Fifty years have passed since Congolese leader Patrice Lumumba fell victim to a US-Belgian murder plot.
The killing of the Congo's first post-independence leader set the newly-independent central African country (now known as the Democratic Republic of the Congo) on a tragic course that has led to the horrors of today.
The involvement of Western imperialist interests in this resource-rich region has been disastrous for its inhabitants from the outset.
Under Belgian rule, which officially ended in 1960, the Congo became a byword for crimes against humanity.
In what has been described as Africa’s Holocaust, the entire population of this vast central African region was enslaved in the late 19th century by Belgium's king Leopold II to help extract abundant natural resources such as rubber.
Women and children had their hands hacked off by the tens of thousands to instil terror.
Police regularly burned entire village districts to the ground for the slightest offences, such as failing to meet rubber production quotas.
Shooting “natives” for target practice was considered an everyday diversion.
Such was the extent of the dehumanisation that colonialists’ gardens often had displays of human heads.
Up to 8 million people died in this epic of greed and mass murder. It enriched Leopold and his network of international backers, but left the Congo in a state of permanent evisceration.
After 1945, the Belgian state was desperate to retain its Congolese possessions, but the era of overt, flag-planting colonialism was increasingly giving way to the US-led order of proxy capitalist imperialism in the “Third World”.
In response, national liberation movements emerged across Africa and elsewhere in the colonised world.
In the Congo, these hopes culminated in the Congolese National Movement (MNC). The MNC was led by Patrice Lumumba, a one-time postal worker who had been imprisoned for seditious activities.
Ironically, Lumumba initially believed he could broker US support for decolonisation. It would not be long before he was given a sharp lesson in the true nature of the neo-imperialist Pax Americana.
Appearances were changing, but not the brutal reality of Western monopolisation of the rest of the world's resources.
Popular mobilisation of millions of ordinary Congolese forced the Belgian authorities to hold local elections essentially an independence referendum in late 1959.
In spite of Lumumba’s imprisonment, the pro-independence MNC won the most votes.
At the Brussels conference in January 1960, June 30 was scheduled as the date for independence. Elections were to be held in May to determine the shape of the national government.
Lumumba, by then released, was swept to power as the country’s first democratically-elected prime minister.
His vision of a united, progressive Congo transcending tribal and regional animosities deeply disturbed the Belgians, who were determined that the Congo should be independent in name only.
Tellingly, Lumumba was not even invited to speak at the official independence ceremony. But it would take more than a calculated snub to silence him.
The Belgian king delivered a nauseatingly hypocritical speech, extolling Belgium’s “civilising” mission in the Congo and falsely portraying independence as a generous gift of Belgian benevolence.
At that point, the 35-year-old Lumumba stepped up to the podium with a quiet, dignified yet unstoppable determination.
“For this independence,” Lumumba reminded the audience, “no Congolese worthy of the name will be able to forget that it was by fighting that it has been won …
“Humiliating slavery [was] our fate for 80 years of a colonial regime ...We have known ironies, insults, blows…because we are Negroes….
“Who will ever forget the massacres where so many of our brothers perished, the cells into which those who refused to submit ... were thrown?”
To rapturous applause, Lumumba promised a more equitable future: “We are going to keep watch over the lands of our country so that they truly profit her children.”
The independence of the Congo, he added, “marks a decisive step towards the liberation of the entire African continent”.
This determination that the Congo's resources belonged to its people, rather than the West, meant Lumumba’s fate was sealed.
“Operation Barracuda” was swiftly set in motion by the Belgian state. This was a plan to assassinate Lumumba and replace him with a more compliant leader.
And it was not only the Belgians who wanted Lumumba dead.
Official documents reveal that, in an August 1960 meeting, US President Dwight Eisenhower ordered CIA chief Allen Dulles to “eliminate” the dissident leader.
This response was driven by Cold War imperial geopolitics and the history of US involvement in the Congo.
In 1884, the US had been the first great power to back Belgian territorial claims, conferring a semblance of legitimacy on Leopold’s crime spree.
In the decades that followed, US corporations were granted full access to the region’s resources.
The uranium that the US military used for the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima was extracted from the Congo.
Only days after officially taking office, Lumumba was deposed in a coup led by army chief Joseph Mobutu, a willing and well-paid pawn in the West’s game.
On January 17, 1961, Lumumba was executed by a Belgian-commanded firing squad.
Days of humiliation and torture preceded the killing, as soldiers under the United Nations banner stood by and watched.
Lumumba's body was dismembered and dissolved in acid.
Lumumba’s death terminated the vision of a democratic and universally prosperous Congo.
Mobutu’s subsequent dictatorship crushed the people back into grinding poverty for the next three-and-a-half decades.
Mobutu's regime allowed Western interests to exploit the Congo in return for kickbacks to the military regime.
The brutal and corrupt Mobotu enjoyed the full backing and support of Western governments until he was overthrown in 1997.
Post-Mobotu, the exploitation continues, with various Western interests employing local proxy militias in a violent armed struggle for control of resources.
The impact on the civilian population has matched the slaughters of a century ago.
In the past decade, it is estimated that more than 5 million have died.
It is no longer rubber that condemns the Congolese to perpetual torment at the hands of rapacious imperialists. Now it is minerals such as coltan, vital for making mobile phones.
But, in essence, nothing has changed since the brutal overlordship of the arch-parasite Leopold II. It was in defence of this system of exploitation that Lumumba was killed.