Patrice Lumumba was the first democratically-elected leader of the Congo post-independence from Belgium. Born on July 2, 1925, into a peasant family of the Tetela ethnic group, Lumumba began working in Leopoldville (now Kinshasa) as beer salesman and postal clerk. He got his first taste of political activism as a member and leader in the Congolese branch of the Liberal Party of Belgium.
In 1956, Lumumba helped found the mass political party Mouvement National Congolais (MNC). Lumumba was arrested by the Belgian imperialists in 1959 for allegedly inciting an anti-Belgian riot in which 30 people were killed, and was sentenced to 69 months in prison.
He was released after pressure from the Congolese people, with the goal of ensuring his presence at a conference in Belgium to decide the future of the Congo in Brussels. At this conference, Congolese independence was won, and the official date of power transfer was set for June 30, 1960. Lumumba and the MNC won the May 1960 elections, making him the country’s first democratically-elected Prime Minister.
Shortly after independence, a separatist movement in the mineral rich area of Katanga arose, led by Moishe Tshombe. As a result, Lumumba turned to the Soviet Union for assistance in maintaining the integrity of the new state. This resulted in the United States and the European Bloc labeling him a communist, as did many other democratic leaders throughout the world.
Lumumba was deposed as Prime Minister, which was followed by a coup d’etat by a military officer named Joseph Mobutu (later known as Mobutu Sese Soko). Lumumba was under house arrest at the house of the current Prime Minister, as troops from the United Nations were stationed around the residence.
Although Lumumba was smuggled out of his house in the middle of the night, with the intention of establishing his own government and military troops, he was caught, handed over to the Katangan separatists, and ultimately assassinated by Katangan and Belgian authorities on January 17, 1961. Due to his alleged status as a communist, it was later discovered that the CIA may have carried out Lumumba’s execution with the assistance of the Kataga authorities.
Although he was prime minister for only a short time, he left a legacy as a leader of character, courage, strong will, and genuine concern for the masses of his country. He is still revered in the independent Congo today as the father of the country.