How Patrice Lumumba’s assassination drove student activism, shaping the Congo’s future

During a recent visit to the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), King Philippe of Belgium made a speech to the national parliament in Kinshasa expressing his “deepest regrets” for the exploitation and oppression of Belgian colonialism.

The European nation ruled the Democratic Republic of Congo from 1908 until 1960. Before that it had been a personal colony of Leopold II, Philippe’s great great grand uncle, for more than 25 years.

Philippe also addressed students at the University of Lubumbashi, in the capital of the Southeastern province of Katanga. “Today, let’s look towards the future,” he urged. Philippe declined to expand on his regrets, and only mentioned the colonial past, “our shared history,” in veiled terms.

His exhortation to dissipate colonial memories is particularly problematic in Lubumbashi. It is only a few kilometers away from where Patrice Lumumba, the Congo’s first Prime Minister, was assassinated. This happened in the presence of the Katangese secessionist leader Moïse Tshombe and his Belgian advisers on January 17, 1961.

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