[Fwd: [BRC-NEWS] The Congo at 40; Lumumba at 75]

Carrol Cox cbcox at ilstu.edu
Tue Aug 1 09:04:11 PDT 2000

-------- Original Message -------- Subject: [BRC-NEWS] The Congo at 40; Lumumba at 75 Date: Tue, 01 Aug 2000 03:12:17 -0400 From: Elombe Brath <ElombePLC at aol.com> To: brc-news at lists.tao.ca

July 24, 2000

Gone But Not Forgotten

By Elombe Brath <ElombePLC at aol.com>

On Thursday, July 19th, Julienne Amato was laid to rest in Kinshasa, the capital of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), during a ceremony which was attended by members of her family and others who appreciated her role in Congolese history and contributions and sacrifices she made during her life. I don't know if her significance was mentioned in the media. It would not surprise me if it wasn't; in fact, it would have surprised me if it had been. And perhaps it really wasn't anybody's fault. After all, who was Julienne Amato anyway?

About a week before her funeral, a small notice appeared on Thursday, July 13th via an international posting on the internet which simply stated, "Mother of Congolese nationalist hero Lumumba dies." This announcement of the death of Julienne Amato, established her as the mother of Patrice Lumumba, a hero for all seasons, as well as all reasons, for those of us concerned with Africa's national liberation struggles.

Although I was appreciative of the fact that the DCR state radio station had let the world know of her passing, I also felt saddened that other media hadn't made any mention of it. It didn't really seem a fitting epitaph for a woman who delivered to Africa in general and the Congo in particular its most preeminent martyr for African independence, the Honorable Patrice Lumumba.

I called Julienne Amato's granddaughter in the Congo, Julienne Lumumba, the daughter of Patrice Lumumba (whom he named in honor of his mother), for further details. Julienne Lumumba, the Minister of Arts and Culture of the DRC, informed me that her grandmother had indeed died at the Ngaliema clinic in Kinshasa, and that funeral arrangements were then being prepared for this past Thursday.

Although no one knew the exact date of her birth, it was generally agreed that she was approaching her 100th birthday. Yet the fact that she was so little known, is very telling. It should remind us of the importance of acknowledging dates, events and personalities whose lives have somehow had some relevance and significance to the national liberation struggle of Africa and its people.

This funeral event in the Congo once again reminded me of the importance of our commemorating historical occurrences that have impacted on our people's experiences. Moreover, it came at a time when many of our people once again defied the glorification of the declaration of independence of the United States without recalling the historic admonition issued by Frederick Douglass over 148 years ago when he questioned whether Black people in the U.S. should actually celebrate the 4th of July.

The best dramatic demonstration of this and its most graphic reminder recently occurred on Like It Is when actor Arthur Burghardt's brilliant dramatic portrayal of the life of the great 19th century abolitionist, which was originally produced by Gil Noble for a WABC-TV special for the American bicentennial 24 years ago, was rebroadcasted on Sunday, July 9th.

To say the least, Douglass had some serious contradictions regarding the treatment of enslaved Africans in the U.S. He took exception to the contradictions that he felt needed to be taken into account which involved the treatment of our forbearers by the European settler colonists and slave- masters. Those elements Douglass pointed out had made a mockery of this country's posturing as the epitome of freedom and democracy for all who reside within its boundaries.

Without going into the historic address by Douglass on July 3, 1852 in Rochester, New York, let us instead return to the passing of Julienne Amato and the progeny she gave birth to 75 years ago. Usually around this period each year I usually try to find time to turn my attention to a more contemporary and internationally renown symbolic example for us to consider as an illustration of the struggle of Africans to achieve democracy other than that which exists in the U.S.

The example that I am thinking about also gives even more credence to the contradiction of the U.S. being offered as a paradigm of democracy. The U.S., its historical record will document, is not a land of liberty and justice for all to pursue happiness. It is also not a nation which other developing nations should be inspired to emulate, particularly without careful scrutiny. While we are continuously invited to mark July the 4th tradition as a day to celebrate our American citizenry with cookouts, become mesmerized by fantastic fireworks shows reminding us of "bombs bursting in air", contribute to our notorious reputation as conspicuous consumers chasing holiday sales, shouldn't we pause and take account of our past practices as we find ourselves in the second half of the first year of the 21st century?

Shouldn't we at least wonder why so many of our people still haven't begun raise the questions that Douglass raised nearly a century and a half earlier? How long are we going to continue to pontificate about "Our Country `Tis of Thee, Sweet Land of Liberty, Of Thee I Sing", refusing to place those glorious words in the context of what was happening to our people at the time they were first sung. Shouldn't we connect that period to what is happening to their descendants today? And shouldn't those seen as less fortunate than the powers-that-be also represent our fellow denizens, some who are recent immigrants who came to the U.S. because they had been impoverished by U.S.-led western imperialism in Africa itself?

It would be helpful to our psyche if we would remember that while we were led to believe there was nothing of equal importance that we should concern ourselves with, that there are innumerable historical events and people of character that we need to commemorate in order to better understand the hypocrisy that the U.S. is founded upon. Even more important is the question of why and how this sordid arrangement has been allowed to continue until this day.

The dates of June 30th and July 2nd, 2000, passed pretty much uneventful over two weeks ago in this country but it should not be forgotten by us that Africans in the U.S. have had experiences drastically different than the European ruling class who control the nation. In this regard there are some days and people we should remember and celebrate whether no one else feels so obligated. June 30th and July 2nd are two of these dates, particularly since in this case of their proximity and importance to each other.

June 30, 2000 represented the 40th anniversary of the independence of the Democratic Republic of the Congo shedding its more popularly known humiliating colonial image as the Belgian Congo. That dramatic change was precipitated by the leader of the Congolese National Movement, Patrice Lumumba, who was born July 2, 1925, the son of Julienne Amato and Francois Tolenga, and was assassinated January 17, 1961, a victim of U.S. imperialism, its western allies and African lackeys.

The 40th anniversary of the independence of the Congo and the 75th anniversary of Lumumba's birth are of tremendous importance to Africans all over the world, both from an historical point of view as well as to better appreciate what is going on today in the same country and is resonating throughout the whole African continent.

We must realize that the history of the Congo, its independence and the life of Patrice Lumumba are all inextricably intertwined. The Congo as a country has been one of the most maligned territories in Africa and has been a symbol of portraying the African continent as a place of nothing but jungles inhabited by wild animals and even more wilder people (i.e. so- called "savages"), with no history and no resources of any value. To early Europeans it was merely Terra incognita; ibi sunt leones, meaning "unknown lands; full of lions." But in fact, the Congo was - and still represents - just the opposite.

It is this contradiction about the Congo which is the reason that this still embattled territory, probably the most blessed and naturally endowed country in the world, has found itself cursed as a land which foreigners have historically preyed upon. For the last 500 years the Congo has fought against the destruction and impoverishment of its people. Untold numbers had been kidnapped into slavery by foreign marauders invading from both the west and the east.

The Congo has also had its natural resources stolen and carried off to the same quarters which stole its people. Thus the Congo has enriched western corporate interests to the point of being both the base and the basis of their meteoritic rise to become multibillion dollar transnational enterprises. The wealth of European imperialism is seeped in the blood of African laborers.

For ages Afrophobic propaganda was promoted through scurrilous books, sensationalist media and tragicomical movies, as well as just plain ignorance designed to present a negative virtual reality of Africa as a whole. But this has been especially scandalous in regards to the Congo. There is probably no part of Africa that has been singularly slandered more than the Congo - the so-called "Heart of the Dark Continent." Indeed, the Congo has served as the backdrop for more stereotypical demeaning films on Africa than any other region I can think of.

In cinema, Africa was usually the place where a tryst between an adventure seeking white woman in heat was seduced by a macho white settler/hunter while her cuckolded white husband is kicked to the curb (or, in this case, the bush.) The so-called "Dark Continent" also was featured in movies where our people residing in the diaspora had their phobias tested on the screen by dangerous snakes slithering, giant spiders crawling, stampeding elephants, lions and leopards leaping, and crocodiles and hippos furiously swimming towards you. Most often there would be a mandrill-like face-painted African peering out of the forest, waiting to sneak up on the white hero or heroine, poised with a poison blowgun or bow and arrow pulled tauntingly back and ready to fire.

Black audiences were programmed to identify with and root for the white actors and actresses on screen. In a sense, this latter point might have been the most dangerous reaction that Black moviegoers fell victim to: Self-hatred, lack of self-esteem and a contempt for Africa and things African. Including, most importantly, themselves.

We must remember that while the Nile is a historic river in Africa, denial is an ahistorical current running through our heads. It is the denial of Africa that caused Africans in the diaspora their most fundamental problem: Alienation from the very source of their being.

It was the Congo River which was most often used to dramatize such horrific intimidation which turned people off. This historic water highway that traversed Africa's most geostrategic country was always the dreaded well out of which sprung frightening surprises that would have Black people in the west cowering in their seats in many a theatre. And this was in spite of the fact that all of the aforementioned contradictions appeared before a gorgeous panorama of continental beauty.

All of this served to distort the reality of some fascinating historical epoch and/or the life of a little-known but nevertheless bold, impressive figure in African history that could have inspired our people, particularly our youth, to strive to achieve similar great achievements today.

Having said this, we need to be reminded that the Congo (Kongo) had dynasties of long endurance before the European came upon their existence in the 16th century. Chancellor Williams illustrated this in his classic work The Destruction of Black Civilization. Williams reminded us that the Congo had an over 300 year old dynasty before the Europeans (e.g. the Portuguese, in 1482 and much later the Belgians in 1885) discovered the realm of the great Mani-Kongo.

Carlos Cooks pointed out another interesting point during the 1940s. It was that the Mani-Kongo, a title applied to several great African kings and nation builders, had their images later used in a both literally and figuratively speaking beastly, dehumanizing cinematic and mystifying reconstruct in a series of Congo-oriented gorilla pictures: "King Kong", followed by "Son of Kong", "White Pongo", "Mighty Joe Young", etc.]

The conversion of King Nzinga a Nkuwa to Christianity (meaning Roman Catholicism at the time) by the Portuguese, led to the betrayal of the African king's naive trust and the subsequent introduction of the European Slave Trade and colonization of Africans during the 16th century. Later protests by King Nzinga Mbemba (who had been baptized Affonso I) appealing to Portugal's "Brother King" fell on deaf ears and came to no avail.

Within the next century the damage had been done. Slavery undermined the great Kongo kingdom, tearing at its seams. The Portuguese then introduced divide and rule tactics, instigating rebellions by local chiefs and governors, leading to secessionist activities further tearing the former great nation asunder. In 1665 the Portuguese invaded the imploding state, defeating the remnants of the Kongo's army and assassinated the Kongolese monarch. Within less that 50 years, by 1710, the Kongo was fragmented into different provinces that continued to be vulnerable.

The process that eventually brought the Kongo Kingdom to its knees from succumbing to the machinations of early European imperialism would be repeated, in effect, 250 years later at its independence. But, ironically, the colonization process by its most well known colonizer Belgium, that placed the Congo under formal colonial status, in a sense, more or less, restored its territorial integrity to what makes it the third largest country in Africa and easily its potentially wealthiest and most geostrategic.

It is this aspect of the Congo's geostrategic location in Africa, its having contiguous borders with nine other neighboring African states, and awesome range of natural resources that the country is endowed with (the colonizers said that the Congo had so much wealth that it was a "geological scandal." The country has enough potential water power to electrify the whole continent, etc. Unfortunately, these attributes have caused many aggressors spurred on by avaricious greed to be drawn to the country to enrich themselves at the expense of the Congolese people.

Thus, the Berlin Conference of 1884-85, which introduced King Leopold II's 23 year long brutal rule, Belgian colonialism, World War II, and a national liberation struggle for independence in response. But the Congo had its country's independence usurped, its leader Patrice Lumumba and members of his cadre assassinated to satisfy Cold War objectives. This objective led to 37 year's of Mobutu plundering the country's wealth, leading to the country's second liberation as Laurent Kabils sought to restore the Lumumbist agenda, and the U.S. responding with a counter- revolutionary war initiated and maintained by Uganda, Rwanda and Burundi, which still continues as you read.

Just short of 15 years in the 19th century, Julienne Amato lived through most of these trials and tribulations that occurred in her country. She saw the Congo win and then lose its independence. She saw her son sacrificed on the western imperialist altar of monopoly capitalism and its puppets. And she saw the Congolese people struggle to regain their independence. At 99 years of age, she had to finally surrender her eyewitness account of some of the most important historical periods of the last two centuries.

Given our own experiences of the African struggle in the U.S., which Douglass eloquently summed up 148 years ago when he exposed the hypocritical bombast that is used to woo scores of developing nations in Africa, Asia, the Americas and elsewhere that the American "Dream" is the only vision worth fighting for, perhaps we need to remember the words of Julienne Amato's illustrious son, the national hero of the Congo and African people throughout the world. Lumumba said, in effect, that:

"There are legends among the tribes that some of our people were taken away a long time ago. And one day they will return, and when they do they will return as supermen... Africa will one day write its own history and it will not be a history written in Washington, Paris, Brussels, London or their puppets."

As we watch the ongoing struggles in Africa, whether in the Congo or Angola, Zimbabwe, Namibia, South Africa, Nigeria, Sudan or anywhere else in Africa, including the north, east, west, south or central of the continent, we need to remember that our common enemies know that those struggled are inextricably interwined with those us in the, U.S., the Caribbean and the rest of North, Central and South America. We need to seriously think about this. And we need to remind all of our political leaders, from the City Council to the State Assembly, to the mayors of our cities and governors in state houses and the White House and the Congress, if they are not interested in our international concerns, then we are not going to be concerned about putting - or keeping - them in office, whether they are Democrat or Republican or so-called Third Party.

With all of the myriad of problems facing Africa, most of which emanate from within the U.S., if we truly have any decency and love and respect for ourselves or the heroism of our forbearers in the Pan-African pantheon, those of us in the United States of America need to position ourselves in order that we can own up to our responsibilities as being the first permanent African observer mission in the U.S. And then act accordingly.

Copyright (c) 2000 Elombe Brath. All Rights Reserved.

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