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Patrice Lumumba
Photograph of Patrice Lumumba in 1960
Lumumba in 1960
1st Prime Minister of the Republic of the Congo
In office
24 June – 5 September 1960
President Joseph Kasa-Vubu
Deputy Antoine Gizenga
Preceded by Office established
Succeeded by Joseph Iléo
1st Minister of National Defense
In office
24 June 1960 – 5 September 1960
Prime Minister Himself
Preceded by Office established
Succeeded by Ferdinand Kazadi
Personal details
Élias Okit'Asombo

(1925-07-02)2 July 1925
Katakokombe, Congo-Kasaï, Belgian Congo
Died 17 January 1961(1961-01-17) (aged 35)
near Élisabethville, State of Katanga
Cause of death Execution (by firing squad)
Political party MNC
Pauline Opango
(m. 1951)
  • François Lumumba
  • Guy-Patrice Lumumba
  • Roland-Gilbert Lumumba
  • Juliana Lumumba
  • Marie-Christine Lumumba

Patrice Émery Lumumba (/lʊˈmʊmbə/; 2 July 1925 – 17 January 1961) was a Congolese politician and independence leader who served as the first prime minister of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (then known as the Republic of the Congo) from June until September 1960, following the May 1960 election. He was the leader of the Congolese National Movement (MNC) from 1958 until his execution in January 1961. Ideologically an African nationalist and pan-Africanist, he played a significant role in the transformation of the Congo from a colony of Belgium into an independent republic.

Shortly after Congolese independence in June 1960, a mutiny broke out in the army, marking the beginning of the Congo Crisis. Lumumba appealed to the United States and the United Nations for help to suppress the Belgian-supported Katangan secessionists led by Moïse Tshombe. Both refused, due to suspicions among the Western world that Lumumba secretly held pro-communist views. These suspicions deepened when Lumumba turned to the Soviet Union for assistance, which the CIA described as a "classic communist takeover". This led to growing differences with President Joseph Kasa-Vubu and chief-of-staff Joseph-Désiré Mobutu, as well as with the United States and Belgium, who opposed the Soviet Union in the Cold War.

After Mobutu's military coup, Lumumba attempted to escape to Stanleyville to join his supporters who had established a new anti-Mobutu rival state called the Free Republic of the Congo. Lumumba was captured and imprisoned en route by state authorities under Mobutu. He was handed over to Katangan authorities, and executed in the presence of Katangan and Belgian officials and officers. His body was thrown into a shallow grave, but later dug up and destroyed. Following his execution, he was widely seen as a martyr for the wider pan-African movement. Over the years, inquiries have shed light on the events surrounding Lumumba's death and, in particular, on the roles played by Belgium and the United States. In 2002, Belgium formally apologised for its role in the execution. In 2022, a gold-capped tooth, all that remained of his body, was repatriated to the Democratic Republic of the Congo by Belgium.

Early life and career

Photograph of Lumumba, c. 1950s

Patrice Lumumba was born on 2 July 1925 to Julienne Wamato Lomendja and her husband, François Tolenga Otetshima, a farmer, in Onalua, in the Katakokombe region of the Kasai province of the Belgian Congo. He was a member of the Tetela ethnic group and was born with the name Élias Okit'Asombo. His original surname means "heir of the cursed" and is derived from the Tetela words okitá/okitɔ́ ('heir', 'successor') and asombó ('cursed or bewitched people who will die quickly'). He had three brothers (Charles Lokolonga, Émile Kalema, and Louis Onema Pene Lumumba) and one half-brother (Jean Tolenga). Raised in a Catholic family, he was educated at a Protestant primary school, a Catholic missionary school, and finally the government post office training school, where he passed the one-year course with distinction. He was known for being a vocal, precocious young man, regularly pointing out the errors of his teachers in front of his peers, often to their chagrin. This outspoken nature would come to define his life and career. Lumumba spoke Tetela, French, Lingala, Swahili, and Tshiluba.

Outside of his regular studies, Lumumba took an interest in the Enlightenment ideals of Jean-Jacques Rousseau and Voltaire. He was also fond of Molière and Victor Hugo. He wrote poetry, and many of his works had anti-imperialist themes. He worked as a travelling beer salesman in Léopoldville and as a postal clerk in a Stanleyville post office for eleven years. Lumumba was married three times. He married Henriette Maletaua a year after arriving in Stanleyville, but they were divorced in 1947. In the same year, he married Hortense Sombosia, but this relationship also fell apart and he began an affair with Pauline Kie. While he had no children with his first two wives, his relationship with Kie resulted in a son, François Lumumba. Though he remained close with Kie until his death, Lumumba ultimately ended their affair to marry a girl from his home region in 1951: Pauline Opangu. In the period following World War II, young leaders across Africa increasingly worked for national goals and independence from the colonial powers. In 1952 he was hired to work as a personal assistant for French sociologist Pierre Clément, who was performing a study of Stanleyville. That year he also co-founded and subsequently became president of a Stanleyville chapter of the Association des Anciens élèves des pères de Scheut (ADAPÉS), an alumni association for former students at Scheut schools, despite the fact that he had never attended one. In 1955, Lumumba became regional head of the Cercles of Stanleyville and joined the Liberal Party of Belgium. He edited and distributed party literature. Between 1956 and 1957 he wrote his autobiography (which would not be published until 1961, just months before he was killed). After a study tour in Belgium in 1956, he was arrested on charges of embezzlement of $2500 from the post office. He was convicted and sentenced one year later to 12 months' imprisonment and a fine.

Leader of the MNC

Patrice Lumumba in 1958
Lumumba in 1958

After his release, Lumumba helped found the Mouvement National Congolais (MNC) party on 5 October 1958, and quickly became the organisation's leader. The MNC, unlike other Congolese parties developing at the time, did not draw on a particular ethnic base. It promoted a platform that included independence, gradual Africanisation of the government, state-led economic development, and neutrality in foreign affairs. Lumumba had a large popular following, due to his personal charisma, excellent oratory, and ideological sophistication. As a result, he had more political autonomy than contemporaries who were more dependent on Belgian connections. Lumumba was one of the delegates who represented the MNC at the All-African Peoples' Conference in Accra, Ghana, in December 1958. At this international conference, hosted by Ghanaian president, Kwame Nkrumah, Lumumba further solidified his pan-Africanist beliefs. Nkrumah was personally impressed by Lumumba's intelligence and ability. In late October 1959, Lumumba, as leader of the MNC, was arrested for inciting an anti-colonial riot in Stanleyville; 30 people were killed. He was sentenced to six months in prison. The trial's start date of 18 January 1960 was the first day of the Congolese Round Table Conference in Brussels, intended to make a plan for the future of the Congo. Despite Lumumba's imprisonment, the MNC won a convincing majority in the December local elections in the Congo. As a result of strong pressure from delegates upset by Lumumba's trial, he was released and allowed to attend the Brussels conference.

Independence and election as prime minister

De Congolese leider Patrice Loemoemba in Brussel, Bestanddeelnr 910-9741
Lumumba pictured in Brussels at the Round Table Conference with other members of the MNC-L delegation, 26 January 1960

The conference culminated on 27 January 1960 with a declaration of Congolese independence. It set 30 June 1960 as the independence date with national elections to be held from 11 to 25 May 1960. The MNC won a plurality in the election. Six weeks before the date of independence, Walter Ganshof van der Meersch was appointed as the Belgian Minister of African Affairs. He lived in Léopoldville, in effect becoming Belgium's de facto resident minister in the Congo, administering it jointly with Governor-general Hendrik Cornelis. He was charged with advising King Baudouin on the selection of a formateur. On 8 June 1960, Ganshof flew to Brussels to meet with Baudouin. He made three suggestions for formateur: Lumumba, as the winner of the elections; Joseph Kasa-Vubu, the only figure with a reliable national reputation who was associated with the coalescing opposition; or some to-be-determined third individual who could unite the competing blocs. Ganshof returned to the Congo on 12 June 1960. The following day he appointed Lumumba to serve as the delegate (informateur) tasked with investigating the possibility of forming a national unity government that included politicians with a wide range of views, with 16 June 1960 as his deadline.

The same day as Lumumba's appointment, the parliamentary opposition coalition, the Cartel d'Union Nationale, was announced. Though Kasa-Vubu was aligned with their beliefs, he remained distanced from them. The MNC-L was also having trouble securing the allegiances of the PSA, CEREA (Centre de Regroupement Africain), and BALUBAKAT (Association Générale des Baluba du Katanga). Initially, Lumumba was unable to establish contact with members of the cartel. Eventually several leaders were appointed to meet with him, but their positions remained entrenched. On 16 June 1960, Lumumba reported his difficulties to Ganshof, who extended the deadline and promised to act as an intermediary between the MNC leader and the opposition. Once Ganshof had made contact with the cartel leadership, he was impressed by their obstinacy and assurances of a strong anti-Lumumba polity. By evening, Lumumba's mission was showing even less chance of succeeding. Ganshof considered extending the role of informateur to Cyrille Adoula and Kasa-Vubu, but faced increasing pressure from Belgian and moderate Congolese advisers to end Lumumba's assignment. The following day, on 17 June 1960, Ganshof declared that Lumumba had failed and terminated his mission. Acting on Ganshof's advice, Baudouin then named Kasa-Vubu formateur. Lumumba responded by threatening to form his own government and present it to parliament without official approval. He called a meeting at the OK Bar in Léopoldville, where he announced the creation of a "popular" government with the support of Pierre Mulele of the PSA. Meanwhile, Kasa-Vubu, like Lumumba, was unable to communicate with his political opponents.

He assumed that he would secure the presidency, so he began looking for someone to serve as his prime minister. Most of the candidates he considered were friends who had foreign support similar to his own, including Albert Kalonji, Joseph Iléo, Cyrille Adoula, and Justin Bomboko. Kasa-Vubu, was slow to come to a final decision. On 18 June 1960, Kasa-Vubu announced that he had completed his government with all parties except the MNC-Lumumba. That afternoon Jason Sendwe, Antoine Gizenga, and Anicet Kashamura announced in the presence of Lumumba that their respective parties were not committed to the government. The next day, on 19 June 1960, Ganshof summoned Kasa-Vubu and Lumumba to a meeting so they could forge a compromise. This failed when Lumumba flatly refused the position of prime minister in a Kasa-Vubu government. The following day, on 20 June 1960, the two rivals met in the presence of Adoula and diplomats from Israel and Ghana, but no agreement was reached. Most party leaders refused to support a government that did not include Lumumba. The decision to make Kasa-Vubu the formateur was a catalyst that rallied the PSA, CEREA, and BALUBAKAT to Lumumba, making it unlikely that Kasa-Vubu could form a government that would survive a vote of confidence. When the chamber met, on 21 June 1960, to select its officers, Joseph Kasongo of the MNC-L was elected president with 74 votes (a majority), while the two vice presidencies were secured by the PSA and CEREA candidates, both of whom had the support of Lumumba. With time running out before independence, Baudouin took new advice from Ganshof and appointed Lumumba as formateur.

First Congolese government
Lumumba (left center) poses with his government outside the Palais de la Nation immediately following its investiture

Once it was apparent that Lumumba's bloc controlled parliament, several members of the opposition became eager to negotiate for a coalition government in order to share power. By 22 June 1960, Lumumba had a government list, but negotiations continued with Jean Bolikango, Albert Delvaux, and Kasa-Vubu. Lumumba reportedly offered the Alliance of Bakongo (ABAKO) the ministerial positions for foreign affairs and middle classes, but Kasa-Vubu instead demanded the ministry of finance, a minister of state, the secretary of state for the interior, and a written pledge of support from the MNC-L and its allies for his presidential candidacy. Kalonji was presented with the agriculture portfolio by Lumumba, which he rejected, although he was suitable due to his experience as an agricultural engineer. Adoula was also offered a ministerial position, but refused to accept it. By the morning of 23 June 1960, the government was, in the words of Lumumba, "practically formed". At noon, he made a counter-offer to Kasa-Vubu, who instead responded with a letter demanding the creation of a seventh province for the Bakongo. Lumumba refused to comply and instead pledged to support Jean Bolikango in his bid for the presidency.

At 14:45, he presented his proposed government before the press. Neither the ABAKO nor the MNC-Kalonji (MNC-K) were represented among the ministers, and the only PSA members were from Gizenga's wing of the party. The Bakongo of Léopoldville were deeply upset by their exclusion from Lumumba's cabinet. They subsequently demanded the removal of the PSA-dominated provincial government and called for a general strike to begin the following morning. At 16:00, Lumumba and Kasa-Vubu resumed negotiations. Kasa-Vubu eventually agreed to Lumumba's earlier offer, though Lumumba informed him that he could not give him a guarantee of support in his presidential candidacy. The resulting 37-strong Lumumba government was very diverse, with its members coming from different classes, different tribes, and holding varied political beliefs. Though many had questionable loyalty to Lumumba, most did not openly contradict him out of political considerations or fear of reprisal. At 22:40 on 23 June 1960, the Chamber of Deputies convened in the Palais de la Nation to vote on Lumumba's government. After Kasongo opened the session, Lumumba delivered his main speech, promising to maintain national unity, abide by the will of the people, and pursue a neutralist foreign policy. It was warmly received by most deputies and observers.

Lumumba waves to supporters
Lumumba waving to supporters, c. 1960

The chamber proceeded to engage in a heated debate. Though the government contained members from parties that held 120 of the 137 seats, reaching a majority was not a straightforward task. While several leaders of the opposition had been involved in the formative negotiations, their parties as a whole had not been consulted. Furthermore, some individuals were upset they had not been included in the government and sought to personally prevent its investiture. In the subsequent arguments, multiple deputies expressed dissatisfaction at the lack of representation of their respective provinces and/or parties, with several threatening secession. Among them was Kalonji, who said he would encourage people of Kasaï to refrain from participating in the central government and form their own autonomous state. One Katangese deputy objected to the same person being appointed as premier and as head of the defence portfolio. When a vote was finally taken, only 80 of the 137 members of the chamber were present. Of these, 74 voted in favour of the government, five against, and one abstained. The 57 absences were almost all voluntary. Though the government had earned just as many votes as when Kasongo won the presidency of the chamber, the support was not congruent; members of Cléophas Kamitatu's wing of the PSA had voted against the government while a few members of the PNP, PUNA, and ABAKO voted in favour of it. Overall, the vote was a disappointment for the MNC-L coalition.

The session was adjourned at 02:05 on 24 June 1960. The senate convened that day to vote on the government. There was another heated debate, in which Iléo and Adoula expressed their strong dissatisfaction with its composition. Confederation of Tribal Associations of Katanga (CONAKAT) members abstained from voting. When arguments concluded, a decisive vote of approval was taken on the government: 60 voted in favour, 12 against, while eight abstained. All dissident arguments for alternative cabinets, particularly Kalonji's demand for a new administration, were rendered impotent, and the Lumumba government was officially invested. With the institution of a broad coalition, the parliamentary opposition was officially reduced to only the MNC-K and some individuals. At the onset of his premiership, Lumumba had two main goals: to ensure that independence would bring a legitimate improvement in the quality of life for the Congolese and to unify the country as a centralised state by eliminating tribalism and regionalism. He was worried that opposition to his government would appear rapidly and would have to be managed quickly and decisively.

To achieve the first aim, Lumumba believed that a comprehensive "Africanisation" of the administration, in spite of its risks, would be necessary. The Belgians were opposed to such an idea, as it would create inefficiency in the Congo's bureaucracy and lead to a mass exodus of unemployed civil servants to Belgium, whom they would be unable to absorb into the government there. It was too late for Lumumba to enact Africanisation before independence. Seeking another gesture that might excite the Congolese people, Lumumba proposed to the Belgian government a reduction in sentences for all prisoners and an amnesty for those serving a term of three years or less. Ganshof feared that such an action would jeopardise law and order, and he evaded taking any action until it was too late to fulfill the request. Lumumba's opinion of the Belgians was soured by this affair, which contributed to his fear that independence would not appear "real" to the average Congolese. In seeking to eliminate tribalism and regionalism in the Congo, Lumumba was deeply inspired by the personality and undertakings of Kwame Nkrumah and by Ghanaian ideas of the leadership necessary in post-colonial Africa. He worked to seek such changes through the MNC. Lumumba intended to combine it with its parliamentary allies—CEREA, the PSA, and possibly BALUBAKAT—to form one national party, and to build a following in each province. He hoped it would absorb other parties and become a unifying force for the country.

Congopresse 4
The independence ceremony for the Congo, held on 30 June 1960, at which Lumumba delivered his independence speech

Independence Day was celebrated on 30 June 1960 in a ceremony attended by many dignitaries, including King Baudouin of Belgium and the foreign press. Baudouin's speech praised developments under colonialism, his reference to the "genius" of his great-granduncle Leopold II of Belgium, glossing over atrocities committed during his reign over the Congo Free State. Belgian prime minister Gaston Eyskens, who checked the text, thought this passage went too far. He wanted to drop this reference to Léopold II. The King had limited political power in Belgium, but he was free to write his own speeches (after revision by the government). The King continued, "Don't compromise the future with hasty reforms, and don't replace the structures that Belgium hands over to you until you are sure you can do better. Don't be afraid to come to us. We will remain by your side, give you advice." President Kasa-Vubu thanked the King.

Most European journalists were shocked by the stridency of Lumumba's speech. The Western media criticised him. Time magazine characterised his speech as a "venomous attack". In the West, many feared that the speech was a call to arms that would revive Belgian–Congolese hostilities, and plunge the former Belgian colony into chaos.

Prime minister


Independence Day and the three days that followed it were declared a national holiday. The Congolese were preoccupied by the festivities, which were conducted in relative peace. Meanwhile, Lumumba's office was overtaken by a flurry of activity. A diverse group of individuals, Congolese and European, some friends and relatives, hurried about their work. Some undertook specific missions on his behalf, sometimes without direct permission. Numerous Congolese citizens showed up at the office at whim for various reasons. Lumumba, for his part, was mostly preoccupied with a lengthy itinerary of receptions and ceremonies. On 3 July Lumumba declared a general amnesty for prisoners, but it was never implemented. The following morning he convened the Council of Ministers to discuss the unrest among the troops of the Force Publique.

Many soldiers hoped that independence would result in immediate promotions and material gains, but were disappointed by Lumumba's slow pace of reform. The rank-and-file felt that the Congolese political class—particularly ministers in the new government—were enriching themselves while failing to improve the troops' situation. Many of the soldiers were also fatigued from maintaining order during the elections and participating in independence celebrations. The ministers decided to establish four committees to study, respectively, the reorganisation of the administration, the judiciary, and the army, and the enacting of a new statute for state employees. All were to devote special attention to ending racial discrimination. Parliament assembled for the first time since independence and took its first official legislative action by voting to increase the salaries of its members to FC 500,000. Lumumba, fearing the repercussions the raise would have on the budget, was among the few to object, dubbing it a "ruinous folly".

Outbreak of the Congo Crisis

Patrice Lumumba official portrait
Official portrait of Lumumba as prime minister of the Republic of the Congo, 1960

On the morning of 5 July 1960, General Émile Janssens, commander of the Force Publique, in response to increasing excitement among the Congolese ranks, summoned all troops on duty at Camp Léopold II. He demanded that the army maintain its discipline and wrote "before independence = after independence" on a blackboard for emphasis. That evening the Congolese sacked the canteen in protest of Janssens. He alerted the reserve garrison of Camp Hardy, 95 miles away in Thysville. The officers tried to organise a convoy to send to Camp Léopold II to restore order, but the men mutinied and seized the armoury. The crisis which followed came to dominate the tenure of the Lumumba government. The next day Lumumba dismissed Janssens and promoted all Congolese soldiers one grade, but mutinies spread out into the Lower Congo. Although the trouble was highly localised, the country seemed to be overrun by gangs of soldiers and looters. The media reported that Europeans were fleeing the country. In response, Lumumba announced over the radio, "Thoroughgoing reforms are planned in all sectors. My government will make every possible effort to see that our country has a different face in a few months, a few weeks." In spite of government efforts, the mutinies continued. Mutineers in Leopoldville and Thysville surrendered only upon the personal intervention of Lumumba and President Kasa-Vubu.

On 8 July, Lumumba renamed the Force Publique as the "Armée Nationale Congolaise" (ANC). He Africanised the force by appointing Sergeant Major Victor Lundula as general and commander-in-chief, and chose junior minister and former soldier Joseph Mobutu as colonel and Army chief of staff. These promotions were made in spite of Lundula's inexperience and rumours about Mobutu's ties to Belgian and US intelligence services. All European officers in the army were replaced with Africans, with a few retained as advisers. By the next day the mutinies had spread throughout the entire country. Five Europeans, including the Italian vice-consul, were ambushed and killed in Élisabethville, and nearly the entire European population of Luluabourg barricaded itself in an office building for safety. An estimated two dozen Europeans were murdered in the mutiny. Lumumba and Kasa-Vubu embarked on a tour across the country to promote peace and appoint new army commanders. Belgium intervened on 10 July, dispatching 6,000 troops to the Congo, ostensibly to protect its citizens from the violence. Most Europeans went to Katanga Province, which possessed much of the Congo's natural resources. Though personally angered, Lumumba condoned the action on 11 July, provided that the Belgian forces acted only to protect their citizens, followed the direction of the Congolese armed forces, and ceased their activities once order was restored.

The same day the Belgian Navy bombarded Matadi after it had evacuated its citizens, killing 19 Congolese civilians. This greatly inflamed tensions, leading to renewed Congolese attacks on Europeans. Shortly thereafter Belgian forces moved to occupy cities throughout the country, including the capital, where they clashed with Congolese soldiers. On the whole, the Belgian intervention made the situation worse for the armed forces. The State of Katanga declared independence under regional premier Moïse Tshombe on 11 July, with support from the Belgian government and mining companies such as Union Minière. Lumumba and Kasa-Vubu were denied use of Élisabethville's airstrip the following day and returned to the capital, only to be accosted by fleeing Belgians. They sent a protest of the Belgian deployment to the United Nations, requesting that they withdraw and be replaced by an international peacekeeping force. The UN Security Council passed United Nations Security Council Resolution 143, calling for immediate removal of Belgian forces and establishment of the United Nations Operation in the Congo (ONUC). Despite the arrival of UN troops, unrest continued. Lumumba requested UN troops to suppress the rebellion in Katanga, but the UN forces were not authorised to do so under their mandate. On 14 July Lumumba and Kasa-Vubu broke off diplomatic relations with Belgium. Frustrated at dealing with the West, they sent a telegram to Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev, requesting that he closely monitor the situation in the Congo.

Visit to the United States

Aankomst Lumoemba in New York, Bestanddeelnr 913-2033 - cropped
Lumumba arriving in New York City, 24 July 1960

Lumumba decided to travel to New York City in order to personally express the position of his government to the United Nations. Shortly before his departure, he announced that he had signed an economic agreement with a U.S. businessman who had created the Congo International Management Corporation (CIMCO). According to the contract (which had yet to be ratified by parliament), CIMCO was to form a development corporation to invest in and manage certain sectors of the economy. He also declared his approval of the second security council resolution, adding that "[Soviet] aid was no longer necessary" and announced his intention to seek technical assistance from the United States. On 22 July Lumumba left the Congo for New York City. He and his entourage reached the United States two days later after brief stops in Accra and London. There they rendezvoused with his UN delegation at the Barclay Hotel to prepare for meetings with UN officials. Lumumba was focused on discussing the withdrawal of Belgian troops and various options for technical assistance with Dag Hammarskjöld.

African diplomats were keen that the meetings would be successful; they convinced Lumumba to wait until the Congo was more stable before reaching any more major economic agreements (such as the CIMCO arrangement). Lumumba saw Hammarskjöld and other staff of the UN Secretariat over three days on 24, 25, and 26 July. Though Lumumba and Hammarskjöld were restrained towards one another, their discussions went smoothly. In a press conference, Lumumba reaffirmed his government's commitment to "positive neutralism". On 27 July, Lumumba went to Washington, D.C., the United States capital. He met with the US Secretary of State and appealed for financial and technical assistance. The US government informed Lumumba that they would offer aid only through the UN. The following day he received a telegram from Gizenga detailing a clash at Kolwezi between Belgian and Congolese forces. Lumumba felt that the UN was hampering his attempts to expel the Belgian troops and defeat the Katangan rebels. On 29 July, Lumumba went to Ottawa, the capital of Canada, to request help. The Canadians rebuffed a request for technicians and said that they would channel their assistance through the UN. Frustrated, Lumumba met with the Soviet ambassador in Ottawa and discussed a donation of military equipment. When he returned to New York the following evening, he was restrained towards the UN. The United States government's attitude had become more negative, due to reports of the violence committed by ANC soldiers, and scrutiny from Belgium. The latter was chagrined that Lumumba had received a high-level reception in Washington. The Belgian government regarded Lumumba as communist, anti-white, and anti-Western. Given its experience in the Congo, many other Western governments gave credence to the Belgian view.

Frustrated with the UN's apparent inaction towards Katanga as he departed the US, Lumumba decided to delay his return to the Congo. He visited several African states. This was apparently done to put pressure on Hammarskjöld and, failing that, to seek guarantees of bilateral military support to suppress Katanga. Between 2 and 8 August, Lumumba toured Tunisia, Morocco, Guinea, Ghana, Liberia, and Togoland. He was well received in each country and issued joint communiques with their respective heads of state. Guinea and Ghana pledged independent military support, while the others expressed their desire to work through the United Nations to resolve the Katangan secession. In Ghana, Lumumba signed a secret agreement with President Nkrumah providing for a "Union of African States". Centred in Léopoldville, it was to be a federation with a republican government. They agreed to hold a summit of African states in Léopoldville between 25 and 30 August to further discuss the issue. Lumumba returned to the Congo, apparently confident that he could now depend upon African military assistance. He also believed that he could procure African bilateral technical aid, which placed him at odds with Hammarskjöld's goal of funnelling support through ONUC. Lumumba and some ministers were wary of the UN option, as it would supply them with functionaries who would not respond directly to their authority.

Attempts at re-consolidation

South Kasai in Congo 1961
Map of the Congo in 1961 with South Kasai highlighted in red, bordered to the south by the State of Katanga

On 9 August Lumumba proclaimed a state of emergency throughout the Congo. He subsequently issued several orders in an attempt to reassert his dominance on the political scene. The first outlawed the formation of associations without government sanction. A second asserted the government's right to ban publications that produced material likely to bring the administration into disrepute. On 11 August the Courrier d'Afrique printed an editorial which declared that the Congolese did not want to fall "under a second kind of slavery". The editor was summarily arrested and four days later publication of the daily ceased. Shortly afterward, the government shut down the Belga and Agence France-Presse wire services. The press restrictions garnered a wave of harsh criticism from the Belgian media.

Lumumba decreed the nationalisation of local Belga offices, creating the Agence Congolaise de Presse, as a means of eliminating what he considered a center of biased reporting, as well as creating a service through which the government's platform could be more easily communicated to the public. Another order stipulated that official approval had to be obtained six days in advance of public gatherings. On 16 August Lumumba announced the installation of a régime militaire spécial for the duration of six months. Throughout August, Lumumba increasingly withdrew from his full cabinet and instead consulted with officials and ministers he trusted, such as Maurice Mpolo, Joseph Mbuyi, Kashamura, Gizenga, and Antoine Kiwewa. Lumumba's office was in disarray, and few members of his staff did any work. His chef de cabinet, Damien Kandolo, was often absent and acted as a spy on behalf of the Belgian government. Lumumba was constantly being delivered rumours from informants and the Sûreté, encouraging him to grow deeply suspicious of others.

In an attempt to keep him informed, Serge Michel, his press secretary, enlisted the assistance of three Belgian telex operators, who supplied him with copies of all outgoing journalistic dispatches. Lumumba immediately ordered Congolese troops to put down the rebellion in secessionist South Kasai, which was home to strategic rail links necessary for a campaign in Katanga. The operation was successful, but the conflict soon devolved into ethnic violence. The army became involved in massacres of Luba civilians. The people and politicians of South Kasai held Lumumba personally responsible for the actions of the army. Kasa-Vubu publicly announced that only a federalist government could bring peace and stability to the Congo. This broke his tenuous political alliance with Lumumba and tilted the political favour in the country away from Lumumba's unitary state. Ethnic tensions rose against him (especially around Leopoldville), and the Catholic Church, still powerful in the country, openly criticised his government. Even with South Kasai subdued, the Congo lacked the necessary strength to retake Katanga. Lumumba had summoned an African conference in Leopoldville from 25–31 August, but no foreign heads of state appeared and no country pledged military support. Lumumba demanded once again that UN peacekeeping soldiers assist in suppressing the revolt, threatening to bring in Soviet troops if they refused. The UN subsequently denied Lumumba the use of its forces. The possibility of a direct Soviet intervention was thought increasingly likely.


Kasa-Vubu's revocation order

Kasa-Vubu in Bandalungwa
President Joseph Kasa-Vubu, c. 1960

President Kasa-Vubu began fearing a Lumumbist coup d'état would take place. On the evening of 5 September, Kasa-Vubu announced over radio that he had dismissed Lumumba and six of his ministers from the government for the massacres in South Kasai and for involving the Soviets in the Congo. Upon hearing the broadcast, Lumumba went to the national radio station, which was under UN guard. Though they had been ordered to bar Lumumba's entry, the UN troops allowed the prime minister in, as they had no specific instructions to use force against him. Lumumba denounced his dismissal over the radio as illegitimate, and in turn labelled Kasa-Vubu a traitor and declared him deposed. Kasa-Vubu had not declared the approval of any responsible ministers of his decision, making his action legally invalid. Lumumba noted this in a letter to Hammarskjöld and a radio broadcast at 05:30 on 6 September. Later that day Kasa-Vubu managed to secure the countersignatures to his order of Albert Delvaux, Minister Resident in Belgium, and Justin Marie Bomboko, Minister of Foreign Affairs. With them, he announced again his dismissal of Lumumba and six other ministers at 16:00 over Brazzaville radio.

Lumumba and the ministers who remained loyal to him ordered the arrest of Delvaux and Bomboko for countersigning the dismissal order. The latter sought refuge in the presidential palace (which was guarded by UN peacekeepers), but early in the morning on 7 September, the former was detained and confined in the Prime Minister's residence. Meanwhile, the Chamber of Deputies convened to discuss Kasa-Vubu's dismissal order and hear Lumumba's reply. Delvaux made an unexpected appearance and took to the dais to denounce his arrest and declare his resignation from the government. He was enthusiastically applauded by the opposition. Lumumba then delivered his speech. Instead of directly attacking Kasa-Vubu ad hominem, Lumumba accused obstructionist politicians and ABAKO of using the presidency as a front for disguising their activities. He noted that Kasa-Vubu had never before offered any criticism of the government and portrayed their relationship as one of cooperation. He lambasted Delvaux and Minister of Finance Pascal Nkayi for their role in the UN Geneva negotiations and for their failure to consult the rest of the government. Lumumba followed his arguments with an analysis of the Loi Fondemental and finished by asking Parliament to assemble a "commission of sages" to examine the Congo's troubles.

The Chamber, at the suggestion of its presiding officer, voted to annul both Kasa-Vubu's and Lumumba's declarations of dismissal, 60 to 19. The following day Lumumba delivered a similar speech before the Senate, which subsequently delivered the government a vote of confidence, 49 to zero with seven abstentions. According to Article 51, Parliament was granted the "exclusive privilege" to interpret the constitution. In cases of doubt and controversy, the Congolese were originally supposed to appeal constitutional questions to the Belgian Conseil d'État. With the rupture of relations in July this was no longer possible, so no authoritative interpretation or mediation was available to bring a legal resolution to the dispute. Numerous African diplomats and newly appointed ONUC head Rajeshwar Dayal attempted to get the president and prime minister to reconcile their differences, but failed. On 13 September, the Parliament held a joint session between the Chamber of Deputies and the Senate. Though several members short of a quorum, they voted to grant Lumumba emergency powers.

Mobutu's coup

Colonel Mobutu
Colonel Mobutu, c. 1960

On 14 September Mobutu announced over the radio that he was launching a "peaceful revolution" to break the political impasse and therefore neutralising the President, Lumumba's and Iléo's respective governments, and Parliament until 31 December. He stated that "technicians" would run the administration while the politicians sorted out their differences. In a subsequent press conference, he clarified that Congolese university graduates would be asked to form a government, and further declared that all Eastern Bloc countries should close their embassies. Lumumba was surprised by the coup and that evening he travelled to Camp Leopold II in search of Mobutu to try and change his mind. He spent the night there but was attacked in the morning by Luba soldiers, who blamed him for the atrocities in South Kasaï. A Ghanaian ONUC contingent managed to extricate him, but his briefcase was left behind. Some of his political opponents recovered it and published documents it supposedly contained, including letters from Nkrumah, appeals for support addressed to the Soviet Union and the People's Republic of China, a memorandum dated 16 September declaring the presence of Soviet troops within one week, and a letter dated 15 September from Lumumba to the provincial presidents (Tshombe excepted) entitled "Measures to be applied during the first stages of the dictatorship". Some of these papers were genuine, while others, especially the memorandum and the letter to the provincial presidents, were almost certainly forgeries.

Despite the coup, African diplomats still worked towards a reconciliation between Lumumba and Kasa-Vubu. According to the Ghanaians, a verbal agreement of principle concerning closer co-operation between the Head of State and the government was put into writing. Lumumba signed it, but Kasa-Vubu suddenly refused to reciprocate. The Ghanaians suspected that Belgium and the United States were responsible. Kasa-Vubu was eager to re-integrate Katanga back into the Congo through negotiation, and Tshombe had declared that he would not participate in any discussions with a government that included the "communist" Lumumba.

After consultation with Kasa-Vubu and Lumumba, Mobutu announced that he would summon a round table conference to discuss the political future of the Congo. His attempts to follow through were disrupted by Lumumba who, from his official residence, was acting as though he still held the premiership. He continued to hold meetings with members of his government, senators, deputies, and political supporters, and to issue public statements. On numerous occasions he left his residence to tour the restaurants of the capital, maintaining that he still held power. Frustrated by the way he was being treated by Lumumba and facing intense political pressure, by the end of the month Mobutu was no longer encouraging reconciliation; he had aligned with Kasa-Vubu. He ordered ANC units to surround Lumumba's residence, but a cordon of UN peacekeepers prevented them from making an arrest. Lumumba was confined to his home. On 7 October Lumumba announced the formation of a new government that included Bolikango and Kalonji, but he later proposed that the UN supervise a national referendum that would settle the split in the government.

On 24 November, the UN voted to recognise Mobutu's new delegates to the General Assembly, disregarding Lumumba's original appointees. Lumumba resolved to join Deputy Prime Minister Antoine Gizenga in Stanleyville and lead a campaign to regain power. On 27 November he left the capital in a convoy of nine cars with Rémy Mwamba, Pierre Mulele, his wife Pauline, and his youngest child. Instead of heading with all haste to the Orientale Province border—where soldiers loyal to Gizenga were waiting to receive him—Lumumba delayed by touring villages and making conversation with the locals. On 1 December Mobutu's troops caught up with his party as it crossed the Sankuru River in Lodi. Lumumba and his advisers had made it to the far side, but his wife and child were left to be captured on the bank. Fearing for their safety, Lumumba took the ferry back, against the advice of Mwamba and Mulele, who both, fearing they would never see him again, bid him farewell. Mobutu's men arrested him. He was moved to Port Francqui the next day and flown back to Léopoldville. Mobutu claimed Lumumba would be tried for inciting the army to rebellion and other crimes.

Final days and assassination

Lumumba was sent first on 3 December 1960 to Thysville military barracks Camp Hardy, 150 km (about 100 miles) from Léopoldville. He was accompanied by Maurice Mpolo and Joseph Okito, two political associates who had planned to assist him in setting up a new government. They were fed poorly by the prison guards, as per Mobutu's orders. In Lumumba's last documented letter, he wrote to Rajeshwar Dayal: "in a word, we are living amid absolutely impossible conditions; moreover, they are against the law".

In the morning of 13 January 1961, discipline at Camp Hardy faltered. Soldiers refused to work unless they were paid; they received a total of 400,000 francs ($8,000) from the Katanga Cabinet. Some supported Lumumba's release, while others thought he was dangerous. Kasa-Vubu, Mobutu, Foreign Minister Justin Marie Bomboko, and Head of Security Services Victor Nendaka Bika personally arrived at the camp and negotiated with the troops. Conflict was avoided, but it became apparent that holding a controversial prisoner in the camp was too great a risk. Harold Charles d'Aspremont Lynden, the last Belgian Minister of the Colonies, ordered that Lumumba, Mpolo, and Okito be taken to the State of Katanga.

Lumumba was forcibly restrained on the flight to Elisabethville on 17 January 1961. On arrival, he and his associates were conducted under arrest to the Brouwez House.

Later that night, Lumumba was driven to an isolated spot. A Belgian commission of inquiry found that the execution was carried out by Katanga's authorities. It reported that Katanga president Tshombe and two other ministers were present, with four Belgian officers under command of Katangan authorities. According to Ludo De Witte, the last stage of the operation was personally controlled and led by Belgian contracts. Katangan Police Commissioner Frans Verscheure, who had operational command, led Lumumba and the other two to their place of execution. The execution is thought to have taken place on 17 January 1961, between 21:40 and 21:43 (according to the Belgian report).

Announcement of death

Protestno zborovanje v Mariboru ob umoru kongovskega predsednika Patricea Lumumbe 1961 (3)
Young protesters in Maribor, Yugoslavia, against the death of Lumumba, 1961.

No statement was released until three weeks later, despite rumours that Lumumba was dead. Katangan Secretary of State of Information Lucas Samalenge was one of the very first individuals, or perhaps the first individual, to reveal Lumumba's death, on 18 January. According to Ludo De Witte, Samalenge went to the bar Le Relais in Élisabethville and told everyone that Lumumba was murdered.

On 10 February, the radio announced that Lumumba and two other prisoners had escaped. His death was formally announced over Katangan radio on 13 February: it was alleged that he was killed by enraged villagers three days after escaping from Kolatey prison farm.

After the announcement of Lumumba's death, street protests were organised in several European countries; in Belgrade, protesters sacked the Belgian embassy and confronted the police, and in London, a crowd marched from Trafalgar Square to the Belgian embassy, where a letter of protest was delivered and where protesters clashed with police. In New York City, a demonstration at the United Nations Security Council turned violent and spilled over into the streets.

Foreign involvement in his murder

Lumumba's execution was carried out by a firing squad led by Belgian mercenary Julien Gat; Katangan Police Commissioner Verscheure, who was Belgian, had overall command of the execution site. The separatist Katangan regime was heavily supported by the Belgian mining conglomerate Union Minière du Haut-Katanga.

On 18 January, panicked by reports that the burial of the three bodies had been observed, members of the execution team dug up the remains and moved them for reburial to a place near the border with Northern Rhodesia.

Repatriation of his remains

On 30 June 2020, Lumumba's daughter, Juliana Lumumba, appealed directly in letter to Philippe, King of the Belgians, the return of "the relics of Patrice Émery Lumumba to the ground of his ancestors", describing her father as "a hero without a grave". On 10 September 2020, a Belgian judge ruled that Lumumba's remains must be returned to his family.

In May 2021, Congolese President Félix Tshisekedi announced that there would be a repatriation of the last remains of Lumumba, however, the handover ceremony was delayed because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

On 20 June, Lumumba's children received the remains of their father during a ceremony at Egmont Palace in Brussels, where the federal prosecutor formally handed custody to the family. The Belgian Prime Minister, Alexander De Croo, apologised on behalf of the Belgian government for his country's role in Lumumba's assassination. Later the full-sized coffin was brought in public and draped in the Congolese flag for the Congolese and wider African diaspora of Belgium to pay their respects before the return.

Lumumba's final resting place will be in a special mausoleum in Kinshasa. The DRC has declared three days of national mourning. The burial will coincide with the 61st anniversary of his famous independence-day speech. An investigation by Belgian prosecutors for "war crimes" related to Lumumba's murder is ongoing.

Political ideology

Lumumba did not espouse a comprehensive political or economic platform. According to Patricia Goff, Lumumba was the first Congolese to articulate a narrative of the Congo that contradicted traditional Belgian views of colonisation, and he highlighted the suffering of the indigenous population under European rule. Goff writes that Lumumba was alone among his contemporaries in encompassing all Congolese people in his narrative (the others confined their discussions to their respective ethnicities or regions), and he offered a basis for national identity that was predicated upon having survived colonial victimisation, as well as the people's innate dignity, humanity, strength, and unity. Lumumba's ideal of humanism included the values of egalitarianism, social justice, liberty, and the recognition of fundamental rights. He viewed the state as a positive advocate for the public welfare and its intervention in Congolese society necessary to ensure equality, justice, and social harmony.


Le 17 janvier 1961, Patrice Lumumba mourrait, victime de son « rêve » pour un Congo libre, démocratique et développé. (16112526649)
Statue of Lumumba in Kinshasa, erected in January 2002 after the fall of the Mobutu regime


Full accounts of Lumumba's life and death were printed within weeks of his demise. Beginning in 1961 and continuing for several years thereafter, some biographies on him were published. Lumumba's role in the Congolese independence movement is well-documented, and he is typically recognised as its most important and influential leader. His exploits are usually celebrated as the work of him as an individual and not that of a larger movement.

Political impact

Due to his relatively short career in government, quick removal from power, and controversial death, a consensus has not been reached on Lumumba's political legacy. His downfall was detrimental to African nationalist movements, and he is generally remembered primarily for his assassination. Numerous American historians have cited his death as a major contributing factor to the radicalisation of the American civil rights movement in the 1960s, and many African-American activist organisations and publications used public comment on his death to express their ideology. Popular memory of Lumumba has often discarded his politics and reduced him to a symbol. Within the Congo, Lumumba is primarily portrayed as a symbol of national unity, while abroad he is usually cast as a Pan-Africanist and anticolonial revolutionary.


The circumstances of Lumumba's death have led him to often be portrayed as a martyr.

In Congolese collective memory, it is perceived that Lumumba was killed through Western machinations because he defended the Congo's self-determination.

Commemoration and official tributes

The Soviet Union 1961 CPA 2576 stamp (The Struggle for the Liberation of Africa. Lumumba ( 1925-1961 ), premier of Congo)
USSR commemorative stamp, 1961

In 1961 Adoula became Prime Minister of the Congo. Shortly after assuming office he went to Stanleyville and laid a wreath of flowers at an impromptu monument established for Lumumba. After Tshombe became Prime Minister in 1964, he also went to Stanleyville and did the same. On 30 June 1966, Mobutu rehabilitated Lumumba's image and proclaimed him a "national hero". By a presidential decree, the Brouwez House, site of Lumumba's torture on the night of his murder, became a place of pilgrimage in the Congo. He declared a series of other measures meant to commemorate Lumumba, though few of these were ever executed aside from the release of a banknote with his visage the subsequent year. This banknote was the only paper money during Mobutu's rule that bore the face of a leader other than the incumbent president. In following years state mention of Lumumba declined and Mobutu's regime viewed unofficial tributes to him with suspicion. Following Laurent-Désiré Kabila's seizure of power in the 1990s, a new line of Congolese francs was issued bearing Lumumba's image.

In January 2003, Joseph Kabila, who succeeded his father as president, inaugurated a statue of Lumumba. In Guinea, Lumumba was featured on a coin and two regular banknotes despite not having any national ties to the country. This was an unprecedented occurrence in the modern history of national currency, as images of foreigners are normally reserved only for specially-released commemorative money. As of 2020, Lumumba has been featured on 16 different postage stamps. Many streets and public squares around the world have been named after him. The Peoples' Friendship University of the USSR was renamed "Patrice Lumumba Peoples' Friendship University" in 1961. It was renamed again in 1992.

See also

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