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The political life of the dead Lumumba: Cold War histories and the Congolese student left

  • Pedro Monaville

Abstract

This article examines Patrice Lumumba's afterlife among Congolese students in the 1960s. Mobilizing oral histories, it also interrogates the stakes of remembering Lumumba at different moments in Congo's postcolonial history. It shows how Lumumba's assassination became a collective and personal landmark in the biographies of a generation of student activists and clearly helped facilitate a turn towards the left in 1961 and in the years that followed. Overlooked by Cold War histories, this political process was nonetheless also a by-product of the internationalization of the Congo crisis and proved central to the historical imagination of a generation of educated Congolese. The dead Lumumba pushed young educated Congolese to revisit the meaning of decolonization. The article argues that the students’ extroverted political imagination was an important explanation for Lumumba's posthumous popularity in Congolese universities. Through their affiliation with the figure of Lumumba, young Congolese could expect to receive support and attention from real and imagined allies around the world. The international communion around Lumumba's name was sometimes the result of productive misunderstandings; nonetheless, his legacy played a crucial role in transnational mediation throughout the 1960s and made possible the circulation of new political repertoires among Congolese students.

Cet article examine l'après-vie de Patrice Lumumba au sein de la population étudiante congolaise des années 1960. Mobilisant des histoires orales, il interroge également les enjeux de se souvenir de Lumumba à différents moments de l'histoire postcoloniale du Congo. Il montre comment l'assassinat de Lumumba est devenu un repère collectif et individuel dans les biographies d'une génération d’étudiants activistes et comment il a clairement aidé à faciliter un virage à droite en 1961 et dans les années qui suivirent. Occulté par les histoires de la guerre froide, ce processus politique était aussi néanmoins un produit de l'internationalisation de la crise congolaise et il s'est avéré être un élément central de l'imagination historique d'une génération de Congolais instruits. Le Lumumba mort a poussé de jeunes Congolais instruits à réexaminer le sens de la décolonisation. L'article soutient que l'imagination politique extravertie des étudiants était une explication importante à la popularité posthume de Lumumba dans les universités congolaises. À travers leur affiliation au personnage de Lumumba, les jeunes Congolais pouvaient espérer recevoir le soutien et l'attention d'alliés réels et imaginés du monde entier. La communion internationale autour du nom de Lumumba était parfois le résultat de malentendus productifs ; néanmoins, l'héritage qu'il a laissé a joué un rôle essentiel dans la médiation transnationale tout au long des années 1960 et permis à de nouveaux répertoires politiques de circuler parmi les étudiants congolais.

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