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A charismatic and energetic statesman, Patrice Lumumba became politically active as a young postal worker when he organized a postal workers’ union in Stanleyville (now Kisangani) in what was then the Belgian Congo. In October 1958 he became involved with national politics, founding the Mouvement National Congolais (MNC), Congo’s first national political party. In December, Lumumba took an MNC delegation to the All-African People’s Conference in Ghana, where he met with leaders of Pan-Africanism and became friends with Kwame Nkrumah, Ghana’s first African prime minister. Influenced by the spirit of nationalism and anticolonialism that pervaded the conference, Lumumba returned to the Republic of the Congo a militant, ready to demand independence.

Lumumba made the first public appeal for independence in January 1959 On October 31 that year he was arrested and held responsible for riots that broke out after a meeting of the MNC From jail he and his ...