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The Man of The People



Malcolm X called him the most impressive black man ever to walk the African continent. Just six months after becoming the first prime minister of the newly independen Republic of the Congo (later called the Democratic Republic of the Congo), and two days before John F.



Kennedy’s inauguration in January
1961, Patrice Lumumba was shot
down by a firing squad.

But Lumumba’s surprising path and
sudden death serve as a powerful
reminder that for political leaders in
many parts of the world, true reform
has only one major prerequisite:
survival.

Few countries today are as troubled
as the Congo, a land of 68 million
nestled near the center of sub-
Saharan Africa. Belgian invaders
looted the country for almost a
century, during perhaps the most
brutal colonization in Africa. But
Congo, rich in mineral resources like
rubber, was once poised to be an
African success story, thanks in no
small part to the man his people
called by one name: Lumumba.

Tall, wiry and intellectual, Lumumba
grew up in a Catholic family in the
Congolese countryside, working as a
postal worker and beer salesman
before risking his stable, middle-class
life to join the anticolonial
independence movement.

He was quickly embraced as a leader of the movement, only to be imprisoned in
late 1959 as the Congo was about to gain independence. But popular
pressure forced his release, and nine
months into his 69-month sentence,
Lumumba went from being a political
prisoner to being his country’s prime
minister at the tender age of 34.

Lumumba led a poor Congo, where
nearly half the population was
undernourished. He had high hopes
for enacting the agrarian reform
necessary to feed his people, and that
was just the beginning of his
ambitious plans.

 Then, just threemonths into his term, Lumumba was deposed, in a move orchestrated by a cadre of great powers: the U.S. via theCIA, which had planned to poison his toothpaste on orders from President Eisenhower; England with the connivance of MI6 ; and Belgium, the Congo’s former landlord.

The reason? A significant crime in the Cold War heyday: making nice with the Soviets, who, it should be noted, Lumumba leaned toward because of Western hostilities arising from the possibility that he might find common cause with the Communists.

“Even the jungle wanted him dead,”
Joseph Conrad wrote of Kurtz, the
Belgian ivory trader who ventures
deep into the Congo in Heart of
Darkness. It was as true for Lumumba
as it was for Kurtz.

What followed was a coup by future
despot Colonel Joseph Mobutu.
Lumumba was arrested, beaten and
trucked to a location where, with
Belgian approval, he was put to death
by a firing squad. According to one
report, Lumumba was shot multiple
times, and his body was dissolved in
acid by Belgian military officials who
wanted to prevent a full investigation.

Mobutu took over the Congo, renamed it Zaire and looted it.to the tune of $5 billion over the next 30 years. And it wasn’t until 2002 that the Belgian government apologized to the Congolese people for its role in
Lumumba’s assassination.

Lumumba lives on in the hearts of
many people in the Congo, but his
lesson — like that of so many slain
revolutionaries — may not be what he
hoped for or expected.

Being bold, principled and even on the right side of history will not lead your people into the promised land, nor will it make you the next George Washington, Nelson Mandela or Fidel
Castro. If, however, you’re willing to
adapt and persevere, the rest may
take care of itself. And if not,
someone may just take care of you.

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