Patrice Lumumba from a Mere Man to a Lasting Symbol: Patrice Lumumba Is One of the Few African Leaders Who Are Still Remembered 50 Years after Their Death. Yet He Only Ruled for Three Months! and He Died at the Young Age of 35! So Why Is He Still So Fondly Remembered? Cameron Duodu Examines the Phenomenon

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I CAN STILL REMEMBER IT LIKE YESTERDAY--the day, 50 solid years ago, when Ghana's president, Dr Kwame Nkrumah, made a special broadcast to announce solemnly to the nation that he had "received information" that Patrice Lumumba, the prime minister of Congo, had been assassinated.

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Lumumba had been arrested, first by Mobutu's troops, and then sent to Katanga province, where his worst enemy, Moise Tshombe, and his secessionist forces reigned supreme, despite the presence of United Nations troops in the area. President Nkrumah did not disclose his sources, of course, but anyone who knew that he had excellent contacts with the USSR, whose intelligence services at the time were second to none, would have been a fool to doubt that his information was absolutely reliable.

Nkrumah went as far as to say that a "Belgian policeman" had been in charge of the deed. This was an incredible bit of prescience: it was not until the 2001 publication in Belgium of The Assassination of Patrice Lumumba by Ludo De Witte, that the exact circumstances of the assassination became widely known. And they tallied exactly with the information Nkrumah gave his countrymen nearly half a century earlier.

Ghanaians were stunned. For Nkrumah had involved the whole nation in trying to save Lumumba and his country from the machinations of the Belgians. As will be seen later, Ghanaian troops were sent to Congo--the first time soldiers from an independent African country had gone to the service of another independent African country. But more than that, all sorts of skilled Ghanaians also went to Congo--doctors, artisans, even journalists. (Edward Armah, a veteran of the Ghana Broadcasting Corporation, was attached to the Ghanaian contingent to enable the soldiers to send messages to their families back home, and his colleagues in Accra contacted some of the families to send messages back to the soldiers. Special, powerful transmissions--"interactive transmissions"--were carried out to enable this to occur.)

How did Lumumba, an obscure politician, who made his public outing on the international scene only when he attended the All-African People's Conference in Accra in December 1958, become an African icon, whose place in history is at the very top of the tree on which African heroes perch, where he will stay for ever?

Indeed, Lumumba is next only to Nelson Mandela in terms of being the all-time unblemished figure who most readily comes to mind when Africa is discussed in relation to struggle. Even Mandela had lesser enemies to contend with: Lumumba was chased around by both the CIA and its Belgian subsidiary, with whom it cooperated through NATO!

Not only that--Mandela suffered tremendously. But he won. Lumumba, on the other hand, lost--he lost power, he lost his country, and in the end, he lost his life. All were forcibly taken from him by a combination of forces that were probably the most powerful ever deployed against a single individual in history.

In his book, Ludo De Witte calls Lumumba's murder "the most important political assassination in the 20th century." The amazing thing is that Lumumba had done absolutely nothing against those who wanted his blood! They just saw him as a threat to their interests; interests narrowly defined to mean, "His country has got resources. We want them. He might not give them to us. So let's get him." I submit, though, that he should not be seen only as a victim of forces too powerful for him to contend with. On the contrary, he should be seen as someone who fully recognised the power of the forces ranged against him and fought valiantly with every ounce of breath in his body and with great intelligence to try and save his country.

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If Lumumba's fate contrasts with that of Mandela, who was imprisoned for tangible acts against South Africa's apartheid regime, we see that, in the history of the African people's struggle in the 20th century, Mandela and Lumumba represent different ends of the spectrum of activity. …