He was forgotten by the public until the 1970s and 1980s when Congolese historians started discovering facts about his life. Paul Panda Farnana M’Fumu is thought of as the first Congolese intellectual. He is in fact the first Congolese to have studied in Belgium and France and later fought for the rights of the Congolese people during Belgium’s colonial rule.
It is even said that his writings and speeches are the first steps of Congolese nationalism, and it is Congolese nationalism that would eventually lead to independence. But his story has a sad end. Just when his campaigns for equality were beginning to yield fruit, he was poisoned. Some historians say that he disappeared or was killed by Belgian veterans.
But what everyone is sure of is that Farnana was born in 1888 in Nzemba, close to Moanda in what is now the province of Kongo-Central. He was the son of Nsengo and Luizi Fernando, chief of the village of Nzemba. That explains his surname M’Fumu, which means chief in the Kikongo language. Farnana was sent to Belgium as a child in 1895. Jules Derscheid, director of a trading company in Boma, traveled with him to Belgium as a “young household help”.
When Derscheid died, Farnana was given to Derscheid’s sister, who sent him to secondary school at the Royal Atheneum in Ixelles. By 1904, Farnana had passed his entrance exam and began schooling in the horticultural and agricultural school in Vilvoorde. There, he obtained his diploma in 1907 with great distinction, making him the first Congolese to obtain a higher education diploma in Belgium. He also did other agricultural studies and learned English at the École supérieure commerciale et consulaire in Mons.
He then moved back to his country Congo in 1909 after getting a job as an agricultural specialist under the Belgian colonial government. While working in Congo, he came face to face with segregation and the violence meted out to his fellow Congolese people. He sought to do something about their grievous situation. Before then, he enlisted in the Belgian Army during the first world war while living in Belgium, taking part in the defense of Namur. The Germans captured him there and he remained in the POW camp until the war ended.
Farnana would help start an association known as the Union Congolaise to fight for the interests of other Congolese veterans of the war. At the time, the Pan-African movement was on the rise, and this would shape Farnana’s thinking and actions. He was present at the first Pan-African Congress in 1919 and the second in 1921. The Congolese nationalist also participated in the National Colonial Congress by the Belgian Parliament in Brussels where Farnana, who was the only Congolese invited to speak at the meeting, advocated for political rights to be given to his fellow countrymen. He also asked that education is made accessible to the Congolese while their demands for better wages should be catered to.
The agronomist and Pan-Africanist continued to demand better conditions for the Congolese people until his death. Sources say that the colonial press targeted him while the Belgian government saw him as a “dangerous individual”. In 1929, he left Belgium and went back to his village Nzemba in Congo. He founded a school and a chapel and passed away a year on May 12, 1930. He was 42.
It is believed that Farnana died of poisoning. Others say that he was assassinated by Belgian settlers in a swamp near his home. Sadly, he breathed his last before he could see changes in what he fought for.
Africa Museum writes: “The Pan-Africanism that emerged in the diaspora was built into a movement in the first half of the 20th century by means of congresses organised by W.E.B. Du Bois and also by Marcus Garvey, a Jamaican black nationalist and leader of the Pan-African movement. From 1945, Pan-Africanism became the main anti-colonialist doctrine developed by and for Africans. Paul Panda Farnana did not live to see this.”