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DRC: Tshisekedi and the desecration of Lumumba's remains

Lumumba Tshisekedi

The ceremony for the return of the remains of Patrice Lumumba, scheduled for January 17 - the anniversary of his assassination - has been delayed for the second time. The official reason for this postponement is difficult to convince, the family of the late hero accusing Tshisekedi of politically exploiting a solemn event.

The event recalls another. While he wanted to repatriate the remains of his own father, Etienne Tshisekedi, to the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), the newly elected President Félix Tshisekedi only needed five months.

Tshisekedi had put an end to a standoff between Brussels and Kinshasa, which only lasted two years, so that the “Sphinx of Limete” was finally buried in Congolese soil. At the time, the press and the opposition deplored the high costs of the ceremony, but above all its political exploitation by the son Tshisekedi.

Another story of repatriation of remains agitates the press. This time it is that of the pan-African hero Patrice Lumumba. Belgium has been multiplying humiliations, believes the family of this historical figure, for more than sixty years already. And if we thought that President Tshisekedi would adopt a firmer position vis-à-vis the former colonizer, it is quite the opposite that is happening.

Indeed, if the return of Lumumba's remains was scheduled for June 30, 2021, the date of the 61st anniversary of the country's independence, the remains of the hero's body are still in Belgian custody. A ceremony was finally scheduled for January 17, 2022, with Belgian King Philippe, Prime Minister Alexander De Croo and Félix Tshisekedi.

However, two weeks before that date, Tshisekedi unilaterally announced another postponement, this time for next June. Official reason: the spread of Covid-19 in the DRC. A surprising reason.

Guy-Patrice Lumumba charges Tshisekedi

For Lumumba's son, Guy-Patrice, Tshisekedi would seek to "exploit the repatriation of the remains of Patrice Lumumba for political purposes".

Wouldn't the recent postponement of the reception of Lumumba's remains be a simple delay that would allow Felix Tshisekedi to grow out of this event? The president of the DRC seeks to restore his own image, while he has just left by the back door of the presidency of the African Union (AU) and in a tense atmosphere because of his excessive efforts to control the Electoral Commission (CENI) ahead of the 2023 election in the DRC.

Tshisekedi, as we know, loves ceremonies above all. Nicknamed "the traveling president" by his activists and "the carrier pigeon" by his opponents, Felix Tshisekedi spent the bulk of his mandate abroad for diplomatic visits which were not always useful. Continuing negotiations with Belgium would therefore allow him to travel again and again.

And after?

According to Patrice Lumumba's daughter, Juliana, the repatriation of her father's remains should in any case not reconcile the DRC and Belgium, with regard to the crimes of the colonial era. And at the head of all these crimes, the assassination of Lumumba, then the cruel treatment inflicted on his remains.

As a reminder, Patrice Lumumba was killed by the Belgian authorities and their Katangese separatist supporters on January 17, 1961.. Two days later, Gerard Soete, Belgian police commissioner for Katanga, along with his brother, exhumed the body and dissolved it in sulfuric acid to eradicate any physical evidence of the crime. The goal: to prevent the mobilization that the identification of Lumumba's carcass could inspire. But Soete kept some teeth from Lumumba as a trophy to show off to friends at dinner parties.

After Soete's death, his daughter Godelieve carried on her father's tradition. A tradition of more than fifty years that culminated in a horrific interview in 2016 during which the journalist was able to see the remains of Lumumba in the living room of Godelieve Soete. Belgian police intervened, and after five years of hearings, a court ruled in September 2020 that Lumumba's remains would be returned to his family.

Tshisekedi and a very interested act

While Lumumba's children are impatiently waiting for their father's remains to be treated with the respect that is due to him, and while public opinion is denouncing Belgium's hesitation, no one suspected Kinshasa's complicity in this delay. .

But do the Congolese authorities really respect Lumumba's family? Because, beyond the horrible assassination of Patrice Lumumba, we should also respect the memory of his widow, who fought between 1961 and until her death in 2014 for the truth to finally come out.

Pauline Lumumba had forced the UN to apologize for its passivity in the face of an assassination which notably involved the United States and Belgium. She had led marches around the world to express the anger of African people at the assassination of an icon of Pan-Africanism. And dozens of activists for the rights of blacks wore the portrait of Pauline Lumumba in the marches for civil rights in the United States, saluting in particular her courage.

The prestige of Patrice Lumumba and members of his family, Tshisekedi would dream of sharing the benefits. Lumumba's legacy squandered, the DRC is today an extremely corrupt, poor country with little regard for human rights, even on an African scale. And meanwhile, the president is trying to put himself forward.

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