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Old friend blames UN, Belgium for killing of Congolese hero Lumumba

Belgium and the United Nations are to blame for failing to prevent the assassination of Congolese independence hero Patrice Lumumba, an 89-year-old former friend has told AFP.

Jean Mayani will attend tributes next week to Lumumba, whose remains — a single tooth — Belgium has finally returned to the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Mayani is hard of hearing, his hands shake, and he needs a walking stick or a helping hand to move around, but he speaks clearly and has a piercing gaze.

From time to time, he briefly loses his train of thought, but then gathers himself and details historical events.

In May 1960, the Congolese National Movement fielded him and Lumumba as its candidates for the north-eastern district of Stanleyville, now called Kisangani, in the municipal and parliamentary elections respectively. They both won.

On June 30 the same year, the country became independent and Lumumba was named prime minister.

Mayani very briefly replaced Lumumba in the National Assembly.

But by September 12, the anti-colonial icon had been toppled.

Separatists from the southern region of Katanga and Belgian mercenaries executed him and two close supporters, Maurice Mpolo and Joseph Okito, on January 17 the following year.

“All the nationalists had to be eliminated,” Mayani recalled, bitterly.

He said the UN did nothing to prevent his friend from being killed.

“Before the Belgian mercenaries came to Congo, the Blue Helmets were here,” he said, referring to UN peacekeepers deployed to the African country in July 1960, following independence.

“Why didn’t the UN Secretary-General prevent these mercenaries from landing?

“He sat around doing nothing. He knew the mercenaries would destabilise Congo. He was complicit in the Belgian position and that of the United States, who through the CIA knew of these mercenaries’ mission in Congo.”

– ‘They broke my teeth’ –

Mayani said he believed the Belgians had decided to rid themselves of Lumumba from early 1960, during a meeting in the Belgian capital Brussels.

He said Lumumba had been unafraid to repeat his call for his country’s “immediate independence” in front of the Belgians.

Mayani said they were surprised and angered by his steadfastness, and “decided to eliminate him”.

Belgium then “did everything to prevent Congolese nationalists from reaching state power, under the indifferent gaze of the UN,” he said.

Mayani said this campaign continued even after Lumumba had been killed.

In a low voice, he described how in 1961 he was “arrested for having harboured two ministers from the central government who had escaped with Lumumba”.

“During the torture, they broke twelve of my teeth,” he said, removing a row of eight false teeth from his upper jaw. He said he wore another denture on his lower jaw to replace the other four he had lost.

The following year, Mayani was again arrested and held in Kinshasa’s Makala prison until 1964, when former Katanga secessionist leader and premier at the time Moise Tshombe declared an amnesty.

Mayani said that today his friend’s political legacy — everything the independence icon stood for — has been lost.

Today no one can “win elections without corruption”, he said.

“People in the DRC have made the choice that, to be elected, graft is necessary,” he added.

“In our time, corruption was absolutely out of the question.”