On the 17th of January, 1961, the first elected Prime Minister of newly independent Democratic Republic of Congo, was assassinated with the direct involvement of the Belgian government and collusion of the United States (Damian Zane, BBC, 20/06/2022). It is a damning indictment of the European and American claim to human rights and democratic values.
What remained of his body, a gold capped tooth, was only returned to his daughter six decades later after an appeal by her to the Belgian government. He was shot; his body was chopped up and dissolved in acid on the orders of the Belgian police commissioner, Gerard Soete. It was not enough that they killed him. They wanted to remove all traces of him. In an account by the BBC Soete took his tooth and two remaining fingers as a type of “trophy hunting”.
The story of Lumumba’s assassination is a familiar one in newly independent countries struggling to find their political footing. Lumumba played a major role in obtaining the DRC’s independence from Belgium. He met his gruesome fate for doing nothing more than standing up to his country’s oppressors. According to Prof Nzonggola-Ntalaja, Lumumba wanted full control over his country’s rich mineral resources “in order to utilise them to improve the living conditions of our people. One salient mineral was uranium required for making the newly developed atom bomb. He was considered a menace by Belgium, the US and their allies. Noam Chomsky has provided convincing evidence-based argument that America has a foreign policy underscoring unimpeded access to the resources of the world. Moreover, Lumumba’s forthright speeches about “the violence and degradation that the Congolese had suffered” and “the humiliating slavery that was imposed on us by force, stunned the Belgian government. According to Ludo Dewitte, an acclaimed author of a book on the incident, “Never before had a black African dared to speak like this in front of Europeans, writes Damian Zane.
The other “sin” that he committed against the western allies was to turn to the Soviet Union for help to quell the unrest in his country. This, at the time of the Cold War, was intolerable to Belgium, the US and Great Britain. His murder at the age of 34, and less than seven months into his prime ministership, was carried out by his Congolese rivals under the direction of the Belgians and paid for by the Americans. The reaction of the Belgian press, according to Dewitte, was to describe Lumumba as an illiterate thief. One can hardly miss the irony of robber barons calling a victim a thief.
It was Dewitte’s book that led in 1999 to a Belgian parliamentary inquiry into the circumstances of the assassination. In the opening paragraphs of the conclusion to the Belgian Parliamentary inquiry, care was taken to state that “ …the standards, ethics and norms of international politically correct thinking were different then, than they are today. One might rightfully ask, “Are they?”. If they are, then we do not have to worry anymore about living in a dangerous world.
Today, the US and its allies have encountered another menace. This time, the problem is an intractable challenge posed by China under Xi Jinping. Unlike Lumumba, Xi did not inherit a country rich in resources. He inherited a hundred years of humiliation which taught him the pain of being the victim of oppressive foreign forces; and that to keep oppressors at bay, he has to arm himself to the teeth. The threat he poses is greater than that of any third world protege. He competes for the resources and the markets that they have hitherto taken for granted as the entitlements of rich and powerful nations. Under his form of government, he and his post-Mao predecessors were able to mobilise their citizens to work in concert to produce goods and services that are more affordable than their competitors. They owe this to the Chinese system of government which the West chooses to ignore because of the primacy of their style of democracy that dominates their thinking. Driven by fear of losing competitive ground, they put their propaganda machine into overdrive. The messages put forth by this propaganda machine carry residual superiority, essentially telling the Chinese, “Know your place.” Standing up to the west is disparaged as “assertiveness” or “wolf warrior” behaviour. President Trump alleged that the Chinese stole American jobs even though American businesses set up in China were of their own volition. He asserts that the Chinese stole American technology even though transfer of technology was a precondition of setting up business in China and access to their domestic market. Without batting an eye, the propaganda machine chooses to conflate China’s growing trade influence with coercive physical expansionism.
In choosing to believe the Western propaganda machine, poorly informed leaders do not take cognisance of the size and diversity of the Chinese population; a population 55 times larger than that of Australia’s. The Chinese have their hands full. Chinese leaders often give the undertaking that they would not interfere with the governments of other countries. I believe that they are earnest because Confucian cultures are underpinned by a high level of pragmatism (e.g. the high levels of savings in the Confucian cultures of China, Korea, Japan and Singapore) that obliges leaders to concentrate on solving their own national problems. China has problems arising from its practice of capitalism such as an overextended real estate sector, banking, a slowing economy brought about by Covid19 controls and an ageing population to mention a few. Therefore, much of the fear of China is misplaced because Western detractors do not take into consideration cultural differences, or choose not to, although the concept of the link between experience and understanding is long-established in Western philosophy. “Existentialism” usually associated with Jean Paul Sarte says, “Existence before essence”, positing our understanding of the world squarely on our past experiences.
Patrice Lumumba’s death has not been in vain. Many people around the world remember him. Those that do are beginning to find other ways of standing up to oppressors who work in the guise of guardians of moral rectitude. Paradoxically, a more perilously confrontational world between the superpowers also gives rise to a more multipolar world that is a better guarantor of the survival of small states than a unipolar one. They are now even courted to take sides.