King to take part in ceremony to return Lumumba ‘relics’ to Congo
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King to take part in ceremony to return Lumumba ‘relics’ to Congo

Prime minister Lumumba on his arrest. © AFP/Belga

Belgium’s King Philippe is to take part in a ceremony to welcome the return of the remaining ‘relics’ of the assassinated prime minister of the newly independent Congo, Patrice Emery Lumumba, according to a minister of the government of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

According to the RTBF, the resume of a speech given by DRC media and communications minister Patrick Muyaya Katembwe indicates that the country’s president Félix-Antoine Tshisekedi Tshilombo will be in Brussels on 21 June to take part in a ceremony to receive the Lumumba relics, which will then be transported back to the DRC.

Lumumba was the one of the main figures battling for the independence of Congo, which had been a Belgian colony since 1908, under a brutal regime as the private property of King Leopold II.

Independence was finally achieved in June 1960, and Lumumba became prime minister. But he only led his country for two and a half months.

Immediately after independence, the country split in two and a mutiny broke out in the army. Lumumba appealed to the US and the UN for help in suppressing a rebellion, but they refused, causing him to turn towards the Soviet Union.

That caused a clash with President Joseph Kasa-Vubu and his chief of staff Joseph-Desiré Mobutu.

It was Mobutu who had Lumumba arrested and delivered to Katanga province, where the secessionists were based, and his return was not planned. Lumumba was tortured and eventually murdered on 17 January 1961.

Mobutu, meanwhile, became president in 1965 and remained in office until 1997.

It has since been established that Belgium had at least a moral responsibility in the overthrow and assassination of Lumumba, although the issue remains a thorny one to this day. The government has however issued its official apology to the country and to Lumumba’s family.

The relics in question, meanwhile, are all that is left of Lumumba, reputedly kept as a souvenir by one of the men given the responsibility of disposing of the body, a former Belgian policeman. They consist, according to Lumumba’s son Guy Patrice, of a finger and two teeth.

The plan now is for President Tshisekedi to be in Brussels two weeks from tomorrow to attend a ceremony to hand over the relics, which will then be transported back to DRC to be toured around three provinces, including Katanga where he was assassinated. Finally, the relics will be interred in the capital Kinshasa by a statue to Lumumba, “in the presence of the King of Belgium,” according to minister Muyaya.