Early this month, I shared with you that the Belgian King Expressed his ‘Deepest Regrets’ for Colonial Past in Congo, by sending a letter to the President of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) Felix Tshisekedi on the day of the celebration of the DRC’s independence from Belgium. I told you that those were empty words, and that coincidentally, King Philippe had forgotten to include the period from 1908 to the independence of Congo, and the treacherous role played by Belgium in the assassination of the Congolese Prime Minister Patrice Lumumba.
Now the children of Patrice Lumumba, led by his daughter Juliana Amato Lumumba, have asked the Belgian king to prove his good faith by sending back the remains of their father. These remains are parts that were taken, like Lumumba‘s teeth, from his body at the time of his murder. We know from a documentary which aired in 2000 that Belgian Police Commissioner, Gerard Soete, told AFP that he and acolytes had decapitated Lumumba’s body and those of two others, Joseph Okito and Maurice Mpolo, and subsequently dissolved them in acid. In another documentary that same year, Soete showed two teeth which he said had belonged to Lumumba. He took Lumumba’s teeth as souvenir. In 2016, Ludo De Witte, author of the book “The assassination of Lumumba,” lodged a legal complaint against Soete’s daughter after she showed a gold tooth, which she said had belonged to Lumumba, during an interview with a newspaper.
It took over 100 years for a Belgian King to finally ‘express his deepest regrets‘ for Belgium’s colonial past in Congo. As we recall, King Leopold II of Belgium perpetrated a genocide in Congo. Leopold II took Congo, a country at least 10 times the size of Belgium, as his private property and killed millions of Congolese. It is said that he must have executed and maimed over 15 million people!
So now, Belgian King Philippe wrote a letter to the president of Congo Felix Tshisekedi, on 30 June 2020, the anniversary of the Independence of the Democratic Republic of Congo, stating: “During the time of the Congo Free State [1885-1908], acts of violence and brutality were committed that weigh still on our collective memory. The colonial period that followed also caused suffering and humiliations. I would like to express my deepest regrets for the wounds of the past, the pain of today, which is rekindled by the discrimination all too present in our society.” His remarks fell short of an apology! Should we applaud for this?
I say NO! To the Belgian King, I say you can eat your “deepest regrets”! Many are calling this progress, but I call this arrogance to wake up one day, and finally say, “I regret the past. Yes…, my grandfather committed acts of violence and brutality, killed your fathers, mothers, brothers, and sisters, … maimed your forefathers, decapitated so many of you … instilled fear into your psyche… destroyed your livelihood, your culture, and the entire foundation of your society.”
And so what? That’s it? Should we clap for you? where is the apology? Didn’t you think we knew that already? Where is the reparation? Don’t you know that Belgium is nothing without Congo? Coincidentally, King Philippe forgot to include the period following that time, from 1908 to the independence of Congo,and then to nowadays with the treacherous role played by Belgium in the assassination of the Congolese Prime Minister Patrice Lumumba, and countless others, and the unrest in the region to this day.
And to stand up there, and say I “express my deepest regrets for the wounds of the past”… it’s like Hitler waking up today, and telling Holocaust survivors and their descendants, “I killed you, jailed your parents, forced you into exile, brought fear into your souls, and decimated every part of you… I regret it. What can you about it? ” It is simply arrogant! … It is just too easy. Until there is a clear “I am sorry”, until there is a clear “here is what we will do to right the wrongs,” until there is a clear “correction and inclusion in the history textbooks, opening of all classified documents”…. until there is a clear “respect for those killed, and for those living today” until then, there will be no respect for arrogant kings who claim to have been awaken by George Floyd’s killing in the USA and not the atrocities they themselves committed in Congo!
We, the people of Congo, cannot forget… we cannot forget that the unrest in Congo today is a direct result of the atrocities committed by Belgium in the region. We cannot forget the souls of our ancestors who still cry to us for justice today.
For the celebration on 30 June 1960 of the independence of Congo, we will do a trip down memory lane with this speech Patrice Lumumba addressed to the Congolese youth in August of 1960. In 1960, Patrice Lumumba was elected the first prime minister of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). Assassinated by Belgian colonialists and the CIA in 1961, Lumumba was a founding member of the Movement National Congolais (MNC), which led Congo to independence. Today, Patrice Lumumba is the symbol of aspirations for an entire continent, and he continues to serve as an inspiration to contemporary Congolese and African politicians. His message here to the Congolese youth is really a message to the African youth. Enjoy! The full speech can be found in Patrice Lumumba: Fighter for Africa’s Freedom, Moscow, Progress Publishers, 1961, p 33-36, by Patrice Lumumba (transcribed by Thomas Schmidt) here.
Today I am addressing the youth, the young men and women of the Republic of the Congo.
In speaking to them, I am addressing these words to future generations because the future of our beloved country belongs to them.
We are fighting our enemies in order to prepare a better and happier life for our youth.
If we had been egoists, if we had thought only about ourselves we would not have made the innumerable sacrifices we are making.
I am aware that our country can completely liberate herself from the chains of colonialism politically, economically and spiritually only at the price of a relentless and sometimes dangerous struggle. Together with the youth of the country, we have waged this struggle against foreign rule, against mercantile exploitation, against injustice and pressure.
Young people who have been inactive and exploited for a long time have now become aware of their role of standard-bearer of the peaceful revolution.
The young people of the Congo have fought on our side in towns, villages and in the bush. Many of our young men have been struck down by the bullets of the colonialists. Many of them left their parents and friends in order to fight heroically for the cause of freedom. The resistance that the young people offered the aggressors in Leopoldville on January 4 and in Stanleyville on October 30, 1959, deserves every praise.
With deep emotion I bow in memory of these courageous patriots, these fighters for African freedom.
The time is not far distant when large numbers of young men and women were driven out of schools by their white teachers and instructors on the suspicion of having nationalist ideas. Many brilliantly gifted young people turned down the opportunity to receive a higher education for the simple reason that they no longer wished to be indoctrinated by the colonialists, who wanted to turn our young men and women into eternal servants of the colonial regime.
During the heroic struggle of the Congolese nationalists, the young people, even those who were still sitting at school desks, resolutely opposed all new forms of colonialism, whether political, social, spiritual or religious.
Their only dream was national liberation. Their sole aim was immediate independence. Their only resolve was to wage an implacable struggle against the puppets and emissaries of the colonialists.
Thanks to the general mobilisation of all the democratic youth of the Congo, the Congolese nationalists won independence for the nation. We received this independence at the price of a grim struggle, at the price of all sorts of privations, at the price of tears and blood.
After independence was solemnly proclaimed on June 30, 1960, the colonialists and their black emissaries started a barbarous war in the young Republic of the Congo. They began this perfidious aggression because the nationalist Government now in power did not want them to continue exploiting our country as they did prior to June 30, the historic day when the people of our country said Adieu to the Belgian colonialists.
Not having any support whatever, particularly among the working class, who have had their fill of colonial exploitation, the colonialists and their henchmen now want to force certain sections of the youth to serve them in order to be able to propagandise the revival of colonialism. That is why a certain part of the youth, luckily not a very numerous part, have plunged into national defeatism.
Happily, the vast majority of the young people saw through this last attempt of the imperialists, who are turning into account the dissatisfaction of some malcontents, of those who failed in the elections because they did not have the confidence of the people.
This nationalist youth recently held demonstrations in various towns in the Republic to show their absolute and total opposition to imperialist intrigues.
Young people, I salute you, and congratulate you on your civic and patriotic spirit. Young people, specially for you I have created a Ministry for Youth Affairs and Sports under the Central Government. It is your Ministry. It is at your disposal. Many of you, without any discrimination, will be called upon to direct this Ministry, its different services and activities.
Today, in the free and independent Congo we must not have a Bangala, National Unity Party, Association of Bakongo, Mukongo, Batetela or Lokele youth but a united, Congolese, nationalist, democratic youth. This youth will serve the social and economic revolution of our great and beloved country.
You must energetically combat tribalism, which is a poison, a social scourge that is the country’s misfortune today. You must combat all the separatist manoeuvres, which some of the preachers of the policy of division are trying to pass off to young and inexperienced people under the name of federalism, federation or confederation.
In reality, young people, these names are only a new vocabulary brought by the imperialists to divide us in order the better and more conveniently to exploit us. Your entire future will be threatened if you do not oppose these manoeuvres, this new, disguised colonisation.
You must be proud that you belong to a great nation, a great country, a mighty power. This power, which the imperialists envy today, is embodied in national unity. This unity must be the heritage that you, in your turn, shall leave to your children.
The Government will soon send 300 young people to study in the U.S.A., 150 in the Soviet Union and 20 in Guinea, not to mention other countries.
The Congo is no longer a national reservation, a national park, a zoo which we could not leave. Tomorrow you shall go everywhere to study, to learn a speciality, and to get to know the world. Workers, working people will have an equal share in these study missions.
You shall go everywhere, to all the parts of the world. These contacts with the outside world, this direct confrontation with the reality of life will make you experienced people, whom the free and independent Congo needs today.
You will go there not as representatives of Association of Bakongo, National Unity Party, Congo National Movement or African Regroupment Centre youth. You will be Congolese citizens, simply Congolese. And by your behaviour, devotion, intelligence and political maturity you must be a credit to your Congolese motherland.
Young people, the Congo belongs to you. The national Government, the people’s Government will do everything in its power to prevent the Congo from being torn away from you.
Here is a poem by Patrice Lumumba (1925–1961), published on Pambazuka News. Patrice Lumumba was elected the first prime minister of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). Assassinated by Belgian colonialists and the CIA, Lumumba was a founder member of the Movement National Congolais (MNC), which led the Congo to independence. Patrice Lumumba is the symbol of aspirations of an entire continent, and he continues to serve as an inspiration to contemporary Congolese and African politicians. His spirit lives on, and his pride is ours!
Dawn in the Heart of Africa
For a thousand years, you, African, suffered like beast, Your ashes strewn to the wind that roams the desert. Your tyrants built the lustrous, magic temples To preserve your soul, reserve your suffering. Barbaric right of fist and the white right to a whip, You had the right to die, you also could weep. On your totem they carved endless hunger, endless bonds, And even in the cover of the woods a ghastly cruel death Was watching, snaky, crawling to you Like branches from the holes and heads of trees Embraced your body and your ailing soul. Then they put a treacherous big viper on your chest: On your neck they laid the yoke of fire-water, They took your sweet wife for glitter of cheap pearls, Your incredible riches that nobody could measure. From your hut, the tom-toms sounded into dark of night Carrying cruel laments up mighty black rivers About abused girls, streams of tears and blood, About ships that sailed to countries where the little man Wallows in an ant hill and the dollar is king, To that damned land which they called a motherland. There your child, your wife were ground, day and night In a frightful, merciless mill, crushing them in dreadful pain. You are a man like others. They preach you to believe That good white God will reconcile all men at last. By fire you grieved and sang the moaning songs Of a homeless beggar that sinks at strangers’ doors. And when a craze possessed you And your blood boiled through he night You danced, you moaned, obsessed by father’s passion. Like furry of a storm to lyrics of a manly tune From a thousand years of misery a strength burst out of you In metallic voice of jazz, in uncovered outcry That thunders through the continent like gigantic surf. The whole world surprised , wakes up in panic To the violent rhythm of blood, to the violent rhythm of jazz, The white man turning pallid over this new song That carries torch of purple through the dark of night.
The dawn is here, my brother! Dawn! Look in our faces, A new morning breaks in our old Africa. Ours alone will now be the land, the water, mighty rivers Poor African surrendered for a thousand years. Hard torches of the sun will shine for us again They’ll dry the tears in eyes and spittle on your face. The moment when you break the chains, the heavy fetters, The evil cruel times will go never to come again. A free and gallant Congo will rise from black soil, A free and gallant Congo-black blossom from black seed!
Very often history books suffer from amnesia: they forget women’s contributions to revolutions. History acts as if the men had been all alone, as if only men were there, as if only men stood against injustice.
When people talk of the struggle for independence in Africa, and around the world, only the great men are cited. As one browses from country to country, only men are cited, as if women had been silent spectators. Do you think apartheid would have collapsed without the critical and vital input of women? Do you think without Winnie Mandela, Nelson Mandela’s name would have been anchored in our heads today? What do you think these women were doing while their husbands were in prison? History wants us to think that they were ‘just’ raising children as if that was not an enormous contribution already, but in the case of Winnie Mandela and countless others, they took up the fight, and were jailed, harassed, beaten, and humiliated by the system (some were even raped). Yet today, the world acclaims only the men! And when a woman raises too strong a voice, then she is vilified, told that she acts like a man, or is an ‘angry’ woman. How could you face injustice day after day, and just keep quiet? There comes a time when, as Bob Marley says, “You can fool some people some time, but you can’t fool all the people all the time…” people will rise up!”
I am so sick of the saying, “behind every great man, there is a great woman.” I think it is again quite sexist, and should rather read, “ALONGSIDE EVERY GREAT MAN IS A GREAT WOMAN.” Raising children, and pumping somebody’s ego after a day’s fight, taking up the fights, and then keeping the men’s memory so that the world does not forget them, are no easy fit; these are extraordinaryfits. Alongside Nelson Mandela, there is Winnie Mandela. Alongside Thomas Sankara, there is Mariam Sankara. Alongside Patrice Lumumba, there is Pauline Lumumba. Alongside Felix Moumié, there is Marthe Moumié. Rosa Parks had to be defiant and sit in the front of the bus, for the movement to be taken over by Martin Luther King Jr.; without her part in the fight, there would have been no movement!
It is our duty to remember this, and to claim it. The world and history wants us to think that men are the only ones in the world, when we know that 50% of the world’s population is female; men are not the only ones fighting for independence, liberation, freedom, revolution, democracy, … Can one make a revolution without the remaining 50%? NO! It is our duty to remember Women’s contributions to history, and stop the global historical amnesia!
The 30 June 1960 marks the independence of the then Congo-Belge (Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC)) from Belgium. We will celebrate DRC’s independence today with a poem by one of Congo’s proud sons, none other than its first democratically elected Prime Minister Patrice Lumumba, “Pleure, Ô Noir Frère bien-aimé (Weep, beloved black brother)”. This poem was published in the journal INDEPENDANCE, organe du M.N.C., en septembre 1959 (Cf. La pensée politique de Patrice LUMUMBA, textes et documents recueillis par Jean VAN LIERDE, Présence Africaine, 1963, p. 69-70). Translated to English by Lillian Lowenfels and Nan Apotheker.
Pleure, O Noir Frère bien-aimé
O Noir, bétail humain depuis des millénaires Tes cendres s’éparpillent à tous les vents du ciel Et tu bâtis jadis les temples funéraires Où dorment les bourreaux d’un sommeil éternel. Poursuivi et traqué, chassé de tes villages, Vaincu en des batailles où la loi du plus fort, En ces siècles barbares de rapt et de carnage, Signifiait pour toi l’esclavage ou la mort, Tu t’étais réfugié en ces forêts profondes Où l’autre mort guettait sous son masque fiévreux Sous la dent du félin, ou dans l’étreinte immonde Et froide du serpent, t’écrasant peu à peu. Et puis s’en vint le Blanc, plus sournois, plus rusé et rapace Qui échangeait ton or pour de la pacotille, Violentant tes femmes, enivrant tes guerriers, Parquant en ses vaisseaux tes garçons et tes filles. Le tam-tam bourdonnait de village en village Portant au loin le deuil, semant le désarroi, Disant le grand départ pour les lointains rivages Où le coton est Dieu et le dollar Roi Condamné au travail forcé, tel une bête de somme De l’aube au crépuscule sous un soleil de feu Pour te faire oublier que tu étais un homme On t’apprit à chanter les louanges de Dieu. Et ces divers cantiques, en rythmant ton calvaire Te donnaient l’espoir en un monde meilleur… Mais en ton cœur de créature humaine, tu ne demandais guère Que ton droit à la vie et ta part de bonheur. Assis autour du feu, les yeux pleins de rêve et d’angoisse Chantant des mélopées qui disaient ton cafard Parfois joyeux aussi, lorsque montait la sève Tu dansais, éperdu, dans la moiteur du soir. Et c’est là que jaillit, magnifique, Sensuelle et virile comme une voix d’airain Issue de ta douleur, ta puissante musique, Le jazz, aujourd’hui admiré dans le monde En forçant le respect de l’homme blanc, En lui disant tout haut que dorénavant, Ce pays n’est plus le sien comme aux vieux temps. Tu as permis ainsi à tes frères de race De relever la tête et de regarder en face L’avenir heureux que promet la délivrance. Les rives du grand fleuve, pleines de promesses Sont désormais tiennes. Cette terre et toutes ses richesses Sont désormais tiennes. Et là haut, le soleil de feu dans un ciel sans couleur, De sa chaleur étouffera ta douleur Ses rayons brûlants sécheront pour toujours La larme qu’ont coulée tes ancêtres, Martyrisés par leurs tyranniques maîtres, Sur ce sol que tu chéris toujours. Et tu feras du Congo, une nation libre et heureuse, Au centre de cette gigantesque Afrique Noire.
Weep, Beloved Black Brother
O black man, beast of burden through the centuries, Your ashes scattered to the winds of heaven, There was a time when you built burial temples In which your murderers sleep their final sleep. Hunted down and tracked, driven from your homes. Beaten in battles where brute force prevailed. Barbaric centuries of rape and carnage That offered you the choice of death or slavery. You went for refuge to the forest depths, And other deaths waylaid you, burning fevers, Jaws of wild beasts, the cold, unholy coils Of snakes who crushed you gradually to death. Then came the white man, more clever, tricky, cruel, He took your gold in trade for shoddy stuff, He raped your women, made your warriors drunk, Penned up you sons and daughters on his ships. The tom-toms hummed through all the villages, Spreading afar the mourning, the wild grief At news of exile to a distant land Where cotton is God and the dollar King. Condemned to enforced labor, beasts of burden, Under a burning sun from dawn to dusk, So that you might forget you are a man They taught your to sing the praises of their God, And these hosannas, tuned in to your sorrows, Gave you the hope of a better world to come. But in your human heart you only asked The right to live, your share of happiness. Beside your fire, your eyes reflect your dreams and suffering, You sang the chants that gave voice to your blues. And sometimes to your joys, when sap rose in the trees And you danced wildly in the damp of evening. And out of this sprang forth, magnificent, Alive and virile, like a bell of brass Sounding your sorrow, that powerful music, Jazz, now loved, admired throughout the world, Compelling the white man to respect, Announcing in clear loud tones from this time on This country no longer belongs to him. And thus you made the brothers of your race Lift up their heads to see clear, straight ahead The happy future bearing deliverance. The banks of a great river in flower with hope Are yours from this time onward. The earth and all its riches Are yours from this time onward. The blazing sun in the colorless sky Dissolves our sorrow in a wave of warmth. Its burning rays will help to dry forever The flood of tears shed by our ancestors, Martyrs of the tyranny of the masters. And on this earth which you will always love You will make the Congo a nation, happy and free, In the very heart of vast Black Africa.
I share with you a poem by the late Congolese writer Tchicaya U Tam’si, “Vos yeux prophétisent une douleur”/”Your Eyes Prophesy a Pain.” Gérald-Félix Tchicaya is mostly known by his pseudonym Tchicaya U Tam’si, where U Tam’si means ‘the one who speaks for his country‘. Born in Mpili in the former French Congo (Republic of Congo), he was a poet, journalist, and an activist. He is considered by many as one of the greatest poets of his generation.
U Tam’si’s poetry uses symbolism, dark humor, and surrealist, corporeal imagery to explore cultural identity in a politically unstable society. A member of the Congolese independence movement, a friend of Patrice Lumumba, U Tam’si creates work on the nature of African identity that is sometimes connected to Aimé Césaire’s Negritude movement, which advocated for the protection of a distinct African culture in the face of French colonialism and European exploitation.
To me, the pain U Tam’si talks about in this poem is that of slavery, of colonialism, of neo-colonialism, of tribalism. He talks as if he was in the 1600s, during slavery times, and predicting more pain.What do you think? What pain is U Tam’si talking about? The original poem was published in Anthologie Africaine: Poésie Vol2, Jacques Chevrier, Collection Monde Noir Poche, 1988; the English translation is brought to you by Dr. Y., Afrolegends.com.
Vos yeux prophétisent une douleur…
Comme trois terrils, trois collines de cendres!
Mais dites-moi de qui sont ces cendres?
La mer obéissait déjà aux seuls négriers
Des négres s’y laissaient prendre
Malgré les sortilèges de leurs sourires
On sonnait le tocsin
A coups de pied au ventre
De passantes enceintes:
Il y a un couvre-feu pour faisander leur agonie
Les feux de brousse surtout donnent de mauvais rêves
« ¡ Las ideas no se matan ! » « Ideas cannot be killed ! »
This is the sentence shouted out to the killing squad which was about to execute Fidel Castro on 26 July 1953, and this saved him. Indeed, El Commandante stood for ideas and above all for love: love of humanity, and planet earth. He understood that imperialism was nullifying the human being, and crushing people under its hands. He worked for the freedom of mankind. Fidel showed us that the size of a country or its people does not matter when fighting for great ideas and principles. Cuba is a small country, but its actions, its help, has been immense to Africa for the past 50 years. Even to this day, doctors across Africa are trained in Cuba, and Cuban doctors have vastly supported the health-care services of many countries including Ghana.
Nelson Mandela wrote from Robben Island, about Cuba: “It was the first time that a country had come from another continent not to take something away, but to help Africans to achieve their freedom.” Indeed, Cuba’s help to Africa has been selfless, and loving, and that oftrue brotherhood.
As a towering figure who stayed true to his Marxist-Leninist ideology even after the collapse of the Soviet Union, Fidel Castro has empowered countless Africans. The struggle for liberation from colonial powers by Africans benefited vastly from help from this little country in the western hemisphere.
When Africa cried, Cuba was there. When Portuguese were killing, subjugating, imprisoning Angolans, Bissau-Guineans, Cape Verdians, Mozambicans, Cuba was there. When Apartheid and the South African regime was oppressing (with support of the Western world) Black South Africans cried, and Fidel heed their calls. When Lumumba was killed, and Congo at lost, they called and Fidel answered. When Namibia was crushed, Fidel and Cuba helped free them from the Apartheid regime. When Ethiopians needed help, Fidel provided troops and expertise. When France was perpetrating a genocide in Algeria, Cuba helped free them.
Castro’s support for Africa’s liberation led him to meet with some of the continent’s leaders including Patrice Lumumba of Congo, Ghana’s Kwame Nkrumah, Sam Nujoma of Namibia, Nelson Mandela of South Africa, Muammar Gaddafi of Libya, and Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe.
Responding to calls for help from the Angolan leader Agostinho Neto who was trying to liberate his country from the Portuguese, Castro sent troops to Angola. Today, Angola is free of civil war thanks to the unfailing support of Fidel. Cuban soldiers are documented to have fought alongside Namibians and South Africans to prevent the apartheid regime from spreading all over southern Africa. They have also helped in Mozambique, and Guinea Bissau & Cape Verde supporting Amilcar Cabral. Between 1966 and 1974 a small Cuban force proved pivotal in the Guineans’ victory over the Portuguese. This time Cuba’s involvement also stretched to medical support (Cuban doctors) and technical know-how. Ultimately, Cuba’s successful battle against South Africa in Angola also hastened the Apartheid regime’s withdrawal from Namibia after 70 years of occupation, and led to that country’s subsequent independence.
Cuban troops have since the 1960s, served in Algeria, Guinea, Guinea Bissau, Equatorial Guinea, Sierra Leone and Libya. Cuba was a thorn for the imperialists in Africa, France in Algeria, Portugal, Great Britain, South Africa, etc.
In a 1998 speech, Fidel Castro told the South African Parliament (it was his first visit to the country) that by the end of the Cold War at least 381,432 Cuban soldiers and officers had been on duty or “fought hand-in-hand with African soldiers and officers in this continent for national independence or against foreign aggression.”
Altogether fitting was Cuban President Raul Castro’s address at Nelson Mandela’s funeral in 2013. In Johannesburg, Raul reminded his audience: “We shall never forget Mandela’s moving homage to our common struggle when on the occasion of his visit to our country on July 26, 1991, he said, and I quote, ‘the Cuban people have a special place in the hearts of the peoples of Africa’.”
Upon arrival in Havana, Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe said, “Fidel was not just your leader. He was our leader and the leader of all revolutionaries.”
So in essence, many countries in Africa became independent thanks to Cuba and Fidel Castro, thanks to his ideals and his love of freedom. I am not sure that there is a single African country which has not benefited in some way shape or form from Cuba. We all owe Fidel our love, our lives, our freedom, and we salute him: So long El Commandante, thanks to you, we are free! Thanks to you, we fought a long battle and won! thanks to you, we started new chapters and became ‘free’ countries! Africa owes you so much!
Today I would like to talk about Kinshasa, the capital and largest city of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). It is located on the Congo River, which happens to be Africa’s largest river, the deepest river in the world, and the third largest in the world by the volume it discharges. Kinshasa is a city of over 9 million inhabitants and directly faces Brazzaville, the capital of the Republic of the Congo: these two sister cities are separated only by the river Congo (the only place in the world where two capitals of two countries face each other). Residents of Kinshasa are known as Kinois.
When did it all start? Well, Kinshasa was founded in 1881 as a trading post by the explorer Henry Morton Stanley who named it Leopoldville in honor of the Belgian king Leopold II, who controled the immense territory of DRC as his private property and not just as a colony. Prior to 1920, all goods arriving by sea in Congo were carried by porters from Matadi (the main port city of Congo), and Leopoldville over 150 km from the coast. From 1886 to 1926, Boma (located on the Congo estuary) was the capital of the Belgian Congo; but after 1926, Leopoldville became the capital.
In 1965, Joseph-Desire Mobutu who had risen to power after coups d’etat against Patrice Lumumba in 1960, and a second one in 1965, renamed the city Kinshasain an effort to africanize the names of the people and places in the country. Kinshassa was the name of a village which used to be near the site of the present city. In Kikongo, Kinshasa means “the salt market“: “nshasa = salt” and locator ‘ki‘.
The region of Pool Malebo, where Kinshasa is located, has been inhabited since at least the first millenium before our era. However, before colonization, different Bantu groups have occupied the area. During the 16th and 17th centuries, the region of Pool Malebo became a major commercial hub between the river basin and the coastal regions. The Bobangis (also called Bangala, or people of the river) managed the major part of the commerce with the equatorial forest by navigating the river up to the Téké villages of Pool. During the 18th and 19th centuries, more villages develop themselves in the area, which became known as the Batéké plateau. The principal Téké villages were Nsasa with almost 5,000 inhabitants, and Ntambo with at least 3,000. By the time Henry Morton Stanley reached the area on 12 March 1878, the region was already home to 66 villages, and a total population of over 30,000 inhabitants. Stanley chose this location as it was the area where the Congo river became navigable.
By the time the city changed its name from Leopoldville to Kinshasa in 1966, the city rapidly grew due to rural exodus of people coming from all parts of the country in search of a better life. In 1974, Kinshasa hosted ‘The Rumble in the Jungle‘ boxing match, a historic match between Muhammad Ali and George Foreman, in which Ali defeated Foreman to regain the World Heavyweight title. This has been one of Ali’s most famous matches: if you watch the movie Ali, you can see scenes of Kinshasa there.
Situated in an area belonging to the Batéké and Bahumbu people, the lingua franca of the city is the Lingala, while the administrative language is French. Kinshasa is also a province of DRC (a bit like the district of Columbia in the US), and is the second largest francophone city in the world, after Paris. Its current population is 9 million inhabitants, making it Africa’s second largest cities after Lagos in Nigeria. Please check out the website for the city of Kinshasa, and Kinshasa-Congo travel to learn about the great city of music and art; I also liked the blog kosubaawate which goes through the evolution of Kinshasa then and now (i.e. before independence and now). Enjoy the video below which I enjoyed for its quality, music, and of course its great content.
Words cannot express my extreme sadness at the loss of yet another one of our revolutionaries. ‘El Comandante‘, Hugo Chavez, has left us yesterday to join the land of his ancestors. I am extremely saddened at his passing, but I am also grateful to have lived in a time when I could see Hugo Chavez at work for his country, at a time when I could see what it meant for a leader of a poor country to have love and vision for his country. Few leaders in the world have fought against western imperialism as Hugo Chavez did. He led the bolivarian revolution against the US influence in Venezuela, and Latin America. He gave back hope to his people, emancipated millions of Venezuelans, regained control of the economy of Venezuela, and worked for world peace by openly opposing the US and its colonial wars. Millions of Venezuelans regained sight, were taught how to read, or just visited the doctor for the first time, because of Chavez’ laws. Those will remember him forever. Hugo Chavez was a bright star who gave hope to millions across the globe. He gave us the strength to believe that we, the oppressed of the world, could one day be free. He was often depicted in the Western media as a dictator (but then again, which progressist or revolutionary has ever been depicted otherwise in the western press?) because of his frankness and clear fight for the interest of the Venezuelan people. Chavez was a true sincere politician and loyal to his people.
El Comandante used to say: “Let the dogs of the empire bark, that’s their job. Our job is to fight to achieve the true liberation of our people.” You (Chavez) gone, who will fight again for us? who will voice our opinions? who will lead us? We have to keep true to your ideals, and keep our head up. Thank you Commandante, for showing us the way, for showing us beauty and hope in this world.
Hugo Chavez also said: “Love is the combustible of a revolution.” El Comandante gave us just that: love, hope, dignity, and peace. So long, brother. Like Franklin Boukaka said “your work is that of humanity“… you have now joined the greats of this world: Che Guevara, Patrice Lumumba, Thomas Sankara, Kwame Nkrumah, Mouammar Kadhafi, Amilcar Cabral, … Long live to your ideals!
Please enjoy this video “The revolution will not be televised” which shows the coup fomented by the US against Hugo Chavez in 2002 where Chavez was removed from power by American military; and for the first time in world history, a president was brought back to power by his people who refused to give into American threats. The people defeated the machine! This documentary was made possible because of the presence of some European journalists from Arte who were in the country at the moment of the coup.