Imperialism is an issue that rooted itself in the Congo during the late 1800s leading to chaos and unrest. It is the policy of extending a nation’s authority through acquiring territory or establishing economic dominance over a territory. The motives for imperialism, which was most prominent during the late 1800s to the early 1900s, included industrialization. Competition for raw materials, new markets, colonies, and technical superiority were all driven by industrialization and motivated imperialism.
Another motive was Christianity and “The White Man’s Burden”. “The White Man’s Burden” was a belief that it is a white man’s job to civilize the world. The Democratic Republic of the Congo was once imperialized by Belgium under King Leopold II in 1885. This was a time of strict rule and torture for those living in the Congo. However, Patrice Lumumba was able to gain back independence for the Congo as prime minister. Patrice Lumumba was the right person to lead an anti-colonialism revolt against Belgium for a number of reasons. Patrice Lumumba’s strong belief in a united Congo as opposed to one divided by ethnic groups was a unique one that brought people together to fight for their independence. His prior political involvements prepared him for his role as prime minister because they gained him valuable experience in understanding politics.
Before imperialism, the Congo was a well off country free of outside involvement. Previous to 1885 when the Congo was colonized, it was a strong unified state known for advanced iron and copper working. Portuguese traders, artisans, and missionaries were welcomed. Before colonization, slavery was already a part of the Congo’s culture. Society was organized by tightly knit tribes which all had a head chief. Numerous different ethnic groups could be seen throughout the Congo (Scott, Rees). All of this changed when King Leopold II took action to imperialize the Congo.
Leopold II was the King of Belgium from 1865 to 1909 and was eager to establish his country as an imperial power. He had specific motives as to why he colonized the Congo in the late 1800s. He wanted to spread Christianity and make money (Hochschild). He was also after natural resources such as ivory, iron, copper, and rubber (see map A).
Additionally, King Leopold II wanted a colony in order to make himself and Belgium look better. In comparison to the Congo, Belgium is much smaller. By gaining control over the Congo’s large amount of territory, it would bring pride to Leopold’s country and himself. Leopold privately owned the Congo in order to make money (Scott, Rees). He hired Henry Stanley in order to rule the Congo indirectly. Leopold never actually visited the Congo himself, instead he ruled from Belgium and sent others to go to the Congo. Stanley was the one who went to set up Belgian settlements (Spielvogel 657). Leopold took various measures to control the Congo including torturing the people living there.
He starved women hostages, worked males to death, and forced labor. For example, jobs such as road building and wood chopping were all forced labor in action. In order to avoid such cruelties, thousands of Congolese fled from their villages. (Hochschild). The effects of imperialism were devastating to the Congo. Nearly half the population died as a result of murder and disease. Torture and abuse also happened frequently. For example, workers had to climb tall trees to produce rubber, which was highly dangerous (Scott, Rees).
In the midst of all this chaos came Lumumba.As Lumumba progressed through his life he was exposed to imperial power and people who influenced his major beliefs and opinions towards politics. Lumumba was born on July 2, 1925 in a village called Onalua. He came from a small ethnic group called Batetela which inspired his thinking later as a leader (Wallerstein, Cordell). He attended protestant and catholic school as a child. Even when he was younger, Lumumba was a good student who performed well and took an interest in learning (www.notablebiographies.com).
During Lumumba’s childhood, the Congo was already under Belgian rule after being colonized decades before by Leopold. Later on in life, Lumumba became involved in multiple Congolese organizations. Through these organizations, Lumumba gained connections to important figures.
For example, Lumumba met the Belgian minister of colonies who allowed him to participate in a delegation of Congolese visiting Belgium in 1956. This was a rare privilege for a black person at the time (Vanthemsche 740). In Stanleyville, Lumumba involved himself with Congolese intellectuals as well liberal politics in order to become part of the “Évolué” community.
This lead him to take up new opportunities such as volunteering at his local library and organize the first postal workers union (Henderson). An inspiration to Lumumba was Kwame Nkrumah, the first president of Ghana. Nkrumah’s Pan-Africanist beliefs influenced Lumumba’s own ideas. When Lumumba returned to the Congo after meeting Nkrumah at the All African People’s conference his views were now changed to embody nationalism and Pan-Africanism (Lokongo). Lumumba was also inspired by political changes taking place across Africa during the late 1950s. For example, during this time Ghana became the first black African colony to gain independence. Independance was also looking more obtainable for many French and British colonies.
Events such as these were encouraging to Lumumba (Henderson). These inspirations shaped Lumumba’s major beliefs which he expressed as prime minister. Lumumba’s main goal for the Congo was for it to be free and united without outside involvement (Frankel). Lumumba gave a powerful speech at the All African People’s Conference in 1958 in which he clearly expressed his negative views towards imperialism, colonialism, racism, and tribalism, and his desire for Congolese independence.
In this speech he said, “Down with imperialism. Down with colonialism. Down with racism and tribalism. Long live the Congolese nation. Long live independant Africa” (Henderson).
The ideas that Lumumba spoke about were unique and important because they set him apart from others and created a sense of unity. They also shaped the actions that he took to fight back against imperialism. Early on, during the 1950s, Lumumba started expressing himself in editorials and poems for “évolué” publications such as La Voix du Congolese (Voice of the Congo) and La Croix du Congo (Henderson). This way of rebellion was mild as Lumumba’s initial attitude towards Belgian imperialism was fairly peaceful. Lumumba actually believed that Belgium had brought about some positive changes to the Congo, “Belgium, moved by a very sincere and humanitarian idealism, came to our help . . . restoring our human dignity and turning us into free, happy vigorous, civilised men” (Lumumba 12).
However, revolts became more violent later on as the Congo became closer to independence (Haskin 16). Eventually, Lumumba became the leader of a group called the Mouvement National Congolais (MNC) which was pro-independence. What set the MNC apart from other groups was that it stood for a united Congo, not one divided by ethnic groups (Marden). The MNC proved to be a more violent way of moving towards independence, even resulting in Lumumba’s arrest during 1959 (www.notablebiographies.com).
He was arrested for encouraging riots in Stanleyville. Although these riots ended up putting Lumumba in jail, they show that he was dedicated to what he believed in and was willing to fight for it no matter the cost.Lumumba’s vast amount of political experience allowed him to perform well as prime minister and in turn lead the Congo to independence. Beginning in 1955, Lumumba and a group of Congolese were granted an audience with reformist Belgian King Baudouin who was at the time touring the Congo. Only Lumumba answered the King’s questions and as a result was pulled aside to discuss the future of the Congo (Henderson). It was 1958 when Lumumba became the co-founder and a leader of the Mouvement National Congolais. The MNC quickly became one of the most influential formations of Congolese nationalism (Vanthemsche).
The MNC was formed after a Belgian delicate was expected to come to the Congo to examine the political situation and suggest plans for the future of the country. As the MNC petitioned against Belgium for more freedom in deciding their own future, talk arose about the Congo’s independence from Belgium which before was unheard of (Henderson). At the All African People’s conference in 1958 where Lumumba gave his speech, he was also able to meet nationalists from across Africa and become a member of the conference’s organization. Lumumba’s view which was inspired by Pan-African goals also signified militant nationalism after this experience (Wallerstein, Cordell). All of these experiences where Lumumba got the chance to meet politicians and expose himself to the world of politics lead him to later become prime minister of the Congo in 1960. Lumumba had a unique belief that it was essential for the Congo to be united in order for it to thrive. This belief contributed to Lumumba’s success as a leader because it differed from popular opinion.
Lumumba stated these opinions at the All African People’s conference, “Despite the official borders that separate us, we all have the same African conscience, we are preoccupied with one thing: to make Africa a free continent, happy and freed from every colonial domination” (Lokongo). Lumumba spoke proudly about his views on the importance of Pan-Africanism and his belief in an independant African continent. Within the Congo there are many different ethnic groups (see map B) that can be seen as separating, however Lumumba’s view was extremely unifying despite this. Lumumba further explains his beliefs, “I have no father, I have no mother, I have no tribe, I have no religion.
I am an idea. Congo gave me life and made me who I am. It is my turn to make Congo a better place to live” (Lokongo). Lumumba had so much pride for his country which in turn drove him to make the Congo better. Lumumba’s beliefs were formed due to a combination of his upbringing and inspirations he met later on. Because Lumumba came from a small ethnic group himself, he was inclined in his political life to express the importance of all ethnic groups and his belief to unify them.
Lumumba mainly formed his beliefs after meeting and hearing from his biggest influence, Kwame Nkrumah. Lumumba’s ideas were important when it came to becoming prime minister because they set him apart from his main rivals. Lumumba’s rivals were Kasavubu and Tshome who did not share his beliefs in a unified and independent Congo (Henderson).Lumumba’s strong leadership had many long lasting impacts on the Congo and Africa as a whole. His legacy still remains prominent today as Lumumba is seen to be a symbol of the struggle against imperialism. Lumumba left a legacy of national unity, which he died fighting for.
Because of this, even after his death the people of the Congo will continue to defend the national unity that Lumumba created. Lumumba was assassinated on January 17, 1961, his assassination being plotted by both American and Belgian governments. Congolese accomplices and a Belgian execution squad were used to carry out the act (Nzongola-Ntalaja). Although Lumumba’s time as prime minister was short it had a large impact on the world as he represented the African struggle against colonialism and imperialism.
His legacy lies with his beliefs in a unified Congo not divided by ethnic groups and the importance of Pan-Africanism. Lumumba’s death continued to be discussed and debated into the twenty-first century and is still seen today by many Africans as a remembrance of Western colonialism (Stock).