Monday, June 26, 2017

Cultural center warns against DRC’s move to silence artists’ voices

For Immediate Release

Goma – Monday 26 th 2017. The Nyavu Network, regrouping 7 cultural centers across the Great Lakes region and southern Africa calls for the immediate release of four artists detained by the government of the Democratic Republic of Congo, DRC.

On Friday June 23 rd , photographer Mugabo Baritegera, visual artist Benito Mupenzi, In situ performance installator Precy Numbi and Taylor Ndungo were arrested during a live performance calling for the end of the ongoing massacres in the regions of Beni (eastern DRC) and Kasaï (centre of the country). The live exhibition was going on at Signers crossroad, in the town of Goma, capital of North Kivu province.

"These artists and many of us who work through art and creativity in this country are trying to foster positive open dialogue in a moment when we need to come together in peace and cooperation. Silencing the art voices now is like stifling a nonviolent and cooperation voice" said internationally acclaimed filmmaker and activist Petna Ndaliko Katondolo, Director and Co-Founder of Yole!Africa, member of the Nyavu Network.

The four artists have been transferred to Goma central prison and waiting for their trial. Since August 2016, the death of Kasaï traditional leader Kamwena Nsapu in fighting with security forces deteriorated into a violent conflict that has claimed lives of more than 3 000 people, according to the Catholic Church. The UN discovered more than 42 mass graves in the region in the region and counted more than 1.3 millions internally displaced people as the result of the conflict.

Civil society and human rights organizations have been calling for an independent investigation to clarify responsibilities in the violence; a call that doesn’t resonate with DRC government.

“In a country that has been torn by conflict for decades, silencing nonviolent artists will reinforce among youth the dangerous perception that violence is the only language to be heard” added Mr. Ndaliko.

Being a member of the Nyavu Network, Yole!Africa, an organization that has been promoting nonviolent activism in DRC since 15 years, serving more than 17 000 youth, is closely following hopes that the government will engage in a more cooperative process when dealing with artists speaking out for the general masses.

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For further details or book an interview, please, contact Gaius Kowene via
email or call +243 973 95 00 95.

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Free Jean-Marie and Sylva: Dispatches from the Ground

The reality of young Congolese fighting to get their comrades Jean Marie Kalonji and Sylva Mbikayi out of military detention.
  • Unknown numbers are calling the current leaders with death threats. The person on the line shared very personal information about these leaders in order to demonstrate that they have been following them for a while.
  • They have been followed throughout the city by pickup trucks in the past 48 hours. Two cars of family members of the detained youth have been set ablaze.
  • When going to the DEMIAP military detention center to seek information on the detained youth, the soldiers issue death threats to the advocates.
  • When going to seek support from the human rights office at the UN mission (MONUSCO), the response is that they don't have anyone available on the weekends and someone will follow up next week.
  • Some people in the whatsapp groups the arrested leaders were a part of are receiving anonymous calls and threats as well
  • An attorney from a local and internationally known organization did not want to go to DEMIAP. He said "if they arrested Sylva knowing he is an attorney, I may get arrested if I go there too. Let me get a few other attorneys and we will go there next week."
The movement of the youth leaders is compromised. The Kabila regime has agents throughout the country, especially in Kinshasa on University campuses. The threat to the lives of the youth is real, yet they continue to go out to demand the release of their leaders from military detention. If you don't call it courage... I don't know what courage is then.

Kambale Musavuli
Friends of the Congo

Take action to support the Congolese Youth!

Saturday, June 24, 2017

On Friday, June 23 at 4:30 PM Kinshasa time, the Coordinator of the youth group Quatrieme Voie/Il Est Temps, Jean-Marie Kalonji was detained by the Congolese armed forces. On a visit to a family member, Congolese security forces stopped Jean-Marie in the Salongo neighborhood in the Lemba commune of Kinshasa. He was interrogated and then asked to produce identification. He did not have his identification with him. The Congolese military personnel then whisked him away to camp Bumba. No reason was given for his arrest.

When news about Jean Marie's arrest reached the Quatrieme Voie leadership, fellow attorney and Quatrieme Voie spokesperson, Sylva Kabanga Mbikayi went to see about his colleague. Upon arrival at camp Bumba, Sylva Mbikayi was also detained. The two Quatrieme Voie leaders are currently being held by the Congolese armed forces at the Military Detection of Unpatriotic Activities (DEMIAP) without charge or cause.

Quatrieme Voie released a press statement calling on the Congolese armed forces and the Kabila regime to immediately release their two leaders.

This is the second time that Jean-Marie Kalonji has been arrested by the Kabila regime. The first time was in December 2015 when he was kidnapped and disappeared by Congo's intelligence Services during which time he was tortured and held incommunicado for several months. It was only after serious questions about whether he was alive or dead and intense pressure by Congolese youth and supporters outside Congo that the Congolese government produced Jean-Marie and moved him to the Makala prison. After a period in the Makala prison, he was released and has been under close watch by the Kabila regime since his release in August 2016.

The repressive measures taken by the Kabila regime has increased substantially as he attempts to hold on to power against the will of the Congolese people. Congo's Catholic Church issued a declaration on June 23rd in which it stated that a small minority is holding millions of Congolese hostage. The Church said this is "unacceptable" and exhorted the people to stand up, get more engaged and take their destiny into their own hands.

We encourage you to share this story widely and call on the Congolese authorities to immediately release Jean-Marie Kalonji and Sylva Kabanga Mbikayi.

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Friday, April 07, 2017

Are there intellectuals in the Struggle for Democratic Change in the Congo?

Are there intellectuals in the Struggle for Democratic Change in the Congo?
By S.N. Sangmpam**
Syracuse University, USA

The current violence-ridden impasse in the search for democratic change in Congo-Kinshasa has frequently featured debates in which protagonists profusely invoke, lament, or call for the salutary role of “Congolese Intellectuals.”  Are there intellectuals in the Congo or in the Diaspora?  If there are, what exactly do they do?  And what should they do?

I should avoid unnecessarily drawn-out definitions of intellectuals. I will not touch upon categories such as “organic intellectuals” or “public intellectuals.”  For my purpose, a reference to Mongo Beti, the Cameroonian writer and intellectual, will suffice.  In his sustained dissidence from the political regimes of Ahmadou Ahidjo and Paul Biya in Cameroon, Mongo Beti defined intellectuals as “the national category whose conscience is most demanding, most sensitive, and thus, most tormented.  It is no accident that, in all the situations of oppression and injustice, it is the intellectual whose protests are first heard.” (**Le Rebelle II, Paris: Gallimard 2007, 221).   Upon reflection, Mongo Beti’s characterization of intellectuals suggests that it involves four requirements. 

The first requirement is that an intellectual ought to possess a powerful and functional brain.  It is no surprise that such a brain is most sensitive.  Nor should it come as a shock that only such powerful brain can be most demanding and tormented.  After all, at the root of high intellectual activities lies the “intellect,” the power to know, to reason, to discern, and to comprehend as opposed to the power to feel and to will.  The intellectual possesses a mental capacity much above the average.   There is no doubt that, if a systematic comparison of scholastic records were to be done, those people who later became intellectuals would reveal earlier on in their lives (especially at school) a higher mental capacity than their classmates or peers. 

The second requirement is that such a brain, however powerful, must be nourished and developed.  The brain needs to be shaped and fed by the cumulative outcomes of humanity’s cross-fertilized, tested, contested, and accepted ideas and knowledge.  This process requires schooling.  But not every type of schooling is conducive to the making of intellectuals.  Good schools in general are a must, and very good or excellent universities in particular a sine qua non.  It is possible for a small category of people to become intellectuals without necessarily benefiting from great schooling.  This is the case of some  poets, playwrights, or writers.  They are able to do so on the basis of their powerful brain.  In reality, however, most intellectuals have been products of good schooling.  On the other hand, university training by itself does not make one an intellectual.  

Because of their (expected) rigorous training of the brain, university, especially graduate, programs can be viewed as “default makers” of intellectuals.  Yet, just as any default application’s outcomes of a device are not always the most optimal, so too university and graduate programs are not a guarantee that intellectuals are made.   Graduates of trade or professional schools (engineering, business, law, medicine) are or may be well educated professionals; but they are not necessarily intellectuals.  Nor is every holder of a graduate degree (an MA or doctorate) an intellectual.  In addition to the requirements of a powerful brain and good schooling, two other requirements are in order. 

The third requirement is that an intellectual must not relativize or falsify the truth.  There is truth and untruth or falsehood.  Both are not equal or equivalent, and do not carry the same weight.  Indeed, requirements one and two about a powerful brain and good schooling predispose an intellectual to search for and uphold the truth.  This is why good intellectual work abhors falsehood and is premised on “finding the truth.”  Intellectual work so values the truth that it does not hesitate to challenge and reject well established and accepted ideas, models, or theories which do not conform to the truth.  One life’s core truth is that injustice and oppression in any society are repugnant; justice and abhorrence of oppression are acceptable absolutes.  A powerful and, hence, sensitive brain of an intellectual should see these opposites.  That is why it is the “most tormented” in the face of oppression.  And just as intellectuals challenge and reject accepted but erroneous models, so, too, they should challenge and reject those who practice injustice and oppression.  However well-educated one may be, relativizing or sacrificing the truth disqualifies one as an intellectual.    
The fourth requirement—flowing from the first three-- is that an intellectual must make some contribution to humanity’s cumulative cross-fertilized, tested, contested, and accepted ideas and knowledge or to justice and the fight against oppression.   

Not long ago, I was made aware of a video.  In it a street reporter of an internet news outlet about the Congo interviews the Kuluna.   The Kuluna are a horde of school dropouts and unemployed youth in Kinshasa, who had turned to drug and crime and who terrorize neighborhoods at night or even in broad daylight.  Both the reporter and the interviewed Kuluna refer to the visibly drugged leaders of the gang as “the intellectuals.”  The use of the term “intellectual” by and for the Kuluna is comical, to be sure.  But it is both a reflection of and a metaphor for the Congo situation.  In the Congo, the use of the term “intellectual” does not meet the four requirements.  Invariably, it bypasses three of the four definitional requirements to privilege only a truncated version of requirement two.  It emphasizes some form of formal schooling or education.   Although I have no idea about the level of formal education attained by the Kuluna leaders dubbed “intellectuals,” it is reasonable to assume that they have achieved some level of education, which is higher than that of their fellow Kuluna and followers.  They may have done some years in elementary or secondary school.  They may even have spent some time at the university.   Such formal education, however truncated and devoid of any substantive merit, proffers to them the title of “intellectuals.” 

The misapplication of the term intellectual is not a new phenomenon in the Congo.  During the insurgencies of the 1960s was “an intellectual” anyone who could read, speak French fairly well, was an elementary school teacher, or was a lowly clerk in the public administration.  Depending on their allegiance to the insurgency, these “intellectuals” were made leaders in the political hierarchy.  On the other hand, often harsh punishment was meted out to those among them whose lukewarm or lack of allegiance was viewed as an effect of their alienation as intellectuals.  From the late 1960s to the 1990s, when it was a rarity to have a musician with a high school diploma, any musician who had spent some years in high school was called musicien intellectuel.    In more recent times, this term has been even more boastfully extended to or appropriated by the handful of musicians who attended the university, whether they completed their degree or not.  Examples include the late Kester Emeneya and Koffi Olomide.   It is for all these reasons that in the 1970s Valentin Mudimbe, then a professor at the National University of Zaire, attempted to provide clarity for the term intellectual in “who is intellectual in Zaire?”.   Unfortunately, Mudimbe’s nomenclature of intellectuals in Zaire did not provide the needed clarity.  It ended up applying the term to undeserved categories simply because they had some form of education.   This distorted view endures.  Today anyone who has some form of a university diploma is an “intellectual.”  

In reality, most of these categories of people do not meet the requirements of being intellectuals.  Neither their university diplomas (BA, MA, or Doctorate) nor their pompous, vacuous, and devalued titles of “ministre,” “honorable,” “maître,” “docteur,”  “professeur,” “docteur-professeur,” “ministre-professeur” “recteur,” or “pasteur” are substitutes for the requirements.  In fact, the use of the term “intellectual” by and for the Kuluna is an apt metaphor for the status of “intellectuals” in the Congo.  To make this point, a few words about the socioeconomic reality of the Congo under Mobutu and Kabila are in order. 

I lived under the Mobutu regime for twelve years.  I have visited and done research in the Congo under the Kabilas five times since 1999.  My last visit was in the summer of 2016.  I did not limit my visits to Kinshasa, the capital city; I travelled deep into the countryside and spent days in villages.  In fact, I know the socioeconomic situation of the Congolese in the villages better than the “ministers” who live in Kinshasa.  We know that in the early years of Mobutu there was some positive change in the socioeconomic situation of the Congolese masses.   There was some hope.  This was due to factors such as the reestablishment of peace after years of turmoil and the uptick in the commodity price in the international market.  But it did not take long for hope to give way to despair.  Under the Mobutu regime the Congo slowly but surely began its descent to hell.  The descent has been made even more precipitous and catastrophic under Kabila.  The misery in the Congo is palpable.  Congolese masses endure hellish conditions in all aspects of their lives: infrastructural, socioeconomic, political, and mental.  They are hounded and besieged by crass and screeching poverty.  But more debilitating, they endure all this in the face of vile and revolting predation and wholesale looting of their wealth by those who control political power and their international associates.   Looting and predation explain the current reactionary institutional coup by the Kabila regime to block democratic change.  Holding to predatory political power serves a purpose.  It is the sure path to preserving looting privileges in resources and land; a guarantee for avoiding the attendant punishment—which will eventually occur in whatever form—for the Kabila regime, its Rwandan overlord,  and its international associates. 

At the root of this descent to hell for the Congo and the attendant insufferable humiliations for  Congolese as a collective whole lie oppression, injustice, and falsehood.   What, then, is the role of the abovementioned title-holders, who are dubbed “intellectuals,” in the face of such injustice and oppression?  The broad answer is that their role has been one of accomplices, colluders, and facilitators. The reason for this is that, despite and because of the vacuous titles, they fail to meet the four requirements that make intellectuals. 

Under the Mobutu regime, up to 1978, the four requirements were met by a tiny minority of Congolese.  There were reasons for this.  Those with powerful brains benefited from, and their brains nourished by, good education and schooling.  This was the result of the late colonial education policies that remained in place more or less until the Mobutu regime dismantled them.  An even tinier group in this minority further developed their powerful brains in some of the good European and American universities before going back to the Congo under Mobutu.  To this earlier group of intellectuals was added another small group in the 1970s and early 1980s who travelled to Europe or the United States to study in some of the best universities.   Some of these people--not all-- met the first two requirements of being intellectuals.  They obtained scholarship to study abroad precisely because they had displayed comparatively more powerful intellect.  And, in addition to being shaped by very good or excellent universities overseas, they had also benefited from late colonial and early postcolonial good education in the Congo.  Yet by 1978  Mobutu’s education-busting dictatorship had single handily brought down the whole education edifice in the Congo.  Mediocrity had completely taken over.  This two-wave tiny minority of true intellectuals faced two cruel choices.   Settling for intellectual and academic censorship, isolation, and mediocrity in the Congo; or pursuing intellectual endeavors overseas.   Some chose to remain or to go back to the Congo, a few escaped to other countries or remained overseas in their countries of training.    

Thus, under the Mobutu regime, especially in the post-1978 period, intellectuals were an endangered species.  Then the Kabilas came.  Intellectuals ceased to exist and became extinct altogether.  What is left in the Congo is a frenzied race for the acquisition of empty and inflated titles.  Like Nigerians, and perhaps even more so, Congolese crave pompous titles that they do not deserve.  To put it brutally, there are no intellectuals in the Congo but an inflation of empty shell diplomas.  Both the Mobutu and especially the Kabila regimes have prevented the four requirements that make intellectuals from being met.  The two regimes have been helped in this endeavor by the very would-be intellectuals who hold shell diplomas.  Let me briefly address the four areas.   
First, as stated, not all diploma- or title-holders in the Congo have powerful brains that would make them intellectuals.  Some of these people are well educated.  Most of them not so much.  In either case, like everywhere in the world, well-educated or not so well educated Congolese do not necessarily possess a high intellect.  To be sure, there are some among them whose higher intellect predispose them to being intellectuals.  But other conditions need to be met.  In the Congo, however, these conditions are not met.   

Second, under both Mobutu and especially Kabila, deliberate negligence and sabotage of education for political control purposes have installed mediocrity at all levels.   As a result, both regimes have depended mostly on mediocre diploma-holders as advisers and ministers.  Such “intellectuals” in name only reinforce and legitimize the degradation of the educational system.  Especially if they are boastfully known as “professeurs-ministres” or are appointed as “recteurs.”  The consequences are chilling for education.  Students’ grades, especially at the university level, are inflated by fellow tribesmen who are “professors”.  Monetary and sexual bribery, political injunctions from power holders, and systematic cheating are sure means to get good grades and diplomas.  Many or perhaps most receive their BA, MA, or doctorate with “distinction” or “grande distinction” through fraudulent means.  These abnormal practices existed under Mobutu; they have been made routine under Kabila.  A few of the holders of these shell diplomas use their failed and mediocre study programs in Europe or North America to make their claims of “intellectuals.”   

There is, thus, no respect for the norms of intellectual rigor and probity expected of institutions of high learning.  As a consequence, universities cannot help feed or shape brains to allow them to absorb  humanity’s cross-fertilized, tested, contested, and accepted ideas and knowledge.  Both professors and students become thoroughly deficient.   In a survey of African universities, University of Kinshasa (UNIKIN), which is supposed to be the “best university” in the Congo is ranked 153th with a score of 11.82 compared to 45.02 for first-ranked University of Cape Town in South Africa. The scores are even worse for the other “universities” which have mushroomed in the Congo.   Faring badly when compared to peer African universities, universities in the Congo have no chance of being ranked in any worldwide survey.   The pitiful ranking of universities is a clear indicator of the deficient level of education in the Congo.  Mediocre education has de-intellectualized Congolese students and youth.  It has so isolated them from the mainspring of the twenty-first century that they will be lagging behind the youth of other countries for many years to come—despite their use of smart phones.   Under these conditions, not many would-be intellectuals, however powerful their brains may be, have the chance to actually become intellectuals.  

Third, paucity of powerful brains and mediocre education have had the effect of producing de-intellectualized, mediocre, and venal political class and public servants.   They are pompous and title-hungry carnival barkers who relativize and falsify the truth.   Precisely because the holders of shell diplomas and inflated titles control predatory political power or help to control it, they lack the mental capacity to intellectually discern the truth from falsehood and to denounce injustice and oppression.  Like the Kuluna “intelligentsia,” they are “intellectuals” of criminal activities and predation.   Claims to “intellectual” status simply serve to have access to predatory political power that promotes venality, greed, and looting.   Recourse to vacuous titles give them the “intellectual” cover to propagate falsehood among the masses.  Thus under the pretense of bogus nationalism, they can denounce “foreign interference” to mask their looting and predation; to subvert democratic change in order to perpetuate their predatory power; and to extol the merits of a regime which, in reality, has so severely degraded the Congolese that it will take years for them to recover.  In the name of spurious “anti-racism” they cover up the insidious and murderous tribalism and predation of Rwandan Tutsi.  By the way, real intellectuals would know that hostile sentiments between Tutsi and Hutu or between Tutsi and any other tribal group in the Congo are not “racist.”  It is an accepted intellectual convention that “racism” is applied when relationships involve Europeans, Asians, Africans, and indigenous Americans.  They are of different racial stocks.  It does not apply among Asians, among Europeans, or among Africans.  Why is a hostile sentiment between the Luba and the Ngbandi or the Tetela a tribalist or ethnic sentiment, but not the hostile sentiment between the Tutsi and the Tetela?   Tutsi are a tribal or ethnic group and not a racial group when compared to other groups in Africa.  The “Bantu,” to which most Congo’s tribes belong, and the “Nilotes,” of which the Tutsi tribe is a component, are linguistic groupings and not racial ones.  Taxing frustrated Congolese of “racism,” because they denounce the Tutsi for their Kabila-facilitated looting and oppression, simply reveals the commitment to falsehood.  

The venal holders of shell diplomas are so intrinsically linked to predatory political power that Congolese should be excused for thinking that “our intellectuals have betrayed us.”  In reality, these are not intellectuals.  A member of the constitutional/supreme court, who colludes with Kabila to legitimize his constitutional coup and, thus, justify oppression and predation, is not by any standard an “intellectual.”  A “professeur-ministre,” who apparently teaches constitutional law, but who orders and condones the massacre of frustrated Congolese because they march against Kabila’s anticonstitutional coup, oppression, and injustice is not by any standard an “intellectual.”  A “professor,” a “minister” or any other official who praise-sings “Kabila’s accomplishments” and gleefully proposes the prolongation of his rule in the face of hellish conditions Congolese endure, is not by any standard an “intellectual.”  Fraudulently and undeservedly degreed advisers of Kabila (and Mobutu) whose sole “intellectual” advice is to devise stratagems for conserving predatory power by violent, anticonstitutional, and predatory means are not by any standard “intellectuals.”  All these people have not betrayed as intellectuals because they have never been intellectuals in the first place.  In a repetition of Congo’s sad history, they  resemble Belgian King Leopold’s predatory expedition force.  Joseph Conrad told the story in Heart of Darkness :  “Their talk (is) the talk of sordid buccaneers: reckless without hardihood, greedy without audacity, and cruel without courage; not an atom of foresight or of serious intention in the whole batch of them, and they (do) not seem aware these things are wanted for the work of the world.  To tear treasure out of the bowels of the land (is) their desire, with no more moral purpose at the back of it than there is in burglars breaking into a safe.” (1989 edition, p.45)

Fourth, failure to meet the first three requirements prevents the fourth from being met as well.  As colluders with oppression, predation, and falsehood, holders of shell diplomas who man public institutions in the Congo cannot be contributors to the universal norm of justice.   Their academic mediocrity and craving of undeserved titles do not add anything to humanity’s accumulated tested  knowledge.  They claim no authorship of any intellectual works that pass the international test of acceptability.  As “intellectuals” of predation, their contribution consists of publishing pamphlets in the form of praise songs for the regimes or of justifying and legitimizing oppression through empty and false legalism.   They are experts in a rudimentary and truncated concept of “politics,” which they define strategically to justify oppression and looting.  Unfortunately for the Congo, they have caused major damage.  The ditching of schools and education and lack of academic rigor and probity, which they engineer, prevent would-be intellectuals in the Congo from contributing to universally-tested and accepted knowledge.  Most are reduced to recycling old platitudes and quoting French authors.  For the few isolated true intellectuals, their precarious material life makes intellectual work prohibitive.   And their lack of conformity with the regimes renders their denunciation of oppression and falsehood most hazardous.  They are silenced, and their voices are drowned by the empty title-holders who are carnival barkers and vile praise singers of the regimes.

Thus, it is understandable that the laments about and calls for the role of “Congolese intellectuals” in the discussions about change in the Congo fall on deaf ears.  There are no intellectuals in the Congo.   No surprise then that there has not been an intellectual salutary response to oppression, injustice and predation.  Yet, there is a Congolese diaspora.    For more than fifty years now, Congolese have settled in many countries of the world.  There have been two types of migrants.  Up to the 1980s, as indicated, most migrants—but small in number--were well educated and many of them aspired to the status of intellectuals.  In the post-1980s, most migrants have been economic refugees; they fled Congo’s hellish socioeconomic conditions.  As by-products of the Mobutu and Kabila regimes, the overwhelming majority of these refugees do not meet the requirements for being intellectuals.  Their focus is material survival.   By contrast, among the pre-1990s migrants, a substantial minority meets the four requirements of being intellectuals.  They, and a very tiny group of the post-1990s migrants, can be properly labeled intellectuals in the diaspora.   They should come to the rescue of the Congolese masses who call for the salutary role of Congolese intellectuals.  So what should be their role?

For an answer, we need to recall Mongo Beti’s expectations of intellectuals.  Their protests should be the first to be heard.  Yet in the Congo it is not the protests of true intellectuals which are heard.  Rather the voices of the praise singers, who crave and hold shell diplomas and titles in the government, the sham “opposition” faction, and in the devalued academia; it is the voices of those who hold and prop up predatory political power that are heard.   Therefore, the role of the diaspora intellectuals should be to reverse this situation.  They should drown the voices of the title-hungry bogus intellectuals, who collude with those who oppress the Congolese populations and loot their wealth.  This can be done by forcefully delegitimizing these usurpers of the label of “intellectuals,” by revealing their inability to meet the four requirements of intellectuals; by shedding a bright light on their utter failure to contribute to humanity’s knowledge and justice; by consistently calling into question their credentials; and by showing that they have no shred of dignity left for being the marionettes of the Kagame and Museveni regimes.   By contrast, diaspora intellectuals should lend support to, and enhance the credentials of, those Congo-based true intellectuals, such as Kalele-ka-Bila or Mukwenge, whose voices have been silenced in their struggle against oppression, predation, and falsehood. 

In the same vein, diaspora intellectuals should not take advantage of their credentials to legitimize falsehood.  Nor should they prop up individuals or groups in the Congo, who have clearly colluded with the Mobutu and Kabila regimes to oppress the Congolese masses and to loot their wealth.  It is disconcerting, for instance, that Elikia Mbokolo consistently supports Kengo Wa Dondo, an obvious accomplice in and contributor to the descent of the Congo to hell under Mobutu and Kabila.   Or that he certifies the recent Eden Kodjo-manned “dialogue” in Kinshasa as “inclusive” in the face of its obvious intent to prolong Kabila’s oppressive and socioeconomically bankrupt rule.  There is no obvious intellectual justification for his position, except his tribal/regional allegiance.  Should I, who was born in  Kwilu, defend Antoine Gizenga’s cult-based, archaic, and incompetent nationalism and his nephew Muzito’s looting simply because of my regional origin?  If one’s claim to intellectual status rests on tribal allegiance, then one should disqualify oneself from being an intellectual and a beacon of hope for the suffering masses of the Congo.  True intellectuals should commit themselves to the dismantlement of the Kabila regime (and the remnants of the Mobutu regime).  This is the sine qua non for the four requirements of intellectuals to have any chance of being met in the Congo.   And for real change to occur for the suffering Congolese population.

**S.N. Sangmpam is a professor of comparative political economy and director of Graduate Studies in Pan Africanism at Syracuse University, USA.

Thursday, February 09, 2017

Congolese Scholar And Activist Pays Hommage to Etienne Tshisekedi

Click here to listen to the interview with Georges Nzongola Ntalaja!

Q:    Hello Dr. Nzongola.  Thank you for giving us the time to speak a bit about Étienne Tshisekedi who just passed away this February 1, 2017.  He was considered the father of the democracy movement in the Congo. I would like to know a bit more about who Étienne Tshisekedi was, what are your personal thoughts and personal sentiments about his passing?
A:    Well, I’ve known Mr. Tshisekedi for a long time and had personal contact with him since 1987 when he came to the United States at the invitation of the Rainbow Lobby and I worked for him as a diplomatic adviser when he was elected Prime Minister at the National Conference in 1992.  Until October 1993, I was working for him.  I have a great deal of respect for him and I consider him very fair.  It’s a great loss for the country, especially at a time when we were hopeful that he might help us get rid of the Kabila regime according to the agreement they reached on December 31 of last year.  So, I think that it is a great loss for the country.

Q:    What should people get to know about Étienne Tshisekedi and what was his impact on Congo’s political landscape?
A:    He has had a huge impact.  He is basically the most important leader we’ve had in the country since Patrice Lumumba, a person who although he started his political career working with Mobutu, but since 1980, he broke with Mobutu and started fighting for the restoration of multiparty democracy in the Congo. 

He was a man of principles, totally different from most of our politicians in the Congo who were opportunists who were looking for political posts and money, all of this didn’t matter to Tshisekedi.  His main concern was to make sure that the country was run according to the rule of law. 

He was the first Congolese to earn a doctorate degree in law at the Lovanium University, now the University of Kinshasa, in 1961.   He has been very, very much a law-abiding person, very, very committed to the rule of law and democratic processes.  As you can see, we have seen the mourners gathered outside of his son's house in Kinshasa two days ago showed that people really adored him.  People looked at him as, not only as a father figure, but as a leader.

In the 1990s, when we were fighting against Mobutu at the National Conference, he was called Moses and people saw him as the Moses who was going to deliver them from the Pharaoh who was oppressing and basically mistreating the people of the Congo.  So, he was a man of great stature, widely acclaimed by the people. We also saw during the electoral campaign of 2011, everywhere you went, in all corners of the country, he was received by massive crowds of people welcoming him and really giving him their support.

Q:    It’s definitely a great loss.  It’s news that came to all of us as a shock, but we want also to think about what his legacy will be.  What do you think should be his legacy to be remembered, not just for the Congo, but for the entire African continent?
A:    Well I think he’s a man of strong principles, one of which is nonviolence, a commitment to non-violence struggles for democracy.  He never advocated violence and he wanted people to demonstrate peacefully, not to resort to looting or anything of that nature and to be able express their views for freedom and democracy and social progress.  His legacy is of a man who spent about 36 years fighting for democracy and freedom - a man who wanted people to take responsibility for their own future, for their own country.  Some of his slogans were people first, le peuple d'abord, in French and also that the people should take responsibility for their own future, for their own country.  He is a person who has very, very important democratic principles.  He was not a saint, but a person who tried his best to live an upright life.  He is not known for any corruption throughout all his political career beginning in 1960 until his dying days.  He is a person of great moral and political principles.

Q:    With his passing, it is quite clear that there will be a huge political vacuum in the opposition.
A:    Yes.

Q:    What do you think the application of his death will be for the UDPS, for the opposition as well as the accord that you mentioned earlier done on December 31?

A:    Yes, well UDPS is a bit disorganized, mostly because of Tshisekedi’s long illness and long absences from the Congo and also the fact that, given the fact the party has not been able to put together a very stable administration and a financial mechanism for raising money and paying its functionaries.  You’ve had, as a result, the regime has been able to bribe some of the UDPS officers into deserting Tshisekedi and going out to form their own parties or something like that.  At present, we have two very strong leaders at the UDPS; Jean-Marc Kabunda, the Secretary General and Valentin Mubake, the political advisor.  It seems that these are two people who can claim leadership of the party. Kabunda is actually the acting president according to UDPS statutes.  The Secretary General, he can act for up to 30 days in absence of the president and hopefully, the party will organize the Congress to choose the new leadership.  Given the lack of funding, I don’t really know where they would be able to do that. 

Valentin Mbake has been on the side of Tshisekedi for years.  I remember I met him in 1991, the first time I returned home after being in exile and I have had tremendous respect for him. He is a man of great integrity.  He is a trained engineer who has an independent financial business because he gets a lot of consulting with international organizations in foreign countries.  He is not a person who can be tempted to accept bribes from the regime, so he has been very, very good advisor to Tshisekedi, so I’m hoping the two of them and Felix Tshisekedi, his son, would be able to work together, to keep the party together and try to reorganize it in such a way that they can function as a regular party and not something that belongs to a family or as some press refer to it as a Kasaian (region of Congo where Tshisekedi comes from) party.  The UDPS is not a party of one group or one province, it’s a party of the entire country.  It has branches all over the country and certainly can claim to be the first and most important political party in the Congo.  I just hope that it does not disintegrate.

As for the Rassemblement (coalition of opposition parties that Tshisekedi headed), according to the organization right now, Pierre Lumbia is the acting president, but unfortunately he is the former security advisor to Kabila and belongs to the G7 group of former Kabila allies who deserted him a year ago to form this grouping which supports Moise Katumbi, the former governor of the province of Katanga and presidential candidate of the next elections, so I’m not sure to what extent he can be trusted.  He will have to live up to the ideals that Tshisekedi defended, but my hope is that the Rassemblement, a large grouping of different groups including the Dynamique led by Fayulu and others, but they will be able to find a way to elect a new president who can be a person of integrity and a person who can defend the rule of law and democracy.

As for the December 31, 2016 accord, I am a bit pessimistic because my thinking is that Mr. Kabila has, for a long time, been hoping for this day to see Tshisekedi disappear from the scene so that he could stay in power as long as he wants because Tshisekedi was the only person who scared him. Certainly there are two others, Moise Katumbi whom he has now forced into exile and Diomi Ndongola whom he is keeping in jail unjustly, but I think that the accord does not have much chance if the opposition is split, if there is division of the opposition, there is no chance of this accord succeeding.  This is my hope, that the opposition should use Tshisekedi’s passing away as an opportunity to unite and to stick together and put the country ahead of personal ambitions.

Q:    With the uncertain immediate political future of the country, what do you think in general, this is my question to you, that the Congolese youth should be doing right now given a figure, a political figure, a well-respected political figure such as Étienne Tshisekedi has died, has gone and that his legacy is at risk, the future of the Congo is uncertain?  What would you recommend that the Congolese youth today do to transform the country moving forward?
A:    They should continue to put pressure on the political leaders, especially the Rassemblement to live up to the Genval agreement in Brussels in terms of moving forward and put pressure on them to defend the rule of law and to make sure that Kabila does not go beyond the one additional year which has been granted to him. 

Now some people claim that with Tshisekedi’s disappearance, nothing will happen, but we should remember, in January 2015 there were three days; January 19, 20 and 21 where Kinshasa and some other towns in the country were in uproar because young people were demonstrating against Kabila’s attempt to stay in power longer by passing through parliament a law that would require that the census be taken before national elections.  Since the experts have indicated that the census in a country like the Congo is huge; three times Nigeria, five times France, the whole of U.S. east of the Mississippi River and without roads, weak infrastructure, the census could take up to three to five years, Kabila was simply trying to find a way to cling onto power for a bit longer. 

I think that that demonstration of youth power in 2015 where so many were killed, we don’t even know how many were killed.  The UN said about 40 to 50, but then we discovered in Kinshasa mass graves of over 400 bodies and we don’t even know where those came from.  I think that the youth of the Congo, especially through LUCHA, FILIMBI and other youth organizations should continue the struggle for democracy and struggle for better lives for our people and certainly they will find in people like Valentin Mubaki of UDPS, Martin Fayulu of the Dynamique and other leaders that can work to continue the struggle.

Q:    As we bring this interview to a close, do you have any final remarks around your time with Tshisekedi, any anecdotes that you would like to share with our listeners?
A:    Well, Tshisekedi was a very interesting person.  I remember the last time I saw him, which was September, 2014.  I went to see him.  He basically wanted to know about mutual friends, people we know, people like Nancy Ross of the Rainbow Coalition in the  United States and so on and I looked at my watch, we had talked for about an hour and said, “Mr. President, I don’t want to take up a lot of your time.”  He said, “Sit down!”  He said, “I’m not finished talking with you.  I want to hear more about what’s going on. We talked again for another one hour and we wound up spending two hours.  He can be a very charming person.

He is also a person who was able to lose his temper, mostly when things were not to his liking, but he was a person who was very fair.  He treated people very, very fairly.  He was not in any way divisive.  He was not a person who tended to have prejudice about people.  He treated everyone equally and had respect for people no matter what station of life they came from.  He was a very, very great leader and one who leaves, I think, a very good example for our country.

Wednesday, February 01, 2017

We Too

 "We, Too"
by Langston Hughes

Oh, Congo brother
 With your tribal marks,
 We, too, emerge
 From ageless darks.
 We, too, emit
 A frightening cry
 From body scarred,
 Soul that won't die.
 We encarnadine the sky.
 We, who have no
 Tribal marks to bear,
 Bear in our souls
 The great welts there
 That years have cut
 Through skin and lashed
 Through bone
 In silent cry,
 In unheard moan -
 We, too,
 Congo brother,
 Rise with you.

Wednesday, January 04, 2017

Martyrs Day: Telema With Congolese Youth

January 4th is a seminal day in Congo’s history, which serves as a national holiday. On January 4, 1959, ordinary Congolese stood in defiance of Belgian colonialism demanding independence. Congolese in Kinshasa unleashed a spontaneous uprising out of frustration with the repressive Belgian colonial regime. In his critically acclaimed work "Congo: From Leopold to Kabila," Dr Georges Nzongola Ntalaja said the march on January 4, 1959 "sounded the death knell of Belgian Colonialism in the Congo." The unifying chant of the marchers was "Indépendance Immediate" or "Independence Now" in English. The uprising represented the radicalization of the struggle for independence. It frightened not only the Belgian authorities but also the Congolese elites know as évolués.

Nine days later on January 13, 1959 both the King of Belgium and the Belgium government announced that in due time Belgium would grant Congo full independence. In the conscience of the nation, the day represents the historic point of departure for the independence of the Congo from Belgian colonialism.

The courageous stance by that generation of Congolese served as a key catalyst for Congo’s independence in 1960. Since the 1960s Congolese have celebrated and commemorated that generation’s actions and named the day “la journée des martyrs de l’indépendance,” or in English, independence Martyrs Day. Without a doubt, Congolese of that era made enormous sacrifices for freedom and independence.

Congolese continue to make tremendous sacrifice for total independence and liberation from tyranny. The youth have been at the forefront of this fight. During the past couple years, Congolese youth have paid the dearest price in confronting the tyrannical regime of president Joseph Kabila. The Kabila regime aims to remain in power in spite of the Constitution that says he should have stepped down on December 19, 2016. The regime has killed, maimed, jailed and driven into exile young Congolese who have stood up to his regime. During demonstrations on September 19 and 20, 2016, the regime killed 50, injured 107 and jailed 406. Again on December 20, 2016, the regime killed 34, injured dozens and jailed hundreds. In spite of the agreement struck between the political class and the Kabila regime, the youth continue to stand firm in demanding the departure of Kabila and the respect of the will of the overwhelming majority of Congolese.

Courageous Congolese continue to make enormous sacrifices for a better future for the sons and daughters of the Congo? Under the banner of the #Telema movement, youth have risen to resist tyranny, defend the country's constitution and advance the nascent democratic gains. The global community should stand in support and solidarity with the people of the Congo as they pursue peace, justice and human dignity.

Join the global movement in support of a peaceful and just Congo by visiting!