A day after Americans reflected on the dreams Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. proclaimed before his untimely assassination, the people of the Democratic Republic of Congo are similarly remembering messages of hope and freedom from one of their civil rights leaders. On this day fifty-one years ago, the first Prime Minister of Congo, Patrice Lumumba, was assassinated.
Mr. Lumumba and Dr. King shared a common message demanding freedom through a united peaceful voice. In 1960, Congo’s day of independence, Mr. Lumumba spoke of the rampant violence, discrimination and enslavement of his fellow “Negroes” by white colonial oppressors. He called upon citizens to overcome internal quarrels, to avoid shrinking from sacrifice in order to achieve success and for unconditional respect for the life and property of citizens and foreigners alike. In many ways, Lumumba’s message to his fellow Congolese mirrored Dr. King’s dream for America — to “raise our nation from the quicksands of racial injustice to the solid rock of brotherhood.”
Despite the half a century that separates Lumumba’s death from today, his message could not be timelier. In November 2011, Congo held elections which ended in the re-election of the incumbent president, Joseph Kabila. However, the results have been challenged by the United States and much of the international community for being highly fraudulent. As President Kabila’s government struggles for legitimacy, democracy and the stability of the country hang in the balance. Acutely aware of the significance of this election, activists in the country and those in the Congolese Diaspora have been met with the presence of security forces and tanks. Their ability to communicate by phone and the Internet has been cut off by those who seek to control dissenting voices.
Even more disturbing, extreme force has been used against civilians and some have disappeared entirely. Recognizing that the hope and freedom of the Congolese people is being eroded by a new oppressor, the international community has the opportunity to play a positive role in supporting peace. Regarding foreign influence, it is important to note that Mr. Lumumba proclaimed that if “their conduct is good, they must be left in peace, for they also are working for our country’s prosperity.”
One step the United States could take to halt some of the violence in keeping with the spirit of King and Lumumba would be to implement a provision prohibiting companies from dealing in conflict minerals. This Act, passed by Congress but not yet implemented by the United States Security Exchange Commission (SEC) will require companies to account for their supply chains and their dealings with abundant minerals that originate in the Congo and neighboring countries. Heightened transparency can be important to the peace and stability the Congolese are experiencing now by lessening revenues received by armed groups through the illegitimate trade of minerals, which fund their brutalization, rape and displacement of Congolese civilians.
It is incredibly evident, particularly in this age of instant connectivity that allows the world’s citizens to stand with one powerful voice. We have an opportunity to support the Congo’s prosperity by halting the use of conflict minerals. The common struggle spoken by King and Lumumba shall not be forgotten. We must remember and acknowledge the messages of Dr. King and Mr. Lumumba as “now is the time to make real the promises of democracy” to “make justice a reality for all.”