Fifty years ago today, Patrice Lumumba was tortured and gunned down in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The first democratically elected leader of the newly independent country, he was just 35 years old.
This heinous crime was a culmination of two inter-related assassination plots by American and Belgian governments, which used Congolese accomplices and a Belgian execution squad to carry out the deed.
Today Lumumba's country is "in a state of wreckage from which it has not yet recovered," living with the effects of war, sexual violence, corruption, poverty and disease. A country rich in natural resources (the richest country in the world in terms of natural resources?) its per-capita GDP is less than $200 per year (second poorest on Earth).
After Lumumba's election in 1960, the governments of Britain, France, the USA and Belgium immediately worked to get rid of him. Back in those days, anybody that threatened profits was a dangerous commie (sort of like today, if you're a watcher of FOX "News"). Lumumba's committment to using Congolese wealth for the benefit of Congolese was bad enough, but he also sought help from the USSR and that was definitely verboten.
The CIA decided on assassination (including sending poisoned toothpaste to do the job), but had to settle for helping "render" Lumumba to Belgian officers and Lumumba's Congolese enemies to finish him off in a hail of bullets, execution style (sending payments to all the key perpetrators as part of "Project Wizard") Belgian police officer Gerard Soete and his brother later dug up Lumumba's body and those of his compatriots, and dissolved them in sulfuric acid (saving a tooth as a souvenir).
This story is a story of impunity, after 50 years, although activists plan to file a civil suit alleging war crimes by a dozen former Belgian officials.
A Belgian parliamentary probe determined in 2002 that the government was "morally responsible" for Lumumba's death. Brussels officially apologized for its role in his death but refused to pay compensation to his family or to prosecute those involved.
(So much for all that high-minded European talk about international courts, huh? And I guess Obama isn't the only one who doesn't want to "look backward"...)
In the aftermath of Lumumba's murder, the United States government (and the governments of Belgium and France) helped prop up the corrupt dictatorship of Mobutu Sese Seko for more than three decades. Mobutu systematically drained the country of resources, stealing billions of dollars and acquiring mansions and yachts for himself; while killing tens of thousands of Congolese. Of course that didn't stop right wingers from lavishing praise: Ronald Reagan called Mobutu "a voice of good sense and goodwill". Mobutu was a good friend to right-wing wack job Pat Robertson -- in exchange for diamond and lumber concessions, no doubt. President Bush the Elder made Mobutu the first African head of state invited for a state visit.
Mobutu's overthrow led directly to "Africa's First World War" and the deaths of more than five million people. The country remains "one of the world's worst and most forsaken humanitarian crises."
After fifty years, there's no much of this story you could label "happy ending". Patrice Lumumba wrote a last letter to his wife, which fifty years later we can still read as being about "the future", at least when it comes to the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
My dear companion,
I write you these words without knowing if they will reach you, when they will reach you, or if I will still be living when you read them. 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. But what we wish for our country, its right to an honorable life, to a spotless dignity, to an independence without restrictions, Belgian colonialism and its Western allies-who have found direct and indirect support, deliberate and not deliberate among certain high officials of the United Nations, this organization in which we placed all our confidence when we called for their assistance-have not wished it.
They have corrupted certain of our fellow countrymen, they have contributed to distorting the truth and our enemies, that they will rise up like a single person to say no to a degrading and shameful colonialism and to reassume their dignity under a pure sun.
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. They will not abandon the light until the day comes when there are no more colonizers and their mercenaries in our country. To my children whom I leave and whom perhaps I will see no more, I wish that they be told that the future of the Congo is beautiful and that it expects for each Congolese, to accomplish the sacred task of reconstruction of our independence and our sovereignty; for without dignity there is no liberty, without justice there is no dignity, and without independence there are no free men.
No brutality, mistreatment, or torture has ever forced me to ask for grace, for I prefer to die with my head high, my faith steadfast, and my confidence profound in the destiny of my country, rather than to live in submission and scorn of sacred principles. 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.
Do not weep for me, my dear companion. I know that my country, which suffers so much, will know how to defend its independence and its liberty. Long live the Congo! Long live Africa!