In 1967, Franco and O.K. Jazz published a song which was titled “Lumumba, Héros National”. The song is mostly in Lingala, but a few lines are in French as well. It deals with the legacy of Patrice Lumumba, who was murdered in 1961. More specifically, it focuses on the relation between Lumumba and Mobutu, who became president in 1965. In 1966, Mobutu rehabilitated Lumumba and it is this rehabilitation that is taken up in the song.[1]The song creates a contrast between the period before the rehabilitation, when it was apparently not allowed to talk about Lumumba and the period since the rehabilitation:

I was arrested, my fellow countrymen
They forbad me to say Lumumba’s name
(But) Mobutu has said I’m allowed to

I was beaten up, my fellow countrymen
They didn’t want me to cry for Lumumba
Lumumba was killed because he wanted our Nation to remain united
Mobutu has declared him National Hero

I was laughed at, my fellow countrymen
That was the time, if you had a beard
They’d pull you by your beard calling you (names),
Mobutu has forbidden tribalism[2]

According to the text, Lumumba was killed because he was a nationalist. The song’s fondness for Lumumba, even in the face of adversity, shows that the singer considers national unity and a Congolese national feeling to be a good thing. The lyrics suggest that Mobutu in some way continues Lumumba’s project of nationalism. It is Mobutu who has “forbidden tribalism”. Mobutu, in other words, urges the Congolese to prioritise their national identity over other identities. The lyrics, furthermore, suggest that it was Mobutu who actively rehabilitated Lumumba. The link between Lumumba’s political programme and Mobutu’s political ambitions is further developed later in the song, where Mobutu is labelled “Lumumba’s heir”.

Later in the song, Mobutu is directly addressed. Franco presses Mobutu to walk in the footsteps of Lumumba, but he also elaborates on the similarities that supposedly exist between Lumumba and Mobutu:

Oh Mobutu, follow the road you agreed with Lumumba
When Mobutu speaks, one could think Lumumba has resuscitated
Oh Mobutu (remember) Lumumba was killed because he wanted Congo to be economically independent
Mobutu’s face looks like Lumumba’s
Mobutu has rehabilitated your name in Congo

The twofold character of this part of the text is interesting, as it highlights that the song at once underscores a certain political idea – Mobutu continues Lumumba’s political project – but at the same time urges Mobutu to live up to this idea. Hence, the song not simply legitimises Mobutu’s rule of Congo by connecting his political project to Lumumba’s political ideas, but it also intends to present Lumumba as an example for Mobutu.

In the last verse, Lumumba’s anti-imperialist agenda is brought to the fore:

Those who hated Lumumba are the same who hate Mobutu
The nationalists are delighted as Lumumba has a monument now in Congo
Belgium has failed, the Contentieux Belgo-Congolais is buried                                                                                     

Here, the song culminates in claiming that those who hate Lumumba also hate Mobutu. The song is thus a good example of appropriation. Lumumba’s legacy is claimed by pro-Mobutu voices in Congolese society. As such, the song attempts to prevent and resolve adversity between supporters of Mobutu and supporters of Lumumba. Hence, it is a prime example of how music can be used for political aims.

[1]For Lumumba’s rehabilitation: Ludo De Witte, The Assassination of Lumumba. London: Verso, 2001, 165.

[2]The lyrics of the song and the English translation have been taken from 1 February 2019).