Parallels between struggles for national liberation
Patrice Lumumba, Congo & African-American history
This year marks the 50th anniversary of the political assassination of Congo’s first prime minister under independence, Patrice Lumumba.
February is celebrated in the United States and around the world as African-American History Month, where people of all backgrounds and nationalities pay tribute to the monumental contributions of the African-American people and people of African descent to the development of cultures and civilizations throughout the world.
Founded in 1926 by Dr. Carter G. Woodson as Negro History Week, some 50 years later the commemoration was extended to African-American History Month as a further recognition of the transformative social movements that grew out of the 1960s and 1970s.
Although Africans have built civilizations in ancient times through the modern period, over the last six centuries the continent and its people have struggled consistently against slavery, colonialism and neocolonialism. Even those Africans who were taken away from their homeland and enslaved by European colonialists in the Western Hemisphere have maintained a campaign of resistance aimed at full self-determination and liberation.
The movements against slavery, segregation, lynching and superexploitation in the West have always coincided historically with the resistance movements on the African continent. All during the period of colonialism in Africa, there were rebellions and movements to win freedom and independence.
These efforts to throw off the shackles of slavery and national oppression intensified during the period following World War II. By the early 1950s, both inside the U.S. and on the African continent, civil rights, human rights and national independence movements had mobilized and organized millions.
In Egypt, anti-imperialist leader Gamal Abdel Nassar had come to power in 1952 and nationalized the Suez Canal in 1956, prompting an invasion from Britain, France and Israel. The Egyptian people triumphed in the conflict and provided an inspiration to other peoples within the region, where popular revolts occurred in Iraq and Lebanon during 1958, triggering the U.S. intervention in the region that same year.
In 1955-56, African Americans in Montgomery, Ala., staged a successful boycott of the bus system and defeated legalized segregation on local public transport. In 1957, the first civil rights bill since the period of Reconstruction in 1875 was passed by the U.S. Congress.
Also in 1957, Ghana gained its national independence under the leadership of the Convention People’s Party founded by Kwame Nkrumah, a Pan-Africanist and socialist who studied at Lincoln University, a historically Black university, during the Great Depression.
Nkrumah, who was influenced while in the U.S. by other Pan-Africanists and Marxists such as W.E.B. DuBois, William A. Hunton, C.L.R. James, Paul Robeson and George Padmore, invited many African Americans to Ghana after it gained independence and became the center of activity for broadening the liberation struggles in other colonized territories in Africa.
It was in Ghana during December 1958 that revolutionaries such as Patrice Lumumba, Shirley Graham DuBois, George Padmore and Kwame Nkrumah came together at the All-African Peoples Conference to plan a strategy for the total liberation of Africans and peoples of African descent worldwide. It was at the AAPC in Ghana that Lumumba became a known figure within liberation movement circles in Africa and the U.S.
Africa, the heightening African-American movement
In 1960 two significant developments occurred, respectively, in Africa and in the U.S. On the African continent 17 countries gained their independence from European colonialism. Inside the U.S., African-American students began to engage in nonviolent direct action at lunch counters and other segregated private and public institutions demanding an end to legalized racial segregation.
In April 1960, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee was formed. The founding conference of SNCC was held in Raleigh, N.C., where Ella Baker, the executive director of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference — the organization founded by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. — encouraged the college students to form their own independent organization to better fight against national discrimination.
In 1960 thousands of students staged sit-ins and other demonstrations throughout the U.S. South. SNCC proceeded to enter areas in the South to extend the leadership of the burgeoning Civil Rights movement to the Black farmers and youth who were tied to the exploitative conditions in the agricultural industry prevalent during the period.
The assassination of Lumumba
Patrice Lumumba returned to the Belgium Congo in early 1959 to lead the national independence struggle. By June 30, 1960, Congo was a sovereign country with Lumumba serving in a coalition government with moderate forces as prime minister and leader of the most populous party, the Congolese National Movement (MNC-Lumumba).
However, after a short period Lumumba’s government came under attack by the former colonialists in Belgium and the other imperialist countries, led by the U.S. After three months Lumumba’s government was overthrown. Lumumba was held under house arrest by United Nations so-called peacekeeping forces, who were objectively siding with imperialism against him and the progressive forces in Congo.
After Lumumba escaped from the capital of Leopoldville to join his supporters in the east of the country, he was kidnapped with the assistance of the Central Intelligence Agency, which had been involved in plots to assassinate him for several months. Lumumba was turned over to the agents of Belgian and world imperialism and executed on Jan. 17, 1961.
Immediately, demonstrations erupted all over Africa and throughout the world. In Africa, the murder of Lumumba was denounced by Ghana President Kwame Nkrumah and other progressive and anti-imperialist forces throughout the continent.
Demonstrations against Belgium and the U.S. occurred in many other countries around the world, including Moscow, London, Chicago and at the U.N. headquarters in New York City.
During a speech where the U.S. ambassador to the U.N., Adlai Stevenson, was speaking to a special session where the Soviet Union was seeking the termination of the U.N. Secretary-General, Dag Hammerskjold, African Americans and other progressive forces disrupted the proceedings.
The incident forced U.S. Ambassador Stevenson to acknowledge the demonstration and later that evening President John F. Kennedy was forced to go on national television to defend the U.S. position in support of the imperialist-puppet Joseph Kasavubu, whose treacherous role was to undermine the Lumumba government.
Lumumba became a martyr to freedom fighters in Africa and around the globe. Malcolm X, who was the national spokesperson for the Nation of Islam when Lumumba was killed, spoke out later in denunciation of his politically motivated assassination. In his last speech as a representative of the Nation of Islam, on Dec. 1, 1963, in New York, he made mention of U.S. complicity in the murder of Lumumba in response to a question about the recent assassination of John F. Kennedy.
Malcolm X, aka El Hajj Malik El-Shabazz, after he departed from the NOI, would later go on to form the Organization of Afro-American Unity in June 1964, which was patterned on the Organization of African Unity, the continental grouping of African states during that period. After two trips to Africa in 1964, Malcolm X became the strongest and most outspoken critic of U.S. imperialist policy toward Congo.
Under President Lyndon Johnson, the liberated areas of Congo were bombed by U.S. military war planes in late 1964. Malcolm X denounced these acts of militarism against the Congolese people.
In late 1964, Malcolm X sought to collaborate with Cuban-Argentine revolutionary Che Guevara in his upcoming secret campaign to assist the Lumumbists in Congo, where Antoine Gizenga had established a rival government to the other centers of imperialist power in Leopoldville, the capital, and in the Katanga region in the south, which was headed by Moise Tshombe. Malcolm X was attempting to recruit African-American veterans into an “Afro-American Brigade” that would have fought alongside the Cubans and the Congolese in 1965.
However, Malcolm X was assassinated in New York on Feb. 21, 1965. Just a few days prior to his death, he was denied entry into France. It was later revealed that he was scheduled to meet with African-American expatriates interested in direct participation in the Congo struggle.
Although the Congo campaign led by Guevara to assist the Lumumbists in 1965 was not victorious, the experience taught valuable lessons to both the Cubans and African revolutionaries that were later utilized in the successful struggles that won the independence of Guinea-Bissau, Mozambique, Angola, Zimbabwe, Namibia and South Africa during the 1970s and 1980s.
These historical developments were documented in a BBC film released in 2008 that contained firsthand accounts from both the revolutionary fighters from Africa and Cuba as well as spokespersons for the imperialist states that sought to defeat the struggle for the total liberation of the continent.
Congo and African America today
The government of Mobutu Sese Seko, the successor U.S.-backed Congolese regime after 1965, was overthrown by a national coalition of forces supported by various African states in 1997. Nonetheless, war erupted again in 1998 with the U.S.-backed invasion by Rwanda and Uganda attempting to occupy the Democratic Republic of Congo then under the leadership of Laurent Kabila, a former comrade of Lumumba’s and a veteran of the Congo campaign with the Cubans in 1965.
In August 1998 the Southern African Development Community states of Zimbabwe, Angola and Namibia, all of which were led by parties and liberation movements that had fought against imperialist forces to win their national liberation, intervened in the DRC and halted the Western-backed invasion and occupation. However, since 1998 millions of Congolese have died and suffered assault due to the machinations of imperialism, which still utilizes the Central African country for the extraction of billions of dollars in mineral resources every year.
African Americans won significant gains during the 1960s and 1970s which broke down legalized segregation and disenfranchisement. Nevertheless, the social conditions of African Americans have not fundamentally changed over the last two generations. The current economic crisis impacts the African-American people disproportionately with significantly higher rates of unemployment, poverty, imprisonment and victimization by state-sanctioned racist violence.
Both the African-American and Congolese people must continue to wage their struggle for genuine independence and social justice. As their efforts have intersected in the past, there are tremendous battles and victories to be won in the future.