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Belgium returns Congolese hero Patrice Lumumba's golden tooth 60 years after his assassination

Lumumba was an inspiring leader and also Congo's first democratically elected prime minister at the age of 34.

Belgium returns Congolese hero Patrice Lumumba's golden tooth 60 years after his assassination
Patrice Lumumba, Prime Minister of the Republic of the Congo, meets British statesman John Profumo upon his arrival at London Airport en route to New York, on 23rd July 1960. (Photo by Douglas Miller/Keystone/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

Warning: This story contains graphic descriptions of violence that some readers may find distressing.

Belgium has returned the golden tooth of Patrice Lumumba, Congo's first democratically elected prime minister, to his family 60 years after killing him in a coup. The charismatic anti-colonial leader was assassinated in a coup supported by the Belgians and carried out by his Congolese adversaries. Lumumba became the prime minister at the age of 34 after Congo gained independence from Belgium in 1960. Lumumba proved to be an inspiration for countries in Africa wishing to gain independence. He was tortured before being shot dead by a firing squad in 1961. He was initially buried in a shallow grave, before being dug up and transported 125 miles, hacked to pieces and dissolved in acid, reported NPR. Lumumba's daughter said the tooth "belongs to the country, because he died for Congo …  and for his own values and convictions of the dignity of the African person."

Congolese independence leader Patrice Lumumba (1925 - 1961), at his hotel in Brussels, Belgium, where he is to attend a round-table conference on the future of the Congo, 27th January 1960. Lumumba had been in jail on charges of inciting an anti-colonial riot, but was released and allowed to attend the conference. Lumumba claimed he was maltreated in custody and is displaying his bandaged wrists, injured by handcuffs. (Photo by Keystone/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)


The Belgian police commissioner, Gerard Soete, who oversaw the assasination and the destruction of the body took the tooth for himself. Soete admitted to the same and claimed there was a second tooth and two of the corpse's fingers but they haven't been found. The tooth, believed to be the only remains of the national hero, has now been returned to the family at a ceremony in Brussels. Belgium's Prime Minister Alexander de Croo said the Belgium government accepted "moral responsibility" for the assasination of Lumumba. "A man was murdered for his political convictions, for his ideals. As a democrat and a liberal, I cannot accept this," he said, reported Brussels Times. Lumumba's daughter, Juliana was present at the ceremony and thanked the Belgium king and its government for returning her father's remains. Patrice Lumumba was an eloquent speakers who mobilized the masses to fight for the coutnry's independence and created the first all-Congolese political party whose members weren't limited to ethinicity or region. He was a regular on the radio and was a powerful voice that spoke to the masses. January 17th is celebrated as Lumumba Day. 


Lumumba's speech after becoming Prime Minister came down hard on the inhumane treatement meted out to the people by the Belgians. "The humiliating slavery that was imposed on us by force," he said in a speech that reportedly humiliated the Belgian king and other Belgian officials. Belgians had never see a Black man speaking back in such strong words and it shook them. Some believe the speech was one of the reasons behind his assassination. 


Juliana had written a letter to Belgium's King Philippe on June 30, 2020, during the Black Lives Matter protests requesting for a return of her father's remains. She also voiced a hope to learn more of his final moments. "Father, how did you die? We don't know. When did you die? We don't know. Where were you assassinated? We still don't know that, either," she said. Soete's need to pocket the remains of the Lumumba reflects the colonial mindset of Europeans who had a habit of taking back macabre mementoes of their vitcims. Soete viewed it as a 'hunting trophy,' further confirming the colonial mindset of seeing non-white people as being less than humans. Lumumba's daughter, Juliana questioned if the killers were human. "What amount of hatred must you have to do that?" she asked, reported The BBC. "This is a reminder of what happened with the Nazis, taking pieces of people — and that's a crime against humanity," she added. Juliana said bringing her Dad's tooth back to the Democratic Republic of Congo is symbolic "because what remains is not really enough. But he has to come back to his country where his blood was shed." The tooth will displayed in different parts of the country before being buried in the capital.


Lumumba was not popular with the West as he sought to free Congo from exploitation by colonialists. U.S. President Eisenhower ordered the CIA to assassinate him during a meeting of the National Security Council on August 18th, 1960. "Can't we get rid of that guy?" asked Eisenhower. Meanwhile the Belgians were also working to kill Lumumba and hired a crocodile hunter to shoot him. Belgium finally decided to support Congolese adversaries of Lumumba and help organize a coup to kill Lumumba. 

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