60 years ago, the first head of the Congolese government, Lumumba, was killed. Decades later, research has shown the responsibility of the former colonial power of Belgium. But even today, processing is proceeding only slowly.
Alexander Göbel, ARD-Studio Brussels
“They’re killing us now, aren’t they?” – these are Patrice Lumumba’s last spoken words. On the night of January 17, 1961, he and two of his companions were tied to a tree in the forests of the Congo province of Katanga and shot. Belgian police officers buried the bodies, dug them up again, cut them with saws and threw them into acid barrels.
Nothing should remain, especially not from Lumumba: a rebel, an uncompromising pioneer of a new nation. About a man who stood up to King Baudouin of Belgium just a few months earlier – at an independence ceremony on June 30, 1960 in Léopoldville, today’s Kinshasa.
“Who will ever forget the massacres, the mass shootings that killed so many of our siblings?” Lumumba asked then. “The cells in which those who refused to submit to the regime of oppression and exploitation were placed?”
Just a short triumph
For the Belgian monarch, this reckoning with the brutal colonial era is an insult, for Lumumba it is only a short triumph. On the one hand, Belgium is releasing Congo into chaotic independence unprepared, on the other hand, it is resource-rich and still supported by the Belgian province of Katanga in the southeast after a few days.
Lumumba, abandoned by the West and the UN, makes a fundamental mistake: he leaves the Soviet Union to help him suppress Katang’s departure. Shortly afterwards, Lumumba was arrested by troops of his former army chief, later dictator Mobutu and Belgian troops. It turned out later: the US Secret Service of the CIA and also President Eisenhower gave the green light to the execution of Lumumba.
Commission of Inquiry 2001
Lumumba was a communist and chose the wrong camp, the Russians – as the Belgian secret service officer Louis Marlière dies today in a 2000 documentary about Lumumba’s murder and how systematically the Belgian state tried to cover it in the late 1990s was a Belgian sociologist and historian Ludo de Witte was the first to investigate all this – and he did not oppose it in Belgium.
Surprised by its revelations, the Belgian Parliament set up a commission of inquiry in 2001. She concluded: The former colonial power had “moral responsibility” for the crime.
“That is absurd, of course,” de Witte said. “Because moral responsibility means nothing and as such has no consequences. But there are many things: Belgium is to blame for the political assassination. “
The investigation was resumed in autumn 2020
In 2011, the Lumumba family asked for a legal explanation in Brussels. But nothing happens for a long time. The Belgian Public Prosecutor’s Office will not resume the investigation until autumn 2020 and will even consider the crime a war crime. But historian de Witte fears that the proceedings before the Belgian jury will come too late – if at all: the last two living co-responsible people are now over 90 years old.
“The Lumumba ensemble teaches us that the end of the colonial era is not the end of our responsibility,” says de Witte. “Also because colonialism lives on as neocolonialism. The global south continues to be used at a profit of billions of dollars. Lumumba’s life is a lesson for us, but also for the people of Congo. “
Two teeth remain
On the next day of Congolese independence at the end of June, Lumumba’s remains will be transferred from Brussels to Kinshasa, 60 years after his assassination: only two teeth left after research and a trial of de Witte from the private sector by von Gérard Soete’s family.
Soete, commissioner of the Belgian colonial police, was responsible for chopping and dissolving the corpse in acid on the night of the murder. Before that, Lumumba broke his teeth and put them in his pocket like a trophy.