The Mirage of Free Press in the Congo
While the legacy of Patrice Lumumba in the Democratic Republic of the Congo is deemed mostly positive among democratic states across the globe, his reputation does remain cloudy, not necessarily because of dubious political policies, but for the most part because of the media portrayal of him during and after his term in office.
Even though the film Lumumba concentrates on his political exploits and the difficulties with the Belgian colonialists, Mubatu and the Katanga region, the role that the press and the Belgian-controlled media played in the removal from office and assassination of Lumumba is for the most part underplayed in the plot, with the exception of a few implications. Consistent throughout the film is the lack of blame directed toward that media, something I feel is a misstep by Raoul Peck and the makers of the film. Their role in the film seems almost completely symbolic.
Being aware of the presence of media controls and censorship during Lumumba’s years gives context and perspective to several reasons for the antagonism toward him and his government. This is particularly evident in the juxtaposition I think between a scene early on in Brussels when Lumumba disembarks his airplane for the conference on Congolese independence and is promptly greeted by throngs of smiling journalists inquiring about his arrival, the state of Congo, independence, his plans for the improvement of their political state, etc. In contrast, he disembarks a plane after his arrest to a dozen reporters rushing up to him to question his motives, the deterioration of the Congo and the details surrounding his arrest. The way I interpreted that second scene toward the end, Lumumba remained silent and answered no questions not simply because of his frustration with the situation and anger toward Kasavubu and the Katanga secessionists, but because he had lost hope in the press supporting his cause. At that point he was of the firm belief that whatever he said would most likely be twisted or ignored by a press corps controlled by the Belgians. After all, his arrest and assassination was aided by the Belgians as well as the CIA.
In fact, his last lines in the film are, “One day history will have its say. Not the history they teach in Brussels, Paris or Washington, but our history. That of a new Africa.”
In other words, he knows that among developed, Western nations, history (or the media) are determined by whatever is convenient to them.