A Film by Raoul Peck
Reviewed By Marvin X
© 2002 by Marvin X
My African consciousness began with the murder of Patrice Lumumba. After high
school graduation, I enrolled at Oakland's Merritt College and found myself in the midst of the black revolutionary student movement. Students Huey Newton, Bobby Seale, Richard Thorne, Maurice Dawson, Kenny Freeman, Ernie Allen and others were rapping daily on the steps at the front door of Merritt College. Some of them wore sweatshirts with Jomo Kenyatta's picture, sold by Donald Warden's African American Association, which held meetings on campus, and sometimes Donald Warden, renamed Khalid Abdullah Tariq Al Mansour, rapped. The theme was often the African independence struggle, especially the Mau Mau's in Kenya.
But a frequent topic was the 1961 brutal murder of the democratically elected Congolese Prime Minister, Patrice Lumumba. The brothers were well read and in their raps they documented the facts and figures of the African struggle. They gave reference to such books as Kwame Nkrumah's Neo-Colonialism: the final stage of imperialism, where he documented the riches of Africa, especially the Congo, that the West coveted and committed mass murder to maintain. Patrice Lumumba was the first African leader I'd known about who was assassinated, and the brutal way he was eliminated helped expedite my African consciousness, especially learning how his so-called comrades betrayed him to continue the Western world's plunder of the Congo's vast mineral riches.
On one level, it was hard to believe, since I was attempting to get blackenized and didn't want to face the reality of black treachery. As students, most of us were Black nationalists, not yet the revolutionary black nationalists we would soon become, that allowed some of us to employ a class or Marxist analysis to the Pan African struggle, which Nkrumah's writings brought to the table. The brothers leaning in the Marxist direction were Ken Freeman, Ernie Allen, and maybe Bobby Seale, all of whom were associated with SoulBook magazine, a revolutionary black nationalist publication featuring the writings of LeRoi Jones, James Boggs, Max Stanford, Robert F. Williams, Sonia Sanchez, Askia M. Toure', myself and others, although I was a budding writer, just out of high school and knew nothing about Marxism. If I had, it would have helped me understand the class nature of Lumumba's final days. I couldn't comprehend how Mobutu, Kasavubu, and Tshombe could be so wicked to conspire with the white man to kill their brother. It would take the black hands of Malcolm's murderers for me to begin to understand.
Actually, I wouldn't fully understand until years later after reading a monograph by Dr. Walter Rodney, himself the victim of assassination in Guyana, South America, entitled West Africa and the Atlantic Slave Trade, in which he carefully deconstructed African social classes and their role in the slave trade, detailing how the political, military, judicial, and even religious institutions became corrupt and expedited our removal from the Motherland.
Amiri Baraka sings to us:
My brother the king
Sold me to the ghost
When you put your hand on your sister and made her a slave
When you put your hand on your brother and made him a slave
Watch out for the ghost
The ghost go get you Africa
At the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean
Is a railroad of human bones
the king sold the farmer to the ghost.
It is hard to believe it has been forty years since the death of Lumumba, maybe because in the interim we've had innumerable cases in Africa and even in America of similar acts of treachery. Supposedly black ministers were involved in the death of Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. Black elected politicians have been selling out the black community for at least the past thirty years, especially since the 1972 Gary Convention of the Congress of African People. We have no choice but to see our struggle as class struggle, race being incidental.
We cannot have any illusions that a black face will save us, only black hearts. Those who study the Bible and Qur'an know the history of all men is the story of treachery, deceit, lust, greed, jealousy, envy and murder -- but the glass can be seen as half full: the history of man is also about good transcending evil, liberation defeating oppression, ascension after crucifixion, joy after sorrow, victory over defeat. Yet, how many prophets survived? How many righteous people survived and continued in their righteousness, rather than succumb to iniquities?
Men of Lumumba's character are rare upon the stage of history, men dedicated to the liberation of their people, men who are confident that no matter how great the odds, freedom will come soon one morning.
Raoul Peck's film was depressing because it showed a leader in a Indiana Jones snake pit full of vipers and cobras of the worse sort, snakes who danced to the rhythm of Western drums, not those of the mighty Congo, for Lumumba's mission appeared doomed from the start, he said himself that he was fifty years ahead of his time. This may have been the truest statement of the movie, for only ten years remain before the half-century mark in the modern history of the Congo or Zaire. Maybe in the last ten years of his prophecy, the people of Zaire will become truly free.
What the movie failed to give us were the deep structure motivations for the behavior of men like Kasavubu, Tshombe and Mobutu. Yes, the Europeans were there, had been there stealing the wealth, especially of Katanga Province which held 70% of the nation's riches, but we needed to see the very beginning with Belgium King Leopold's butchery, including his role in the European carving up of Africa at the 1890s Berlin Conference. We need to know the custom of chopping off limbs so en vogue today with diamond seeking armies in Zaire, Sierra Leone, Liberia, and elsewhere originated with King Leopold. Only then can the unaware and unread understand what demonic forces created such inhuman beings as the three main characters that surrounded Lumumba and ultimately brought about his downfall. From the movie we are tempted to say his own people did him in, but we know better, we must know better-think of diamonds, chrome, uranium, plutonium, cobalt, zinc and other minerals.
Look at Zaire today with several competing armies from neighboring countries (Rwanda, Uganda, Angola, et al) warring over the same minerals for the same European masters who instigated the treacherous actions of Kasavubu, Tshombe and Mobutu. Their names have a poetic ring that we should remember forever as the sound of death in a people, the sound of condensation and the lowest rats in creation, but understand they represent class interests and their class mates are visible throughout Africa and the world, even in the American political landscape: we have Clarence Thomas, Ward Connelly and Colin Powell -- new world rats, but rats none the less, who are every bit the measure of the Congo Three.
And let us not forget the reactionary behavior in the black liberation movement, the murder by incineration of Samuel Napier in the Black Panther fratricide, the assassination of Bunchy Carter and John Huggins by the US organization in the BSU meeting room on the campus of UCLA, the Muslims setting a prostitute on fire in San Francisco and other terrorists actions such as the Zebra killings.
Even the Black Arts Movement had its psychopathic shootouts with the wounding of Larry Neal and other acts we need not list. Shall we neglect to mention the hip hop generation also has its catalogue of madness such as the east coast/west coast killing of rap giants Tupac and Biggie Small. Let Lumumba be a lesson for us all. Let's learn from it and move to higher ground. Some of our madness is simply that -- we cannot attribute all evil acts of man to white oppression, although white oppression in inexcusable. We must take responsibility for Black Madness.
We are happy the director created a screen version of this historic drama. The actors made us feel the good in Lumumba and the evil in his associates, black and white, for the whites performed their usual roles as arrogant, paternalistic colonial masters whose aim was to hold power until the last second as we saw when they released Lumumba from prison to attend independence talks in Belgium. We saw the stark contrast of character in the speeches of Lumumba as prime minister and Kasavubu as president. Lumumba was strong, Kassavubu capitulating even on the eve of freedom, signaling his intent to remain a colonial puppet.
For those who came away like myself, and one could sense the sad silence in the audience as they departed the theatre, a friend remarked that we must not give up hope because the enemy will never tell you when you are winning.
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