Aimé Césaire

A Season in the Congo

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A Season in the Congo Summary

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A Season in the Congo is a political play by prominent French-Caribbean poet, playwright, and activist Aime Cesaire. The play follows the early years of the Republic of Congo, after the decolonization process, with a focus on main character Patrice Lumumba. The play is set from 1955 to 1961, with some exploration of the years after Lumumba’s death, following the political figure and first prime minister of Congo as he experiences the pains of ruling a nation at war with itself and those around it.

As the play begins in 1955, Patrice Lumumba, the tragic hero of Cesaire’s story, is a young activist living in the Belgian Congo, working as a beer seller. Lumumba was a well-known activist for black Congolese people during the Belgian reign, lauded for standing up against mistreatment of blacks and the environment by the Belgian rulers, who were notoriously cruel to the native peoples living in the colonized nation. In the 1950s and 1960s, England and France had already begun the work of liberating (or, more often, fighting the liberation movements within) their colonized nations, including many African nations. Many people living in the Belgian Congo doubted the possibility that the Congo would become one of those liberated nations.

Lumumba was an active leader during this period in Congo history. Interested in philosophy and politics, he was well-educated, having attended Catholic and Protestant missionary schools in the Belgian Congo and then graduating from post-secondary school to become a postal worker. Lumumba first joined the Liberal Party of Belgium where he distributed liberal pamphlets, but after a brief stay in prison on charges of embezzlement, he changed his tune, helping found the National Congolese Movement, or MNC, in 1958. This movement aimed for an independent Congo, and soon, Lumumba was the leader of the new party.

An active, sometimes violent leader of the MNC, Lumumba was charged on multiple occasions with inciting anti-colonial riots; Belgium considered him a dangerous person and a problem for its colonial regime. However, in 1960, Lumumba was released from prison after a particularly violent riot to attend a conference in Brussels on the future of Belgian involvement in the Congo. The MNC had become the leading party in the Congo, and it was clear that change was coming.

In June 1960, Lumumba became the first elected prime minister of the Democratic Republic of Congo. He instated an old friend, Joseph Mobutu, as the army chief, and began to actively discredit and dismantle the colonial interests of Belgium. However, almost immediately, trouble began to brew for Lumumba and the new nation. Belgium, still deeply invested in the mineral resources of the Congo, funded a secessionist movement in Katanga, a province of the new Republic. Almost immediately, Lumumba found himself fighting to maintain a unified nation. By September of 1960, only a few months after winning the election, Mobutu and the Katangan army imprisoned Lumumba; he was killed by a firing squad.

A Season in the Congo is both a political play and a tragedy, with a number of dramatic movements foreshadowing the eventual death of hero Patrice Lumumba. Cesaire demonstrates Lumumba’s faults alongside his strengths, portraying his vanity and his lack of political knowledge alongside his idealism and activist work. Though Cesaire leaves out some of the alleged involvement of the United States in the assassination of Lumumaba, the play depicts political violence, colonization, activism, and the desire for freedom alongside a story of nuanced politics during a volatile period in Congolese and African history.

Aime Cesaire was a politician, poet, author, and playwright from the Caribbean nation of Martinique. He wrote primarily in French and French Creole. One of the initial founders of the influential negritude movement in French literature, he is known for his play A Tempest, which offered a post-colonial response to Shakespeare’s play The Tempest, and his political treatise Discourse on Colonization, among other works. He is one of the most influential writers in French literature and a significant influence on the Creolite movement, which promoted the creative and activist works of creole people from the Caribbean and beyond.