This murder has affected the history of Africa. The overthrow of the Congo’s first government, the elimination of Lumumba, the bloody repression of the popular resistance to the neo-colonial regimes of Joseph Kasavabu, Joseph-Desire Mobutu and Moise Tshombe, and finally the creation of the Second Republic in this vast strategic country: the repercussions of all these events have had disastrous consequences throughout Africa as a whole.
Lumumba and the Congolese government appeared just when the anti-colonial revolution was at its peak worldwide. Lumumba was the product of these favorable power relationships, but at the same time his downfall was a sign that a neo-colonial counter-offensive was already gaining ground. The neo-colonial victory in the Congo indicated that the tide had turned for the anti-colonial movement in Africa. The change of direction became clear with Portugal’s success in delaying decolonization in its overseas territories; with the temporary halt of the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa; with the temporary reprieve for Ian Smith’s “settler” regime in Rhodesia, and finally with the overthrow of Ben Bella in Algeria in 1965. If Africa was a revolver and the Congo its trigger, to borrow Frantz Fanon’s analogy, the assassination of Lumumba and tens of thousands of other Congolese nationalists, from 1960 to 1965, was the West’s ultimate attempt to destroy the continent’s authentic independent development.
– from pg xxiii, the Introduction to The Assassination of Lumumba, by Ludo De Witte, Verso, 2001.
I have said to you before that we teenagers in Belize in the early/middle 1960s had an optimistic view of our country’s future, even though Hurricane Hattie in October of 1961 had been a tremendous national disaster. (Jamaica, which was a kind of Big Brother to Belize historically, happily achieved independence in 1962.) Looking back, we can see that Belize recovered relatively quickly from Hattie, assisted by those of our people who had been allowed to enter the United States.
Life, I would say, was good in Belize in the 1960s and 1970s, compared to now, even though the political tension back then between the ruling People’s United Party (PUP) and the Opposition National Independence Party was high, and even though Guatemala would threaten military invasion from time to time. The British Army was established in Belize, and we Belizeans had been “British subjects” for so long that we were comfortable with the moniker. The majority of Belizeans were looking forward to political independence and self-rule. Above all perhaps, back then there was law and order.
De Witte, in his The Assassination of Lumumba, is claiming that in the counter-offensive by the European neo-colonialists, the 1961 murder of Patrice Lumumba was a benchmark occurrence. Earlier De Witte had pointed out all the instances where many Asian and African countries had achieved independence after World War II, when the major European countries had fought bitterly amongst themselves.
For a long time I have wondered what went wrong for us roots Belizeans, when things had looked so promising. For many years Tony Wright has argued that things began to go wrong after Belize’s political independence in 1981. Still, as early as August/September of 1980, seven members of the prestigious Belizean national softball team, Belize’s darlings, had defected to the United States while on a tour of the U.S. and Mexico. These were young ladies whose future in Belize seemed pretty bright. Still, America is America: the streets, it was said, are paved with gold.
In this essay, we’re not focusing on Belize after March last year when the coronavirus took us to a socio-economic low we had probably never experienced before. Prior to COVID-19, we were already experiencing deterioration and disintegration as a people. For sure, things had begun becoming messy in the latter part of the 1980s when crack cocaine and gang violence took over our narrative. Our judiciary began to fall apart.
The long and short of everything is that at some point the colonialists of Europe (and the United States) began to get their act together, and all our hopes for self-rule in the Third World became undermined by something called neo-colonialism. We were, technically speaking, no longer subjects: we were an independent country. But it appeared that we could not develop economically, and, socially speaking, Belize became a very violent and undisciplined place.
There were British Hondurans who had been comfortable with colonialism, especially those in the higher ranks of the public service. It is to be noted that Belize was a very disciplined place before self-government in 1964 and independence in 1981. The British ruled with an iron fist. If we Belizeans had been able to hold on to half the law and order of British colonialism, we would have been in a better place than we are now. But, money rules absolutely in Belize today, and the roots people have responded by resorting to vigilante justice amongst themselves.
I feel that those Belizeans who chose to live and work in the United States on a permanent basis made a decision with which I can no longer argue. I used to feel strongly that we could stay and build up a good country with all the natural resources (“wealth untold,” wrote Samuel Haynes) we enjoyed. It hasn’t worked that way.
Here’s a piece of a poem I wrote and published in the August 15, 1980 issue of Amandala which gives you a sense of my feelings four plus decades ago …. Under duress, my feelings have been changing. In retrospect, this poem was written only a couple weeks before Belize’s softball sweethearts decided to skedaddle.
Around this time
old people say Centenary
that’s when it really
really hit you —
Worse if you drinking,
don’t your heart feel full
and your eyes
in 80 Anno Domini
when you consider
your glorious flight
into the fantasy
of The Apple.
It was hallucinations,
‘cause the real riches
and you there
YOU AN EXILE
YOU IN EXILE
a blind wandering
to a destination unknown,
and soon you
will never come home
land of the gods
is leased and sold