Imagine shrinking a human being – a political leader carrying the hopes and aspirations of millions of people… imagine shrinking that person to a single tooth! One tooth is all that remains to show that Patrice Émery Lumumba, Pan-Africanist and former Prime Minister of the Republic of Congo, has ever set foot on this earth.
After his political rivals led by President Joseph Kasa-Vubu and Chief of Staff Joseph-Désiré Mobutu – with the active support of the United States and Belgium – succeeded in kidnapping, torturing, humiliate and execute him, they conspired to have him vaporized. The conspiracy of hate was so incendiary that they couldn’t bear to allow him to have a corpse, much less a grave.
They cut up his remains and soaked everything in acid. Only two gold-capped teeth, kept as hunting trophies by one of the Belgian officers involved in the murder, survived. Eventually only one was found by the authorities who have now sent him back to the Democratic Republic of Congo for burial.
Sixty-one years later, Lumumba’s golden tooth is buried as a hero in the troubled Democratic Republic of Congo. After death, a person’s teeth are the most durable part of the body. This explains why they are often found with ancient skeletons. In the horrific circumstances of Lumumba’s vaporization, the survival of his tooth is a metaphor for the native’s return to his roots; the completion of a cycle of evil and the rebirth of hope.
Those who orchestrated Lumumba’s murder expect Africans to be grateful to have at least recovered Lumumba’s tooth from the trophy collection of Belgian police commissioner, Gérard Soete, who participated in the murder of the African hero. . I cannot for a minute lose sight of the symbolism of the amalgamation between a part of an African’s body and memories of hunting expeditions. It’s worse than racism. It betrays the subhuman texture of the Western psychological makeup.
I’m not one to play racial games or indulge in racial baiting. However, I can’t help but notice that the black race is the most exploited and dehumanized species of homo sapiens since the beginning of creation. From age to age, other races, especially the Caucasian race, have visited untold horrors on black peoples, depopulated the African continent and sent into slavery some of the strongest specimens of humanity that have ever walked on Earth. It is difficult to imagine if any other race – white, brown or yellow – could have survived the multiple vicissitudes suffered by black people over the ages.
The Congo had been particularly unfortunate to have the barbarian Belgians as colonial overlords, from the time of King Leopold II, the evil ruler who appropriated the Congo Free State made up of 3,000 square miles of inland jungle rich in resources and savannah. for 20 years.
His private police force, the Force Publique, was the ultimate agent of terror used to maintain the huge slave camp that the country had become. About 15 million people died during Leopold’s reign of terror, either directly through his policemen or through diseases that ravaged the land.
At first, Leopold exploited ivory. But when the demand for rubber increased, he assigned a daily rubber quota. Congolese have been captured and forced to work in torture conditions. A man’s family or relatives may be held hostage until he returns from the rubber forests. If the man did not return with enough rubber, his relatives were often raped, tortured or mutilated. The hands of those who could not meet their quota were systematically cut off.
A Catholic priest would have been shocked by all this. He interviewed a man named Tswambe, about the much despised state official Léon Fiévez, who ran a district along the river. Tswambe gave him hard-hitting details:
“All the blacks saw this man as the devil of the equator… Of all the bodies killed on the ground, the hands had to be cut off. He wanted to see the number of hands cut off by each soldier, who had to bring them in baskets… A village that refused to supply rubber would be completely swept away. As a young man I saw [Fiévez’s] the soldier Molili, who was then guarding the village of Boyeka, took a net, put ten arrested natives in it, attached large stones to the net, and made it fall into the river… The rubber caused these torments; that’s why we don’t want to hear his name mentioned anymore. The soldiers forced the young men to kill or rape their own mothers and sisters…”
In exchange for the rubber and ivory that came out of the Congo, the royal butcher Leopold II sent soldiers and guns. It is said to have made about 70 million Belgian francs in profits during the time of its operation. Even after the Belgian state purchased the Congo from Leopold, it continued with its own version of racism and bestial exploitation.
To date, Belgium has not changed. He is still a primitive, selfish thieving entity who believes that the end justifies the means, no matter how heinous. The other day, King Philippe of Belgium paid his first visit to the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), where he expressed his deepest regrets for the wounds of the past, characterized by unequal relations, paternalism, discrimination and racism which, violence and humiliation”.
He did not apologize for the crimes that King Leopold II and his other ancestors committed against the Congolese people. Apparently, he thinks it’s beneath him to apologize to the slaves of his ancestors.
I remember Lumumba’s death took my corner of the country by storm when it happened in 1961. Any pupil or student who grew up in the western region of Nigeria could not have missed the utter grief that enveloped the region where Lumumba was considered a hero. Chief Awolowo’s Action Group government celebrated African leaders with socialist/welfarist leanings. So people like Nkrumah from Ghana and Lumumba from Congo were seen as heroes.
Lumumba’s death was a region-wide loss; Not less. Musician Hubert Ogunde cut it all out on vinyl for posterity:
Awon odale ti won pa Lumumba, (All the conspirators who killed Lumumba)
Ha! Aye ma re o, (Ha! Traitor world),
E o j’iya lat’aye lo (you will suffer here on earth)
Ke to lo j’iya l’alujanna o. (Before suffering in the afterlife)
It was a time when political leaders earned their stripes through the furnace of anti-colonial struggles amid orchestrated conspiracies, betrayals and brutal repression. It was the era of pioneers like Léopold Sedar Senghor of Senegal; Nnamdi Azikiwe from Nigeria; Kwame Nkrumah from Ghana; Ahmed Sékou Touré from Guinea; Hubert Maga from Benin; Ahmadou Ahidjo from Cameroon; Sylvanus Olympio from Togo; Modibo Keïta from Mali et al.
The challenges facing the new generation of African leaders are enormous. Apparently, current and future generations of African leaders will still have to fight the same demons that their ancestors fought against in very brutal unequal battles and wars. The West is still teeming with many Leopolds and the economic rat race has become even more vicious with the invention of new tools and schemes to sabotage “uncooperative” nations.
France is still kneeling on the neck of French-speaking African countries through its over-indebtedness of “colonial debt” which allows it to continue to manage its former colonies as if they were student boarding schools. As the African Union becomes more and more a mere salon where African leaders fraternize and pat each other on the back – a far cry from the combative pro-liberation OAU of the 1970s and 1980s, I fear that the task of curbing these racist oppressors across the continent is becoming more difficult day by day.
But I am hopeful that millennials will shoulder their historic responsibility and free their space from the leeches that have underdeveloped the continent over the years. Each generation has its responsibilities!
The official burial of Lumumba’s tooth will at least give his family some sort of closure. The consolation is that they have a very small piece of him, however tiny.
The ancient Greeks and Egyptians described a mythical bird called the Phoenix, a magnificent creature that was a symbol of renewal and rebirth. The phoenix was a powerful being that seemed human. He possessed the ability to incinerate objects through touch and was immune to conventional methods of killing; although the phoenix could technically “die”, it would resurrect shortly after being killed.
Like the Phoenix, the internment of Lumumba’s tooth, dust to dust and ash to ash, will spark a renaissance in Congo and on his home continent.