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Rock the Vote

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(1959) Patrice Lumumba, “African Unity and National Independence”

 

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By 1959 Patrice Lumumba was the most prominent nationalist and independence leader in the Congo.  His fame was also spreading beyond the nation's boundaries as reflected in this speech given at the closing session of the International Seminar organized by the Congress for the Freedom of Culture held at the University of Ibadan in Ibadan, Nigeria.  The speech, given on March 22, 1959, appears below. 

I thank the Congress for Freedom and Culture and the University of Ibadan for the kind invitation they extended me to attend this international conference, where the fate of our beloved Africa being discussed.

It has been most gratifying to me to meet here a number of African ministers, men of letters, labor union leaders, journalists, and international figures interested in the problems of Africa.

It is through these person-to-person contacts, through meetings of this sort, that African leaders can get to know each other and draw closer together in order to create that union that is indispensable for the consolidation of African unity.

In fact, the African unity so ardently desired by all those who are concerned about the future of this continent will be possible and will be attained only if those engaged in politics and the leaders of our respective countries demonstrate a spirit of solidarity, concord, and fraternal collaboration in the pursuit of the common good of our peoples.

That is why the union of all patriots is indispensable, especially during this period of struggle and liberation.

The aspirations of colonized and enslaved peoples are everywhere the same; their lot too is the same. Moreover, the aims pursued by nationalist movements in any African territory are also the same. The common goal is the liberation of Africa from the colonialist yoke.

Since our objectives are the same, we will attain them more easily and more rapidly through union than through division.

These divisions, which the colonial powers have always exploited the better to dominate us, have played an important role — and are still playing that role — in the suicide of Africa.

How can we extricate ourselves from this impasse?

In my view, there is only one way: bringing all Africans together in popular movements or unified parties.

All tendencies can coexist within these parties bringing all nationals together, and each will have its say, both in the discussion of problems facing the country and in the conduct of public affairs.

A genuine democracy will be at work within these parties and each will have the satisfaction of expressing its opinions freely.

The more closely united we are, the better we will resist oppression, corruption, and those divisive maneuvers which experts in the policy of “divide and rule” are resorting to.

This wish to have unified parties or movements in our young country must not be interpreted as a tendency toward political monopoly or a certain brand of dictatorship. We ourselves are against despotism and dictatorship.

I wish to draw everyone’s attention to the fact that it is the height of wisdom to thwart from the very outset any possible maneuvers on the part of those who would like to profit from our apparent political rivals in order to set us against each other and thus delay our freeing ourselves from the colonialist regime.

Experience proves that in our African territories the opposition that certain people create in the name of democracy is often not inspired by a concern for the common welfare; a thirst for glory and the furthering of personal interests are the principal if not the only, motives for this.

It is only when we have won the independence of our countries and when our democratic institutions are stabilized that the existence of a pluralist political system will be justified.

The existence of an intelligent, dynamic and constructive opposition is indispensable in order to counterbalance the political and administrative action of the government in power. But this moment does not appear to have arrived yet, and dividing our efforts today would he to render our country a disservice.

All our compatriots must be persuaded that they will not serve the general interest of the country if they are divided or if they foster such divisions, any more than they would serve it by balkanizing our country and partitioning it into weak little states.

Once the territory was balkanized, it would be difficult to achieve national unity again.

Calling for African unity arid then destroying its very foundations is hardly proof of a genuine desire for such unity.

In the struggle that we are peacefully waging today to win our independence, we do not intend to drive Europeans out of this continent or seize their possessions or persecute them. We are not pirates.

On the contrary, we respect individuals and the rights of others to well-being.

The one thing we are determined to do — and we would like others to understand us is to root out colonialism and imperialism from Africa. We have long suffered and today we want to breathe the air of freedom. The Creator has given us this share of the earth that goes by the name of the African continent; it belongs to us and we are its only masters. It is our right to make this continent a continent of justice, law, and peace.

All of Africa is irrevocably engaged in a merciless struggle against colonialism and imperialism. We wish to bid farewell to the rule of slavery and bastardization that has so severely wronged us. Any people that oppresses another people is neither civilized nor Christian.

The West must free Africa as soon as possible.

The West must examine its conscience today and recognize the right of each colonized territory to freedom and dignity.

If the colonialist governments promptly understand our aspirations, we will negotiate with them, but if they stubbornly insist on considering Africa their possession, we will be obliged to consider the colonizers the enemies of our emancipation. Under these circumstances, we will regretfully cease to be friends with them.

I hereby publicly take it upon myself to thank all those Europeans who have spared no effort to help our peoples improve their lot. All humanity will be grateful to them for the magnificent mission of humanization and emancipation they are carrying out in certain parts of Africa.

We do not want to cut ourselves off from the West, for we are quite aware that no people in the world can be self-sufficient.  We are altogether in favor of friendship between races, but the West must respond to our appeal.

Westerners must understand that friendship is not possible when the relationship between us is one of subjugation and subordination.

The disturbances that are occurring at present in certain African territories will continue to occur if the administrative powers do not put an end to the colonial regime. This is the only possible path to genuine peace and friendship between African and European peoples.

We have an imperative need for financial, technical, and scientific aid from the West aimed at rapid economic development and the stabilization of our societies.

But the capital our countries need must be invested in the form of mutual aid between nations. National governments will give this foreign capital every sort of guarantee it wishes.

The Western technicians to whom we make an urgent appeal will come to Africa not to dominate us but to serve and aid our countries.

Europeans must recognize and come to accept the idea that the liberation movement that we are engaged in throughout Africa is not directed against them, nor against their possessions nor against their persons, but purely and simply against the regime of exploitation and enslavement that we are no longer willing to tolerate. If the agree to put an immediate end to this regime instituted by their predecessors we will live in friendship and brotherhood with them.

A twofold effort must be made to hasten the industrialization of our various regions and the economic development of the country. To this end, we address an appeal to friendly countries to send us an abundance of capital and many technicians.

The lot of black workers must be appreciably improved. The wages they earn at present are clearly insufficient. The dire poverty of the working classes is the source of many of the social conflicts that exist at present in our countries. Labor unions have a great role to play in this regard, the role of protectors and educators. It is not enough merely to demand a raise in wages; there is also a great need to educate workers in order that they may become conscious of their professional, civic, and social obligations, and also acquire a clear conception of their rights.

On the cultural plane, the new African states must make a serious effort to further African culture. We have a culture all our own, unparalleled moral and artistic values, an art of living and patterns of life that are ours alone. All these African splendors must be jealously preserved and developed. ‘We will borrow from Western civilization what is good and beautiful and reject what is not suitable for us. This amalgam of African and European civilization will give Africa a civilization of a new type, an authentic civilization corresponding to African realities.

Efforts must also be made to free our peoples psychologically. A certain conformism is noticeable on the part of many intellectuals, and its origins are well known.

This conformism stems from the moral pressures and the reprisals to which black intellectuals have often been subjected. The minute they have told the truth, they have been called dangerous revolutionaries, xenophobes, provocateurs, elements that must he closely watched, and so on.

These moves to intimidate us and corrupt our morals must cease. We need genuine literature and a free press that brings the opinion of the people to light, rather than more propaganda leaflets and a muzzled press.

I hope that the Congress for Freedom and Culture will aid us along these lines.

We hold out a fraternal hand to the West. Let it today give proof of the principle of equality and friendship between races that its sons have always taught us as we sat at our desks in school, a principle written in capital letters in the Universal Declaration of the Rights of Man. Africans must be just as free as other citizens of the human family to enjoy the fundamental liberties set forth in this declaration and the rights proclaimed in the United Nations Charter.

The period of racial monopolies is now at an end.

African solidarity must take concrete form in facts and acts. We must form a bloc in order to demonstrate our brotherhood to the world.

In order to do so, I suggest that governments that have already won their independence give every possible aid and support to countries that are not yet independent.

In order to further cultural exchanges and the rapprochement of French-speaking and English-speaking countries, the teaching of both French and English should be made compulsory in all African schools. A knowledge of both these languages will put an end to the difficulties of communication that French-speaking and English- speaking Africans encounter when they meet. This is an important factor for their interaction.

Territorial barriers must also be done away with so that Africans may travel freely between the various African states.

Scholarships should also be set up for students in the dependent territories.

I want to take advantage of the opportunity here offered me to pay honor publicly to Dr. Kwame N’Krumah and Mr. Sekou Touré for having succeeded in liberating our brothers in Ghana and Guinea.

Africa will not be truly free and independent as long as any part of this continent remains under foreign domination.

I conclude my remarks with this passionate appeal:

Africans, let us rise up!
Africans, let us unite!
Africans, let us walk hand in hand with those who want to help us make this beautiful continent a continent of freedom and justice!

Sources:

Jean Van Lierde ed., Lumumba Speaks: The Speeches and Writings of Patrice Lumumba, 1958-1961 (Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1972).
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