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Young & Kent: International Relations since 1945 2e

Patrice Emery Lumumba

Patrice Emery Lumumba (1925-1960), a Batetela, was born on 2 July 1925 in the Sunkuru district of Kasai province of the Belgian Congo. He was educated at a missionary school and worked in Stanleyville (Kisangani) for eleven years as a postal clerk. In 1956 Lumumba was arrested on charges of embezzlement and imprisoned for a year. On his release he moved to Leoopoldville and worked in a brewery, rising to become a sales manager. In 1958 Lumumba helped found the Mouvement National Congolais (MNC) advocating a unified, independent Congo by peaceful means. After serious riots in January 1959 Belgium announced local elections for December of that year. Differences within the MNC following the publication of principles favouring nationalised industries and a health service led to a schism in July 1959 and the emergence of what became the Kalonji wing of the MNC.  In October1959 a conference in Stanleyville agreed to launch a campaign of positive action for the immediate liberation of the Congo and Lumumba was arrested and imprisoned. The local elections enabled the MNC to be represented at a Round Table Conference on independence in January 1960. The Belgians then released Lumumba and independence was fixed for June 1960 with national elections in May. On 23 June the MNC, as the largest single party after the elections, formed the first government with Lumumba as Prime Minister and Joseph Kasavubu as President. Lumumba’s rule was marked by political disruption and violence when an army mutiny was followed by the province of Katanga, under Moise Tshombe, declaring independence – with unofficial Belgian support – on 11 July. After the despatch of Belgian forces Lumumba appealed to the UN for aid and then to help expel Belgian troops and assist the government to restore control in the Congo. When the UN proved reluctant to implement its resolutions and unable to get the removal of Belgian troops, Lumumba appealed to the Soviet Union for aid. The West was already alarmed by the prospect of radical policies damaging European interests in Africa when the Cold War was at its height. The CIA and the US government thus began considering plans for the elimination of Lumumba. In September 1960, the Prime Minister was dismissed by his political rival Kasavubu, an act of dubious legality. In retaliation, Lumumbu dismissed Kasavubu from the presidency, and while the constitutional arguments raged and the administration was paralysed, on 14 September Colonel Joseph Mobutu replaced the elected government by a college of commissioners. With Kasavubu’s support the commissioners were empowered to administer the country until the end of the year. Lumumba was arrested on 15 September 1960 and placed under house arrest where he was protected by UN troops. As relations between Mobutu and the UN deteriorated Lumumba escaped and sought to join his supporters in Stanleyville. The Congolese leader was recaptured in Kasai and returned to Leopoldville on 1 December. Amidst bitter controversy at the UN over the treatment of an elected African leader Lumumba was transferred to Katanga where he was beaten and murdered by the leading supporters of Tshombe, assisted by the Belgian security forces. Aged only 35 his death avoided the prospect of radical policies in the Congo and helped preserve western interest in the short-term at the expense of the long term stability of the country.