Lumumba as a symbol for Pan-Africanism


Pan-Africanism has changed and developed in new ways in the last decades. However, historian Kehinde Andrews states that the movement has always existed in contrast to imperialism and the imperialist state.[i] Andrews states that there was no formal movement before 1900 when the first pan African conference was held, which was in Great Britain. The movement continues to have a British character with the most famous conference being held in Manchester.[ii]  According to Andrews the emergence in Britain is closely connected to the limits of the movement, namely a movement that could and can by definition only exist within the colonial system.[iii] However, the movement has become much more widespread and of a more moderate character as Kehinde Andrews himself, mixed in this discussion calls for change by noting that; ‘We need to rethink, reanalyse and recapture the revolutionary spirit and ideals that were so viciously put down in past.’[iv] The historian Mueni Wa Muiu also thinks Africa needs change now. However, there are many different views on this subject as even Mueni Wa Muiu and Kehinde Andrews both have a very different and very strong view on the concept of Pan-Africanism in modern day society.[v] Muiu calls for Pan-Africanism as a new paradigm. An ideal state that involves this radical change in politics, leading towards an ideal African state, based on still existing indigenes structures (Fundi Wa Africa) and Andrews theory holds on to a more formal narrow definition of Pan-Africanism in the way it came to be in 1900 based within the framework of the colonial state, and sees progress in the reforming of these original ideals.[vi]

            Very important to notice is that both accept that there is still a problem to be solved. The reason for this problem is that after de independence of African nations, Africa did not gain the democratic states guided towards the ideals of Pan-Africanism. As a Muiu discusses these different independences he points out that the main difference is the emergence of African political elites, which he concludes from several different processes of independence in which the French and British chose leaders of other emerging leaders because they were more guided to their political position. In this, he also mentions Mobutu being chosen over Lumumba. This created, according to him a system that was not new, but just an Africanisation of the colonial system.[vii] Lumumba was not part of that system, and was therefore, in a terrible way eliminated.

            Andrews mentions that Malcom X, who was one of the most important players, if not the most important player in Pan-Africanism in the 1960s, was criticising  the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) for facilitating in continuing this imperial system, with some of the important members of the organisation buying part guilty for the dead of Lumumba.[viii] To further emphasise how important Lumumba was for Malcom X, a few years later he named one of his children Lumumba. And later he called Lumumba ‘the greatest black man that ever walked the African continent’ in a speech in 1964.[ix]

            What does Lumumba mean for modern day Pan-Africanism? Modern Pan-Africanism takes place for a large part on a medium previously not available, namely the internet. An important place for Pan-Africanism is Facebook which hosts a lot of pages and community that use the image and story of Lumumba for their cause.[x]

Lumumba in the paintings of Tshibumba

Let us examine this further in three paintings of Tshibumba. One of Lumumba, depicting his speech from 1960[xi], one from Lumumba, when he has been killed[xii] and the last painting is of Lumumba, referring to him becoming a national hero during the regime of Mobutu[xiii], the period in which Tshibumba made his paintings.

The Speech of Lumumba

In the painting we can see Lumumba standing on a stage with the Belgian king behind him to the right smiling. Lumumba on the other hand has a very serious face and appears to be talking to the crowd on the left of the painting. He points his right index finger to the sky as he holds a blue globe in his other hand. What is striking that the depiction of Lumumba holding a globe seems to portray a more Pan-African image of Lumumba. Lumumba showing the world and the continent of Africa as the independence of Africa, could perhaps be interpreted by that.

The context of this painting is the historical speech, given by Lumumba in January 1960 during the ceremonial gathering for the independence to Congo.[xiv] This speech was as said, regarded as both historical in his value but also highly dangerous and unwise.[xv]

(source: Tropenmuseum,


The Death of Lumumba.

We can see Lumumba in the clothes, familiar to the pictures, dressed in a white shirt and the pants of his suit, he is lying dead on the ground, with on the background to other bodies. Probably those of Maurice Mpolo and Joseph Okito. From a large wound on the right side of Lumumba the word unite (or unité) is formed in blood.

Although creating the familiar image we know from the photos and video images of his arrest, it creates a picture, that we do not know, because there is not a photograph of Lumumba murdered. Tshibumba, with this painting then fills a mystery gap in the history of the final moments of Lumumba, while staying true to the images we do have of him.

Nooter Roberts and Roberts say about this picture that the light on the forehead of Lumumba, which forms a cross, is again derived from an interpretation of a photograph of Lumumba with the light probably caused by the flash of a camera. This cross is according to them, then extended in to the three symbolic crosses on the right-side of the painting.[xvi]

(source: Tropenmuseum,

Lumumba as a national hero

This is a more complex painting, in the sense that we need to see the history behind it, before a description of the painting can be understood. With the death of Lumumba, he was completely removed from the history of Lumumba. In 1966 however, Lumumba was restored by Mobutu as a national hero. This is described by the historian Leo Zeilig[xvii] How did Lumumba became from being an enemy of Mobutu, who watches with over the cruel and violent arrest of Lumumba, to a national hero? For this we can go back to the concept of using heroes. The original hero Lumumba, with his own actions in his live would not have been suitable, but the second hero entity Lumumba as a symbol and a legend could be used by Mobutu.

In the painting we can see the image again, as also photographed of Lumumba with just white shirt and trousers, and his arms tightened with rope. He walks in front of a house. This is, according to the owner of the painting, the Tropenmuseum, the same house where he was killed, owned by the Belgian person that killed him.[xviii] With a person at the left window, also Lumumba, surrounded by the words ‘Le pays exige les martyrs: je me present’, which translates to: The country requires martyrs: I offer myself.

(source: Tropenmuseum,

Lumumba in the painting of Sapin

In the painting of Sapin, Lumumba is depicted in both the classic picture, which would be the last known photograph taken of him.[xix] Kneeled, bound and threatened by soldiers. In the other picture, we see a graphic death of Lumumba that is not taken from a photograph or even the way in which Lumumba supposedly died, but nonetheless very symbolic. Lumumba, strangled in a noose of the flags that opposed him, he is left lifelessly. Defeated. However, through these two depictions, both of which show a same image of a victimized Lumumba, can be understood as more than just a depiction of wrongdoing. For the picture in which Lumumba passively acts as a prisoner, the symbolism of the young independent state that curses its own freedom from colonialism can be recognized. This becomes clearer when we look at the other picture of Lumumba again. He is painted by Sapin, himself in the picture and shown to the people of Congo.[xx] In the first picture we can again see the symbolic three crosses.

Want to read further?

Lumumba: Reflection

Also Read:

Presenting Patrice Lumumba: an Introduction

Lumumba the Political-Actor

Active memory and Lumumba

Lumumba: Bibliography

[i] Kehinde Andrews (2017), ‘Beyond Pan-Africanism: Garveyism, Malcolm X and the end of the colonial nation state’ Third World Review 38.11, 2501–2516.

[ii] Ibidem.

[iii] Ibidem.

[iv] Kehinde Andrews, ‘We need to revive the revolutionary spirit of the Pan-African Congress’, The Guardian: Opinion (15-10-2015) retrieved on 16-1-2019 from

[v] Mueni Wa Muiu, ‘Fundi Wa Afrika: Toward a New Paradigm of the African State’ CODESRIA (retrieved on 21-11-2018) and Andrews, ‘Beyond Pan-Africanism’ Third World Review, 2501–2516.

[vi] Andrews (2017), ‘Beyond Pan-Africanism’, Third World Review, 2501–2516.

[vii] Muiu, ‘Fundi Wa Afrika’, 2501-2516.

[viii] Andrews (2017), ‘Beyond Pan-Africanism’, Third World Review, 2501–2516.

[ix] Speech of Malcolm X, given on 28-6- 1964, at the Audubon Ballroom in New York.

[x] Examples of Pan-African pages that use Lumumba:, and

[xi] Tshibumba Kanda-Matulu, painting of a speech of Lumumba, retrieved from

[xii] Tshibumba Kanda-Matulu, painting of the death Lumumba, retrieved from

[xiii] Tshibumba Kanda-Matulu, painting of Lumumba becoming a national hero, retrieved from

[xiv] Watch the speech of the Belgian King and Lumumba here:

[xv] Edouard Bustin (2002), ‘Remembrance of Sins past: Unraveling the Murder of Patrice Lumumba’, Review of African Political Economy 29.93/94, 537-560.

[xvi] Nooter Roberts and Roberts (1996), ‘Anticipation and Longing’ 92 and 102.

[xvii] Leo Zeilig (2008), Patrice Lumumba: Africa’s lost leader, London.


[xix] Makengele, S., ‘The Congo Crisis’, collaborative visual work of Sapin Makengele and students surrounding the events that transpired between 1960 and 1965.

[xx] Following the explanation of Sapin himself, the faces in the map of Lumumba, do not represent specific historical figures, but the people in Congo, young or old, woman or man.