Hi all, hope you are doing well during this time and that everyone is staying at home! This post is going to be a summary of the webinar that SSOZINHA hosted on Thursday 9th April with Biashara Hub and AB Crowdfunding. You may have seen the flyer for this digital event on Twitter or Instagram where SSOZINHA was kindly invited by AB Crowdfunding, which is a Congolese platform for start-ups that allows people like me and you to invest and donate to businesses that need it most.
Biashara Hub is a platform that sheds light on opportunities and issues in the Congolese community both back in Congo and in the UK, and takes a collective approach in trying to present solutions by opening up their platform to others. This is one of the great initiatives under the AB Crowdfunding umbrella. AB Crowdfunding is an organisation that offers Congolese start-ups support in funding by donation or investment. The great thing about their model is that everyone can donate or invest a little amount and positively impact a business back home, whilst creating opportunities for financial gain for themselves too. It’s a great initiative and the link to the platforms will be listed below so that you can check them out for yourselves.
In the webinar, the topic we chose to discuss with our guests was ‘What is the Congolese identity?’ - Now this is a very broad question and it would take ages to actually breakdown what this may be to people, because it is subjective, and difficult to get all the information needed to understand it in one conversation. But it’s a start, and it’s important that the people that joined the webinar could contribute to this conversation and raise more questions around it. This post is quite lengthy, but hopefully by the end of it you start to think of how you can join the conversation and what your thoughts are on this topic. It is divided in 3 parts so that you can digest it easier and go back and forth between points.
To start with, SSOZINHA asked the individuals to list words that came to mind when they think of ‘The Congolese Identity’. Some of the words that were mentioned were: pride, flamboyant, entertainment, music, fashion, hope, war, resourceful, outgoing, power-trips, superstition. Many of which were words that we had already identified prior to the webinar.
As it was a chance for people to get to know more about the book The Dark Tales of Congo DR, which is a text museum of Congolese history - we discussed our question using 3 themes identified in the book, which came from the words that were given by people in the webinar. These were: Power Trips, Superstition and the addition of ‘Microeconomies’. The structure of our argument of those 3 factors went like this: We first wanted to look at relevant events in Congolese history, we then wanted to look at the outcome of those events are how they affected Congolese people. Then, we looked at current events that are similar to the historic ones and how they have created similar outcomes. The idea was to argue and prove that historical events have played a great role in defining the culture today and drive the behaviour of many Congolese people. Each topic was raised and then the floor was opened for everyone to discuss and give their view on whether they agree, or not and any possible solutions that can be given to help address those 3 points, so that Congolese people can ultimately reach a stage where they have a better image of themselves and their community.
First, we spoke about the theme of ‘Power Trips’ in the Congolese community forming parts of our identity and how we interact. We looked at a few key historic events, such as the first ever [ reported ] threat of Balkanisation in Congo, when the prime minister Moise Tshombe campaigned for the secession of the eastern region of Katanga. Katanga was where the Belgian mining corporations were extracting raw materials and minerals, long after the days of Leopold’s reign and the Congo Free State. Tshombe felt like his region was contributing to the nation wide economy the most because it was rich in natural resources, and he saw himself being better off dealing with the Belgians and leaving the rest of the Congolese people to basically fend for themselves. That secession of Katanga did not happen, but just imagine if it did, where would Congo as we know it be today? A workstation owned by the Belgians? Would they have found a different source of wealth and exploited it themselves now that they could try to disassociate themselves with the Belgians - who were greatly interested in Katanga?... we don’t know. But the point is this was an act of seeking power by Tshombe, he did not see the the benefit in the country being unified, he saw his region and his people being of more value and why? Because they were more useful to the Belgians, to outsiders. This was happening while others were fighting for their rights to be heard against Congo separating for example Patrice Lumumba as the Nationalist Party leader - who spoke up against the division of Congo to make the coloniser’s belly bigger. It was the pursuit of power that made Tshombe feel like Lumumba and others were his true opposition and not the ones who do not even care for his people. It is funny how many Congolese people today would say Lumumba had the right idea and they hold him to a high standard. But even Lumumba’s fate was sealed by someone else [President Mobutu] seeking power, to get backing from other people, Lumumba was just collateral damage. Can you already see the link in what happened throughout those two historic events; each time a Congolese person was enticed to “sell-out” their people amid the pursuit of power.
Let’s fast- forward to today, it was not too long ago that Congolese people were outraged by the prospect of Katanga and Kivu being extended to Rwandan territory. We haven’t heard any developments of that initiative since back in December, but from the reaction in discussions that took place around it, this was not favoured within the Congolese community. Many natives felt betrayed by the fact Felix Tshisekedi may have even entertained those conversations, despite the fact that he did defend himself against the treacherous allegations. But we can’t disregard why people felt outraged... eastern Congo has been collateral damage in Rwanda’s genocide for decades now, the effects of it have ripped Congolese communities apart. So again m we have to look at this and question: why are Congolese people always led in the direction of betraying one another and in turn fighting eachother ? Some would argue that it’s because of Tshisekedi’s pursuit of security in his position of power. It’s that ‘let’s give them what they want’ lay back and take it sort of attitude that Congolese people have had for centuries - the nation and its people rarely have a ‘we are in this together’ mentality. That has translated to everyday life, particularly on social media and among inner circles where many people in the diaspora result to blaming the Muluba community [a Congolese tribe] for the way Felix Tshisekedi has chosen to act. Whether or not this is a joke or a light hearted attack - it is this regressive behaviour that defines Congolese people by some of the negative stereotypes out there ‘untrustworthy’, ‘combative’, ‘problematic’ all within their own community.
This opened up lots of great points by some of the individuals who took part in the discussion and in direct response to this argument. @comeddiekadi stated we can’t use politics to try to define the Congolese identity, this should be kept separate because we know that these institutions operate in a compromised way and they do not reflect the views of Congolese people. Which is understandable, it is rare that decisions made by people in charge have ever consulted the real views of Congolese people and took them into account, there has never been real democracy in Congo. But then @sissephora responded, and said that maybe we should relate politics with how we identify as Congolese people, because politicians are the people that lead us. Often into disarray and uncertainty, and can we say that this does not reflect in everyday life with Congolese people? There are protests in Congo every other week, there are groups of people fighting over their political views as we speak. Of course our behaviours are defined by how we are led as a nation.
What can be taken from this is that because of politics, Congolese people always feel that it is important to be heard, to speak out and to reject outsiders because of decisions that people in power have made. Hence why ‘Power Trips’ was a good theme to explore when it comes to the Congolese identity.
The second point raised was explored in chp.4 of the Dark Tales of Congo DR, was ‘Superstition’ and how this hinders us from recognising when situations call for an active response from us, or just an acceptance of what is happening around us. Often Congolese people can be delusional in thinking that our superstition will bail us out of facing our reality and the consequences of us being reluctant to act on what we think needs to be done for our community. For example, in the documentary ‘Congo: Wealth of Nations’ it was exploring the mindset of Congolese people during the Belgian rule. Made to work for hours, witnessed their people getting their limbs chopped off for not working enough, being slaughtered and buried in shallow graves. All of this was happening to them and they did not have answers because they had been brainwashed by their masters [the Belgians], they had been indoctrinated by Religion [christianity] and made to think that rebelling against the Belgian exploitation would be ungodly, as it would be ungodly to want to fight for riches - even if those riches belonged to them. So what did Congolese people do? Yes many of them would have tried to fight, but the majority of them turned to what they knew best, superstition. Asking their spiritual leaders for comfort and guidance so that they can make sense of why they were being treated that way. While wealth lay wasting under their feet, Congolese people would succumb to old age spiritual fears of why their fate was to live through the Congo Free State and Leopold’s rule. They would keep going this, seeking this spiritual guidance and would always end up with the same outcome, like a recurring plague, more people suffered and more died. History repeated itself.
Now we see many movements urging for others to #PrayforCongo or remember the people who died in the Congolese genocide and just let our thoughts be with them. Many let our cries of pain and confusion as to why the country has seen centuries of devastation. While it is positive, all of that is still negating the real reasons why Congo has suffered the way it has: the actions of other people. The actions of King Leopold II who outsmarted Congolese people and took them into slavery. That is the mere fact. Let us be practical when we look at why we are accustomed to suffering now, it’s not because this is what God wants or our ancestors are punishing us. It is because people were smarter than us, and we take the bait each time. Read more about how the Belgians did this in chp.3 of the Dark Tales of Congo DR. We noticed that Congolese people can lack practicality in the way we see our country, and this in turn makes us turn to superstition.
We know that superstition is something that people find solace in, but in the Congolese community it can also be something used to discredit positive things that are happening that we do not like or understand. For example, when someone is doing too well for themselves, often they are of accused of “asimba kisi” meaning the person has used witchcraft or dark forces to get to the position they are in. We see this a lot with stars in entertainment when people do not know how to digest their success. For example, Fally Ipupa's succesfully show in Paris, Bercy in February was boycotted by naysayers, who also pushed the agenda that he has wrongfully attained his position. We need to ask ourselves why we assume this as Congolese people, what does this say about us and our upbringing? A young gentleman commented that this can be the result of our parents who are strongly religious and everything that happens within our families, they look for understanding in religion and superstition. It’s easy to use this to mask things that are going wrong so that you do not have to face your issues. You can continue to play victim to your circumstances and be a slave to your ignorance in thinking fear and prayer will eventually drive the problems in the Congolese community away. Others argued that our parents have done what they can for us, and that their beliefs cannot change because of their upbringing being very limited to speak out and not having the right platforms we have today. Which is true, we now have social media, our voices can reach the masses and we can collectivity try to find solutions to our problems. We cannot let the same things that our parents and forefathers found allowed to limit them, lead us down the same path of being dormant. @larosiere then added a very interesting point that was quite hard-hitting which was essentially, instead of us finding faults in what our parents have done or not done, we need to look at the fact that many people have tried to take the practical approach in going back home and developing organisations that are actively participating in aid-giving and investment building, but why is it never enough, we still have not found what it actually is that we need to do to “help Congo”.... could this be the reason why many Congolese people have just adopted a “turn to God” mentality, because we now feel helpless and no longer have hope in ourselves?
Lastly, we introduced the link with what AB Crowdfuning does and brought up the idea of ‘Microeconomies’ as a solution that we need to incorporate into our identity to improve it. The simple definition of ‘microeconomics’ is the following: Microeconomics is the science of how people make decisions at the small scale. You may be wondering, why is this relevant to us trying to depict the Congolese identity? Well it’s the lack of functioning microeconomies in our community that have seen us as stagnant as we have been especially in the diaspora. We spoke about how here in the UK, Congolese people hardly band together to create things that will be boost their inner economy here and back home. We compared the Congolese community to those that thrive more in the UK being Ghanaian and Nigerian communities and how business ventures and entertainment industries can be easily dominated by them because they have made a habit of breaking bread with eachother on the smallest scale [within their communities] and this then translates in their mentality. They continue to build and build in ways that will positively uplift their economic power here in the UK. Like how Congolese people banded together and supported Fally Ipupa in his first show in Europe, we need to see more of us putting our resources into each other so that we can make a better name for ourselves in the diaspora.
This made someone bring up how Congolese people are more successful and communal in other parts of Europe i.e. Belgium and France, some argued that it is because Congolese people “do not belong here in the UK”, to which @comeddiekadi responded that we don’t belong anywhere but back home - that’s just the fact of it. But we can still make a difference by supporting our inner community where we are, because this will have a ripple effect back home. @sissephora then raised the concern that Congolese people are lacking platforms that teach and promote building microeconomies within our community; where do we start? How do we know what resources are needed? How do we go about starting businesses that relate and benefit our own people... this is what AB Crowdfunding gives us the opportunity to explore. Others argued against what the ‘microeconomies’ argument can suggest, stating that we in the diaspora always think that we can be the saviours back home and come back and fix things. If this was the case why have we not been able to economically dig ourselves out of the hole we are trapped in - it must not be that simple. This links back to @sissephora’s earlier point about our leaders and how they do not provide the tools for Congolese people to rise in society and be self-made, so long as what they are doing does not directly promote the interests of whoever is in power. So we recognised that we need to be the ones to do this ourselves.
But what we identified in this part of the discussion was that there is a need for Congolese people to dominate in their own industries that have been created by themselves for themselves. As Congolese people we need to be mindful or what we give our resources to: our time, our money and our knowledge. We need to ensure that it is circulating amongst ourselves.
There were many points raised during this discussion, trying to start the conversation of breaking down what it means to identify as Congolese people and how this image can be improved and elevated. We explored the theme of power trips and how the quest for power and importance can lead to us being combative towards each other and we let the real cause of our issues go unnoticed and unscathed. We also looked at superstition and how this limits our thinking, especially for the generation before us, and how we need to take a more practical approach to our issues. We also touched on how we need to build microeconomies for ourselves, to uplift us and allow our global influence to start translating into economic success .
There is so much more we can delve into on this topic, the question “what is the Congolese identity?” is very broad and there’s more that needs to be broken down and put on the table, but hopefully this got you thinking of how you think Congolese people see themselves and how this image can be better. Feel free to comment your views on this post or @ssozinha__ on twitter! We would love to know what you think.
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We would like to thank the 15 people who were in the webinar for taking part in the first of many hosted by SSOZINHA and being so open in sharing their views.
Thank you for reading, take care!