“And arriving from England was the one and only Odinga Lumumba, formerly Wilhelm Buller, one of the more way-out cats I have met. Lumumba claimed to be Minister of Culture of the Black Panther Party in London and he quickly became famous around town as the ‘big shirt bally’ (he wore mostly dashikis and boubous).”
– pg. 25, THE CROWD CALLED UBAD, by Evan X Hyde, Modern Printers, 1970
Bilal Morris, in Los Angeles, on behalf of one of Odinga Lumumba’s grandsons in London, has asked me for information on the late Odinga, who was arguably Belize’s most sensational revolutionary ever.
I say “one of Odinga Lumumba’s grandsons,” because, while Lumumba fathered two children with an English wife in London during the 1960s, I believe he also fathered several children after he moved to Mali and Ghana, both West African countries, during the 1970s. I therefore presume there are more grandsons.
The story of Odinga’s life would surely make a fantastic movie. But no one has ever stitched together the pieces of his life. The power structure in Belize, and the education system which it operates, surely has the wherewithal to sponsor a biography of this incredible Belizean. But, of course, Belize’s power structure is white supremacist, and Odinga, again arguably, may have been our greatest black (power) revolutionary ever.
I spent a lot of time with Lumumba, but I really know few details about him, because I never questioned him closely or interviewed him. I do know more than most Belizeans, so I offer the following.
He was christened Wilhelm Buller, the Bullers being a very prominent Belizean family. But Odinga may have been an illegitimate child, although his father (presumably) asked the late Sir Alexander “Sandy” Hunter, a member of an even more prominent Belizean family, to be his godfather. Sir Sandy accepted. The irony there was that Sir Sandy was a high-ranking Minister in Rt. Hon. George Price’s People’s United Party (PUP) Cabinet when Odinga first returned to Belize from England in 1969 shortly after the formation of the United Black Association for Development (UBAD), and began to raise a little hell.
A man of modest height, but strongly built, Odinga was enough of a troublemaker as a youth that he spent time at the Listowel Reform School in Cayo, after which he was sent to England by his father, presumably. Wilhelm Buller left Belize for London a few months before the catastrophe of Hurricane Hattie in October of 1961.
Between 1961 and 1969, to repeat, he married an English lady, fathered two children with her, but at some point became active in the London version of the Black Panther Party. He came to Belize around June of 1969, after I had become UBAD President in late March, and returned to London in September of 1969. I didn’t see or hear of Lumumba again for eleven-plus years.
When I saw Odinga again, he was a changed man. He had converted to Islam and become deeply spiritual, but also a total revolutionary who had become very close (right hand man, some say) to Flight Lieutenant Jerry Rawlings, the son of a Scottish father and Ghanaian mother who had seized power in Ghana in mid-1979. But Rawlings, idealistically we may say, returned power to a civilian government in late 1979, and here is where the story become unclear. Lumumba was arrested and jailed, held in solitary confinement for months. But, and this is a story the late Leroy Taegar repeated many times, his jailers made the mistake of letting him have a Koran to read while in solitary, so Odinga survived the pressure and stress of solitary confinement and whatever.
I said “when I saw Odinga again.” This was in mid-December of 1980, after he was deported from Ghana. My sense is that Odinga may have participated in the 1979 executions of military officers ordered by a Provisional National Defence Council (PNDC) which Rawlings chaired.
When I decided to write this column, what I did was go to Wikipedia and search for information on the one Jerry Rawlings. Here is some of what I found which I consider relevant to Lumumba’s story.
Jerry John Rawlings is a former Ghanaian military leader and politician who ruled the country from 1981 to 2001 and also for a brief period in 1979. He led a military junta until 1992 and then served two terms as the democratically elected President of Ghana. Rawlings initially came to power as a flight lieutenant of the Ghana Air Force following a coup d’état in 1979, and after initially handing power over to a civilian government, took back the country on 31 December. (Rawlings was the son of a Scottish father and a Ghanaian mother.)
May 15, 1979, Rawlings and six other soldiers staged a coup against the government of General Fred Akuffo, but failed and was arrested. He was publicly sentenced to death in a General Court Martial and imprisoned. While awaiting his execution, Rawlings was sprung from custody on June 4, 1979, by a group of soldiers.
Rawlings established and became chairman of a 15-member Armed Forces Revolutionary Council (AFRC), which would later become the Provisional National Defence Council (PNDC). The PNDC arranged the execution by firing squad of 8 military officers, including Generals Kotei, Joy Amedume, Roger Felli, and Utuka, as well as the 3 former heads of state – Afrifa, Acheampong, and Akuffo.
When Odinga Lumumba arrived in Belize in December of 1980, it was just three months before the Heads of Agreement sparked uproar and violence in Belize. Armed with a machete, Lumumba captured the Belizean public’s imagination when he began to close all the banks and businesses on Belize’s main streets.
After the Heads, Lumumba worked with me at this newspaper for a few years before he apparently returned to Ghana. He was a very big man in Rawlings’ governments, and received Belizeans like the late Bert Tucker royally in Accra in 1993.
Odinga reappeared in Belize early in the third millennium, if I remember correctly, and assisted me during my chairmanship of the University of Belize between 2000 and 2004.
He made me promise to ensure that he was buried as a Muslim, but when he became ill and passed away in the Karl Heusner Memorial Hospital, Christian relatives of his moved quickly and there was a bit of controversy before the Muslims under the leadership of Imam Kaleem, established their authority. This would have been about fourteen years ago.
Strangely enough, Odinga was quite friendly with Mr. Ralph Fonseca, who appeared to assist him in various ways. I would suggest Bilal try to contact Mr. Ralph for more information on Odinga.
In closing, I would say that Odinga was a real revolutionary, bold and fearless. There are intellectual revolutionaries in Belize, but in Ghana, Lumumba had seen real action. He did not speak to me of his exploits, and I never questioned him. Belize saw him in action during the Heads, and the impression he left on young Belizeans was indelible. It will never be erased.
Power to the people.
P.S. Subsequent to writing this column, I decided to “google” Odinga Lumumba. (There is a Guyanese parliamentarian who uses the same name, so it is a trifle confusing.)
Anyway, Channel 7 did an obituary on Odinga on June 20, 2005.
Adele Ramos-Daly did a story on a Kremandala-sponsored “Odinga Lumumba Memorial Symposium” in this newspaper on March 29, 2006. (The main speakers, incidentally, included two present day UDP Cabinet Ministers (Hulse and Elrington).
Finally, I found a column I wrote on April 26, 2012, which referred to Odinga and his negative view of the British.