What happens to countries when leaders lose their teeth?
Belgian authorities on Monday, June 20, 2022 returned a gold-capped tooth belonging to the slain Congolese independence hero Patrice Lumumba, as the former colonial power continues to confront its bloody past and look toward reconciliation.

Dear Editor,

The British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) and other news outlets published on June 20, 2022 Belgium’s return of Patrice Lumumba’s gold-crowned tooth to the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).

Lumumba was assassinated on the January 17, 1961 after he was said to have reminded Belgium of its barbarism during its period of rule, when DRC, then the Congo Free State, was the personal property of Leopold II, King of Belgium. At that time, apart from the millions who died, there was no educated class to lead the country after independence. The assassinated leader’s tooth was returned primarily because of pressure from his daughter, Juliana.

The answer to the question posed about the fate of countries when leaders lose their teeth is indeed sad, because leaders who lose their teeth become overtaken by amnesia, a fate worse than blindness.

Consider the case of Jamaica, a strident independent country that cannot fathom out a path untethered to its monarch coloniser. Consider also Commonwealth leaders, engrossed in leadership wrangling, oblivious to the most painful issue that now joins subject to coloniser, Britain’s decision to send refugees from these former colonies who land on its shores to Rwanda — the host country of the conference.

Rwanda was chosen for its deterrence value, being one of the poorest countries in the world, and its notoriety during a genocidal period which redefined the term. The lure of selecting the next occupier of Marlborough House has intoxicated partygoers.

One optimistic consequence of leaders who lose their teeth is the Belgium lesson. Discomfort from a tooth embedded in the coloniser may be the only route to apology, sincere expressions of regret, or reparation.

Newton Duncan


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