nine African countries and if one controls the Congo, one controls Africa. The balkanisation, disunity and secession of Africa are tragically epitomised in the Congo, which Nkrumah emphatically cautioned against.
On 8 August 1960 Nkrumah declared to the Ghana National Assembly: ‘If we allow the independence of the Congo to be compromised in any way by the imperialist and capitalist forces, we shall expose the sovereignty and independence of all Africa to grave risk. The struggle of the Congo is therefore our struggle. It is incumbent on us to take our stand by our brothers in the Congo in the full knowledge that only Africa can fight for its destiny.’  Nkrumah’s words remain as relevant in 1960 as they are today. Today one asks: why is it that one cannot find one African leader who echoes Nkrumah’s words and deeds in relation to the Congo? The reality is that not only is a revolutionary collective leadership and vision wholly lacking in Africa but continental unification is difficult to realise when Zimbabwe, Angola, Uganda, Burundi and Rwanda have all supported one or other warring rebel group in the Congo or the Congolese government for their own national interests alongside outside interests that have sought to benefit from the continued pillage and plunder of Congo’s enormous mineral wealth. It is also difficult to achieve when the obsequious African petty bourgeois comprador class continue to exist on hand-outs from their former colonial masters and are entrapped in complex bilateral and multilateral arrangements that have further subordinated Africa to the global neo-liberal capitalist economy.
CONVULSING IN YOUR GRAVES?
On 8 August 1960 you entered into a secret agreement with Nkrumah affirming your joint ‘determination to work in the closest possible association with the other Independent African States for the establishment of a Union of African States, with a view to liberating the whole continent of Africa from colonialism and imperialism.’  Tragically the agreement was never implemented due to the breakdown of your government and your murder at the hands of lackeys of neo-colonialism and imperialist forces represented by the Belgians and Americans.  You and Nkrumah both envisioned that the Independent African States would establish a ‘Combined High Command of military forces to bring about a speedy withdrawal of foreign troops from the Congo’.  Alas this was not to happen. Since the Congo debacle, perhaps you and Nkrumah are convulsing in your graves at what is happening not only in the Congo but over much of Africa as neo-colonialism has entrenched itself deeper into the pores and soil of Africa as well as the psyche of some Africans. Nkrumah’s African High Command has become parodied in the Africa Command or AFRICOM led by the United States of Aggression – America, established by former President George Bush, Jr. It is now led by Barack Obama who hails from a Kenyan father and American mother and now unreservedly services US imperialist interests under the figleaf of AFRICOM. Under the euphemistic buzzwords such as ‘mutual security’, ‘cooperation’, ‘piracy’ in Somalia, ‘joint military training exercises’, the fight against the ‘Global War on Terrorism’, the armies of myriad neo-colonial African governments have engaged in such training exercises across the continent under the auspices of AFRICOM and those of their former colonial masters. AFRICOM has a military outpost - Camp Lemonier in Djibouti, in the Horn of Africa with more than 2000 American troops stationed there.
Since your savage assassination new gas and oil reserves have been found in several African countries and will only lead to further imperialist and neo-colonial intrigues in Africa, if Africa does not unite to use these resources for her people. In addition, the rise of Boko Haram in Nigeria, Al-Shabaab in Somalia and the alliance of Islamists in Mali with Al-Qaeda in the Maghreb portend the further militarisation and disunity of our continent as pretexts for intervention by outsiders bearing Trojan gifts. The savage murder of Colonel Muammar Gaddafi on 20 October 2011 is not only a profoundly retrogressive step for the oil-rich nation of Libya but the entire continent as the African Union was carelessly and arrogantly sidestepped by NATO, France and Britain in their pretext of ‘Responsibility to Protect’ (R2P) doctrine in which the plight of dark-skinned Libyans and African migrants became targets for torture and detention in the unfolding mayhem. These Africans were not protected by the NATO forces. Such an ostensible humanitarian doctrine in R2P is simply the 21st century version of the 19th century’s ‘white man’s burden’ which conceals the motives of empire builders. The mistreatment of dark-skinned Libyans and African migrants in Libya undermines Pan-African unity; it is an issue belying national unity in places such as Mauritania and Sudan when Arabs oppress Africans.
Since your assassination, the Congolese people have not suffered alone in this world. Conflicts elsewhere on the African continent in Darfur, the Horn of Africa, Liberia, Burundi, Sierra Leone, and elsewhere; the war in the Balkans; the first Iraq war; the invasion of Afghanistan in October 2001 followed by the grotesque invasion of Iraq in March 2003, despite international opposition to the warmongering governments of Britain and America; the abuses in Abu Ghraib; rendition by British and American governments all in the name of the Global War against Terror that has now replaced the Cold War of your era; alongside hundreds of detainees languishing at the US military camp at Guantanamo in Cuba. In short, many have died, been wrongly imprisoned and tortured. In addition, there has been the slow genocide inflicted on the people of Gaza in the Israeli occupation of Palestinian land, whereby the declining infrastructure is negatively impacting on the lives of the Palestinian people and the food crisis is adversely affecting the old, children and pregnant women.
Meanwhile, the anniversary of your assassination coincides with 53 years of the US vicious blockade against the small island of Cuba, imposed in October 1960. Yet, on 13 November 2012, of the 193 member states of the UN General Assembly, 188 voted unanimously to support the ending of the blockade. Three countries voted against the uplifting of the embargo: the US, Israel and Palau and therefore the embargo remains place. If democracy means rule of the majority where is the democratic fairness and justice in this instance? Put differently, why is it that America can have normal trade relations with ‘communist’ China and not with communist Cuba?
THE THREAT OF A GOOD EXAMPLE CONTINUES
You and Nkrumah were profoundly aware that on account of its size, geo-strategic position, and vast economic resources, the Congo was critical to the quest for Pan-African unity. However, the imperialists could not tolerate a single leader in the developing world utilizing the resources of their country in the interests of their people. In your era one was dubbed a communist for doing this or even thinking of doing such a thing. The consequence of devoting one’s national resources for a people orientated development was that leaders like yourself, Nkrumah, Cabral, Pierre Mulele, Sankara, Machel and many others in our rich history had to be eliminated and often with the collaboration of what Malcolm X aptly called ‘house Negroes’ or ‘Uncle Toms’ of the day. The threat of a good example continues to imperil imperialism, capitalism and current day neoliberalism, for theirs is a unipolar world order in which alternative political and economic systems cannot be tolerated for fear that such an example will inspire others.
That is why Fanmi Lavalas , the popular political party of the Haitian majority remains banned in Haiti; why former, twice democratically elected Haitian President Jean Bertrand Aristide was atrociously vilified and presented as ‘a cross between Ayatollah and Fidel’  and was exiled from his native land for seven years until March 2012. The ‘assault on democracy in Haiti’  has been orchestrated by the Haitian ruling elite and their murderous accomplices in the US, Canada and France. Similar to the Palestinians who elected Hamas in January 2006, Fanmi Lavalas should not - in the eyes of the West - have won landslide victories at all levels of government in 1990 and 2000. Hence, the attempts to crush the genuine democratic will of the Haitian people and their organisations continues in the vicious operations of paramilitary forces as a cruel punishment of the Haitian people by neo-colonial and imperialist backed forces. It is not the Haitian people who are not ready for genuine democracy but the Haitian neo-colonial elite and their Western collaborators.
ARE MESSIAHS PART OF THE PROBLEM?
In the vortex of the conflict in the Congo that has enmeshed the region and several African leaders with rapacious self-interest, there are various bogus messiahs claiming to lead the Congolese to the promised land. Perhaps this has been a problem not only of the Congo but the post-colonial African condition: the people are falsely led to believe they need a magic man (rarely a ‘magic woman’), a messiah to deliver them from oppression. We look for messiahs only to end up in a new form of dictatorship, cult of personality which engenders a wretched patriarchal phallocratic dispensation. A democracy that is not genuinely inclusive of women, youth, all ethnic groups and political opinions has been a pitfall of which our failure to heed Fanon’s prescience has cost us dearly. Similarly a failure to address the neo-colonial and patriarchal edifices in place since physical decolonization occurred, has only given rise to new systems of domination and repression, including that of gender oppression. Consequently, the diverse voices of Congolese women must be heard and also their silences. They must be at the forefront of peace-building and reconstructing a new Congo in every sphere of the society.
It is time for the people to work and organise for themselves; define their interests, needs and programmes on a collectivist principle and approach as opposed to the fixation with leaders and individuals. In addition to this, the reality is that many of our people have yet to emancipate themselves from mental slavery and a psychosis of dependency in which there is a desire for outsiders to come and ‘save’ us. To reiterate Nkrumah: ‘only Africa can fight for its destiny.’ It is only the Congolese people who can save themselves.
A FREE CONGO AND FREE AFRICA
As the first Prime Minister of the Congo, a committed Congolese patriot and Pan-Africanist, in your short life you represented a new Congolese consciousness, with the audacity to envision a new Congo as part of a united and genuinely free Africa. I take you back to your independence speech of 30 June 1960 in which you said ‘The Congo’s independence marks a decisive step towards the liberation of the entire African continent’ – to which you received a mighty applause. You were prepared to organise for that unity but were not given the chance due to larger neo-colonial and imperialist forces. You also spoke truth to the powerful and powerless in that audacious address before the King of Belgium. In the eyes of the king you were simply one uppity nigger. In the eyes of the Belgians that speech sealed your assassination and hence their complicity in your murder. Yet, your name lives on in the revolutionary pantheon of freedom fighters from all over the world, alongside Toussaint L’Ouverture, Nanny, Sojourner Truth, Haydée Santamaria, Nzinga, Nehanda, Víctor Lidio Jara Martínez, Ganga Zumba, Luisa Mahin, Che Guevara, Simón Bolivar, Frank Pais, Gasper Yanga, Paul Bogle, Hatuey, Mary Muthoni Wanjiru, and many others that would fill the pages of this letter to you.
Some argue that gone is the era of ideology that steeped your generation. Indeed what noble ideology drives the rebel groups in the Congo? There is none other than naked greed, egotism, violence, ruthless power and vengeance. No nation nor continent can be built on such despicable and destructive ‘values’.
CONGO IS VITAL TO SAVING THE PLANET
Some may also believe that the Pan-African sentiment based on what affected one African affected all Africans and people of African descent has also vanished. Yet, I do not believe this. Surely the struggle in the Congo for peace, social and economic justice must be mobilised as a global movement among all Africans, people of African descent and peace loving people, in a similar way the moral repugnance of apartheid and the crimes it wreaked on the lives of black South Africans in South Africa spawned the global anti-apartheid movement? We cannot separate the conflict in the Congo from world peace when the resources of that land provides the pillar of Western lifestyles; when few people realise that the Congo possesses the second largest rainforest in the world, after the Amazon rainforest and it is therefore vital to global collective efforts to save the planet from its continuing destructive path of wanton capitalist exploitation. As Jeannette Winterson succinctly expressed in The New York Times, on 17 September 2009: ‘Nuclear, ecological, chemical, economic – our arsenal of Death by Stupidity is impressive for a species as smart as Homo sapiens.’
You continue to inspire a new generation, for there are genuine peace loving Congolese, Pan-Africanists and internationalists who are quietly working around the globe for peace and social justice for the people of the Congo. Similarly, in the land of your birth there are a plethora of political parties that claim your spiritual and political legacy. It is for the people to decide which of them genuinely represent your true legacy.
THE WORK TO BE DONE
The work to be done in terms of building peace, reconciliation, socio-economic development that benefits women, the poor, young people, child soldiers, the physically mutilated, the disabled, those infected with HIV/AIDS as a consequence of rape, healing the physical and mental wounds of trauma and war, is colossal. Integral to that work must be reparative justice and reconnecting people to an understanding of a wider continental history which has not always been soaked in blood, for as Marcus Garvey tells us, ‘We have a beautiful history, and we shall create another in the future that will astonish the world.’ You yourself once wrote, ‘history will one day have its say, but it will not be the history that is taught in Brussels … it will be a glorious and dignified history.’ We must look to the past, but as that other great Pan-Africanist, the late Tajudeen Abdul-Raheem, implored us: ‘Life must be understood backwards but lived forwards.’
And so, Patrice, on the 52nd year of your murder that deeply pains and causes one to reflect on the past and present in the Congo and Africa, I remember you as a human being and a political leader with a principled vision. Your values, dedication to the Congo and commitment to improvement in the lives of your people are part of your legacy that we must realise not only for the Congo but all Africans and human beings on this planet of ours. All that remains for me to say is: ‘a luta continua!’
1. Cited in The African Dream: the Diaries of the Revolutionary War in the Congo by Ernesto ‘Che’ Guevara, New York: 2000, p. 86.
3. See http://friendsofthecongo.org/pdf/coltan_facts.pdf
4. Cited in Revolutionary Path by K. Nkrumah, 1973, p.147-148
5. Ibid, p. 148.
6. Ibid, p. 149.
7. Ibid, p. 149.
8. See Damming the Flood Haiti and the Politics of Containment by P. Hallward, 2007, p. 35.
9. See Paramilitarism and the Assault on Democracy in Haiti by J. Sprague, 2012.
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* Ama Biney (Dr) is a scholar-activist and Acting Editor-in-Chief of Pambazuka News.