Belgium and the United Nations are responsible for failing to prevent the murder of Congolese independence hero Patrice Lumumba, an 89-year-old former friend has told AFP.
Jean Mayani will pay tribute next week to Lumumba, whose remains – a single tooth – Belgium has finally returned to the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Mayani is hard of hearing, his hands are shaking and he needs a cane or helping hand to move, but he speaks clearly and has a piercing look.
From time to time he loses his train of thought for a moment, but then gathers and tells about historical events.
In May 1960, the Congolese National Movement nominated him and Lumumba as candidates for the northeastern district of Stanleyville, now called Kisangani, in municipal and parliamentary elections, respectively. They both won.
On June 30 of the same year, the country became independent and Lumumba was appointed Prime Minister.
Mayani very briefly replaced Lumumba in the National Assembly.
But on September 12, the anti-colonial icon had been overthrown.
Separatists from the southern region of Katanga and Belgian mercenaries executed him and two close supporters, Maurice Mpolo and Joseph Okito, on January 17 of the following year.
“All nationalists had to be eliminated,” Mayani recalled bitterly.
He said the UN did nothing to prevent his friend from being killed.
“Before the Belgian mercenaries came to Congo, the Blue Helmets were here,” he said, referring to UN peacekeepers sent to the African country in July 1960, after independence.
“Why didn’t the UN Secretary-General prevent these mercenaries from landing?
“He was doing nothing. He knew that the mercenaries would destabilize Congo. He was complicit in the Belgian position and that of the United States, which knew through the CIA about the mission of these mercenaries in Congo.”
– ‘They broke my teeth’ –
Mayani said he believed the Belgians had decided to get rid of Lumumba from the early 1960s, at a meeting in the Belgian capital, Brussels.
He said Lumumba hadn’t been afraid to repeat his call for “immediate independence” from his country in front of the Belgians.
Mayani said they were surprised and angry at his steadfastness, and “decided to eliminate him”.
Belgium then did everything it could to prevent Congolese nationalists from reaching state power, under the indifferent gaze of the UN,” he said.
Mayani said this campaign continued even after Lumumba was killed.
In a hushed voice, he described how in 1961 he was “arrested for harboring two central government ministers who had escaped with Lumumba”.
“During the torture, they broke twelve of my teeth,” he said, removing a row of eight false teeth from his upper jaw. He said he was wearing different dentures on his lower jaw to replace the other four he had lost.
The following year, Mayani was arrested again and held in Makala Prison in Kinshasa until 1964, when former Katanga secessionist leader and Prime Minister Moise Tshombe declared an amnesty.
Mayani said his friend’s political legacy — everything the independence icon stood for — has been lost today.
Today no one can “win elections without corruption,” he said.
“People in the DRC have made the choice that to get elected, bribery is necessary,” he added.
“In our time, corruption was absolutely out of the question.”