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Congo Crisis: Independence, Unity, and Patrice Lumumba (1/4)

Sam Leslie

On June 30, 1960, the Congo became a newly independent nation under the leadership of Patrice Lumumba, a leader who strived for national unity through anti-colonialist reform. However, within two weeks of independence, a Congolese military mutiny prompted Belgian reoccupation and the secession of the southern province of Katanga. In response, Lumumba sought foreign aid from a young United Nations (UN) to appropriately deal with the reemergence of this old colonialist threat. However, the discussion of appropriate solutions during July was lackluster, as the UN did not confront Katanga, abiding by their trademark “neutral stance” in conflict. In late July, Lumumba, hastily pursuing anti-colonialist reform, opted for Soviet Union (USSR) aid, which promised action against Katanga.

However, this favorable Soviet assistance initiated and supposedly justified the United States (US) reliance on covert CIA action, as US influence in Congo was threatened. Thus, the removal of the most influential Congolese individual, Lumumba, became essential to the CIA’s mission. On September 14, 1960, the US cemented its influence over the Congo as a CIA-backed coup d’etat on Lumumba resulted in the placement of Mobutu Seko, a US ally, to the prime ministership of Congo. Although the Congo was permanently plagued by the US’s intervention and control, ultimately this outcome became acceptable through the US’s guise of diplomacy which utilized an ineffective UN neutralist policy. Unfortunately, these methods weaponized diplomacy as a tool to justify covert CIA action, resulting in the removal of Lumumba. This stymied any hopes for anti-colonialist reform because the Congolese government collapsed into a US-installed dictatorship that functioned under US neo-colonialist influence.

On June 30, 1960, the Congolese people achieved independence from Belgian colonialism. However, at the ceremony for Congolese independence, King Baudouin I of Belgium and Lumumba delivered contrasting pictures of Congolese independence, which polarized the debate around the topic of colonialism. The ceremony commenced with King Baudouin attributing Congolese independence to King Leopold II. This tyrannical dictator was responsible for subjecting the Congolese people to ninety-five years of dehumanization, which resulted in the genocide of over 10 million Congolese people under the Belgian profit scheme. Baudouin asserted that ​​"The independence of the Congo is the crowning of the work conceived by the genius of King Leopold II undertaken by him with firm courage, and continued by Belgium with perseverance.” King Boudain's speech implied that Congo should serve Belgium since its independence was granted rather than earned. Lumumba countered by claiming Congolese autonomy through attributing Congolese independence to the century-long struggle against colonialism. Lumumba described, “Who can forget, finally, the burst of rifle fire in which so many of our brothers perished, the cells into which the authorities threw those who no longer were willing to submit to a rule where justice meant oppression and exploitation?” Lumumba’s explanation of the century-long colonialist oppression serves to separate the Congo from Belgian colonialism and notions of Belgian superiority. These descriptions of previous Belgium offenses infuriated many Belgian officials, but Lumumba’s remarks were intended to unite the people of Congo around anti-colonialist reform, not to anger Belgium. Although Lumumba attacked Belgian colonialism, he also promised future relations with Belgium as he alluded to signing a mutual co-operation treaty, “Even Belgium…is prepared to give us its aid and friendship; for that end an agreement has just been signed between our two equal and independent countries. I am sure that this co-operation will benefit both countries.” However, Western countries, diplomats, and media outlets were still distressed by Lumumba’s speech, many finding it repulsive. A Guardian headline read, “Marred: Mr. Lumumba's offensive speech in King's presence.” Diversely, there was substantial national support for Lumumba’s speech which proclaimed a platform of anti-colonialist reform. Regardless, the differing reactions to Lumumba’s speech proved that colonialism remained in Congo.


1 Patrice Lumumba, "SPEECH AT THE CEREMONY OF THE PROCLAMATION OF THE CONGO'S INDEPENDENCE," address presented at Congo, Leopoldville, Congo, June 30, 1960,, last modified June 30, 1960, accessed February 28, 2022

2 Guardian Special Correspondent, "Marred: MR. Lumumba's offensive speech in King's presence," The Guardian, last modified July 1, 1960, accessed February 28, 2022,

3 Lumumba, "SPEECH AT THE CEREMONY," address,

4 Patrice Lumumba's Independence Speech, produced by Spotlite by Literandra, Spotlite by Literandra, 2020, accessed February 28, 2022,

5 Lumumba, "SPEECH AT THE CEREMONY," speech,

6 New York Times, "Lumumba's Speech Worries Congolese," New York Times (New York, US), July 2, 1960, sec. 4.

7 Correspondent, "Marred: MR. Lumumba's," The Guardian

8 Stephen R. Weissman, "What Really Happened in Congo: The CIA, the Murder of Lumumba, and the Rise of Mobutu," Foreign Affairs 93, no. 4 (2014):


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