Congo hero’s tooth given back to his descendants by Belgium


It was given to his family in Brussels weeks after King Philippe expressed ‘deepest regrets’ for his nation’s abuses (Picture: Getty Images)

A gold tooth said to belong to slain independence hero Patrice Lumumba has been returned to Congo by Belgium.

It was given to his family in Brussels weeks after King Philippe expressed ‘deepest regrets’ for his nation’s abuses in its former African former colony.

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 said that the restitution came way too late.

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

Mr Lumumba – Congo’s first democratically elected prime minister in 1960 – was murdered a year later in a military coup. Western powers are said to have done little to intervene after he asked Russia to help put down rebels.

The body of Mr Lumumba, 35, was dismembered and dissolved in acid to avoid the chance of a grave becoming a shrine.

The tooth was seized in 2016 from the daughter of a former Belgian police commissioner, who said he took it after overseeing the destruction of Lumumba’s body.

Belgium hands over Congolese independence leader's last remain to his family

Patrice Lumumba – Congo’s first prime minister in 1960 – was murdered in a military coup (Picture: EPA/Olivier Hoslet)

Experts say DNA could not be found so they cannot prove the tooth is Mr Lumumba.

His daughter, Juliana, agreed with Mr De Croo that the handover was long overdue.

‘Father, our hearts bled for 61 years,’ she said during the ceremony.

‘We, your children, your grandchildren and your great-grandchildren – but also Congo, Africa and the world – we mourned your death without a eulogy.’

Later a coffin with a picture of Lumumba 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.

Following his association it became mired in decades of dictatorship that drained its vast mineral riches.

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 favour 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.

His 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.

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 determined that the government was ‘morally responsible,’ while a US Senate committee found in 1975 that the CIA had hatched a separate, failed plan to kill the Congolese leader.

Belgium’s treatment of Congo was brought back into national debate after the death of George Floyd in the US and the international protests against racism that followed.

Black Lives Matter protesters in Belgium want a statue of King Leopold II removed over its exploitation of Congo – 75 times its size and rich in natural resources.

Leopold had plundered the African nation during his 1865-1909 reign and forced many of its people into slavery.

In 1908, he handed it over to the Belgian state, which continued to rule over the colony until it became independent in 1960.

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