Author: SAMUEL PETREKUIN
BRUSSELS ( Associated Press) – Belgian authorities on Monday returned the golden tooth cap belonging to slain Congolese independence hero Patrice Lumumba, while the former colonial power continues to face its bloody past and look to reconciliation.
The restitution of the relics was carried out after King Philip of Belgium expressed “deepest regret” earlier this month for abusing his nation in the former African colony of Congo, which is 75 times bigger than Belgium.
After a private ceremony in the presence of Lumumba’s relatives, during which the federal prosecutor handed over the coffin containing the tooth, the Belgian Prime Minister and Congolese officials should also meet with Lumumba’s family.
After his assassination in 1961, Lumumba’s body was dismembered and dissolved in acid in an apparent attempt to prevent any tomb from becoming a place of pilgrimage. Decades later, the tooth was taken away by Belgian officials from the daughter of the Belgian police commissioner, who said that he took it after he supervised the destruction of Lumumba’s body.
Two years ago, the federal prosecutor’s office said there was no absolute certainty that Lumumbin’s tooth had been returned because a DNA test could not be conducted.
For many in Congo, Lumumba remains a symbol of what the country could become after its independence. Instead, it has sunk into decades of dictatorship that has depleted its vast mineral wealth.
After advocating an end to colonial rule, Lumumba became the first Congolese prime minister to become the new independent Congo in 1960.
But historians say he quickly fell out of favor during the Cold War in both Belgium and the United States, when he sought help from the Soviet Union to quell a secessionist movement in the mineral-rich region of Katanga.
So when dictator Mobutu Sese Seko took power in a military coup later that year, Western powers intervened little after Lumumba was arrested and imprisoned. Lumumba’s assassination by separatists in January 1961 eventually paved the way for Mobutu to rule the country, which he later renamed Zaire, for decades until his death in 1997.
Although Lumumba’s killers were Congolese, questions remain about how Belgium and the United States may have been complicit in his death because of his alleged communist ties.
A Belgian parliamentary inquiry later found that the government was “morally responsible” for Lumumba’s death. A U.S. Senate committee revealed in 1975 that the CIA had devised a special, failed plan to assassinate the Congolese leader.
Two years ago, the 60th anniversary of Congo’s independence re-launched calls to rest Lumumba’s soul. Protesters gathered in front of the Belgian embassy in Kinshasa, demanding the restitution of his remains, along with cultural artifacts seized during colonial rule.
In Belgium, international protests against racism following the death of George Floyd in the United States have given new impetus to activists fighting to remove the monument to King Leopold II.
Leopold plundered the Congo during his reign of 1865-1909 and forced many of his people into slavery to extract resources for his own profit. In 1908, he handed it over to the Belgian state, which continued to rule the colony until it became independent in 1960.
Amid the actions of the Black Lives Matter, protesters removed the bust of the former monarch who was held responsible for the deaths of millions of Africans, and King Philip later expressed regret over the violence perpetrated by the state when it ruled Congo. None of his predecessors went so far as to express remorse.