Martyrs Day: Are Congolese Women Paying the Price?
January 4th is a historic 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 seminal 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.
This year's Martyrs Day begs for Congolese youth of courage to overcome their fears and draw on the inspiration of past generations and stand in defense of their institutions. The Congolese constitution and the nascent democratic process are are currently under attack by those in power seeking to reign over the people in perpetuity.
An increasing number of Congolese are standing up to say no to the current government and their attempts to remain in power at any cost. Probably most notably is Dr. Denis Mukwege of the Panzi Hospital who has called on the Kabila regime to respect the constitution and depart at the end of his mandate in 2016. It appears that he is paying a political price for his principled stand in support of the interests of the Congolese people. It is hard to see the freezing of the Panzi Hospital bank account outside of a political context where the current regime is in the process of persecuting notable figures who call for the respect of the country's institutions, mainly its constitution.In the case of the attack on the Panzi Hospital, ultimately, it is the Congolese women who have been victims of rape and various forms of sexual terrorism who will pay the highest price for what appears to be a political attack.
Courageous Congolese continue to make enormous sacrifices for a better future for the sons and daughters of the Congo? 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!