Tags / Congo
Decades after Belgian rule in Congo ended, and a century after the atrocities in Congo Free State - where up to 10-15 million Africans were killed - people in Belgium are beginning to confront the troubled history. The unaddressed atrocities are fuelling frustration among the Congolese, who are to this day surrounded by statues, buildings and streets dedicated to one of history’s most brutal rulers. Through art, culture and advocacy, the diaspora and Belgian people are paving the way for an uneasy reconciliation of the past.
In a home dedicated to the Catholic church community, Stanislas Koyi - a 23 year old Congolese expat - leads a youth group prayer. In this mixed group, which features Congolese as well as white Belgians, they often talk about the colonial legacy. “I never want to split the Belgians’ opinion,” - said Stanislas, “to not make them choose between the Belgians or the Congolese.” Vanessa Monzibila, seen on the left, is Congolese herself. “Our parents still have this fear about Belgium, but we - the young ones - see ourselves like them, we see ourselves as Belgians” she said - “But the Belgians don’t necessarily see us as part of them.”
Maryjo Kazadi, a second generation Congolese, attends the group prayer with Stanislas and Vanessa. “I feel Belgian, I was born here,” she said. However, feeling the optimism shared by many other young, second or third generation Congolese in Belgium, she is keen to go back to her roots, bringing with her knowledge from Belgium - “There is just so much to do there,” she added.
Bram Borloo - a tour guide, activist and a painter - leads a group of Flemish woman on a Matonge tour. “In Belgium, children in primary school learn that Leopold II was the ‘King Constructor’” he said, “which continues to construct this false image.” The tour starts among the towering spoils of the colonial era in the Royal Quarter, finishing in central Matonge. “There is no hard link with what we see here, and the [negative] colonial past,” he added, “the past is still traumatic.”
The statue of King Leopold II overshadows a walking tour, organised for adult and teenage audiences seeking to learn about the Congolese past, and learn more about the diaspora in the country. “There was an exhibition at the Africa Museum 5-6 years ago, and it was basically just apologetic about Belgium in Congo,” said Annekien Van Vaerenbergh, a guide working with Vizit for more than two decades.
School tour in Matonge visits one of the shops, which by now are mostly run by Asian immigrants - replacing the traditionally African owners. “Every teacher realises very well what we did there in Congo,” said Annemiet Geldof who teaches religion in a school in Willebroek. Yet, she is aware how little of that history is thought in class.
Street market in Matonge had low turnout few months in a row, according to the locals. Jeroen Marckelbach, coordinator of Kuumba, said it was due to increasing running costs inflicted by the local government of Ixelles. “They’re trying to push out the Congolese community, as the mayor of Ixelles said recently - ‘I will clean up Matonge,’” explained Jeroen.
Womba Konga, known by his artist name Pitcho, organised the festival Congolisation in Brussels to raise awareness for African artists, and also, reconcile the Congolese diaspora’s search for identity. “In Belgium, no one saw black people,” he said - “We can leave Leopold avenues, but can’t have a Lumumba place,” he said, “who was killed by the Belgians.”
Relics from colonial era are still everywhere, including the monumental Justice Palace. However, little is done to acknowledge the atrocities committed in Congo, which overshadowed the colonial wealth brought back to the country.
Matonge, the Congolese neighbourhood in Brussels, has a lively African market, which allegedly draws African visitors from all over central Europe. The clagger of hairdressing saloons, beating music and unique smells fill the air in daytime.
Nightime in the market, however, attracts a different smell of drug dealing altogether. This is one of the reasons the community is under pressure from Ixelles governors, who want to link the European Quarter with the up-scale Avenue Louise, by untangling the community in Matonge.
Inside Kuumba, the Flemish-African cultural center in Matonge, traditional dances, music and languages are thought to African and European audiences. In this particular dance class, a mixed variety of students indulged in rhythmic moves and uplifting atmosphere, drawing cheers from the observing posse of Congolese men and women.
The unofficial Lumumba library at the heart of Matonge is run by a charismatic and passionate activist, Philip Buyck. Together with other campaigners and the Congolese diaspora, he continues in the push towards having an official Place Lumumba recognised a few blocks away.
Ylhan Delvaux sits inside his old family home, which is now subdivided and rented out; he still lives on the top floor. “The smell is the same as it was in my childhood, I always feel like my mother is looking at me.” Ylhan’s Congolese-Belgian mother, burned herself in Luxenbourg in a violent protest against racism.
Bozar in Brussels has an office dedicated to African art, called the ‘Africa Desk’. From here, numerous initiatives have been organised to promote and raise awareness for African and, as Tony Van der Eecken called it - Afropean - artists. ”There's frustration among the Congolese that they’re not accepted or seen as part of anything here. Using Bozar to honour Congolese artists is symbolic because it’s a place for recognition - it's near to the royal palace, cultural center of the king, it has a value in the mind of the people,” said Tony.
Tony Van der Eecken is heavily involved in promoting African artists, as well as bringing to the Congolese history to the forefront. Tony remembers when there was the first exhibition on Congo, by Congolese artists: “It was confronting, showing colonial times through Congolese eyes - and it was not that positive about the Belgians. It was a shock exhibition, it was good,” he said.
Rapper singer Akon returns to his hometown of Goma, in the Democratic Republic of Congo. His trip led him to the orphanage where he spent his childhood and was greeted with excitement by the local children.
Goma, Democratic Republic of Congo
After experiencing the deadliest war since World War 2, healthcare in the Democratic Republic of Congo is in disarray and millions of people are relying on shamans and spiritual healers to treat their physical and psychological disorders. The absence of infrastructure and health care facilities, combined with a lack of faith in western-style medical treatment, means that most patients go to local shamans or radical Christian ‘houses of prayer’ instead of hospitals. Many of these ‘traditional’ health practitioners believe that mental and physical disorders are the result of witchcraft or demonic possession, and thus condone the use of highly unorthodox methods to ‘extract’ the illness or 'demon'. In the DRC, western-style health institutions are regarded only as a last-ditch solution. This attitude has only exacerbated the endemic and led to many deaths from treatable diseases.
Surrendering FDLR combatants lay down their weapons and hand over 102 guns to the Southern Africa Development Community, SADC, as the Congolese government and the UN mission witness the ceremony in Buleusa, DR Congo on May 30, 2014.
UN helicopters carrying the Congolese government, SADC and MONUSCO representatives land at Buleusa, DR Congo for the FDLR surrendering ceremony on May 30, 2014..
FDLR's interim president, Victor Biringiro completes a review of his surrendering contingent before handing them over to the Southern African Development Community at Buleusa, DR Congo on May 30, 2014..
Family members of the FDLR combatants watch the surrendering ceremony at Buleusa, DR Congo on May 30, 2014.
Surrendering FDLR combatant sings and dances with a member of his family to express his joy for having the support of the international community during the official ceremony in Buleusa, DR Congo on May 30, 2014.
North Kivu vice governor, Feller Lutaichirwa , Ray Torres and head of office Monusco Goma, inspecting weapons handed over by Rwandan FDLR combatants during their surrendering ceremony in Buleusa, DR Congo on May 30, 2014.
FDLR's interim president, Victor Biringiro signs a declaration ending their armed insurgency and leaving his troops and their dependents in the hands of the Southern African Development Community and the Congolese government at Buleusa on May 30, 2014.
Family members of FDLR rebels singing and dancing at the surrendering ceremony at Buleusa, DR Congo on May 30, 2014.
"We congratulate you for taking this wise decision to disarm. We will
never tolerate some of you returning to the forest to disturb peace.
SADC will accompany you in your political integration process and will
ensure that the agreed resolutions are respected. "
Lieutenant Colonel Omari Ujani, Southern African Development Community representative
The DRC’s head of demobilisation program, General Delphin Kayimbi and SADC representative, Lieutnant Colonel Omari Ujani, at the FDLR surrendering ceremony at Beleusa, DR Congo on May 30, 2014..
FDLR's interim president, Victor Biringiro shaking hands with North Kivu's vice governor, Feller Lutaichirwa, after their 20 year old rebellion in Buleusa, eastern DR Congo.
"No one in this world can claim to build his country by taking up arms "Now that you become civilians , you have the possibility of claiming your right to political participation. The Congolese government will
ensure that you and your dependents are safe and do not miss anything."
Feller Lutaichirwa, Northen Kivu Vice-Governor
Ammunition surrendered by FDLR combatants to the Southern African Development Community and the Congolese government at the ceremony in Buleusa, DR Congo on May 30, 2014.
Victor Biringiro, FDLR’s interim president, during the surrendering ceremony in Buleusa, DR Congo on May 30, 2014.
" We lay down our weapons because we want the SADC to help us win an inter-Rwandan frank, sincere and highly inclusive dialogue. We need a
secure space to freely exercise our right to political participation".
One hundred and five surrendering FDLR combatants at the Kateku primary school where the official ceremony with the international community representatives was held in Buleusa, DR Congo on May 30, 2014..
North Kivu Vice Governor Feller Lutaichirwa, Ray Torres, MONUSCO Goma’s head of office, and François Rukolera, FDLR president advisor walk up to the compound where the Rwandan rebels surrendering ceremony will take place at Buleusa, DR Congo on May 30, 2014.
Goma, North Kivu, DRC. Minister Moise Munyuabumba runs the 8th CEPAC Galilaya Church, a 'house of prayer', which belongs to the Pentecostal movement. Pentecolism is a form of Christianity that emphasizes the work of the Holy Spirit and the direct experience of the presence of God by the believer. Minister Munyuabumba has been using religion to try and heal the mental and physical disorders of the people who come to his church.
Goma, North Kivu, DRC. Here Minister Moise Munyuabumba is giving a sermon at the house of prayer. Every saturday people come to him in the hope of being healed. They believe in divine healing through prayer and consider all illness a consequence of the sin of man.
Goma, North Kivu, DRC. Minister Munyuabumba tries to treat Beat Mekarubamba, who has breast cancer. The Minister says she has cancer because she is the second wife of a polygamist and that she will only be healed if she accepts her sin.
Goma, North Kivu, DRC. This is Lwanda Binwa, a regular at the 8th Cepac Galilaya Church. She began to have prophetic visions about Beat Mekarubamba, the woman with breast cancer (previous picture). She went into a trance and was making prophecies for around 15 minutes.
Goma, North Kivu, DRC. Men pray at Minister Munyuabumba's church.
Goma, North Kivu, DRC. Nyota Kanyere says that thanks to Minister Moise Munyuabumba, she was cured of madness.
Goma, North Kivu, DRC. Isaac Rwanamiza is a traditional healer from the Bakumu tribe. These shamanic healers are recognized by the Congolese Government and supported by the Ministry of Health.