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Lumumba's Assassination Should Be a Lesson for All of Us

It seems that the African continent's name is so much associated with wars, famine, ethnic cleansing and brutal corrupt dictatorships. That's what we keep hearing in the Western mainstream media and that's what we get from the Western political discourse.

It seems that the African continent's name is so much associated with wars, famine, ethnic cleansing and brutal corrupt dictatorships. That's what we keep hearing in the Western mainstream media and that's what we get from the Western political discourse. But rarely do we hear about the people's struggles to end these plights and ills, let alone about the root causes of their predicaments: the legacy of centuries of barbaric colonialism, dehumanising slavery and the insidious neo-colonialism that strangles revolutions and installs submissive impotent bourgeoisies. For those who see history as a competition, Africa's backwardness and poverty are merely the result of its failures; we lost, others won. But to paraphrase the Latin American writer Eduardo Galeano: "the winners happen to have won thanks to our losing". The history of Africa's (Latin America and Asia's too) underdevelopment is an integral part of the history of world capitalism's development."

This is vividly demonstrated in Aimé Césaire's powerful play "A Season in the Congo" that has been produced for the first time in English this year at the Young Vic in London. The play was written in 1966 and is the second play in his trilogy of "Decolonisation Dramas" along with "The tragedy of King Christophe" (1963) about post-independence Haiti and "A Tempest" (1969), an adaptation of Shakespeare's, transposed to a colonial Caribbean setting. These plays cemented Césaire's reputation as an intellectual fully engaged in the post-colonial struggle of that time. Alongside Franz Fanon, he was at the vanguard of the Black intellectual struggle for racial equality and liberation from the oppressive, exploitative colonial yoke.

"A Season in the Congo" examines Patrice Lumumba's efforts to free the Congo from colonial Belgian rule and the political struggles that led to his murder in 1961. Lumumba's sin was his opposition to Belgian-backed secession of the mineral-rich Katanga province and his desire to achieve a genuinely independent Congo, politically and economically. It was obviously a sin big enough to warrant his assassination and his body's dissolution in acid. Lumumba knew how duplicitous his enemies were and how perilous his struggle was, but his love for his Congo and his beautiful dreams for a united strong Africa kept him going till the end.

Lumumba's Congo wanted to break away from the "eternal" division of labour among nations, where some specialise in winning and others in losing. It wanted to end its seemingly unchangeable "fate" of existing at the service of others' needs, as a source and reserve of the raw minerals such as gold, diamond and copper, always for the benefit of the foreign metropolis of the moment. The violent Contrast we still see today between the abundance of natural resources in Congo and the deprivation of its people was the reason Lumumba was fighting. Three months before a Western-backed assassination, involving the Belgians, Americans and the British, Lumumba foresaw his fate but believed in his Congo: "Dead, living, free, or in prison on the orders of the colonialists, it is not I who counts. It is the Congo, it is our people for whom independence has been transformed into a cage where we are regarded from the outside... History will one day have its say, but it will not be the history that Brussels, Paris, Washington, or the United Nations will teach, but that which they will teach in the countries emancipated from colonialism and its puppets... a history of glory and dignity."

Indeed it is not the history of the powerful that should be heeded but the history of peoples' struggles for emancipation. We thus must learn about the Western sponsored-coups to end popular democratically elected governments or to assassinate anti-imperialist revolutionaries who were threatening their interests and influence, not only in Africa but all over the world: Nkrumah (Ghana), Sankara (Burkina Faso), Kabral (Guinea-Bissau), Allende (Chili), Che Guevara (Argentina) and Chavez (Venezuela). The revolutionaries realised that perpetuation of the existing order is perpetuation of the crime and fought for the recovery of their countries' destiny, lands and resources that have always been usurped. The fight is still ongoing, especially when we see our ruling elites squandering our resources and submitting to foreign capital, when we see Western-backed, ruthless and corrupt despots at the head of our so called "sovereign" states.

Today, things appear to have changed very little. People rise and revolt against tyranny and oppression, but their revolutions and uprisings are derailed or betrayed, just because they are an aberration to a profoundly unjust global order, and because they are perceived as a threat to Western hegemony. El Sissi's Egypt in 2013 is a strong demonstration of the dangers of such counter-revolutions that crush people's aspirations for freedom.

Communities all over the world are still showing an arduous resistance to the imperialist-capitalist system that is grabbing their lands, robbing their resources and destroying their lives. Because of the damnation of the world's majority inscribed in the Manichean geographies, so well described by Fanon in The Wretched of the Earth, the rationality of rebellion is made absolutely clear in the struggles of the oppressed. The events of the "Arab Spring" are only an episode in this history. Grassroots social movements, thanks to their sacrifice and commitment to radical change, surely win some battles on the ground. But the challenge is so great to the point that what is bestowed on us by nature seems to be doomed to appropriation by imperialism, and any resistance to this sacrosanct commandment is faced with the wrath of a revengeful god. Any velleity for some economic patriotism is swiftly neutralised by neo-colonialist instruments like the IMF, World Bank and World Trade Organisation, if not by imperialist interventions. Are we condemned to a life of humiliating bowing to the foreign masters? Is everything forbidden us except to fold our arms and to wait for a miracle? Is this system, which generates oppression after oppression, written in the stars?

No condition is permanent; we need just to learn the lessons and do better the next time. Che Guevara put it eloquently: "We must move forward, striking out tirelessly against imperialism. From all over the world we have to learn lessons which events afford. Lumumba's murder should be a lesson for all of us." Lumumba's legacy therefore continues nowadays, as history belongs to the people; it's the people who continue to make history!