For decades, all the outside world knew was that Patrice Lumumba, the Congolese independence leader, had been done away with. Like so much connected with the Congo, details were lost in the murk of Africa’s magnificent but broken giant. He had been fed to Katangan pigs, drowned in the river — or was perhaps even still alive and being held hostage in the Ituri rain-forest. So radiotrottoir assured me variously in January 2001 when I made my first visit to Kinshasa around the 40th anniversary of Lumumba’s disappearance. The reason for my trip felt darkly familiar: one of Lumumba’s successors as national leader, Laurent Kabila, had himself just been assassinated by a ‘turned’ bodyguard.
But while political violence is no stranger to the Congo, what happened to Lumumba in the early 1960s still matters.