I deliberately left for Kinshasa with no expectations. I have friends in Accra who are from Kinshasa. I didn’t ask them questions. A lot of what I knew about the Democratic Republic of The Congo (Formerly Zaire) and popularly called Doctor Congo, was what I had been fed by the media and literature over the years. I was about to see the country for myself for the first time and I wanted to be true what I saw.
To be fair, this is a country with a very dramatic life story. Starting from the greedy, gluttonous Belgian King Leopold II who began the rape. “The Butcher of Congo”, as he was called, killed and mutilated (chopping off heads and genitals) over 10 million Congolese during his anarchic 23 year reign.
“Dead, living, free, or in prison on the orders of the colonialists, it is not I who counts. It is the Congo, it is our people for whom independence has been transformed into a cage where we are regarded from the outside… History will one day have its say, but it will not be the history that Brussels, Paris, Washington, or the United Nations will teach, but that which they will teach in the countries emancipated from colonialism and its puppets... a history of glory and dignity.”
The quote above are the words of Patrice Lumumba, the first democratically elected president of the Congo. He was overthrown and assassinated by Mobutu and the Belgians with UK and American support mainly because of his Panafricanist stance and friendship with the Russians.
May be, the most popular Congolese president of all time is Mobutu Sese Seko Kuku Ngbendu wa Za Banga. Mobutu was notoriously corrupt. By the time of his death from advanced prostate cancer in Morocco, he was believed to have stolen between 4 to 15 billion US dollars from his country. He died richer than his country.
Unfortunately, the only country Mobutu really enriched is Switzerland, where he put most of the stolen money in anonymous accounts, making it impossible for either his family or his country to reclaim.
Currently, a second Kabila sits on the throne. The first one, who overthrew Mobutu was assassinated in 2001 by one of his bodyguards. With this kind of history in mind, it was hard for me to go to Kinshasa with any expectations but what I found, in most ways, surprised me positively.
I found a people who have taken their destiny into their own hands. I found a culture where both life and death were celebrated in high octaves. Kinshasa summed up for me, the resilience of the African people, in spite of the poor quality of leadership the continent’s been plagued with in our post colonial history.
The people of Kinshasa love life and colour so much, they call themselves the French Nigerians. You must visit Lagos and then Kinshasa to understand what they mean. The Nigerians might have their Nollywoods and hyenas but who doesn’t know the Sapeurs of the Congo and the Vodacom Reality TV show? Who doesn’t know the music of the Congo?
If you are worried of missing out on champagnes at every party when you leave Lagos, don’t worry. In Kinshasa, they drink it pubs, 3 bottles at a go. In Nigeria, Fela Kuti said, even when his people are suffering, they are smiling. In Kinshasa even when you are broke, you dress like that African prince in Coming to America.
Welcome to Kinshasa. Welcome to Francophone Lagos.