By Ofwono Opondo
On the eve of the Commonwealth meeting of the Heads of former British colonies, and recent entrants Rwanda and Mozambique, the Belgian government finally returned a tooth of Patrice Lumumba assassinated on 17 January 1961, having been ousted as the first elected prime minister of independent Republic of Congo.
Lumumba’s body was later dissolved in acid to eliminate traceability and prevent any evoking any association with him. A Belgian police officer Gerard Soete, who supervised the murder, then took and kept the tooth as his private trophy.
When Congolese army revolted against Belgian officers still in charge of Congo army after independence, the Belgians instead sent their military to support mineral-rich Katanga to secede from Congo. The Katanga crisis as it became known then turned into a civil war as Prime Minister Lumumba sent in troops, asked the UN and USSR for military support. It’s this that angered the US and Belgium, who sought out Army Chief Joseph Desire Mobutu Ssese Seko to do their heavy-lifting. Lumumba was shortly put to firing squad supervised by Belgian and American CIA conspirators after they had installed Mobutu who then renamed Congo, Zaire, and the infamous “Heart of Darkness”.
As a consequence, Lumumba’s brutal murder is a crime that continues to haunt Zaire, now, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).
While returning Lumumba’s tooth maybe comforting to his family, Africans should treat it only as a metaphor in the long process of re-writing Europe-Africa widespread and deeply atrocious relationship which cannot easily be condoled by this single act.
The Belgians seem to hope that by returning this tooth they have drawn a line under one of the most brutal and shameful episodes, but Africans should put a sustained spotlight for legal and judicial restitution.
White colonialists should know that half-hearted ‘apologies’ ‘acknowledgements’ and ‘regrets’ being offered by their leaders aren’t sufficient. If it has taken 61 years to return one tooth, one wonders how much longer Africans should wait for the more heinous crimes of mass murders, racial subjugation, dispossession and continuous exploitation to be settled. Africa should that all its cultural artifacts worth billions of dollars and held for centuries now must be returned with earned interests.
Belgium is yet to publicly acknowledge its plunder of Congo’s rubber, elephant tusks, timber, minerals, and the death of ten million Congolese during its first 23 years of occupation caused by forced labour when they couldn’t full-fill impossible quotas of collecting the valuable resources.
Lumumba’s assassination and acts to disguise his remains is a small part of Belgium colonial impunity in Congo, Rwanda and Burundi where it left a long-lasting trail of blood-letting, ethnic and religious bigotry and genocide. During this European enterprise millions upon millions especially Black Africans have perished, were and remain dispossessed, and continue to bear the brunt of US and European exploitation.
Africans and exploited peoples of the world must reject the tokenism of half-felt apologies by European colonialists and seek full legal recognition first in their own courts of law and parliaments, and at the UN bodies for crimes and secure commitment to pay adequate compensations to the aggrieved parties
If they cannot, Africans must coordinate actions to repudiate these half-hearted apologies and measures. African countries belonging to the so-called Commonwealth under the British monarch should consider new drastic way to force the Crown to make meaningful economic concessions if the relationship is to become truly mutually beneficial, otherwise their wealth will remain common to Britain only.
Belgian King Leopold acquired the Congo Basin which he named the Congo Free State as his private estate, and was recognised by the US soon after the Berlin Conference of 1884 that partitioned Africa into European colonies.
But allegedly due to his brutality, he was in 1908 asked to hand over the Congo Free State to the Belgian government as its colony although the murders, brutality and exploitation of natural resources didn’t end, and in fact is at the centre of DRC’s current problems.
Lumumba’s murder has for long been presented by US and European scholars as an effort during the Cold War to thwart the Union of Soviet Socialist Republic (USSR) from gaining foothold in Zaire.
These scholars, researchers, political and business elites, and journalists rarely never mention the West’s unquenchable appetite for Africa’s natural resources as the main reason for meddling in Africa. But even if we were to buy their skewed narratives, the truth is that Lumumba was a victim of his political conscience, convictions, words and ideals.
The overthrow and many cases, assassination of people like Lumumba, Kwame Nkrumah (Ghana) and other acts of sabotage like the three long brutal wars in Zimbabwe, Angola and Mozambique were over the control and exploitation of Africa’s natural resources by White supremacists.
Today, these supremacists present themselves as the beacons of universal human rights yet they can never, on their own admit to these heinous crimes against Africans, and make appropriate restitution. Africans and African issues cannot forever remain mere footnotes in the global discourse. Africans must be herd.