Whatever the motives of Belgian authorities in handing over all that is left of Congolese independence hero Patrice Lumumba, a golden tooth, to his relatives with a belated “apology”, the act has stirred a storm of outrage in black communities in, Europe, Africa and the rest of the world.
The handing over, in the Belgian capital Brussels last week, followed an admission by the Belgian King Philippe, on a visit to the Congo that Belgian colonial rule over the Congo, a country 100 times the size of Belgium, was “unjustifiable and racist”. He however did not even offer an apology.
In the first 25 years of Belgium’s rule over the Congo,from 1885 to 1960, over 10 million Congolese were decimated by killings, famine and disease under the murderous rule of King Leopold 11. Congolese people were given quotas to collect rubber and if they fell short, their hands were cut off.
That same racist and profoundly inhuman attitude was manifested in the murder of Lumumba, the Congo’s nationalist leader who challenged colonial rule, the rape of his mineral-rich country and white privilege. After leading his country to independence in 1960, his government lasted just three months as not just thevBelgian authorities, but the British and American intelligence agencies collaborated to get rid of his government.
They manipulated the Congolese army, led by the man who was to become one of Africa’s most notorious dictators, Joseph Mobutu, to arrest Prime Minister Lumumba and then, as reported by the BBC:
“ Shot dead by a firing squad in 1961 with the tacit backing of former colonial power Belgium, his body was then buried in a shallow grave, dug up, transported,interred again, exhumed and then hacked to pieces and finally dissolved in acid. The Belgian police commissioner, a certain Gerard Soete, who oversaw and participated in the destruction of the remains took the tooth…
Soete’s impulse to pocket the body parts echoed the behaviour of European colonial officials…who took remains back home as macabre mementoes”.
The admission of this inhuman action by the Belgian authorities, supported by the British and American governments, has caused revulsion among broad sections of Black people the world over and has given further impetus to the demand for reparations for the extensive damage from colonialism, genocide and slavery.