“Hear ye! Hear ye! The buffalo is wounded. He can’t do anything at all because he’s been shot. That’s why the buffalo has grown furious. Who is the buffalo? The buffalo, it’s the government of the Belgians and the Flemish.”
- A Season in the Congo, Aimé Césaire
Aimé Césaire is a writer from Martinique, yet he managed to write a play that truly captured the spirit of Congo during the time of Congolese independence from Belgium.
I’ve always been interested in Lumumba since I heard about his tragic story while I was in high school. The dastardly role that Belgium played in his assassination is something that still frustrates me when I think of it. Basically, Lumumba was assassinated because he did not support the Belgian-supported secession of Katanga (which, surprise surprise, is an area rich in diamonds and other natural resources).
I’ve read Cesaire’s poetry which I would describe as being very visceral, sarcastic and explosive. Sarcasm and satire, as well as some poetic turns, are very much prevalent throughout the three acts of this play.
This play covers the events leading up to Congolese independence right up until Lumumba’s assassination. Mobutu Sese Seko,who later became the first of four (?) dictators in Congo, betrayed his friend in a military coup. Lumumba was very idealistic and passionate about Africa. It’s sad that he died so young (35 years old); I can’t help but think that maybe Congo (and Africa) would have been a different (better) place had it not been for his assassination.
In the play, Lumumba points out the hypocrisy of the politicians in Brussels deciding the fate of an African country, and also laments the woes of colonialism and tribalism. Lumumba - “I, my lord, I think of the forgotten. We are those who were dispossessed, struck, mutilated- those who were addressed as inferiors, whose faces were spat upon. Cookboys, chamberboys, laundryboys, we were a people of boys, a people of “Yes, Bwana”, and whoever doubted that man could be not man had only to look at us.”
In Swahili, the word “uhuru” means freedom, complete freedom, and that’s what Africa expected after independence. Unfortunately, it looks as though in most cases the locals weren’t completely in charge; rather, the former colonial masters were actually running things and giving Africans a semblance of independence. My parents were born in pre-independence Africa and were too young at the time of independence to remember much about what went on but I’ve often been curious about the transition.
Great play, and one I’d really love to see performed.
Side note: Dag Hammarskjold, the former UN Secretary-General who played a role in the Congo Crisis died a mysterious death in the 1960s, and this article came out a few days ago:
Dag Hammarskjold death: UN ‘should reopen inquiry’