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How Congo's freedom was won and hope was lost in the 'Year of Africa'43:50
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Leopoldville, Congo. Flushed with victory, Congolese Premier Patrice Lumumba waves as he leaves the National Senate. Lumumba had just received a 41-2 vote of confidence. (Bettmann/Getty Images)
Leopoldville, Congo. Flushed with victory, Congolese Premier Patrice Lumumba waves as he leaves the National Senate. Lumumba had just received a 41-2 vote of confidence. (Bettmann/Getty Images)

In 1960 — dubbed the "Year of Africa" — 17 African nations declared their independence from the colonial West. It was a year of liberation. A time of jubilee, cultural advancement, and optimism for a new start and brighter future cross the continent.

In the Belgian colony of Congo, a pair of bold and charismatic leaders fanned the flames of hope and freedom until they caught fire. But by the following year, that hope had been dashed by outside forces in a series of political events with lasting consequences.

In this episode, writer Brenton Zola transports us to a turning point in Congo's journey to independence, reveals what happened to the country's hope, and remembers the future that almost was.


Producer's Note: "Africa's Lost Year of Hope" is a different kind of a story, one that calls on a traditional style of griot storytelling from Central and West Africa. Brenton Zola, who has deep Congolese roots, plays the role of the griot — a figure who acts as a bridge between your world and the world of story, bringing listeners into a world of narrative, music and myth. In this oral tradition, a griot is often accompanied by a chorus, and this episode features chants, songs and vocal accompaniment that help bring the story to life.


Show notes: 

Further reading: 

Thanks to Eve Blouin, Adam Hochschild,  Steve Colwell, Paul Colwell, Mermans Mosengo, Jason Tamba and Stuart Reid for sharing their time and knowledge.

Special thanks to the Storytellers – Jerome, Gibran, Alejandro, Devin and Keanu – for lending their voices. And to Gio Bard Zero, Brodie Kinder, Meredith Turk and Vince “Duneman” Ferg for their sonic contributions.

Thanks also to The Source Marrakech and to Denver Arts and Venues for their support for this project.


Full Transcript:

This content was originally created for audio. The transcript has been edited from our original script for clarity. Heads up that some elements (i.e. music, sound effects, tone) are harder to translate to text. 

[CONGO JAZZ MUSIC]

Nora Saks: Sit back. Close your eyes. Imagine a big city on a river overflowing with life.

Brenton Zola: A place where people are dancing, where music is just swirling through the air in the forms of Congo jazz and trumpets. Where you have art lining the streets. It's just a place that was ready to emerge from a dark history.

Nora: This is Brenton Zola - a writer, thinker and creator with deep Congolese roots. The place he’s describing is no figment of the imagination. It’s Leopoldville - and in 1960 - it was the capital of the Belgian colony of Congo. That year was a turning point for the entire continent. A year of liberation.

Brenton: The year 1960 was known as the Year of Africa, and that is because 17 African nations actually all declared their independence in one single year. 

Nora: Brenton was that before you were born? 

Brenton: Ha! Oh Lord. Yes, that is significantly before I was born.

Nora: Nevertheless, Brenton’s fascination has led him to begin working on a book about this chapter of Congo’s history. And he says back then, Leopoldville was bubbling with life and hope that Congo could soon become one of Africa’s free Democratic republics. Now, it usually takes some kind of spark for those embers of hope to catch fire. Sometimes that can be one bold individual. But at that time, Congo had two. Patrice Lumumba and Andrée Blouin. A dynamic pair that would transform the entire nation - and inspire people for generations to come.

Brenton: I've always been fascinated by - first of all, people who are able to stir the emotions of, and sort of capture the imagination, the zeitgeist of their time, and that in the case of Lumumba and Blouin specifically, that they could take on these really large responsibilities, knowing like how dangerous it was, knowing how many large forces were against them and still have the willingness and drive to follow through on their visions for a better future.

Nora: Now imagine that hope dashed, on purpose, by an outside actor.

Brenton: You know, when we look at the problems of Congo now, from exploitation in the mining industry to animal conservation to violence in the eastern part of the Congo with rebel militias, a lot of these are a fallout of what happened in 1960. And I think when we look at our world right now, the problem or challenge that societies have is that you oftentimes don't see the fallout from large political events until many decades later. And so by the time you start really feeling that fallout, people have forgotten. 

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Nora: Eventually, Brenton says, that era of hope and freedom disappeared from our collective memory. And was replaced with a much simpler notion: one of suffering.

Brenton: And so I want to bring this story to people because I want to show them that not only could the future have been different, but it was on the path of being different. And we basically thwarted that path. And so that the future that we have or the present that we have now is in no way inevitable and that there's always a new story that can be written if we understand how we got here to begin with.

[MUSIC]

Nora: Welcome to Last Seen - a show about people, places and things that have gone missing, and whether or not they can or even should be found. From WBUR - Boston’s NPR station, I’m Nora Saks.

Today, you’re going to hear a different kind of a story - more of a lyrical essay - using a traditional style of storytelling from Central and West Africa. Brenton will be playing the role of the griot - a figure who acts as a bridge between your world and the world of story, bringing you into a world of narrative, music and myth.

In this form, a griot is often accompanied by a chorus. So you will hear chants, song and vocal accompaniment with the story.

Today, Brenton Zola transports us to “Africa’s Lost Year of Hope”. This is Episode 4.

Brenton: It was the Summer of 1884. A man with a long, silver beard sat at a clawfoot table. His name was Leopold II, King of the Belgians. Other European kings took seats around him. He looked around the table and locked eyes with each king. He declared that he wanted to control a new land his men had explored. It was called Congo. He wanted it for himself. As a private citizen.

Nobody knew what lay in Africa’s heart. Many still don’t. Leopold was the only king with access to Central Africa. The other kings didn’t understand what he was asking for. They were focused on grabbing other parts of the continent. He was desperate to join their ranks. Earn their respect. He needed Congo.

His fellow kings spoke. They told him that they were willing to give him this ‘Congo.’ On one condition. He needed to help its people prosper. Leopold gave a broad smile and agreed. The statesmen applauded with self-satisfaction. Congo was now his. A land so large it could fit half of western Europe.

Adam Hochschild: He wanted some part of the world where he could reign supreme and where he could make a lot of money.

That’s Adam Hochschild, historian and modern Congo expert.

Adam: He bamboozled first the United States, and then all the major nations of Europe into recognizing this vast territory as his personal possession.

Brenton: Leopold II ruled Congo as a personal colony for over two decades. He focused on a search for prosperity. And he found it.

[JUNGLE SOUNDS] 

Brenton: Off in the Congo jungle, a Congolese woman in a floral waist wrap sat in the bush. She was chained to someone next to her. In her left hand, she held a large green vine that snaked along the ground. In her right, she had a large knife. She swung the knife and sliced the vine open. A milky substance erupted. It brought her to her knees. It covered her head, arms and chest. Then, it hardened. Belgian soldiers came and scraped the hardened substance off of her. They took some of her hair and skin with it. She became delirious. Fell to the ground. At that point, the soldiers took her away. What did they scrape off? Latex. It would be turned into rubber, a new material the world couldn’t get enough of.

Adam: There was a huge demand for rubber in industry and much of the world was industrializing at that point, and you need rubber for belts and machinery and factories and so forth. But when you plant a bunch of rubber trees it can take 15 years or so before they grow to maturity. And you’re able to harvest the rubber from them.  So the people who could really make a killing were those who owned territory where rubber grew wild.

Brenton: And no one had more of that than King Leopold in the great Congolese rainforest. So Leopold imposed a rubber quota on all Congolese. If they didn’t harvest enough, soldiers would take them away. Just like the woman in the floral waist wrap. They brought her to a tree stump and laid out her right arm. A soldier lifted his knife and it dropped down on her wrist. Her hand fell into a woven basket. It joined many others. And things carried on like this. For days. Months. Years.

This was the rubber trade that made Leopold a billionaire in today’s dollars. That powered automobiles on 5th avenue. That kept the unknowing world moving.

The global media eventually exposed Leopold’s atrocities. The likes of Mark Twain and Arthur Conan Doyle lambasted him. The International Community even coined a term for his actions: Crimes Against Humanity. But the damage was done.

Adam: It was an extremely brutal system that produced a holocaust-sized death toll. The best estimates are that the population of this territory shrank by about 50% or about 10 million people between around 1880 and around 1920.

Brenton: 10 million people. From famine, disease, separation and violence. The world wanted justice. But just a year after he was exposed, Leopold died of a stroke in his glittering palace. From that moment of applause at the clawfoot table up until his very last day, everyone gave him a hand.  Nearly two decades after Leopold died, the Belgian government still exploited Congo. Few Congolese had hope of improving their lives. Except one boy.

[MUSIC]

Brenton: No one knows why Elias was given his particular name. Some say his tribe was inferior. Others say that someone saw a shooting star at his birth. A bad omen. However it originated, Elias Okit’Asombo’s name meant “the heir of the cursed.”  But Elias believed in the power to change his destiny. The Earth gave him a bellowing voice that carried through space. It gave him a sharp mind that gathered knowledge like a glittering nebula. Every night, he stood in the middle of his small village. He recounted tales of Congo’s dazzling past. And in spite of themselves, the Congolese around him started to dream. He wanted these dreams for all Congolese. So as a teenager, he hopped on a train to the city. He was born Elias Okit’Asombo. But he gave himself a new name. The first meant “noble”; the last, “the crowd.” His name was Patrice Lumumba.

On the other side of the Congo river, there was a 17 year-old girl. She was climbing a high stone wall. It was the middle of the night. The gothic architecture of her Catholic orphanage lay behind her. As she reached the top, she cut herself on the glass shards that lay on the wall. Her blood dripped down the wall. She looked to her right and she saw two friends she was supposed to meet. They trembled. She shouted: “This is the hour of our liberation.”

Twenty feet down, more jagged shards awaited them at the base of the wall. Her companions whimpered. But she shoved them into the night.

Andrée was this girl’s name. She had no idea of the future for the métisse girls she pushed to freedom. Métisse meant mixed. Half-breed. A child of sin. Andrée Blouin was born to a 14-year-old African mother and a 41-year-old European father. She wasn’t an orphan. She was ripped from the arms of her mother and thrown into a so-called “orphanage” to be with her own kind.

But she was done hiding. She took a long breath and plunged into the abyss after her friends. Three pairs of bloody footprints walked into the night.

[MUSIC]

Brenton: Patrice Lumumba, the heir of the cursed, grew up in a rapidly changing world. This world was hungry for gold, diamonds, copper and more, which Congo had. If Congo’s mineral riches were measured in the lifespan of our universe, it would take thousands to capture its bounty. It’s estimated that to this day, Congo has 26 trillion (with a T) US dollars’ worth of untapped minerals.

On the heels of World War II, the Congolese mining industry exploded. Most of its cities became mining cities. There was new opportunity for people like Patrice Lumumba. But the Belgians ensured that there wasn’t too much.

Like most Congolese, Patrice Lumumba only made it through 4th grade. There was no university in the nation. So the idea that someone could intellectually match Europeans was preposterous. But Lumumba believed it. By day, he was a mailman. By night, a student. After his classes, he’d walk around the slums trying to solve problems. Everyone called him the knowledge magician. But Lumumba’s drive also got him in trouble. He felt underpaid. So to cover his learning expenses, he embezzled some money. He intended to pay it back, but his debts caught up with him. He earned a ticket to jail.

His time in jail was the match that lit the bonfire of revolution. He saw the brutal treatment of his fellow inmates. How they ate nothing but dry chikwanga bread. How guards stuffed them in tiny cells. This incensed him. He wanted to do something. A couple years later, he got out. It was then that he committed himself to changing Congo’s future.

For the métisse orphan Andrée Blouin, tragedy was the match that lit her fire. After escaping the orphanage, she started a family. Her life was coming together. But one day in 1944, her toddler got malaria.

Eve Blouin: So one day he was taken to hospital and doctors saw that his case was very serious.

Brenton: That’s Eve Blouin, one of Andrée’s daughters. Eve wasn’t yet born at the time, but she knows the story well. Andrée brought her son to a French colonial hospital. His condition continued to decline.

Eve: So she completely freaked out, as you can imagine, and tried to find the quinine that was the only cure to what her son had. Apparently, you could only have access to this drug if you had a card and it was not given to anyone with African blood. 

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Brenton: Andrée pleaded that her son was 3/4 European. Doctors still refused. Her son died. She was never the same. After his death, Andrée moved to Paris. In Paris, she saw the Black Renaissance.

Writers like James Baldwin lit up French cafés late into the night. Black luminaries discussed African independence. Andrée thought about her young son. She decided to join the fight.

She remade herself into a revolutionary. She wanted to build an Africa where all races were equal. Where children didn’t die based on the blood that flowed through them. Where women had rights. She became a woman of fire; bold, indefatigable. In the 50’s, she moved to Guinea, where her husband worked. Andrée believed that she could help lead Guinea to independence from the French. To her, the key was galvanizing rural Africans.

She organized a caravan of trucks to drive to the remote parts of Guinea. They’d play music through loudspeakers. They’d gather people in a clearing to hear her message. Now, this may seem a bit ordinary today. But for rural villagers, this was shocking.

Eve: Of course, it's hard for you to imagine the way it was, but imagine people living in the bush, no electricity, no telephone, no nothing. And suddenly they see a caravan of trucks.

Brenton: The trucks carried their own supply of electricity and waded through all manner of terrain.

Eve: Crossing those jungles, those rivers, just to reach the little village that was hiding under a baobab tree or God knows what. It was unbelievable. But she did it.

Brenton: Thousands of men gathered in awe. But Andrée was particularly keen on women’s empowerment. She wanted the women of the village to hear her speech.

Eve: She would ask all these men to bring along with them, their wives, their daughters, their mothers, whoever.

Brenton: She would speak about education, healthcare and equal voting rights.

Eve: People could not believe that this woman, half white, half black, she did such an impression on all these women that it was like a tidal wave, literally.

Brenton: Guinea went on to become the first African nation to gain independence. Andrée was at the heart of the movement.

Eve: She rallied so many women in Guinea electoral campaign that they wanted her to do the same in Congo.

Brenton: Andree took all of her lessons to the heart of Africa.

That’s after this.

[SPONSOR BREAK]

Brenton: Leopoldville was Congo’s capital. And in the 1950’s, it was a bustling metropolis. There were trendy fashion boutiques and swanky jazz bars. There were Humphrey Bogart films. It even boasted the world’s first electric bus. But behind all the glitz, a revolutionary fervor was brewing. Lumumba was sparking that fervor.

He went door-to-door to talk to Congolese about possibilities for the nation. He spoke to them in bars. In restaurants. Anywhere he could catch an ear, he did. He founded Congo's fastest growing and most diverse political party. And his efforts got him on to the airwaves. Like Andrée Blouin, he was a gifted speaker. And with radio, everyone could hear his message.

But while Lumumba’s voice boomed through the airwaves, a cold world loomed behind him. Nothing would have a greater impact on 1950’s Congo than the Cold War.

Congo’s natural resources once again played a pivotal role. Here’s more from our trusty historian Adam Hochschild.

Adam: No longer were ivory and rubber the chief sources of wealth, but palm oil, uranium, the uranium for the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombs came from there. And, you know, the Americans and Belgians wanted this stuff for themselves for their corporations. They thought of Africa as sort of their possession.

Brenton: The US army couldn’t have built atomic bombs without Congo’s uniquely rich Uranium. They couldn't afford to lose control of Congo’s resources.

Adam: They didn't want the Soviets to get any part of it.

Brenton: They created the Central Intelligence Agency. Its founding purpose was to monitor governments and pursue American interests. But trying to protect American interests while thwarting the Soviets led to extreme actions. The CIA spent the 1950’s engaging in propaganda, paramilitary action, and even assassination.

But neither the cursed boy, now man, nor the orphan girl, now woman, let the Cold War stop their work.  Just as in Guinea, Andrée Blouin formed a coalition of tens of thousands women to advocate for independence. And by 1959, the roar of freedom was deafening.

It was at that point that Lumumba and Blouin met at a dinner party. Lumumba’s body still bore scars from his time in prison. But he welcomed Andrée with his warm smile and tireless laugh. In Andrée’s own words, “Lumumba was brave and sincere.”

Eve: Lumumba was like her little brother. She would spend a lot of time with Lumumba.

Brenton: The heir of the cursed and métisse former orphan decided to combine their flames.

Eve: He would only trust her to the point that the media had a nickname for this collaboration

Brenton: Team "Lumum-Blouin.” They had Blouin’s strategy and Lumumba’s charisma. They inspired Congolese to lead strikes and demonstrations throughout Leopoldville. They worried the Belgians. The momentum came to a head. In late 1959, the governor of Leopoldville tried to prevent a large demonstration at a YMCA sports field. The demonstrators became frustrated. And then, enraged. A massive riot broke out. Congolese attacked Belgian soldiers. Belgian soldiers opened fire in response. Dozens of Congolese lost their lives. The nation was spiraling out of control – fast.

The reigning King of Belgium saw the writing on the wall. He was a young, quiet man named Baudouin. Leopold’s great-grandnephew. King Baudouin got on the radio. He announced that there would be independence. Most people thought it would take a few years, maybe more, to actually materialize. But that is not how the history goes. In January 1960, just two months later, he organized a Belgian-Congo roundtable conference.

All of the top political actors from both nations flew to Brussels. There, Lumumba sat at a large table staring at Belgium’s leaders. Congo’s too. Hundreds of aides sat around the room. Journalists in stadium seats waited with bated breath. Perhaps the heir of the cursed felt Leopold’s ghost. He leaned forward into the microphone in front him. Then, he made a bold move.

Brenton: He asked the Belgians to grant independence in four months. The Belgian officials were flabbergasted. Lumumba never thought that they would actually agree to such a thing. But the Belgians were under a lot of pressure. Congo was falling apart. Every major newspaper was ready to report their response. They did not agree to four months. But they did agree to six. The stage was set.

June 29th, 1960. The eve of independence. A new song dominates the airwaves. “Vive le Congo.” 

[VIVE LE CONGO PLAYS]

Brenton: It’s by a white American trio named the Colwell Brothers. The Colwell Brothers were naive young musicians. Congo’s top politicians brought them to help unite the country through music. They got to play for a special audience.

Paul Colwell: We did a performance in a theater to Patrice Lumumba and his cabinet.

Brenton: That’s Paul Colwell. He’s one of the brothers.

Paul: And we were country and western kind of performers, but we also included world music. But we had our western gear, our cowboy hats, and all that. And that's when we launched our song called Vive le Congo.

[VIVE LE CONGO PLAYS]

Brenton: The Colwell Brothers’ song captured the spirit of optimism in the nation. It was a national sensation. By this point in mid-1960, six African nations had declared their independence. Patrice Emery Lumumba had inspired them.

Now, all eyes were on Congo. On Him. For six months, Lumumba had  campaigned for the Prime Minister post. Of course, he leaned on Andrée Blouin. They caravaned throughout the whole country. It was joyous. Raucous. But now, with their goal so close, things were tense.

The following day. Baudouin stands before hundreds of dignitaries. Congolese politicians, Belgian ministers and international press are all present. It’s the Independence Congress in Leopoldville. Through the airwaves, the whole world listens. Baudouin announces Patrice Lumumba as Congo’s first Prime Minister.

[APPLAUSE]

Brenton: The applause is deafening. He quickly speaks over the noise.

[Excerpt of Baudouin speaking in French]

Brenton: Did you catch that? Baudouin asks the audience to honor the man who created an opportunity for humanitarian work in Congo. The genius, Leopold II. When he finishes, Lumumba rises.

He is not scheduled to speak. The room falls silent. Lumumba approaches the podium with a small cache of papers.

[Excerpt of Lumumba speaking in French]

Brenton: Lumumba excoriates the Belgians for decades of brutality. He declares Congo free.

[Excerpt of Lumumba speaking in French]

[APPLAUSE]

Brenton: The Congolese in the room give him a standing ovation for eight straight minutes. New Congolese citizens roar outside. This moment is a tipping point for Lumumba and Africa's hope. Baudouin and the Belgians are enraged. Here’s Adam Hochschild describing Baudouin’s reaction.

Adam: You've probably seen the film footage of that ceremony. It's an amazing thing. The expression on his face when he turns to somebody next to him, and you can sort of imagine him saying: who the hell is this guy Lumumba?

Brenton: He was the man who lit a whole nation on fire. For days, Congolese roasted goats. Spoke to the Earth through their feet. Citizens poured into the new Prime Minister’s office to get a glimpse. The Colwell Brothers sang at the celebrations.

But Lumumba wasted no time getting to work. The new Prime Minister made more bold moves. He named Andrée Blouin to his cabinet to strategize his policy and write his speeches. He announced his intentions of nationalizing Congo’s minerals. But his boldness put a target on his back. In reality, there was little infrastructure to support his ambition. Remember, the Belgians limited their education. Congo only had a few college graduates in the entire nation. So the problems for the fledgling government started just a few days into Lumumba's tenure.

When the army realized that he hadn’t yet replaced their abusive Belgian general, they mutinied. Soldiers flooded the streets. Assaulted Europeans.  Burned cars in a wild rage. The Colwell Brothers had to hide. Here’s Steve Colwell, Paul’s older brother, recounting that experience. You'll hear a bit of Paul as well.

Steve Colwell: We were in an apartment building on the fifth floor and Congolese military would be driving up and down the streets in camouflage.

Paul: This was the main boulevard of town so everyone was coming in and out.

Steve: And they were in battle ready with guns. And one point there was a Belgian flag that was hanging over the balcony of an apartment right next to us. And it was it was fired on by one of these jeeps. And so we were advised to not sure white faces over the balcony.

Brenton: As the violence intensified, the Colwells had to decide if they would flee. But they decided to stay put, literally. They didn’t leave their apartment. Through the window, they saw scores of Belgians running for boats and ferries.

Paul: And then there were just these long, long, miles long, cavalcades or caravans, of Belgians fleeing the country. That's what we were watching from our apartment.

Brenton: During this chaos, the US and Belgium made their move. They bribed leaders in the Southeastern province of Katanga to secede. The minerals of the Katanga province were responsible for more than two-thirds of Congo’s revenue. So the secession kept minerals in Western hands and incapacitated Congo's economy.

In response, Lumumba reached out to the UN, US and Europe for help. They all refused. So he consulted with Blouin. They decided to approach the Soviets.

Now it's important to clarify that Lumumba was not a communist. But he was willing to do anything to keep the fire of hope burning. So he asked for planes, supplies and weapons with which to take back Katanga. The Soviets agreed.

This was the final straw for the Americans and Belgians.

[EISENHOWER: The United States deplores the unilateral action of the Soviet Union in supplying aircraft and other equipment for military purposes to the Congo.

Brenton: In late Summer 1960, the CIA sent a cable to its head of Congo operations. They authorized him, in indirect words to assassinate the Prime Minister.

He was to go to Lumumba's residence and swap out his toothpaste for a tube of poisoned toothpaste. But something unexpected happened. The CIA’s assassin couldn’t go through with it. He couldn’t extinguish this shining star. Even he got swept up in Africa’s spirit of hope. He ended up throwing the vile vial into the Congo River.

But that glimmer of hope was short-lived. The CIA took another route. They paid off Lumumba’s rivals to remove him from power. Some of these men were even in his own cabinet.

But this anti-Lumumba faction knew they actually needed to start with Andrée Blouin. The beating heart of his operation. In mid-September 1960, they exiled her.

Eve: Mother had to flee the Congo. We were put in prison with my father and my grandmother and my brother.

Brenton: Eve Blouin again. Inside the prison, soldiers menaced Eve and bear up her grandmother, who eventually died from the injuries. The rest of the family managed to flee the country.

With Andrée out of the way, the anti-Lumumba faction got on the almighty radio. They dismissed the Prime Minister. Put him under house arrest. But Lumumba was not easily held down. He managed to escape and flee across the country with his family. If he made it all the way to the East, he could reunite with his supporters. And take back the country.

But again, Lumumba’s devotion was also his greatest weakness. During his several-day journey, he stopped many times to make speeches to rural Congolese. Soldiers caught up to him. Threatened his family. So he decided to turn himself in.

This time, his rivals didn’t take any chances. The soldiers beat Lumumba. They shoved one of his speeches in his mouth and tried to make him literally eat his words. They soon shipped him off to Katanga, the province that seceded. There, they organized a firing squad in the bush. And there, Lumumba stood. Alone, in the darkness.

Before they brought him to the firing line, he wrote a letter to his wife. His final testament. Part of the ending read:

Without dignity there is no freedom, without justice there is no dignity. I prefer to die with head high. The day will come when history will speak. But it will not be the history taught in Brussels, Washington or the UN. Africa will write its own history of glory and dignity. Vive le Congo! Vive Afrique!

Late into the dark hours of January 17th, 1961, machine-gun fire singed the air. And there, upon the scarred, amber earth, lay Congo’s hope. This beacon of Africa’s hope, lifeless at 35.

Yet, his rivals were still so afraid of what he symbolized that they threw Lumumba’s remains into a vat of acid. They wanted to erase him completely. Belgium and the CIA put out a press release claiming that he had died under “mysterious circumstances.” The news crushed Andrée Blouin. She lost her compatriot and brother.

Eve: I remember, she was just sitting down on the on the floor in the living room. And she, she just cried for days. She just was like slumped on the like, a mop on the floor. And she, she just cried. All her dreams of independence and all her dreams of an independent free Africa were killed when they killed Lumumba and she knew it. She knew it.

Brenton: The CIA press release fooled no one. Protests broke out from Miami to Mumbai. In New York, angry crowds nearly breached the UN assembly. Black days followed the black deed. But eventually, the memory faded. Even for this towering figure. The world dismissed Congo as a backwards nation of suffering. It forgot what could’ve been. About the African who was as famous as Mandela in his time. Here’s historian Adam Hoschchild.

Adam: I think he was a sort of Mandela-like figure in the eyes of progressives around the world because of the eloquence with which he spoke of Africa’s needs. Unlike Mandela of course, he was killed.

Brenton: But the spirits of Lumumba and Blouin have not disappeared.

Eve: She's definitely not forgotten. She in fact has become a myth. She had the dream of Pan Africanism and she thought it would change the world and allow us all to consider each other as brother and sister.

Brenton: For hope does not die.

Steve: I personally will never give up hope. We must never lose hope that the possibility of change and a better time.

Brenton: Hope does not fade away.

Paul: Vive le Congo, we still sing. We still say Vive le Congo

Brenton: Hope lives in dreams and actions.

Eve: Freedom. That's what we wish for Africa.

Brenton: Hope lives in new generations. And it shall be seen again.

[MUSIC]

Nora: Coming up next week, a bite-sized crime story starring a tiny species of desert fish - and the long arm of the Endangered Species Act.

Paige Blankenbuehler: He drops the shotgun, he strips off his clothes, and then he slips into this deep warm water. He didn't know it yet, but that would prove to be his worst mistake of the night. 

Nora: This week’s episode of Last Seen was reported and written by Brenton Zola. And Brenton’s got one more gift in store for us right after these credits - so stay tuned. Our episode was produced by Brenton and myself, Nora Saks, your host and curator of this season. Nick White is our story editor. Mix and sound design by Matt Reed. Original music by Matt Reed and Brenton Zola and his vocal group - THE STORYTELLERS. And by Brodie Kinder. Production help from my WBUR Podcasts teammates, Amory Sivertson, Matt Reed, Quincy Walters, Meera Raman and Kristen Torres. Ben Brock Johnson is our executive producer. Big thanks to Eve Blouin, Adam Hochschild, and Steve and Paul Colwell. And to the Storytellers – Jerome, Gibran, Alejandro, Devin and Keanu – for lending your voices. And to Gio, Bard Zero, Brodie Kinder, Meredith Turk and Vince “Duneman” Ferg for their sonic contributions. Thanks also to The Source Marrakech and to Denver Arts and Venues for their project support.

To find more of Brenton’s work check out his website, brentonzola.com If you want to know more about this story, the music in it, and see our show notes, go to our website - wbur.org/last seen. Follow us on Twitter - @LastSeenPodcast. And pitch us your story ideas about people, places, and things that have gone missing. Drop us a line at lastseenwbur@gmail.com. Thanks so much for listening, we’ll be back next week. Now back to Brenton.

Brenton: Hey there! Thank you for coming on this journey. I've got one last surprise for you. Whenever I interview a guest, I like to surprise them with a little freestyle verse, to sum up our conversation. Completely on the spot, which usually elicits reactions like this from the Colwell's,

[COLWELL FREESTYLE REACTION]

Brenton: So I thought I'd share the full freestyle I did with Eve Blouin. It’s my way of spreading hope.

Eve: Thank you! That was fantastic! Well done, you’re a very talented man, aren’t you?

Brenton: Well, my mom thinks so.

Eve: Oh, well your mommy’s right. Mothers are always right.

[END]

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