Peace, Refugee Stories, Social Issues

Belgian “sorry” is not enough for the Congolese

By Nadia Nsayi
Pax Christi Flanders

In an interim report calls a working group of the UN around people of African descent in Belgium the Belgian State on to to express apologies for the atrocities committed during the colonization. Policy Officer Nadia Nsayi goes into a title expands on the content of the report.

This week a working group of the United Nations shared a preliminary report and recommendations on the human rights situation of people of African descent in Belgium (Afro-Belgians). The findings of the group confirm what we already read in previous studies such as the study of the King Baudouin Foundation from 2017: structural racism and discrimination prevent full participation of African Belgians in our society. The report shows what opinion makers have said for quite a while: there is a link between Belgium’s colonial past in Africa and the contemporary racism against people of African descent in Belgium.

The Belgian colonialism in Congo was a cocktail of imperialism–the urge for overseas territories to dominate–and capitalism—the profitable exploitation of raw materials and local forced labourers. This economic project was promoted as a ‘humanitarian mission’ of civilization that was based on a racist ideology of white superiority and black inferiority. The suppression of the Congolese lasted 75 years. The legacy of that colonization is still visible today, but also felt by surviving relatives.

Colonial life ideas and complexes. According to studies, Afro-Belgians, the largest group coming from the ex-colony Congo, face structural discrimination in education, in the labour market and on the rental market. This does not mean that all white Belgians are racists, or that all Afro-Belgians have no chance. But it expresses the fact that people in our country with black skin too often face unequal opportunities compared to their white fellow human beings. This is not acceptable.

I find it distressing to see that racism and discrimination continue to ruin our society. Since the visit of the UN group in 2005, there are fortunately also steps which have been put forward, though those are too small. However, I am hopeful. Local politicians and ordinary citizens take joint initiatives to look at our colonial past straight in the eye. They choose together a future with more mutual understanding and respect…

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Despite the cynicism, there are still Congolese people who believe in a better future

by Nadia Nsayi
Pax Christi Flanders

The elections in Congo seem like a soap: predictable, but also with unexpected twists, even for loyal viewers. In recent years I have worked together with many Congolese for the organization of credible elections. Not because I believe that elections are a panacea to deal with the many problems in the country. But because I consider them as a form of participation to give politicians a mandate and then reward or punish them. In this sense Congolese also have the right to choose their own political leaders.

So it was a relief last year to hear that Joseph Kabila was no longer a candidate for a third mandate. This brought a bit of hope for a historic change of power in Congo. For never before did a sitting president peacefully make way for an elected successor. After the regime boycotted the elections for two years, millions of Congolese went to the polls on December 30th. I saw poignant images that symbolize the desire with which the Congolese people fulfilled their democratic duty, despite pouring rain and logistical chaos.

Question marks

They voted, the millions of Congolese who mobilized to elect a new president and members of parliament. But was their call for change heard? I do not think so. On Sunday, the Constitutional Court confirmed the victory of opponent Félix Tshisekedi by 38 percent. Yet I dare to question this, because according to leaked dates of the electoral commission and the powerful Catholic church – with 40,000 observers on the ground – businessman Martin Fayulu is the real winner with about 60 percent, far ahead of Tshisekedi.

Today I watch with disbelief how Tshisekedi, the leader of the historical opposition party UDPS, enters into an alliance with Kabila, the political enemy of his late father Etienne Tshisekedi. What Kabila actually calls for the winner. Even though he had to forgo a new candidacy under pressure and admit that his ‘crown prince’ lost Emmanuel Shadary. He nevertheless agreed to let an opposition leader win. But he unexpectedly found a surprising ally in Tshisekedi. Moreover, Kabila’s platform – which will shortly become a senator – will retain a strong weight in parliament and can, through the profits in the provincial councils, monitor the Senate and deliver the governors.

Tshisekedi threatens to become just a figurant in Kabila’s strategic political game. After his official installation he will have to compete against the political, economic and security system in the hands of the Kabila clan. But the biggest challenge is to make his disputed victory ‘acceptable’ for Congolese public opinion. He does not have strong political support to govern the large, diverse and fragile Congo. This legitimacy crisis is an obstacle to stability. And without this stability, an appropriate response can not be found to the development challenges of the country. Should Tshisekedi free himself from the Kabila system, then the file of his forged diploma threatens to pop up to drop him off…

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