Congo's first prime minister, Patrice Emery Lumumba, will finally have a burial in the Democratic Republic of Congo — 61 years after his assassination — as Belgium returns to the family of the Congolese independence hero his remains, a tooth which was removed on January 17, 1961, the day the former leader was assassinated.
A strong delegation of Lumumba's family and Congolese authorities, led by Prime Minister Jean-Michel Sama Lukonde, is in Brussels for this event, which is considered the official mourning of independent Congo’s first prime minister.
The former Congolese leader was shot in Katanga in the south of the DRC with two of his ministers who had remained loyal to him. His body was never found. Investigations in Belgium many years later revealed that his body had been cut up and dissolved in acid.
Struggle for independence
Lumumba is fondly remembered for his struggle for independence and the liberation of Africans from the colonial yoke.
His intransigence in the face of an inhuman and cruel colonial power earned him great enmity from Belgium and the western world, which suspected him of tipping the Congo into the communist fold at the height of the Cold War.
When the Congo gained independence, he was the prime minister in President Joseph Kasavubu’s government.
But from the very first days of independence, the country sank into chaos. Patrice Lumumba, who served as prime minister for only two months, was arrested and quickly handed over to his enemies in Katanga where he was killed. But since then he has been celebrated in Congo and elsewhere, mainly in Africa.
With the return of his tooth, Lumumba is now expected to “rest in peace”.
The official funeral programme includes public tributes and the opening of a condolence book in Brussels on Monday, June 20.
Lumumba's tooth will be placed in a box which will then be placed in a coffin. The coffin and the entire delegation will leave Brussels on Tuesday for a quick stopover in Kinshasa, before travelling on Wednesday to Lumumbaville in the central DRC province of Sankuru where he was born.
It is in Lumumbaville — named after Lumumba— that the family of the illustrious prime minister will officially lead the mourning.
The coffin will leave Lumumbaville for Kisangani, Lumumba's political stronghold in the northeast of the DRC, where his followers organised resistance against the Kinshasa government in 1964 after the death of their leader.
On Sunday, June 26, the coffin will arrive in Lubumbashi in what is now the southern province of Haut-Katanga, where he was assassinated.
Lumumba's remains will then arrive in the village of Shilatembo, the scene of the crime. The coffin will return to Kinshasa on Monday, June 27. From that date, flags will be flown at half-mast and the whole country will mourn until June 30, the historic date marking the anniversary of Congo's independence.
Burial will be held on the same day at the Patrice Emery Lumumba Memorial in Kinshasa in a public ceremony.