International news website France24 hosted a discussion about The Democratic Republic of the Congo’s 50 years of independence. What have the last 50 years looked like and what does the future hold for this country of 70 million? Participating in this discussion were Anne-Marie Lizin, Begian Senator; Billie O’Kadameri, Africa Editor for Radio France International; Dr. Muzong Kodi, Associate Researcher for the Africa Programme at Chatham House and Adam Hochschild, author of “King Leopold’s Ghost.”
On June 30, 1960, the Democratic Republic of the Congo was granted independence from almost 60 years of Belgian rule. Although hopes were high for immediate change and improvement, the legacy of colonialism made for a difficult journey ahead. Patrice Lumumba became the first elected Prime Minister of a region where less than three dozen Congolese had degrees in higher education and where there were only three Africans among the 5,000 senior positions in the civil service. Among Lumumba’s many decisions he made as Prime Minister, one of his most detrimental may have been aligning with the Soviet Union, for he was ousted in a coup and assassinated; events which have been linked to the U.S. and Belgian governments. The coup allowed for Mobutu Sese-Seko to come to power and according to Adam Hochschild, Mobutu’s 32 year dictatorial rule contributed more problems to the Congo than the colonial era preceding it. Dr. Muzong Kodi echoed Hochschild’s opinion by stating that although the west should take responsibility for ousting Lumumba, we need to recognize that the Congolese elite have mismanaged the country and colonial masters are no longer in charge. Kodi expects politicians and government figures to take responsibility for the way the country is being run.
It’s rarely been said that a country’s problems come from being too wealthy, but according to Hochschild, his Congolese friends have told him just that. While the DRC is rich in natural resources, most of the wealth from those resources has flowed overseas and not benefited those that live in the country.
Those who attended this year’s Independence Day celebration include the UN Secretary General, 18 African heads of state and the King of Belgium, the former colonial power of the Democratic Republic of Congo. Although the king of Belgium was invited to attend the celebration, Billie O’Kadameri asserts that history will not be forgotten and the Congolese government is supporting the children of Lumumba who are bringing charges forward against Belgian officials for complicity in his assassination. Working to move forward while reconciling the past is a challenge that the DRC and many other African nations are facing.
Although the conversation around the DRC is a serious one, there was some light-heartedness that was brought into the discussion. After listening to the Independence Cha Cha Cha, which was first played in Brussels when the date of independence was announced, O’Kadameri reflected on the talent of Congolese musicians by reflecting on the joke, “The Congolese can mismanage their country, but if you give them a guitar, they will manage that very well.”