Patrice Lumumba was the first prime minister of the Democratic Republic of Congo, calling for national unity and overall African independence.
Born on July 2, 1925, in Onalua, Belgian Congo (now the Democratic Republic of the Congo), Patrice Lumumba was a writer and civic organizer before co-founding the Congolese National Movement. He became the first prime minister of the Democratic Republic of Congo with the country’s independence; yet massive unrest followed with other leaders’ uprisings, along with U.S. and Belgian involvement. Lumumba was killed on January 17, 1961.
Background and Early Career
Future Prime Minister Patrice Émery Lumumba was born Élias Okit’Asombo on July 2, 1925, in the Kasai province of Belgian Congo (now the Democratic Republic of the Congo), in the village of Onalua. He was able to hone his love for literature and learning while attending missionary school and borrowing books to read.
After some travels within his country and acquiring different languages, Lumumba became a postal service clerk during the mid-1940s in what is now Kinshasa, later working as an accountant in another region. He also wrote poems and essays for publication, earning acclaim, and became increasingly involved in political movements, keeping in mind the oppression endured by Africans from the Belgian colonial system.
After having established himself as a leader in organizing unions, Lumumba co-established the Congolese National Movement in 1958. He called for countrywide unity, bringing together different ethnic backgrounds, and freedom from colonial atrocities, with major links to Pan-Africanist movements as well.
Becomes Prime Minister
On June 30, 1960, the Democratic Republic of Congo officially took its independence from Belgium, and, at 35 years old, Lumumba became the country’s first prime minister. However, nationwide disarray was to follow with various leaders vying for power, including a Belgian-fortified secession of the region of Katanga, headed by Moise Tshombe.
Lumumba called for United Nations aid to no avail and turned to the Soviet Union for military intervention, with the Congo thus caught in Cold War politics and Lumumba perceived by the U.S. as having communist ties. Years later it was revealed that a C.I.A. operative in the field during the Eisenhower administration was instructed to poison Lumumba; the agent recounted in a 2008 New York Times article he secretly chose not to do so, though some accounts clash with this.
Death and Legacy
With the country falling under the control of military leader Joseph Mobutu, Lumumba was captured and, though at one point escaping, was eventually taken to Katanga, where he was beaten and killed on January 17, 1961. His death ignited international outrage and years later continues to provoke dialogue on foreign investment in creating the turmoil seen after his rise to power and African independence in general. Congo soon endured the decades-long, highly-damaging reign of Joseph Mobutu, who would become known as Mobutu Sésé Seko.
Lumumba, his story and vision have been chronicled in a number of literary works and films, including the 2001 book The Assassination of Lumumba, by Ludo De Whitte, and the Raoul Peck movie released the same year, Lumumba. Peck had also directed a documentary on the leader.