Belgium returns a tooth of Patrice Lumumba to the Democratic Republic of the Congo

On Monday, Belgium returned to the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) a tooth of Patrice Lumumba with the value of a “relic”, which should offer Congolese a place dedicated to the memory of their former prime minister, tortured and shot in 1961. This assassination, followed by the removal of the body, dismembered and dissolved in acid, is one of the darkest pages in the relationship between Belgium and its former colony, which became independent on June 30, 1960.

He is still under judicial investigation in Brussels for “war crime”, following the complaint filed in 2011 by François Lumumba, the eldest son of the assassinated leader, who pointed the finger at the responsibilities of a dozen officials and Belgian diplomats. The tooth is returned as part of this procedure. The case had thickened in 2016 with a complaint of “concealment”, with relatives seeing this as the only way to get this human remains seized by justice. The tooth had been preserved as a souvenir by a Belgian police officer who was involved in the disappearance of the body and who had bragged about it in the media.

Also read: When African independence was assassinated

Overthrown in 1960

On Monday morning, in honor of his 2020 commitment, Federal Prosecutor Frédéric Van Leeuw is due to hand Patrice Lumumba’s children the “box containing the tooth” given to their father at a “private” ceremony scheduled for 10 a.m. The casket will be placed in a coffin during a “beer launch” scheduled this time in the presence of the Belgian and Congolese prime ministers, still at the Egmont Palace in Brussels, according to the official program.

Speeches will then be made in front of the coffin, before the national anthems of the two countries resound. At the end of the ceremony, the remains will be transported to the DRC embassy. She is expected to fly to Kinshasa on Tuesday night after a tribute from the Afro-descendant community in Brussels.

A hero of independence who became the prime minister of the former Belgian Congo (formerly Zaire, now the DRC), Patrice Lumumba was overthrown in September 1960 by a coup. He was executed on 17 January 1961 with two brothers-in-arms by separatists in the Katanga region, with the support of Belgian mercenaries. Perceived as pro-Soviet by Washington in the midst of the Cold War, seen as a threat to Western economic interests in the Congo, he acquired the stature of an African champion of anti-imperialism after his death.

Dissensions among Lumumba children

“Lumumba soon became a martyr of decolonization, a hero to all the oppressed on Earth,” David Van Reybrouck summed up in his book “Congo, a History.” For his family, he remained a father or grandfather to whom it was not possible to say goodbye. “The years go by and our father remains dead without a funeral prayer,” his daughter Juliana wrote in 2020 in a letter to Belgian King Philip, calling for “the just return of the relics.”

“We can end our mourning and move on.” It is a relief to us, his brother Roland Lumumba told Politico Europe, that he is devoting a long investigation to the event. For us Africans, mourning began about sixty years ago. ” However, not all of Patrice Lumumba’s children will be satisfied: last year his son Guy-Patrice opposed the return of the tooth, accusing Congolese President Félix Tshisekedi of being more “interested in political gains”. than by the memory of the former Prime Minister, according to Politico Europe, who recalls that a presidential election is to take place next year.

Also read: Africa and the impossible reciprocity

Hinge moment

The restitution must also allow the Congolese government to erect a “Patrice Lumumba Memorial”, under construction in Kinshasa, on a major axis where a statue of the national hero already stands. According to Congolese sources, a burial ceremony is to be held there on June 30, the anniversary of independence. Throughout the previous week, the coffin will have made stops at the iconic places of the former leader’s personal and political career.

“New turning point” in bilateral relations, according to Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo, restitution comes just after a six-day trip by King Philippe to the DRC in early June, his first trip to the former colony during which he reiterated his “deepest regrets” for the “wounds” of the colonial period. On Monday morning, before the restitution ceremony, Philippe will have an interview with the Lumumba children at the Royal Palace. A strong meeting in symbols for the descendant of King Leopold II, whose monarchy has now admitted that he had instituted in the late nineteenth century in the Congo “a regime marked by paternalism, discrimination and racism.”

Also read: The Belgian king expected at the postcolonial turn in Kinshasa

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