On June 30, 1960, Patrice Lumumba, the first prime minister of the former Belgian Congo, gave a fiery speech at the granting of Congolese independence after years of oppressive colonial rule. In the speech, Lumumba denounced the oppression and humiliation of colonial rule in the presence of Belgium’s King Baudouin. The king, scandalized, nearly left Léopoldville (modern-day Kinshasa), but he was persuaded to stay for the lunch that followed the ceremony. Lumumba, for his part, gave a second speech at the lunch, in which he attempted to make amends, crediting Belgium and its monarchy for its positive contributions to Congo. However, the damage had been done.
Lumumba’s speech had not been included in the program for the day’s events, a program negotiated by representatives of Congo and Belgium. The heads of state, King Baudouin of Belgium and President Joseph Kasavubu of Congo, were to exchange speeches. In Lumumba’s view, Kasavubu was a figurehead chief of state who owed his post to support from Lumumba and his coalition. Kasavubu, he believed, should have cleared his speech with the prime minister. Moreover, Lumumba apparently feared that Kasavubu would fail to say some things that needed to be said.
The speech seemed to provide ammunition for those who opposed Lumumba and his vision of a strong, independent Congo. Five days after independence, the army mutinied against its European officers, setting off a chain of violence and regional conflict throughout the country. Ultimately the military staged a coup and installed Kasavubu as president. Lumumba was placed under house arrest and, in January 1961, executed by firing squad.
Read our complete coverage of Lumumba’s speech, including in-depth analysis by scholar Thomas Turner.