The speech under review in this exegesis was held on June 30th, 1960, as part of the ceremony to mark the granting of independence to the Congolese people by the Belgian state. Elected Prime Minister Patrice Lumumba’s speech was unsolicited and therefore unexpected by other participants of the event. In his speech, Lumumba states that the Congolese people have fought for independence, and subsequently details the injustices of colonialism. In the second part of the speech, Lumumba appeals to his fellow citizens and outlines his vision of the Congo as an independent country, which he frames in economic, political and social terms. He asks the people for their support, while also assuring the international community, Belgium included, of his desire for active cooperation in building the country.
On March 18th, Congolese rebel leader Bosco Ntaganda walked into the US embassy in Kigali, requesting to be sent to the International Criminal Court in The Hague (Clover, March 18, 2013). Ntaganda has been one of the pivotal figures within the rebel group termed M23, which has contributed to the renewed inflammation of conflict in the eastern areas of the Democratic Republic of Congo over the last few years.
If nothing else, the continuation of some degree of conflict within the DRC illustrates the enduring search for a sense of national identity, as well as the lack of centering on which to base the country’s vastly diverse population. Having been traumatized by the decades long colonial rule under Belgium and the catastrophe that was the Mobutu era, the DRC has found itself in the process of a difficult transition. The current period may well be a tipping point.
June 30th, 1960, may have been just such a tipping point as well. On that day, a ceremony was scheduled in Kinshasa to herald the attainment of Congolese independence from Belgium. With this achievement, Congolese identity was supposed to transition from colonial subject to sovereign state, from dependent subordinate to independent co-ordinate. It is this transition that was the subject of elected Prime Minister Patrice Lumumba’s speech on Independence Day. Lumumba made his unscheduled speed on the day that was to be the point of passage for the former Belgian Congo. In it, he laid out some of the visions which are still relevant for the DRC today. He talked about independence, national cohesion, and liberty. Given the current state of the DRC and the challenges it faces, Lumumba’s speech retains a high degree of significance with regard to current politics.
In order to make sense of the intricacies of Patrice Lumumba’s speech on Independence Day, it is necessary to situate the event in the context of the Congolese struggle for independence, as well as to provide a brief elaboration on Lumumba as a person. Since having been subjected to domination first by King Leopold II of Belgium in the late 19th Century, and subsequently by the Belgian state itself, calls for independence within the Congo grew louder in the 1950s. Nzongola-Ntajala dates the first significant event within this independence movement back to August 23rd, 1956, when the main institutional independence group ABAKO, headed by future president Joseph Kasa-Vubu, rejected a Belgian plan of a slow handover of sovereignty in favor of immediate independence (2002: 82).
In the wake of Ghana’s obtainment of independence from Britain, several other political parties formed in the Congo, among those the Mouvement National Congolais (MNC) led by Patrice Lumumba (Ibid: 83). After some measure of disagreement within the party, the MNC split in 1959, and Lumumba formed his own political party called MNC-L, with the L standing for Lumumba. It is notable that Lumumba’s party was virtually the only one with a truly national following at the time (Ibid).
According to Boateng, Lumumba was part of “the small African elite groomed by Belgium in the hope that they would look after its interests after independence” (2000: 22). Indeed, Sartre argues that Lumumba made an attempt to succeed personally within the colonial system, but was reminded of the profound limits as to what he as a black man could achieve in the Belgian dominated order (1972: 7). Therefore, we can see Lumumba as someone who had the privilege of education while also developing a certain antagonism against the system.
In late 1958, Lumumba had participated in the All-African People’s Conference in Ghana, where he became acquainted with figures such as Kwame Nkrumah, Frantz Fanon and Gamal Abdul Nasser (Nzongola-Ntajala, 2002: 85). Thus, this situates Lumumba in the tradition of postcolonial thought and its translation into practical action. Therefore, Nzongola-Ntajala points out that “it was from Accra that [Lumumba] brought back to the Congo new political perspectives, a mature nationalism, and a strong commitment to the African national project” (Ibid). Klein and Licata add that Lumumba “realized that in spite of the many efforts required for attaining a higher status, [the Congolese] remained ‘Blacks’ in the eyes of the Belgians and were still denied social recognition” (2003: 576).
Hence, we find both the Congolese elite as well as Lumumba personally shifting towards a stronger position with regard to immediate independence by the end of the 1950s. Duodu maintains that “Lumumba and other Congolese leaders saw the Belgian programme [of independence] as a scheme to install puppets before independence” (2011: 78). Given this context, Congolese nationalism began to assert itself rapidly, and Belgium shifted its position in the face of violent protests by 1959, acknowledging the trajectory towards Congolese independence (Klein, Licata, 2003: 577). Thus, in February of 1960, a plan was drawn up to schedule elections in May of the same year and the subsequent transfer of sovereignty to the Congolese people on June 30th, 1960 (Ibid). Crawford Young writes that at this point, the Congo “embarked upon the continent’s most radical decolonization” (1966: 34). Lumumba’s coalition managed to win the elections and he was appointed Prime Minister, while Joseph Kasa-Vubu attained the office of President.
To commemorate the transfer of independence to the Congo, a ceremony was held in Leopoldville (Kinshasa), on the occasion of which King Baudouin of Belgium was to give a speech. While President Kasa-Vubu was also scheduled as a speaker, Lumumba himself had not been invited as a speaker. While the king “delivered a speech whose paternalistic tone irritated the nationalists” (Van Lierde, 1972: 220), President Kasa-Vubu responded in measured tones. Thus, Lumumba “seized the microphone” (Ibid) and presented his response, which had, however, been prepared in advance.
- Quote paper
- Tim Pfefferle (Author), 2013, Lumumba's Independence Speech. Marking the Transition Towards a Free Africa, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/213284