‘Ensemble pour un Tchad Émergent’?

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Posters from the elections campaign still present in N’djaména with one of the MPS election slogans (photo from internet)

On August 8, 2016, Idriss Déby Itno was (re)installed as president, for his fifth term.  The electoral victory was celebrated exuberantly and was well attended by international guests. Present were i.a. the presidents of Mali, Niger, Mauretania, Nigeria, Burkina Faso, the minister of defence of France and several representatives of European Union and the USA. Their particular presence shows how power is divided in the world.

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Chiefs of State in Louis IV chairs attending (@RFI)

The war on terrorism was one of the major topics in Déby’s speech, and these presidents ‘profit’ from the strong presence of Chad in this fight. With the other leaders they are the power holders who support each other, hidden behind the façade of a ‘Tchad émergent’. Electoral fraud investigation follows international rules and cannot be invoked by the will of the people.  The leaders were guided through the beautiful and luxurious hotels in the cleaned up neighbourhood Sabangali, along the river Chari, where they were received in one of the most high-end Hilton hotels. The airport roads were cleaned and the entrance to N’djamena beautified.

Background
At the (litteral) background of this ceremony, were protests and ‘villes morts’, despite the ban on demonstrations. On the morning of the 8th, after the march had already been dispersed with teargas, a young man was killed and another man got wounded somewhere else in N’djaména. According to the testimony of a motor taxi driver, he had nothing to do with the protests. He simply came by bus, to the wrong place at the wrong time, trying to visit his family. These were the casualties to be accepted, so it seems. Not much publicity was given to it. Musicians were invited to celebrate by singing the louanges for the regime at the different roundabouts in the city. One of the musicians asked for more attention to the problems the population is facing in Chad. As a reaction, the national TV broadcasting the ceremonies and events was taken out of the air and the musician was kindly asked to move on.

That day N’djaména was not for civilians, but for politicians.

Future of misery
The outcome of the elections in Chad is heavily contested. The Chadian population seems to put up with the fraudulent facts. They have no choice. The movements, protests, people who were killed are not heard, their plight forgotten. The interests are clear: stability and security in Central and West Africa. A friend in N’djamena told me: ‘We do not matter, they forget us, we are non-existent’. The coming five years Chad will not raise itself out of poverty, movements and protests will be a monthly occurrence. Such is the forecast of pessimists. The signs are there that they might be right.

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N’djaména’s hidden side, but reality (@Mirjam)

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N’djaména ‘vitrine de l’Afrique’: Place de Nation

Many Chadians live a difficult life, also those who thought to have a bright future. The petrol income has dropped to such a low level, that the oil fields are closed down and the personnel who were so wealthy and living spectacular lives, are sent home, being suspended. The huge number of motor-taxis in N’djaména shows the hidden youth unemployment. For the last three months teachers and professors have not received any salary. And even though the reasons behind the strike by students and professors are legitimate, it does not help to get paid. They hope to take up work if their salaries are being paid in September.

Knowledge Power
The non-functioning university, however, does not seem to bother Chadian leaders in the least. Is this a deliberate policy to keep knowledge institutions deprived of good means? A population that does not know the full picture will not protest. Since the elections, there have been ‘technical problems’ with the internet on a daily basis. Facebook and WhatsApp no longer function. The closing down of several sites, however, are discussed as being a political act. The movements and protests around the elections were basically featured through Facebook and Facebook activism by the diaspora was really reaching part of the population in Chad. Add to this the high costs to make a call or to link to the internet and read an email and it becomes clear that for a large part of the population information is inaccessible, they are made deaf and blind. This does not, however, stop the younger generations to access social media through VPN techniques which have gone viral in Chad.

The State informs through state media, informing the population (who have a TV) about the huge investments of the government in the city, the marvellous plans of the President for his new term and of course showing pictures of the ceremonies and festivities sharing the image of ‘Le Tchad émergent’. The state treasury’s last billions are spent on image building for the international community.

Presidential elections in Chad: Confusion

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‘Les tirs de joie tuent les gens’
(Facebook Messenger)

10 April: day of the votes
No Facebook, no Whatsapp, no sms messages: this all leads to a weird silence. ‘What are they afraid of?’ asked Croquemort, Chadian protest slam artist, on Facebook. He is in Europe so he is able to post. The answer of other diaspora Chadians is that it is the fear for the people. We are wondering: what is happening in Chad today? Are we witnessing a real change in the political landscape? Is it possible that the sitting dictator/President will be sent away by the ballot box? Will he allow such a transition?

In this blog ‘report’ I summarize my experiences of the Presidential elections in Chad where, eventhough the official outcome has still to be finalised, it is clear that the current President Déby will remain in power, after having already served during a  period of 26 years. This is bad news for the large group of people who voted against him. The first results circulating on Facebook and in bars and the outcomes as announced by the government on 21April are so divergent that the future of Chadian politics is very insecure.  Read more about the elections in the blog of Deuh’b Emmanuel

 

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Kebzabo’s Facebook picture: in front of the masses…

The campaign
The campaign started on 20 March (see previous blog) and the closer the day of the elections the more posts on Facebook. The day before the elections  numerous were the postings on Facebook supporting Saleh Kebzabo, the main opposition candidate to the President. At the ‘Place de la Nation’ Kebzabo assembled more people than the outgoing President Déby did a few days earlier. In Moundou, Kebzabo created a huge crowd in the streets. The pictures posted on Facebook also showed a huge amount of people supporting Kebzabo in Fianga. No doubt that this is real. And it seems indeed that Déby, who certainly wants to be in power for the coming years, did not expect such an overwhelming support for his rival Kebzabo (and by the way for a third candidate, Médard, the mayor of Moundou, economic capital of the south). It is expected that Déby will do everything to keep his power. But from what we have been observing, his power base is crumbling. Are people really fed up with him?

Diaspora
Skepticism about the influence of the diaspora and social media in the political process seems to have definitively settled with the events in Chad. It can simply not be denied how social media have been influencing the process and will influence the process in its ability to follow the elections and report about it. Citizen journalism at its best!

9 April was the day the military would vote. They voted and were expected to support the sitting President. One bureau in the North, where military voted, became the issue on Facebook. The voting was not done in a private environment, but everybody could follow who the soldiers would vote for. Eight soldiers who very openly refused to vote for Déby but supported Kebzabo, were arrested and put in prison. One of them was able to call his family and they (via contacts in the Netherlands) were able to connect to the most active diaspora Facebook-writer in Paris (‘fils de Maina’) who posted the story on Facebook. Nothing is hidden; the story is scandalous.

Voting: informal results
On 10 April more information about the voting was released by members of the diaspora, who obtain this information through calling with their informants in Chad; Despite the biometric cards, stories about fraud and many strange things that are happening during the elections circulate. Apparently the voices of the population can no longer be silenced. (blog Marielle Debos)

In one of his posts, fils de Maina analyses the elections and comes to a stunning conclusion: It could indeed happen that the votes are turned in such a way that Déby will win, but this time the population will not accept.

And then there were the weird moves of the French and the European Union – who urged the population to accept the results – and their demand to Kebzabo to accept the offer of the Déby to become Prime Minister: were they preparing the victory of Déby? The international community is following the elections eagerly as they do not wish Deby defeat, as that would probably mean an end to the Chadian interventions in the war on terror.

A friend confided in me during a Facebook Messenger exchange: ‘We are afraid of what will come’.

Sitting in my house in the Netherlands, Croquemort and I were convinced that there should be a second round, after all, Déby could not claim the first round, given the results that were published on Facebook.

21 April: announcements of (preliminary) results
Thursday night (21 April) MPS supporters’ rifles burst into N’Djamena’s air. After the winning results for their President, they were full of joy. Their bullets injured a lot of people and could be interpreted as a warning not to demonstrate. ‘Les tirs de joie tuent les gens’.The fraud election results, showing 61.5 % for President Déby and hence a prolongation of his term, will most probably lead to unrest in Chad. The future is very uncertain.

Of course everybody was expecting fraud, but the openness of it is stunning! After three empty announcements that the election results would be published, finally, on Thursday 21 April, Chadian television. broadcasted the press conference. The results were read first by the president of the CENI, (Commission Electorale Nationale Indépendante) and then by others. They went from the northern to the southern provinces. I was (in the Netherlands) with Croquemort, who was increasingly getting angry and was stupefied
by the announced results. Saleh Kebzabo, who was the croq electiosnbig winner in the pre-results which circulated on the internet, happened to be the big loser. In a few southern provinces he had around 50 %, but the huge victory was not given to him. Instead, Idriss Déby got most of the votes, losing only in a few provinces. In N’Djamena he had 50%, in the northern provinces over 80%, and  a mere 24% in the south. We knew this would happen, but had hoped for results that would have allowed for a second round between Kebzabo and Déby, but alas… The regime of Déby has taken the situation in its hands.
N’ Djamena and other cities are militarized, surveillance is everywhere.

The moment of waiting had come for the opposition to take the future in their hands. Will they indeed develop a shadow government? Or will they all turn to the party of Déby, like four of them already did? Everything can be bought. These four simply have chosen to become part of the system and have a good job, incorporated in the government.

RFI (Radio France International) reported neutrally. The French have asked Kebzabo to accept a post as Prime Minister. He has not accepted. Further silence from the side of the French. And the EU? The Americans?

Facebook, Whatsapp and SMS were all still blocked. No exchanges possible since 10 April, the day of the elections, except for those who know how to circumvent, how to hack.

29 April: Protest?
Facebook and all other connections are back. On 29 April the opposition announced the real results: Saleh Kebzabo and Laoukein Kourayo Mbaiherem Médard (the mayor of Moundou) are on top (resp. 31 and 24%), Déby is the fourth with 10 % of the votes. How these figures were composed is not clear, but they come closer to the informal outcome as was reported just after the elections.

Information is politics!

read as well the blog of Makaila and see this post of Maina with his as ever strong statements:

maina elections

 

Emerging civil society and the elections in Chad

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Dominance of MPS banners in the streets of N’Djamena. (Photo: Bokal).

‘No I was not an activist, but yes I have become one, a little bit. It has to stop, this crazy country, it is a crazy country; we have oil, manpower, gold, gas, but nothing is going; life is expensive, and nothing goes; that is how it is here…’

‘I study in Douala, private law; yes the universities are good in Cameroon. Here in Chad nothing goes… so it is time things change, and I want to do something.’

‘Yes I write.. I am on Facebook… we need to do something.’ (27 March 2016)

I am sitting at the back of the moto-cycle of a friend, driving around N’Djamena to search for an ATM that still has some money. The SGTB and UBA, the bigger banks, have no money. Finally we find the Ecobank cash machine, where I can get the money I need to pay my bills. The friend tells me about his new vocation: being active in civil society. We drive along the roads where the symbols of the leading party of President Déby, the MPS (Mouvement Patriotique du Salut), are shouting at us: the colors blue and yellow with the symbol of the hoe and the Kalashnikov crossed, as if both are weapons of survival in Chad. The campaign started on 20 March, and nobody can by now ignore the MPS, possibly the winning party at the Presidential elections that are due 10 April.

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Banner of presidential candidate Kebzabo. (Photo: Bokal).

Gradually in the days after the 20th, another party – with orange colors – became visible in some streets: the UNDR (Union Nationale pour la Démocratie et le Renouveau) of Saleh Kebzabo, who was also present during the first elections in Chad just after the 1990s when Idriss Déby took power from Hissène Habré. A power he never left. But will he do so this time? Will civil society be able to force him out of his position? Speculations are part of daily conversations, but nobody knows.

The streets speak
The discourse of my friend resonates wildly among part of the moto-taxi youth in N’Djamena, who tell me they will vote, but not for Déby. It has been enough!

And it is not only these young men who adhere to this message. Also Youssouf, the Fulani driver who helped me out when I needed help, will vote for Kebzabo, he is certain:  ‘No way, Déby nafataa (he is of no use), he did not work, and nothing has changed over the past years. So what should we do? I vote for Kebzabo’.

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Photo: Sjoerd Sijsma.

 

Election hype
I was in Chad from 6 March to 4 April, and saw the election hype emerging. According to the short interviews I did with the ‘clando’s’ and friends, the race will most likely  be between current President Idriss Déby, Saleh Kebzabo (who is presenting for the third time) and Laoukein Kourayo Médard, who is the mayor of Moundou, the economic capital of Chad and presenting for the first time. Both latter candidates are pro ‘alternance démocratique’. These are three candidates of a total of fourteen.

It is the first time that the elections will use a biometric voter system. It is not clear if the cards will be ready in time and if this new technology will really stop fraud. Rumours about these cards are rampant (www.rfi.fr/afrique/20160404-tchad-trafic-cartes-electeur-opposition-inquiete). Would Déby need to fraud the elections to win? Read the different interpretations on the RFI site.

Emerging civil society
Youssouf and my moto friend are part of the emerging civil society in Chad. Earlier, I wrote a blog on the events in March 2015. Many people now refer to these protests against the wearing of helmets as the beginning of change in Chad. People then became aware that they can protest and need to do so for change and probably a better life, without poverty and without ugly inequalities, with electricity 24/24 and water that flows from the taps when you need it.

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The day of whistling: early in the morning, people blew on their whistles to protest. (Photo: Deub’h Emmanuel).

Since a few months a new civil society language is appearing. The actions are unique. The day of whistling: when people early in the morning blew on their whistles to protest and show solidarity for l’alternance. There was the day of ‘ville morte’ when many people followed the call not to go to their work and leave their shops closed. There are also plans for a general strike in the administration and a strike by university students. The various appearing civil society organisations are increasingly working together in their actions. Despite the prohibition to demonstrate until after the elections, there have been many attempts to demonstrate: the recent arrest of four leaders has led to demonstrations that were brutally suppressed (see this blog by Zyzou). These actions show solidarity among the Chadians. And not only in N’Djamena, the capital, but also in Abéché in the East, in Moundou and Sahr in the South. It seems that the first protests in March 2015 have been the announcement of a new socio-political dynamic in Chad (see earlier blog).

Are these all signs of change, of a civil society that will be able to say ‘stop’ to injustice and to a President who has been there for too long? Will my friend and Youssouf find their right? Or is it still too early and does Chad not yet have the civil society that is needed for change?

Does Lumumba’s shadow continue to hang over Congo’s relationship with the International Community?

This is a guest blog written by Alanna O’Malley, Assistant Professor of International Studies in Leiden. It is the 4th blog post about the lasting impact of the murder on Patrice Lumumba in 1961. The earlier posts were written by Catharina Wilson, Meike de Goede and Mirjam de Bruijn.

Patrice Lumumba (Collection IISG, CC BY 2.5 Wikimedia Commons)

Patrice Lumumba (Collection IISG, CC BY 2.5 Wikimedia Commons)

Nationalist icon, fervent anti-colonialist and populist demagogue – these are just some of the phrases and titles that have been used to describe the former Congolese Prime Minister Patrice Lumumba, who was assassinated in 1961. The murder of Congo’s first democratically elected leader has recently been styled by Meike De Goede, as ‘an original sin of independent Congo from which people seek redemption ever since.’[1] Quite apart from the impact on the Congolese people and their efforts to martyrize him, Lumumba’s bloody killing has also left a permanent stain on the relationship between the Congo and the United Nations.

Lumumba was dramatically assassinated by Belgian and Katangan authorities in 1961, with the connivance, if not the assistance, of the American, British and French intelligence services. The Western powers had become increasingly alarmed at Lumumba’s perceived radicalism since Congo gained independence on 30 June 1960 and the United States in particular feared the creation of a communist regime under the influence of the Soviet Union, in the heart of Africa.[2] Lumumba’s increasingly belligerent attitude towards the United Nations, whose assistance he had originally sought to protect the sovereignty of the Congo following the breakdown of law and order shortly after independence, served as a justification for a variety of attempts to oust him between September and December 1960. To the Western powers, Lumumba’s public criticism of the UN damaged the prestige of the organization and impacted upon its status as a neutral arbiter. While they negotiated behind the scenes to arrange his demise, they also denounced Lumumba’s perceived leanings towards Moscow and painted him as a volatile and unpredictable leader. What is curious about his death and its impact however, is the ways in which it impacted upon international public opinion, helping to construct the image of Lumumba as a martyr to the Congo.

Dag Hammarskjöld (By Dag_Hammarskjold.jpg: UN/DPIderivative work: Bff - Dag_Hammarskjold.jpg, Wikimedia Commons)

Dag Hammarskjöld (By Dag_Hammarskjold.jpg: UN/DPIderivative work: Bff- Dag_Hammarskjold.jpg, Wikimedia Commons)

The former Secretary-General Dag Hammarskjöld had grown frustrated with Lumumba very quickly since the UN intervention in Congo began in June, branding him “stupid”.[3] However, even before his murder, it became clear that Lumumba already represented in the eyes of the Congolese and other Africans, a standard-bearer for decolonization in Africa. The Afro-Asian bloc, who held a majority in the General Assembly and supplied most of the troops for the UN mission in the Congo (ONUC) were adamant that no solution to the Congo crisis could be found without Lumumba. They continually pressed Hammarskjöld to adopt a more favorable attitude towards him in order to safeguard the future of the Congo and peaceful decolonization across Africa as a whole.[4] News of his death was received in New York with riots and protests, even within the UN where a group of demonstrators, stormed the building. For his part, Hammarskjöld reacted with guilt and remorse, recognizing that the assassination would serve to inflame tensions with the Afro-Asians even further. Other African leaders, most prominent among them the Ghanaian leader Kwame Nkrumah, denounced the murder and called for a new, all-African UN force to be introduced into the Congo.

The reaction amongst the Western powers was far less jubilant than might have been expected. As depicted on the front cover of Richard Mahoney’s book, JFK, Ordeal in Africa, the newly elected President John F. Kennedy buried his head in his hands upon hearing the news. Indeed, the outpouring of anger and public demonstrations that Lumumba’s assassination inspired from New York to Moscow, indicated that while Lumumba’s removal from office had been long desired by Belgium, Britain and the US, his status as an anti-colonial voice of the people meant that his death would have longer and larger implications than first realized. Despite efforts to demonize him, Lumumba’s populist rhetoric struck a chord with oppressed and subjugated peoples around the world and his assassination served only to elevate that status. Crucially, Kennedy subsequently embarked on a policy of engagement with Third World nationalist leaders throughout his presidency, which was part of the Cold War policies of the State Department to prevent newly-independent countries falling under the spell of socialism. There was also an effort to recognize the legitimacy of African and Asian leaders, and thereby prevent a recurrence of the situation with Lumumba, in which a resort to violence appeared to be the best solution to deal with a seemingly intractable demagogue.

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25 July 1960: Patrice Lumumba and Dag Hammarskjöld at the UN after they talked for 2,5 hours in preparation of a meeting with Security Council members (AP Wirephoto).

For the Western powers, the assassination of Lumumba and his memory represented the worst-case-scenario of decolonization. His image as a dangerous and volatile nationalist icon even in the aftermath of the murder contrasts very sharply with that of Hammarskjöld who was killed in a plane crash in the Congo eight months later in September 1961[5]. Whereas Lumumba’s behavior was portrayed as exacerbating Congo’s problems and damaging the prestige of the UN, Hammarskjöld was immediately deified as an international saint who had given his life in the pursuit of peace in the Congo. To this day, he is described as a philosophical peacemaker who was the embodiment of the core principles of the UN and the moral compass of the international community. In contrast, among the Western powers, Lumumba’s murder highlighted the perils of an accelerated timetable towards self-determination among colonies, and revealed their willingness to violate sovereignty and international norms in the pursuit of neo-colonial ambitions.

For African and Asian nations, the assassination also represented the stakes of the decolonization project as a whole. Lumumba’s murder represented the extent to which former colonial powers were willing and able to interfere in sovereign countries, when their interests demanded. It reflected two important realities; that sovereignty was not necessarily sacrosanct and that membership in the international community did not mean that they were on equal footing with the Western powers. These were realizations that served to underpin the relationship between the Global North and South to this day and led to a variety of attempts to redress the socio-economic imbalance such as the campaign for the New International Economic Order which began in the 1960s.

Moreover, the assassination, and crucially the responses to it by the UN, the US and the former colonial powers served to burnish their image as neo-colonialists. In many cases this tends to undercut the legitimacy of their efforts in Congo and elsewhere in Africa to create and sustain productive peacebuilding and statebuilding initiatives. Even the Rwandan President Paul Kagame, a friend of the West, has denounced the UN role in the Congo, going so far as to argue that the peacekeeping mission MONUSCO currently deployed in the country has “in some cases” made the situation worse.[6] The crisis and the assassination and Western responses to both have fractured the relationship between the Congo and the international community by reinforcing the oppositional nature of their historic relationship.

[1] Meike De Goede, Voice4Thought blog post: Memories of Lumumba: Victimhood and Redemption

[2] Although the direct role of the British and French has not been convincingly proven, it has been argued that they were certainly aware if not involved in plans to remove Lumumba from power. For further, see Emmanuel Gerard and Bruce Kuklick, Death in the Congo, Murdering Patrice Lumumba (Cambridge Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2015).

[3] Kevin C. Dunne, Imagining the Congo (London: Palgrave Macmillan: 2003).

[4] Alanna O’Malley, ‘Ghana, India and the Transnational Dynamics of the Congo crisis at the United Nations, 1960-1,’ The International History Review, 35, 5 (2015). http://www.tandfonline.com/eprint/ssx8MHT7CJyUgAnasHZH/full

[5] On 17 March, the African Studies Centre Leiden will organize the seminar ‘The death of a UN Secretary-General: Dag Hammarskjöld and the Congo’. Main speaker Henning Melber (director emeritus and senior advisor of the Dag Hammarskjöld Foundation in Uppsala) will talk about Hammarskjöld’s approach to the conflict in the Congo and offer an overview of the efforts to establish the circumstances of the plane crash in which Hammarskjöld died.

[6] ‘Rwanda’s Paul Kagame denounces UN force in DR Congo’, BBC News, 20 May 2013, http://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-22594817

Rumble in the Jungle: From the January 2015 riots to the #FrontCitoyen2016

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‘Le Dernier Regard de Lumuba’, by Sapin

This is a guest blog written by Catherina Wilson, PhD student in the Connecting in Times of Duress research project.

One could argue that 2015 was for Sub-Saharan Africa what 2011 was for the North African countries: springtime. A couple of weeks ago Jeune Afrique published an article entitled 2015 in Africa viewed by Twitter: the 15 hashtags that marked the year. The article makes reference to uprisings in different, especially Francophone, African countries: #BurundiCoup, #BurkinaCoup, #Sassoufit vs #SassOui (Congo-Brazzaville), #LwiliVotes (Burkina again). To my surprise no reference was made to the uprisings in DR Congo in January 2015 and yet something important happened back then: the people stood up. In a recent article and blog, De Goede writes about the symbolism of Lumumba, (missed) opportunities of redemption and genuine independence. Are the uprisings in Kinshasa a first step to the redemption and independence that she describes? Or are they another chapter of the Congo Masquerade, “situations of disguise and concealment where actors make a show of being what they are not, where they can be both themselves and their opposites?”[1]

It has been a year since the Congolese Parliament tried to pass a census bill that would have de facto extended president Kabila’s time in office. It has been a year since the Congolese population, in response to this and to surprise of many, stood up and took it to the streets. Popular hashtags during the uprising were #Telema and #Simama, respectively ‘Stand Up’ in Lingala and Swahili. The events of October 2014 in Burkina Faso had inspired many and on 19 January 2015 riots erupted at different locations in DR Congo, most notably in Kinshasa and Goma. Officially twenty-seven people lost their lives[2], unofficial sources talk about higher death tolls. Next to the lost souls, what must be remembered is the people’s determination and victory: Their voices were heard and the law was not amended.

It has been a year since the uprising and the central African giant is rumbling. The real impact of what started in January 2015 is still to be seen. As from that date the country has not stood still. In 2015 two civil society movements came to light, Filimbi (‘whistle’) in Kinshasa and La Lucha (‘Lutte pour le Changement’) in Goma. In March they held a press conference where members of other civil movements in Francophone Africa, most notably Senegal’s “Y’en a marre” and Burkina’s “Balai Citoyen” were invited. The Congolese government denounced the subversive nature of the event and arrested its participants. The guests from abroad were freed after a couple of days, their Congolese counterparts were less lucky, the civil militants Yves Makwambala and Fred Bauma, most notably, have been incarcerated since without trial.

In July 2015, the government split up the country into twenty-six provinces. Even if long due the splitting is precipitated, allowing Kabila to get rid of adversaries and to install allies, at least for the time being. Within the Congolese political class there has been a lot of rumbling too. Seven politicians stepped out of the Presidential majority to form the G7 in September.[3] They were later joined by Moïse Katumbi, Katanga’s governor, who stepped out of Kabila’s PPRD party. Katumbi has turned into one of Kabila’s biggest contenders. The head of the CENI, the organ that organizes the elections, resigned in October due to health reasons, leaving the commission acephalous just over a year from the elections. More recently (political and civil) opposition leaders gathered on the symbolic Ile de Gorée in Senegal in mid-December and a week later in Brussels, on December 19, to give birth to the Front Citoyen 2016. The date of the launch was symbolic, by December 19, 2016 Congo should have a new president. #FrontCitoyen2016 is an initiative of the civil movement Filimbi, whose leaders live in exile, but which enjoys the endorsement of some of the opposition ‘tenors’ (including Katumbi). The Front Citoyen has two goals: (1) that elections will be held within the stipulated time frame in the Constitution and (2) that the Constitution is respected with regards to the number of mandates.[4] The movement was launched in Kinshasa a couple of weeks after it was launched in Brussels.

Lumumba’s “death,” writes De Goede, “has become almost like an original sin of independent Congo from which people seek redemption ever since.” Since Independence, the Congolese have been faced with several redemptory moments and at every reprisal the image of Lumumba emerges. The wheel of time has turned and the Congolese are facing yet another opportunity of redemption. And again, they are using  “the imagery of Lumumba to claim the agency to establish democracy, good governance and [maybe] the true, genuine freedom that Lumumba represents.” In the image below and in the image at the top, two artists make reference to the iconic character. On his Facebook page, the Congolese rap artist Lexxus Legal posts a picture of himself together with his Burkinabé counterpart Smockey (one of the founders of Balai Citoyen). In the accompanying comment he identifies himself with Lumumba and Smockey with Sankara. The Congolese popular painter Sapin Makengele recently signed a painting entitled “Le Dernier Regard de Lumumba.” In it Lumumba looks at his murderers with taciturn urgency, he knows what is awaiting him. Do his murderers also acknowledge the future consequences of their imminent act? The figure of Lumumba hovers permanently over Congo’s history, is it a mere coincidence that Lexxus and Sapin make allusion to him now or are they claiming agency?

Screenshot lumumba and sankara

I believe one can, and should, be optimistic. Last year during the Kinshasa uprising, the people did send a strong message to the government and if one looks at 2015 in retrospective, the élan did not die in January 2015. But optimism should not bedazzle an attempt to sit back and objectivize. The Congolese people are observing carefully, they are weary and sceptic; The danger of it being a politically inspired theater is not discarded. Yet there is also hope. Facebook has offered a platform for discussion where people exchange ideas and complaints. Even if redemption might not be attained, let’s hope that this opportunity will not turn into another missed opportunity. Let’s hope that which started with the uprisings a year ago will not turn into another chapter of the Congo Masquerade, but rather that it will give birth to something new.

[1] Trefon, T. (2011) Congo Masquerade: The Political Culture of Aid Inefficiency and Reform Failure. Zed Books.

[2] http://www.jeuneafrique.com/33432/politique/rdc-bilan-officiel-cons-quences-politiques-retour-sur-les-manifestations-de-janvier/

[3] Because his PPRD party does not have the sole majority, Kabila needs the independent politicians who form part of the Alliance of the Presidential Majority (AMP) in order to govern the country. It goes almost without saying that the majority is fragilized by those who step out of it.

[4] http://www.congoindependant.com/article.php?articleid=10466

Memories of Lumumba: Victimhood and Redemption

This is a guest blog written by Meike de Goede, lecturer at Leiden University.

On Victimhood and Redemption – Lumumba and historic imagery in the Congo

fig67_webTshibumba Kanda Matulu, Democratic Republic of the CongoThe Historic Death of Lumumba, Mpolo and Okito, on January 1961, not dated

In her recent blogpost ‘Legendary Words’, Mirjam de Bruijn asks the important question what today’s critical voices in Africa do with the words of people like Lumumba, Sankara and Fanon, inspirational heroes and activists of a past generation. When I lived in Kinshasa, I learned from young people, ngo workers, political activists, but also members of the political elites, police and army, and business elites that Lumumba is indeed an important symbol that practically all Congolese people carry in their hearts and minds. But it is not his words that have made such a lasting impression. In a recent article I argued that, instead, it is his death and the meaning of his death in Congolese history that carries the symbolic value. His death that has become almost like an original sin of independent Congo and from which people seek redemption ever since.

The symbolism of the tragedy of Lumumba is deeply Christian. In Congolese visual art he is often portrayed with the three crosses of Golgotha on the background. He died to save the people of the Congo. The fact that there are no physical remains of his body thus adds to the symbolic value of Lumumba as messiah. In the eyes of many Congolese, former colonial power Belgium and its American allies killed Lumumba because they did not want Congo to be truly free. Lumumba was claiming that true freedom when he uttered that impromptu speech on Independence Day and thus had to die.

For the people of Congo today, what happened to Lumumba remains an important lesson about how the world works. And people are constantly reminded that this remains to be so. The fight for true freedom, for redemption from this original sin, remains the political struggle for the Congolese for a genuine independence. The perpetual misery that the country has known since its independence is framed in this meta narrative of perpetual victimhood of foreign domination. According to this view on history, Mobutu was a pawn of Western powers, Rwandese intervention in 1996 was instrumentalized by Western powers through its pawn Rwanda, and the perpetual conflict ever since is only the latest in a series of strategies to prevent Congo from being truly sovereign and for the people to profit from the country’s wealth. Lumumba thus represents the perpetual relations of domination and subordination between the powerful western world and Africa, and the almost impossible quest for redemption.

Identifying with Lumumba the saviour of the dignity and freedom of the Congo is therefore almost a necessary discourse for anybody that advocates real change in this troubled country. When Laurent-Désiré Kabila (a self-proclaimed Lumumbist freedom fighter) was shot dead, a popular comment was that he was ‘shot by his body guard, remote controlled by the West’. Laurent-Désiré Kabila was very unpopular with Western powers, and claimed that his toppling of Mobutu was the completion of the struggle for independence. A few years later he was dead, in the eyes of many Congolese, it was history repeating itself.

Besides the power of the words that Lumumba spoke, the imagery of Lumumba is a truly powerful narrative of perpetual victimhood that frames people’s understanding of their relations with the rest of the world and with the whole industry of development aid and peacebuilding that has swarmed the country in recent decades.

Paradoxically, the imagery of Lumumba simultaneously claims and denies agency. People find inspiration to claim true freedom and dignity, and to break the dark cloud of victimhood that hangs over Congo ever since the death of Lumumba, to fight for redemption. This is a truly effective populist political discourse that any aspiring political leader will draw on. On the other hand, it is a narrative that essentially emphasises the lack of agency to determine one’s own destiny and the inability to ever escape the perpetual misery of an all-powerful west that continues to dominate Congo using whatever means necessary. It is a narrative of victimhood, a promise of heroic victimhood that succeeds in redeeming Congolese people, and a warning of tragic victimhood that can essentially never escape victimhood. As such it has become a paradoxical narrative that enables current President Kabila to argue that he is fighting to reclaim Congolese dignity, while people simultaneously know that he can actually not achieve this, or he will pay for it with his life. Even opposition members told me that they understood that President Kabila has his hands tied – ‘look what happened to his father’.

The tragedy of Lumumba has thus become the tragedy of the country and its people as a whole – captured in a ruthless game of power and money in which they are only objects. They cannot control their destiny, claim and exercise their sovereignty. Herein lies the true tragedy of the history of Lumumba for Congo today – the narrative perpetuates a position of victimhood and make people believe they lack agency, to take control over their lives and make the changes they so desperately need and deserve. The events with Lumumba have left the Congolese with a fundamental distrust with the rest of the world. A meta narrative that is so strong, and that people see constantly repeated throughout the course of history, that people have lost the confidence that they can escape from it, trusting neither western donors nor Congolese political elites. But it is also a narrative that continues to call for redemption and that gives people hope when redemption seems possible. It is at such moments that Lumumba becomes an inspiration for political action. Congo is at a crossroads, again. Will people use the imagery of Lumumba to strive for redemption, to escape from perpetual subjection to bad-governance and to claim the agency to establish democracy, good governance and the true, genuine freedom that Lumumba represents?