With this short post, I will be talking about a topic that is not related to my studying or my travelling abroad but something that means a lot to me and is something that has been playing on my mind a lot this month: this post is about the Democratic Republic of the Congo. A country which my parents originate from. A country home to the most beautiful African rumba you will ever hear; a country rich in its natural beauty, natural resources and its diverse ethnic groups; a country filled with the most amazing, hilarious and talented people ever. And despite all of this richness and beauty, the Congo is a country which has not to experience political peace or economic stability, despite being independent from Belgian colonial rule since 1960.
I remember when I first visited Congo back in 2015. I was 17 years old and the feelings I had before the trip was just pure excitement: I was excited to meet some of my parent’s siblings for the first time, meet some cousins and explore the capital city of Kinshasa. I had the chance to do all of this and on top of that, I also volunteered at a children’s orphanage in an area called Limité in Kinshasa, something that I really want to do again when I go back. If anything, visiting Congo made me realise just how important it is to go back and see how my parents grew up, how my grandparents lived, more about my family, my background, I could go on. But most importantly, it made me realise something really important which I repeat to myself daily:
You will not know who you are or where you will end up in your life if you do not know where you’re from.
Now, I’m going to be straight up with you: I do not know everything about the history of the Congo such as the Kingdom of Kongo. But going back made me feel proud to be Congolese: I am proud of our natural beauty, I am proud to be able to speak Lingala, to cook and eat Congolese food, to listen and dance to Congolese rumba/Soukous. These are the things that make me feel proud to be Congolese. That being said, I am not proud of the political instability that Congo has endured for years. We have been named ‘The Democratic Republic of the Congo’ since 1997 but there is nothing ‘democratic’ about the Congo. With the continuing corruption, exploitation and violence that has been taking place, I always have that same thought on my mind: When will the 81 million Congolese men, women and children experience true independence? Will it be after the elections that have been rescheduled to take place today? Or will we have to wait for another 59 years just to see some peace in our country? I say 59 years because the DRC has been an independent nation-state for nearly 59 years (Independence Day is 30th June).
These are the same concerns shared by many of us part of the Congolese diaspora in the world, including those who have made a real success for themselves. When I say this, I’m relating to a recent BBC article I read titled: ‘Why football stars have DR Congo on their mind’. But let me be clear, it is not only football stars: it’s doctors, lawyers, teachers, models, other sports stars, pastors, students, journalists, parents etc. We all have Congo on our minds. All of us.
But the despite the complex situation that is happening in the Congo, my visit there has made me feel even more grateful for my parents and for them making the dangerous and difficult decision to leave their loved ones behind and come to a country whose culture is completely opposite to theirs in order to give their children and future children a better quality of life. I am grateful for them coming here in order for me and my sisters to have the chance to an education; to be entitled to free health care (thanks to the amazing National Health Service we have here in the UK); to have the chance to explore different countries neighbouring the UK and see life from a different perspective; to being born in the UK and growing up in the beautiful, diverse city of London where we have the opportunity to meet loads of new people from numerous different backgrounds, and learn about their culture as well as teaching them a little bit about ours. That’s the one thing that makes me feel proud to be British. A Black British African of Congolese descent. I am proud to be of both cultures and I have made a promise to myself to ensure that I incorporate this pride in everything I do today, tomorrow and continuously.
With the election coming up this Sunday, I really do hope and pray that the politicians who are running for the presidency are thinking about the future generations of the Congo, and not their egos. I hope and pray that this election will result in a new Congo: one that is free from the violence, the corruption and the exploitation that has taken place that has affected and taken the lives our women, children and men throughout the country. I hope that those who have the opportunity to vote are given the chance to do so freely, giving them the chance to seize their future in their own hands. I hope and I pray for all this and more, but I know that there is a lot of work that needs to be done in order to see and experience a free, peaceful and true Democratic Republic of the Congo.