Thursday, February 27, 2014

Patrice Lumumba

In looking at the sheer scale of the abundant availability of natural resources in Sub-Saharan Africa, one could logically conclude that many of these nations located in this region of Africa should be numbered amongst the wealthiest. The reality however, is that material resources have not necessarily equated to economic growth and development in this region. How is it possible that on this continent: the cradle of humanity, the birthplace of great civilizations of antiquity; and that these people; the same people which gave birth empires such as Mali, or Ancient Ghana or Great Zimbabwe are seemingly unable to form long lasting stable economies and modern democratic nation states? Though there are several possible responses to the above quandary, regardless to the conclusion to which one arrives in order to understand the total picture one must understand colonialism, what is it, what its impact was and is and whether or not the effect of it can still be felt in the areas formerly controlled by it. The truth is that if were not for a few courageous freedom fighters the majority of the world’s people of color would be living in a country under direct control by foreign nations.

Ironically, when the topic of freedom fighters comes into conversation rarely is the name Patrice Lumumba mentioned amongst the greats. Though his term in office was brief there are but a few that have left the same indelible impression on the world scene as he did. Defiant in his stance for African self determination and unity, humble in character, powerful and graceful in presence; His Excellency Patrice Lumumba stands head and shoulders above the common perception of an African politician. Lumumba the first Prime Minister of the newly independent Republic of Congo found himself caught up in the midst of the machinations of the greater struggle between the two competing world powers. This greater struggle which would eventually cost him his life.

The film “Lumumba” is a very accurate portrayal of the greater struggle that Lumumba and others like him faced in seeking independence from colonial powers. This is a movie about transition and change. In it Patrice Lumumba transitions from being merely a member of the “civilized citizens class” accepted by colonial society to a political prisoner who was as a threat to the established societal structure and finally to controversial Prime Minister. The Congo transitions from being a colony to an allegedly independent republic. Though this idea of independence meant totally different things to the colonizers and the colonized, in fact there was a scene in which the Belgians are speaking and in their estimation “independence” was simply a word. At the same time the in the next room the Congolese were hopeful in their expectation of bright future for their nation to have a chance on the world scene as independent and prosperous.

 These differing ideas are articulated in the film most accurately in the scene that portrayed the independence ceremony. Whereas King Baudouin gave a speech that presented colonialism as a good thing and necessary for the civilizing of Africa which alluded to the implicit racism of the exploitive form of colonialism employed in the Congo, it almost seems as if the idea of independence he pictured was going to be the exact same system just ran by African “minions” of the Belgians choosing. Lumumba on the other hand spoke of the brutal nature colonialism recognizing that independence as a result of the sacrifice of the Congolese and presented his vision for true independence and self-determination.

How is it possible that such antithetical viewpoints could arise from viewing the same set of circumstances? The Belgian perspective is rooted in racism, when they arrived they found a complex culture with seemingly simple technology, surrounded in a land overflowing with natural resources. Originally a private possession of King Leopold I and eventually a colony of Belgium, The Congo soon proved to be a wise investment to the credit of King LĂ©opold. The wealth gained by the Belgians, was however gained at the expense of the native Congolese. The native Congolese were seemingly perceived as another commodity to be exploited. Therefore their conflicting ideas of what independence would mean is in actuality based on their understanding of the effects and execution of colonialism.

Colonialism being defined as political rule by another power other than the majority. It has a cultural aspect as the colonizers cultural mores and standards are imposed and viewed as superior whereas native cultural mores and standards are seen as sub-standard. There is also and economic component whereas the colonizers have created a captive market in which raw materials are exported and processed then sold back thus creating a perpetual cycle of dependence and seemingly subservience.

In fact it was a fear that the absence of Belgian authority would prompt a resurgence of native alleged “primitive” culture which would put Belgian interests at risk. While they may have intended to put an African face on their Belgian agenda they were not looking to lose any of their economic dominance. The Belgians set it up that the all the infrastructure was controlled by Belgians therefore there could never be a true expelling of a Belgian presence, Lumumba’s dreams would later be obscured by this deficiency which would work to set the stage for later events. The fear of what Lumumba meant to Belgian interests prompted his removal and eventual execution, the removing of a democratically elected official and the eventual installation of a Western backed dictator speak loud and clear to the long lasting effects of colonialism.

The eclipsing of Lumumba’s star was surpassed only by the rising of the star of Joseph Mobutu. Mobutu who in turn led the nation 32 years with an iron fist with the consent of the west. Though he was a strong proponent of the elevation of African cultural expression he was also infamous for his cult of personality, extravagant lifestyle and nepotism. Some say that he is the archetypical African “Big Man” or dictator for life.

These “Big Men” and their “kleptocracy” are vestiges of colonial rule by and large sponsored by the west, absolute in power and corrupt to the core. In the case of Mobutu one of the key things that helped propel him to prominence was his anti-communist stance which stood in stark contrast to Lumumba’s non-alignment allegedly socialist leaning. As this occurred at the height of the Cold War tensions this led to Lumumba’s death and Congo eventual used as a weapon against communism in Africa. In the eyes of the west this was more important than the plight of the people or their aspirations for independence. The absence of democracy for such an extended period has not only hampered the political development of Congo, but it has also conditioned the people to view government as something that exist to exploit the populace but also that change cannot come through dialogue but rather through the barrel of a gun and force.

Another long lasting effect of colonialism would stifled economic growth. While under the colonial system resources were shipped out a converted into goods to be sold back at a profit which worked to keep colony dependent on the Metropole. Under the dictatorial government that arose after the deposing of Lumumba, there was no true economic empowerment for the people of Congo. Mobutu though he nationalized industries placed relatives in control and funds were used as personal revenue, not only did this only serve a few individuals this also ended up resulting in hyperinflation which in turn increased corruption which ends up making it undesirable destination for business. All of which perpetuates a cycle of debt and dependence on the west leaving the dreams of Lumumba, and other pan-africanist leaders, deferred at best lost to the winds of time at worse.

Another lasting legacy of colonialism would be the boundaries and borders of the former colonies. At the times that colonial boundaries were draw they were draw without the input of people being colonized. This is especially significant in Africa where there is such a diversity in terms of tribal or ethnic groups, many of which have not enjoyed friendly or cordial relationships. This can work to the advantage of an outsider trying to control any area because it will the colonized will perhaps keep infighting which would allow the colonizers to come along as an alleged problem solver and peacemaker, also it is in this tense situation that a strong authoritarian leader can be used to keep order and again alludes. You see this exemplified in the various provinces of Congo that broke off (with the assistance of the former colonial powers) and declared independence. This alludes to the imposed national boundaries which alludes again to the far reaching legacy of colonialism. After having reviewed the facts it is evident that (at least) in the situation of Congo the legacy left by colonialism is a bitter sweet one. Prior to colonialism Congo was not a nation at all it was merely a geographic region inhabited by several different ethnic groups and though there may have been a local tribal kingdom this could not compare to the global stage as a semi-modern nation/state that Belgians brought into being. However there is not the only aspect of the colonial legacy left behind, as enumerated earlier many of the various issues that Congo experienced were resultant from the interference of the former colonialist in the early stage of independence (the Lumumba Assassination, Mobutu dictatorship, economic collapse, political repression). These event set the Congo back in terms of its growth and development in its path to self determination.