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50 fighting years for the DRC 0

LUSAKA – Today, the Democratic Republic of Congo is celebrating the 50th anniversary of its independence from Belgian rule. “50 fighting years” titles the daily Zambian newspaper, The Post.

On this day, many thoughts go through our heads. We reflect on the history of this country and its great people. And many names come to mind, especially that of Patrice Lumumba.

In the second half of the 19th century, the territory of what is now the Democratic Republic of Congo was one of the areas least explored and known by Europeans. It was inhabited by more than 300 tribes, who spoke many languages and dialects, who had settled on its 2,345,000 square kilometers in the course of 2,000 years of immigration, internal displacements, wars and integration.

The Europeans were well aware that this immense basin of the Congo River had been an endless source of slaves. Several million Congolese were sent across the Atlantic ocean to Brazil and other parts of the new world starting in the 16th century and continuing up to the middle of the 19th century. In addition, Arab slave traders sent millions of slaves from the Congo to other parts of the world.

Naturally, the Congolese didn’t surrender meekly to their captors, but provided resistance with their primitive weapons: lances and arrows. It is estimated that for every slave who reached the end of the journey, at least another died on the way and a third was killed fighting against the slave hunters.

In the era when slavery proved uneconomical and was cast aside by a European bourgeoisie in full development and enrichment, fewer inhabitants were left in this martyred region of central Africa than there had been when the slave trade to the Americas had begun, centuries before.

The western powers began the exploitation and conquest of what is now the Democratic Republic of Congo between 1870 and 1890.

At the Berlin conference (1884-85), in which the European colonial powers carved up Africa, the Belgian sovereign managed, with the support of the United States, to get the territory which they had earlier contracted recognised in the minutes as the Congo Free State, the personal property of Leopold II.

Leopold II went down in history as one of the cruellest, most rapacious colonialists ever known. In 1888, he created a Force Publique, commanded by Belgian officers, whose soldiers were Africans whose induction was compulsory and who were turned into the executioners of their brothers. The soldiers of the Force Publique didn’t work in their regions of origin. Thus, their carrying out the draconian orders of their officers exacerbated inter-tribal rivalries.

On November 15, 1908, one year before the death of Leopold II, under his will and by resolution of the Brussels Legislature, the Congo Free State became a colony of Belgium. This was in payment for the king’s debt of 25 million francs to the national treasury.

In 1956, the year when the first Congolese obtained a university degree, while 90 per cent of the population was illiterate, the word “independence” was spoken in public for the first time by a Congolese Joseph Kasavubu – head of the Bakongo tribe and a frustrated student of theology – while addressing a huge crowd. However, Kasavubu was referring to only a part of his country, the Lower Congo, with the illusory project of joining it to the French Congo and to northern Angola and Cabinda. All of this was with the intention of rebuilding the former Kingdom of the Congo.

In June 1957, an amazing event took place: serious disorders broke out in Leopoldville (now Kinshasa) for the first time in over 70 years. It was set off by a Belgian ruling considered anything but impartial in a soccer game between Belgian and Congolese teams. The Force Publique controlled the situation, using its usual ruthless methods.

In 1958, Charles de Gaulle, President of France, travelled to Africa, publicising his country’s plan for granting independence to its colonies, which was done in 1960. He made the announcement in a meeting held in August that was broadcast over Radio Brazzaville, a city within sight of Leopoldville, on the other side of the Congo River. Many families belonging to the Bakongo and Laris tribes lived in both cities. To some extent, the cities were but two halves of a single unit, where French and the African languages were spoken. Obviously, the announcement of French decolonisation had a tremendous impact on the local population of Leopoldville and all of what is now the Democratic Republic of Congo.

In December 1958, representing the recently-created Congo National Movement, Lumumba took part in the African Conference of Accra, which had been called by Kwame Nkrumah. The Congo National Movement was influential throughout the country, but its main strength was in the northeastern province and Stanleyville, now Kisangani, its capital. On his return, Lumumba gave a fiery pro-independence speech before a large crowd in Leopoldville.

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By Editor – The Post

Click here to read the interview (in French) released by the Secretary General of United Nations, Ban Ki-Moon, to Radio Okapi (Fondation Hirondelle)

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Direttore Responsabile Giuseppe Frangi