Belgium returns Congo independence hero's tooth to family - Albuquerque Journal

Belgium returns Congo independence hero’s tooth to family

BRUSSELS — Belgian authorities on Monday returned a gold-capped tooth belonging to the slain Congolese independence hero Patrice Lumumba, as the former colonial power continues to confront its bloody past and look toward reconciliation.

The restitution of the relic took place after Belgium’s King Philippe earlier this month expressed his “deepest regrets” for his nation’s abuses in its African former colony, Congo, which is 75 times the size of Belgium.

Following a private ceremony in the presence of relatives of Lumumba during which the federal prosecutor handed over a case containing the tooth, Belgium’s prime minister Alexander De Croo told Congolese officials and Lumumba’s family that the restitution came way too late.

“It is not normal that Belgium held onto the remains of one of the founding fathers of the Congolese nation for six decades,” said De Croo, who also offered apologies for the role played by his country in the assassination.

Congolese Prime minister Jean-Michel Sama Lukonde said the return of the relic will be essential for the country’s national memory.

After his assassination in 1961, Lumumba’s body was dismembered and dissolved with acid in an apparent effort to keep any grave from becoming a pilgrimage site. The tooth was seized by Belgian officials in 2016 from the daughter of the Belgian police commissioner who said he took it after overseeing the destruction of Lumumba’s body.

Two years ago, the federal prosecutor’s office said there is no absolute certainty that the tooth being returned is Lumumba’s since no DNA test could be conducted.

Lumumba’s daughter, Juliana, agreed with De Croo the handover was long overdue.

“Father, our hearts bled for 61 years.” she said during the official ceremony, speaking next to a coffin with a picture of her late father on top of it. “We, your children, your grandchildren and your great grandchildren — but also Congo, Africa and the world — we mourned your death without an eulogy.”

Later the coffin was brought outside and draped in a Congolese flag.

Lumumba remains for many in Congo a symbol of what the country could have become after its independence. Instead, it became mired in decades of dictatorship that drained its vast mineral riches.

After pushing for an end to colonial rule, Lumumba became the newly independent Congo’s first prime minister in 1960.

But historians say when he reached out to the Soviet Union for help in putting down a secessionist movement in the mineral-rich Katanga region, he quickly fell out of favor during Cold War times with both Belgium and the United States.

So when dictator Mobutu Sese Seko seized power in a military coup later that year, Western powers did little to intervene as Lumumba was arrested and jailed. Lumumba’s assassination by separatists in January 1961 ultimately cleared the way for Mobutu to rule the country, which he later renamed Zaire, for decades until his death in 1997.

Even though Lumumba’s killers were Congolese, questions have persisted over how complicit Belgium and the United States may have been in his death because of his perceived Communist ties.

A Belgian parliamentary probe later determined that the government was “morally responsible” for Lumumba’s death. A U.S. Senate committee found in 1975 that the CIA had hatched a separate, failed plan to kill the Congolese leader.

“Several ministers of the Belgian government of the time bear a moral responsibility for the circumstances that led to this murder,” De Croo said. “A man was murdered for his political convictions, his words, his ideals. For the democrat that I am, it is indefensible. For the liberal that I am, it is unacceptable. And for the human being that I am, it is odious.”

Two years ago, the 60th anniversary of Congo’s independence reignited calls to put Lumumba’s soul to rest. Protesters gathered outside the Belgian Embassy in Kinshasa, seeking restitution of his remains along with cultural artifacts taken during colonial rule.

In Belgium, the international protests against racism that followed the death of George Floyd in the United States gave a new momentum to activists fighting to have monuments to King Leopold II removed.

Leopold had plundered Congo during his 1865-1909 reign and forced many of its people into slavery to extract resources for his own profit. In 1908, he handed it over to the Belgian state, which continued to rule over the colony until it became independent in 1960.

Amid the Black Lives Matter actions, protesters took down busts of the former monarch held responsible for the death of millions of Africans, and King Philippe later expressed regret for the violence carried out by the country when it ruled over Congo. None of his predecessors had gone so far as to convey remorse.

Home » News » World » Belgium returns Congo independence hero’s tooth to family


Albuquerque Journal and its reporters are committed to telling the stories of our community.

• Do you have a question you want someone to try to answer for you? Do you have a bright spot you want to share?
   We want to hear from you. Please email yourstory@abqjournal.com

taboola desktop

1
APD detectives investigating after 2 found dead overnight
ABQnews Seeker
Two people were killed and a ... Two people were killed and a third person was injured early Wednesday morning in what police initially called a single-vehicle crash but later said ...
2
Retired teachers can now return to classroom, keep their ...
ABQnews Seeker
State hopes new measures will combat ... State hopes new measures will combat shortage
3
One of ABQ’s newest speed cameras stolen off its ...
ABQnews Seeker
Just over two weeks after the ... Just over two weeks after the city's mobile speed enforcement device on Lead at Cornell started issuing tickets, vandals removed the camera box
4
Man fatally shot on East Central
ABQnews Seeker
A man was shot to death ... A man was shot to death Tuesday night in Southeast Albuquerque. The incident marked the fifth homicide in the city in the past six ...
5
Details emerge in Sunday's deadly shootings
ABQnews Seeker
Video footage and medical evidence shed ... Video footage and medical evidence shed more light on the tragedy
6
Rockets away in New Mexico
ABQnews Seeker
Teams from around the globe gather ... Teams from around the globe gather to compete in the Spaceport America Cup
7
NM primary election results certified as November election looms
2022 election
New Mexico closed the books — ... New Mexico closed the books — for the most part — on a primary election cycle marked by conspiracy theories and legal warnings, as ...
8
APD creates unit to target road rage, aggressive driving
ABQnews Seeker
Public will be able to upload ... Public will be able to upload evidence to new video portal
9
Albuquerque redistricting committee to take final vote
ABQnews Seeker
City Council undergoes realignment after each ... City Council undergoes realignment after each census
10
Four charged in 2020 ABQ homicide
ABQnews Seeker
Suspects arrested on a variety of ... Suspects arrested on a variety of charges, including murder and arson