Dancing Started too Early.
A review of
"Lumumba", the Film
The film, "Lumumba" by Raoul Peck is excellently
crafted, but it presents a peculiar problem. Its
interpretation of the events in the Congo is too
narrow. Moreover, the implication that Ghana, a
sister country paid only "lip service" to the plight
of the Congo is a view that requires scrutiny.
Scrutiny is required before this film can be allowed
to pass on - from an enticing entertainment vehicle
and, perhaps, a flawed docu-drama, to a lesson
worthy for history.
Immediate attention must be brought on the role
Ghana played in the turbulent Congo affairs of the
60s. By every measure, her role was exemplary. She
was the first nation to send troops to the Congo to
aid Lumumba, in support of the country's newly
attained independence; long before the United
Nations thought of bringing in help.
So to indict Ghana as the film "Lumumba" does is a
revision of history and an attempt to undermine the
iconic and spunky nature of the liberation spirit of
that entire era in Africa.
Also, to allow this "lip service" accusation to
stand is to permit the charge that the CIA and the
Belgians were at the center of the murder plot of
Patrice Lumumba to wither, an indictment which this
writer at first thought was the theme of the film.
The CIA's connection to the Congo has been revealed.
And the Belgian's sponsorship of the secession that
lead to Lumumba's murder is a matter of history, one
that even the most innocent of men should expect
from this spurned, voracious colonial
Which leaves one to wonder why Raoul Peck indicted
Ghana, the champion of the liberation movement in
Africa of that era, in this manner?
In "Lumumba", Raoul takes on a huge project, but he
tells the story in 115 minutes only. Perhaps, a
longer duration could have allowed a broader
perspective and the chance to tie events in the
Congo to other happenings on the continent.
The Congo Raoul depicts is huge, but there is no
sense of its size in the film. Its history is a
microcosm of the continent's own. In the space where
the Congo occupies lies the heart of Africa. Some
still prefer to call it "The Heart of Darkness."
Indeed, the Congo is the Balkans of Africa. To tell
her story is to tell the story of all Africa.
Unfortunately, Raoul's film is silent on all these
layers of influences and connectivity.
In June 30, 1960, the Congo became independent, with
Mr. Patrice Lumumba as her first Prime Minister and
Mr. Joseph Kasavubu the Head of State. By the end of
that same year, Lumumba had been ousted.
The Congo had been primed for explosion before she
became a sovereign state. The new constitution
created under the influence of Belgium was rigged to
allow same powers to the six regional heads of the
country as was given to the central government
headed by Lumumba.
The flare-up came when pent-up racial resentment
among blacks turned into riots in Katanga, the
richest of the six provinces. Mr. Tsombe, the head
of that region, was ready with his own mutiny and
secession with a lot of help from Belgium, some
powerful western business interests, and European
mercenaries. He announced secession on July 11,
1960, which led to the arrest and eventual murder of
It was the secession that brought Ghana to the side
of Lumumba. Ghana's troops maintained the peace in
the Congolese capital for a while until UN troops
arrived. Consequently, her contingent was placed
under the UN.
Ghana, about 10% the size of the Congo, had put her
meager resources to aid a sister African nation
while many independent African states remained on
the sideline. The film does not debate how Ghana got
the "lip service" charge. Nor can it maintain that
argument even if it were to start.
Until that argument is fleshed out, the charge of
"lip service" by this film will be completely
Lumumba's assassination was followed by a violent
era in Africa's history. The tendency has continued
to this date. From the first coup in Congo in 1960,
to 1968, the continent saw 64 attempted and
successful coups, according to George Ayittey's
"Lumumba" the film is very appealing in a tragic
way. The film's main character is brave, brash,
charismatic, and confirms the heroic role of Patrice
Lumumba in the Congo independence movement.
However, the film never asked whether the real
Lumumba was a good judge of character, but it was
quick to charge Ghana with betrayal. The key players
who caused his death, Kasavubu and Mobutu, were hand
picked by him. These were the compatriots who
betrayed Lumumba, not Ghana.
Part of the film's dialogue is credit worthy:
"Independence is only a word," says a principal
white character. And, his white counterpart
responds, "God is a word". In a nutshell, the
problem of post-colonial Africa has been stated.
Obviously, the dialogue is not meant to encourage
the sacrilegious, but probably to ask or wonder
whether many Africans in the 60s understood the word
independence, or patriotism? If they did, then how
could the struggle for independence have been
undercut with coups so soon?
Or, did the dancing and the celebrations start too
early and Africa became intoxicated in her new found
state of independence?
In another dialogue in the film, one of Lumumba's
compatriots observes that "France gave in. Little
Belgium has no chance. It is time to eat!"
But, Lumumba, in the film, has a better grasp of
things to come as he and the compatriot contemplate
the pending liberty from Belgian rule. "They (the
Belgians) are either planning their exist or
plotting against us," Lumumba says.
As sagacious as Lumumba is at that moment in the
film, historically, the fate of Africa had already
been sealed by the Berlin Conference of 1884.
It was the Berlin Conference that gave Belgium the
right to possess the Congo. The rest of the
continent went to other colonial powers. The
assumption was (and still is) that Africa was too
large and resource rich to be left in the hands of
Thus, the departing Belgian governor of the Congo(in
the film), while bidding "no hasty reforms" in his
farewell speech, has already gutted the governmental
process to make governance after him a nightmare.
Villains like Mobutu have also been prepared to add
to the chaos to come. I am inclined to believe that
this part is authentic because, historically, the
same happened all over Africa.
The historical Lumumba was assassinated in 1961 and
what followed immediately was the nightmare that
Congo is today.
However, Kudos to Raoul's interpretation of Mobutu's
supposed cultural eminence, leopard cap and all, and
for not sparing the irony. The wearer of the
symbolic leopard cap is depicted in a scene watching
over traditional African dancers dressed in
However, unfortunate for Raoul, his rendition of the
relationship between Nkrumah and Lumumba, the
continent's foremost heroes, is rather shallow. The
story of the collaboration and understanding between
these two, and Nkrumah's support of Lumumba and
eagerness for solution to the Congo's crisis, which
is on record, (Nkrumah
on the on the Congo Situation) could have been
Putting the words "Ghana pays lip service" in the
mouth of Lumumba is, thus, a deliberate stab at
Nkrumah and Ghana. If not, then it makes the
historic Lumumba either malevolent, or raises
questions about Raoul Peck's intentions and
At the film's end, Lumumba, now captive is walked to
his death by two white men, among a throng of armed
Congolese soldiers. Yet, not one soldier lifts a
finger to save the hero. He has been branded the
troublemaker. And, so like the "dog that has
rabies," as Lumumba himself said, he is executed in
the same manner.
Now, how did Ghana rather betray the Congo?
E. Ablorh-Odjidja. Washington, DC. July 25, 2001.