A tooth is the only thing that remains of The Democratic Republic of Congo’s Independence Hero Patrice Lumumba. By the time he was killed on January 17th 1961, Lumumba had only been in power as Congo’s first Prime Minister for technically just ten weeks. He was 36. While forming his government, Lumumba identified one young man that had undergone some military training beside being an accomplished journalist. His name was Mobutu Sese Seko. Mobutu became the first Chief of Staff under Lumumba’s government together with Joseph Kasavubu as president. He regretted it. Immediately after gaining independence, Lumumba’s inexperience was immediately tested. Partly, he failed and partly was failed.
His decision to look towards the Soviet Union for help was the straw that broke the camel’s back. The Belgian colonialists and the United States of America were not going to allow the mineral rich country to slip from their hands. They started plotting on how to get rid of what was now a threat to their mineral prospects.
The first plan was to poison Lumumba using his tooth brush. The plan never took off.
His journey from being a lanky, handsome full bodied man occupying the seat of a prime minister to a tooth start taking shape on 25th November. His envious Chief of Staff Mobutu Sese Seko had collaborated with President Joseph Kasavubu to push away Lumumba from the fulcrum of the government. On 5th September President Joseph Kasavubu dismissed Lumumba with Mobutu Sese Seko taking over 9 days later on 14th September.
Lumumba was forced to stay in house arrest in his prime ministerial place under the guard of UN Volunteers. On 25th November, Patrice Lumumba felt he needed to put up a fight and the only way to do it was to retreat to his birth place and power base of Stanleyville. Accompanied by Joseph Okito and Maurice Mpolo, Lumumba took advantage of heavy rains to begin is journey to Stanleyville. He never made it. Forces inspired by Mobutu Sese Seko intercepted his caravan somewhere in the province of Kasai where atrocities committed by his army had turned the region against him.
Lumumba and company were initially held in a military camp in Thysville but his charisma remained a threat to Mobutu that had now set his eyes on the bigger of prize of completely taking charge of Congo.
A plan was quickly made to deliver Lumumba, Okito and Mpolo to the secessionist region of Katanga, led by Lumumba’s sworn political nemesis Moise Tshombe. On the flight to Katanga, Lumumba and his two colleagues were so badly beaten that no one could recognize them by the time they landed in Katanga.
Bloodied and Broken, Lumumba knew his end was night, yet there was nothing he could do. He had to face his death with the same bravery that he faced the Belgian colonialist on June 30th 1960.
After arriving at the Airstrip, the plane carrying Lumumba and his friends was directed to a corner of the airstrip where they were dumped blindfolded before being driven away to a bush before being executed by Belgium officials in the company of officials from the Katanga region.
Their bodies were first buried in a shallow grave. The officials returned the next day, this time with a plan to completely wipe out any memory of Lumumba and company. Their bodies were exhumed, chopped into pieces and dissolved in acid All these under the instruction of one Gerard Soete- a Belgian police commissioner working in Congo. Many years later, Soete came to admit that he had kept a few arts of Lumumba’s body including his tooth as a souvenir.
This is where the journey of repatriating Lumumba’s tooth began with the hope it will give his family, the chance to accord him the most befitting send off and at least have a grave site. Lumumba left behind three children, Francois Lumumba, Roland Lumumba and Juliana Lumumba. Ever since Soete admitted to have kept Lumumba’s tooth, the family has been fighting to have eventually securing the right in 2016.
On Monday June 20th 2022, The Belgian Government officially handed over the tooth in a casket draped with the Congolese national flag. Belgium Prime Minister Alexander Marcoo reiterated Belgium’s regret over the its dark history in Congo while handing over to DRC’s Prime Minster Jean Michel Sama Lukonde in Brusses. Marcoo officially apologized to Lumumba’s family for the killing.
Lumumba’s is now DRC’s most prized possession as far the nation’s history is concerned. His assassination has been termed as the country’s original sin and which has continued to haunt it to date. DRC is a mineral rich country yet its people continue to suffer from abject poverty. Its blessing has turned into a curse. However, the return of Patrice Lumumba may be all it needed to embark on the path to prosperity.