The Belgian government has returned a single gold-crowned tooth of a Congolese independence hero – the only thing left of him after his body was dissolved in acid – 62 years after his assassination.
Patrice Lumumba was elected the first prime minister of the newly independent Democratic Republic of Congo in 1960 at just 34 years old. But he was murdered three months later in a bloody coup that many in the DRC believe was orchestrated by the Belgian government.
A 2001 Belgian parliamentary report found that Belgium was at least “morally responsible” for his assassination.
His body was dissolved in acid, leaving a single tooth that was taken to Belgium by a police officer.
In October 2020, 60 years after Lumumba’s murder, a court in Brussels ruled that his tooth must be returned to his family in the DRC.
The tooth was finally returned Monday in a ceremony at the Egmont Palace in Brussels, hosted by King Phillipe of Belgium and Prime Minister Alexander De Croo. The tooth was presented in a coffin draped with the DRC flag to three of Lumumba’s children and the prime minister of the DRC, Jean-Michel Sama Lukonde.
“Father, my brothers and I, as well as our children, and your great-grandchildren, have tried through this address, to find the words to bid you farewell 61 years after your disappearance, but we have to admit that nothing can express what we are feeling today,” Lumumba’s daughter, Juliana, said in a speech.
“We can only wish that wherever you are, you can be proud of your children, your grandchildren and your great-grandchildren. Father, welcome back to the country, thank you.”
“It is not normal that Belgians held onto the remains of one of the founding fathers of the Congolese nation for six decades,” De Croo said. “It is not normal that for six decades the remains of one of the founding fathers of the Congolese nation were kept in obscure circumstances which were never really elucidated but which in light of what we know today, do not make us proud.”
The restitution comes a week after King Phillipe declined to apologise for Belgium’s colonial history in the DRC while on a visit to the country. Instead, he offered his “deepest regrets” for actions that led to the deaths of 10 million people, around half the population, during the brutal reign of his great-great-grandfather, King Leopold II.