Imperialism: Patrice Lumumba was the right leader for the

Imperialism: the policy of extending a nation’s authority through acquiring territory, one that has affected the entire world. Countries imperialized due to industrialization (competition for raw materials, new markets, colonies, and technological superiority), to spread Christianity, and the belief in the “White Man’s Burden” to bring good things to other areas. Imperialism had existed for centuries, but changed radically in the 1900s. New imperialism saw a focus placed on direct rule, instead of low-interference trading posts that had been typical of earlier imperialism (Spielvogel 651). The area that is known today as the Democratic Republic of the Congo was once a victim of new imperialism, firmly under harsh Belgian rule. It gained independence in 1960, after the influence of Patrice Lumumba. Patrice Lumumba was the right leader for the Congo at the time for many reasons. His experience with and exposure to politics gave him the skills he needed to be an effective force for Congolese independence. He believed in the Congo as one undivided country instead of one split by ethnic groups, bringing people together to be strong and fight for independence. He was willing to ignore outside pressures and do what he felt was best for the Congo, even turning to violence. The Congo was taken over by King Leopold II of Belgium in 1885, when it became known as the Congo Free State. Prior to this, it was a strong, unified state known for advanced iron and copper working. Portuguese traders, artisans, and missionaries were welcomed, and slavery was part of the culture. The Congo was composed of many tightly knit tribes, each with its own chief (King Leopold’s Ghost). The slave trade created tension between tribes because each chief had their personal interests at heart (Cordell). Several motives drove King Leopold to colonize the Congo. He wanted colonies to represent his power to the rest of the world (King Leopold’s Ghost). Natural resources were also abundant in the Congo. Rubber was becoming an extremely valuable resource due to new products and developments because of industrialization (King Leopold’s Ghost). Leopold used the “White Man’s Burden” to justify his actions. He said his intentions were “to open to civilization the only part of our globe where it has not yet penetrated” and called it ” a crusade worthy of this century of progress” (Spielvogel 657). Leopold owned the Congo himself, not Belgium, so all profits went to his pocket (Spielvogel 657) – providing a major incentive for colonization. In 1876, Leopold hired Henry Stanley to set up Belgian settlements in the Congo (Spielvogel 657). Over 5 years, Stanley tricked chiefs into signing treaties that gave up control of their land and people to Leopold, in exchange for goods and new products. As the chiefs could not read, they did not realize what they had done. A system of direct rule was instituted, with chiefs being stripped of their power in favor of Belgian government (King Leopold’s Ghost). The people were subjected to extreme cruelty, abuse, and murder. They were forced to work as slaves for the king, doing jobs like procuring rubber – a dangerous task. Women, children, and elders were often held hostage until the rubber was delivered. Belgian officials did not shy away from using harsh punishments, like cutting off the hands. The Force Publique, Leopold’s private army, ensured that the people were obedient (King Leopold’s Ghost). Despite his drastic effects on it, Leopold never once visited the Congo (Cordell). In 1908, Leopold sold the Congo to Belgium, and it became known as the Belgian Congo.Through his life, Lumumba was exposed to people and ideas that shaped who he was later. He was born on 2 July 1925 in the tiny village of Onalua in the Kasai province in the small Batetela tribe, to parents that did not have a lot of money. Growing up, gathered with other villagers, Lumumba was told the horrific tales of atrocities at the hands of Belgian soldiers under King Leopold II (Henderson). He attended a missionary school, typical for black boys at the time who had the opportunity, where he was prepared for manual labour as was expected, with only one hour for studying. However, Lumumba displayed a hunger for knowledge that was unique. His teacher’s responded by lending him books (Henderson). Lumumba got the chance for secondary education, which he pursued, but ended up dropping out and leaving to work at age 18, as his father could not afford the fees. He ended up working as a postal clerk in both Leopoldville and Stanleyville (Merriman). In Stanleyville, the city’s restaurants, theaters, and hotels were off limits to Africans who were also relegated to the back seats of buses and boats, and could not live within the city, providing Lumumba his first direct exposure to Belgian influence (“Europe since 1914”). Lumumba spent time reading and talking with young people who, like him, came from villages and were educated in mission schools. They called themselves “évolués” – a word that literally means “evolved,” to describe educated and westernized Africans. Together, the group debated politics, listened to news, and exchanged books (Henderson). During these discussions, Lumumba began to gain an understanding of politics. He observed that the main Belgian opposition parties disagreed with the colonialist agenda only on minor issues like wages and schools and that they fell quiet as soon as such essential questions as the future status of the Congo arose (Merriman). No one was speaking up for the Congolese people.Sparks of independence in other African countries inspired Lumumba. By around 1952, the prospect was looking like it could become reality for several colonies. Belgium finally granted limited African involvement in civic activities and held elections in Leopoldville in 1957 (Henderson). Lumumba attended the All-African People’s Conference in Accra, Ghana, convened by Kwame Nkrumah, the Ghanaian president and prominent African revolutionary leader from December 8-13 in 1958. The conference and the Pan-Africanist, socialist revolutionary thinking of Nkrumah impressed and inspired Lumumba, specifically his idea of a one united Africa free from imperialism (Vanthemsche). Lumumba returned to the Congo to press for independence. He called for the rights to progress, well-being, and dignity for all his “race brothers” (Henderson). He openly supported secular education in the Congo, the principle of equality, and rights and freedoms for all – ideas that were drawn from the United States Constitution, making him unique. At the Pan-African People’s conference in 1958, Lumumba made a powerful speech expressing his fundamental goals. He ended powerfully, saying, “Down with imperialism. Down with colonialism. Down with racism and tribalism. Long live the Congolese nation. Long live independent Africa” (Henderson). The independence movement was born after Belgium took over the Congo from King Leopold. The standard of living for Congolese increased greatly. Access to secondary educations and new health measures were instated. New bourgeoisie, eventually to include Lumumba, emerged as a result and began to form associations that advocated for Congolese people. These associations led to political organizations that proved to be the seed for a cry for Congolese independence (Haskin 11). Within amicales (fraternal political organizations), the future leaders of the Congo, like Lumumba, were able to publicly express their feelings and desires – respectfully, as the press was strictly censored by the Belgians (Henderson). Although censored, ideas were expressed for the first time. The first event to bring the idea of full independence into Congolese minds was the increase of Congolese participation in government. Before 1947, native interests had been represented entirely by Belgians, but in 1947 two Africans were chosen to represent the Congolese within the council. By 1951, the number of Africans serving in the council was eight – first participation in matters of rural government – created a start for ideas of independence (Haskin 12). A proposal in 1955 by A.A.J. van Bilsen of the Institute for Colonial Studies further spurred the movement, when he suggested granting the Congolese independence within thirty years. Although van Bilsen was viewed as a radical in Belgium, his ideas were eagerly received by the Congolese, Lumumba included (Haskin 13). The idea spread like wildfire and spoke to many. In response to this rise of strong sentiments toward independence, the word “emancipation” crept into official Belgian terminology by 1957 (Merriman). The Belgians were forced to think about granting the Congo freedom to keep people happy.”The fundamental goal for our movement is to free the Congolese people from the colonialist regime and earn them their independence. . . which will grant its citizens freedom, justice, social peace, tolerance, well-being, and equality, with no discrimination whatsoever” (Sartre, 57). Lumumba began expressing himself in La Voix du Congolese (Voice of the Congo) and La Croix du Congo, two “évolué” publications. Through his writing, he became known as one of “only a dozen Congolese in a country of thirteen million who dared to express himself” (Henderson). In anticipation of the 1958 visit of a Belgian delegation, a political organization, the Mouvement National Congolais (MNC) was created, amongst others. Lumumba emerged as a founder and a key member of it. The MNC petitioned the Belgian government for more native involvement in the planning of their future, and talk began to circulate of Congo’s independence (Henderson). However, Lumumba’s attitude toward the Belgians became much more militant as the country moved toward independence, opposed to his earlier petitions and writings. Although at first, he had wanted to cooperate with them, he later changed his mind (Haskin 10). In October 1959, Lumumba was arrested after MNC-led protests and riots in the capital on a charge of inciting to riot (Vanthemsche).Lumumba’s experience with politics gave him the ability to be a powerful force for independence in the Congo. He showed an interest in politics at an early age, getting involved in groups of évolués and debating politics (Merriman). These discussions and his natural interest allowed him to gain an understanding of politics that would help his career later on. He became regional president of a Congolese trade union of government employees that was not affiliated, as were other unions, to either of the Belgian trade-unions (Cordell). Through his presidency, Lumumba became good at negotiations and interacting with people. In 1955, Lumumba was among a group of Congolese granted an audience with the Belgian King Baudouin, who was touring the Congo. Only Lumumba was able to answer the king’s questions, so he was taken aside to discuss the future of the Congo (Henderson). By surrounding himself with political ideas, he was able to later put himself in a position to influence change, as he understood the issues more than the average Congolese person. Later that same year, Lumumba was selected to go to Belgium to discuss politics, at the age of only 30 (Merriman). His experience in Belgium gave him more exposure to Belgian attitudes and politics, allowing him to learn how to act in the future, an opportunity not provided to all. Lumumba was arrested for embezzlement in 1956, but his prison term was not enough to stamp out his political involvement (Merriman). In October 1958 he, along with other Congolese leaders, launched the Congolese National Movement (Mouvement National Congolais; MNC), the first nationwide Congolese political party (Vanthemsche). His involvement with leading the MNC exposed him even more to Belgium and enabled him to learn what he needed to do to advance – again, an opportunity unique to him. His primary rivals, Moise Tshombe and Joseph Kasavubu, both lacked the extent of political experience Lumumba had. Tshombe was from a wealthy business family and only got into politics later in life as the businesses began to fail (Cordell).  He had not developed certain political skills in the way Lumumba had, as he did not need them as a businessman. Kasavubu was much more involved in politics than Tshombe, but did not have the skills derived from Lumumba’s interest and drive for politics from a young age. Lumumba’s exposure to the political world in both the Congo and in Belgium gave him the skills he needed to be successful when advocating for Congolese independence when others were not. Lumumba promoted the idea of one strong Congo without the divisions of ethnic groups, uniting people to push for independence. “What set Lumumba apart from his main rivals – Joseph Kasavubu and Moise Tshombe – were his convictions and vision for a unified and independent Congo” (Henderson). Lumumba was a member of a small ethnic group, a fact that became significant in his later political life. His opponents both came from large and powerful ethnic groups, which made their campaigns seem regional. In contrast, Lumumba spoke to a wider crowd and was free from pre-established prejudices between groups. (Vanthemsche). He was able to draw support from all corners of the Congo, catapulting his campaign. Map A gives a visual representation of the regions from which Kasabuvu and Tshombe drew their support, Léopoldville and Katanga respectively. While both these regions were large, they were only a fraction of the Congo. Speaking only to their ethnic groups, they could not match the amount of support Lumumba generated. The map also shows that no matter how strong the individual provinces, they would never be as strong as the whole – they were too small. Due to the harsh treatment of the Congolese by the Belgians, maximum strength was necessary, and Lumumba realized this. Kasavubu was a member of the powerful Bakongo, one of the largest ethnic groups in the country. He wanted an independent Congo with a structure that would preserve some Bakongo autonomy. Tshombe was from the Lunda ethnic group, also powerful, and also sought autonomy for its main province (Cordell). Lumumba was different, he represented unity – an idea that spoke to many. The unity he represented was necessary to the Congolese independence movement because the Belgians had been exploiting the divisions since King Leopold. Henry Stanley was able to trick many individual chiefs and they could not organize against it (King Leopold’s Ghost). At a conference called by the Belgian government in 1960, Tshombe presented proposals for an independent Congo made up of semi-autonomous provinces. It was rejected in favour of Lumumba’s plan for a centralized republic (Merriman). A centralized republic is a strong republic, exactly what the Congo needed to drag itself out from colonial rule. As a leader, Lumumba had no ulterior tribal motives like Tshombe and Kasavubu did, making him easier to support. Lumumba was quoted saying, “I have no father, I have no mother, I have no tribe, I have no religion. I am an idea. Congo gave me life and made me who I am. It is my turn to make Congo a better place to live” (Sartre 71). Lumumba’s vision for one powerful united Congo set him apart from his rivals, and allowed him to generate more support, strength, and success for the independence movement.Lumumba was willing to go against outside pressures and do what he thought was right for the Congo, even when it involved violence. This attitude became important later in his career, due to the heavy resistance he faced from other countries. From the start, Belgium was against granting the Congo independence. The MNC, a movement which Lumumba headed up, led protests and riots in the capital in early 1959 which resulted in almost 50 deaths. Lumumba was arrested to be charged with inciting to riot (Merriman). After these events, Belgian authorities were forced to acknowledge that serious issues existed and could not be quashed. Despite the pressure from Belgium to give up the independence fight, Lumumba took a firm stand for what he believed in, which led to progress being made. After independence was granted to the Congo in 1960, the situation at home turned to chaos extremely quickly. The Force Publique mutinied a week after independence, and a civil war began (Haskin 30). When the United Nations refused to send help to the Congo, Lumumba appealed to the Soviet Union, despite alarm. In the context of the Cold War, the Soviet Union’s support for Lumumba appeared as a threat to many in the west, including the USA (Cordell). Kasavubu, who was president of the Congo while Lumumba was Prime Minister, was willing to be influenced by other countries who had their own interests at heart – the Congo was a gold mine of natural resources, and they did not wish to be cut off (Merriman). Lumumba, by contrast, was not willing to be pushed around. Had Lumumba not turned to the Soviet Union, the conflicts breaking out may have escalated to an uncontrollable height for the new government, which outside countries who feared losing their access to the Congo were hoping for. During the civil war, Belgium sent troops and flew in planes for evacuation with concern for their people, without asking the permission of the new government. Worried that the Belgians were trying to reoccupy the country, Lumumba called for the immediate withdrawal of troops (Henderson). This action established him as enemy in the eyes of the Belgians, as Kasabuvu had not been the one to actively call for the withdrawal. In fact, on September 5, 1960, Lumumba was dismissed from office by President Kasabuvu, who was influenced by the Belgians in this decision. At great cost to his safety, he immediately contested the action (Henderson). His desire to make the Congo free from outside influence established him as a threat, and proved to lead to his downfall. After all the horror and exploitation the Congolese faced at the hands of Belgium, they needed a leader like Lumumba, who wanted to make them strong by themselves, not reliant on other countries. Lumumba had a significant impact on Belgium both during his campaign and his time as Prime Minister. Belgium was forced to consider independence for the Congo after parties like the MNC, which Lumumba led, were established (Henderson). Belgian hold in the Congo became shakier. After Lumumba became Prime Minister, relations with Belgium became tense. On independence day, Lumumba snarled, “We are no longer your monkeys” to the Belgian king. Soon, the new government would find itself at odds with the Belgians (Haskin 22). The Congo was filled with natural resources and labour that Belgium had been exploiting (King Leopold’s Ghost), and Lumumba posed a threat to that. Although he was at first willing to cooperate with Belgium, he turned militant and against them toward the end of his campaign (Haskin 22). The loss of access to the Congo would have been devastating for Belgium, and Lumumba was the principal force blocking them.Lumumba had a perhaps even more significant impact on the Congolese people than he did on Belgium. His powerful speeches gave the people of the Congo a figure to rally around (Henderson). At the Brussels Round Table Conference in January 1960, a four-year plan for independence was presented, but the people supported Lumumba’s demand for immediate independence (Haskin 24). Lumumba’s ideas spoke to many, and it allowed him to hold a bit of power despite Belgian reluctance. Days after independence, the Force Publique mutinied over low pay rates. Warned that they could expect nothing new, they held a protest meeting and demanded dismissal of Belgian officers (Vanthemsche). Lumumba’s later anti-Belgium ideas greatly influenced the people of Congo, to the point of the Force Publique rioting and trying to drive out those remaining. The Congolese civil war began a week after the Congo became independent, starting with the 5 July 1960 army mutiny against Belgian officers. The mutiny touched off riots and violence that quickly spread outside the capital city. Several instances of violence against Europeans led to panic and the evacuation of foreign nationals and captured international headlines (Merriman). Again, Lumumba’s later anti-Belgium ideas were influencing the people. Lumumba’s actions made it possible for the Congo to gain independence.Lumumba was assassinated on January 17, 1961, by Congolese rivals with the collusion of the United States and Belgium (Berkeley). The Congo was a key area in terms of Africa. Because of its wealth, size, and closeness to southern Africa, Lumumba’s opponents had reason to fear the consequences of changed Congo regime (Cordell).  He was killed to protect foreign interests in the Congo, and his death marked the start of the Congo declining into what it is today. Lumumba is remembered as a man of strong character who intended to pursue his policies, regardless of the enemies he made within his country or abroad (Henderson). His death was described as “a turning point in history that helps explain how that African nation wound up on the road to its present ruin” (Berkeley). Lumumba’s army chief of staff, Joseph Mobutu, delivered him into the hands of his Congolese rivals and their Belgian allies, clearing the way for himself to take charge. Lumumba’s murder “paved the way for three decades of Mobutu’s kleptocratic despotism, in what he called Zaire, and the chaos that has engulfed Congo since he fled in 1997” (Berkeley). Map B shows the new 26 provinces of the Congo, opposed to the initial 6 shown in Map A. Although new provincial governments increase everyday citizens interaction with their regional government, they weaken central government power (Grossman, Lewis). This is in direct contradiction to Lumumba’s ideas of unity, and shows how his death affected the Congo – more provinces mean less government power and more room for outside influence. Lumumba is remembered as the only truly strong and independent leader in Congolese history. Had he not been killed, the Congo would have been very different, and possibly much more successful, today.