Tuesday, June 29, 2010
A Mute Belgian King visits Congo
King Albert II of Belgium and Queen Paola arrived in Congo yesterday. They are on an official visit for Congo’s 50 years of independence ceremony, tomorrow 30 June. Congo is a former Belgian colony and since independence both countries have kept a ‘special’ relationship. Still, it has been 25 years since the last official visit of a Belgian monarch in Congo. Last time it was King Baudoin who visited Congo when ruled by Mobutu. King Baudoin is also the king who handed independence to the Congolese in 1960, when then prime minister Lumumba made his (in)famous speech.
Kabila invited the Belgian King. This invitation stirred the opinion of Belgian politicians about Belgium’s relationship with Congo. Some thought the King shouldn’t go because Congo is still not a democratic country. Other thought he should go as this was an opportunity to reconfirm Belgium’s relationship with Congo, and to give a sign to the Congolese government about the things that should be done. But the King has decided for the middle: he will be at the ceremony but he will make no public statement.
Many among the Congolese people are disappointed about this. They think that a King’s statement could make a difference. Although Belgium is the former colonizer, to many Congolese the Belgians are still the ones who created Congo (even if it was a cruel and terrible creation). Belgians in Congo are treated with respect, they are Congo’s uncles as the Congolese say themselves. To them the words of a King could have a heavy symbolic meaning. Therefore they hope that his words can change the hardship the Congolese masses are going through. But that is according to me wishful thinking. And besides, the King decided to say no more.
Relations between Belgium and Congo have been difficult lately. President Kabila chose to sign contracts with Chinese and Indian investors while the Belgians refused to invest as long as there were no more signs of democratic change. This is a complicated argument.
Kabila was elected democratically a few years ago. While I know that corruption and oppression still control much of Congolese life, and that the vast majority of Congolese live in too much poverty without education or health care, I also see and hear that things are changing (a bit). Roads are rebuild (by Chinese contractors though) and parliament has never spoken so freely about the things the government should do better or does wrong. Still, last week the most important human rights activist, Floribert Chebeya, was killed in very suspicious circumstances and this is just one murder among others.
It is hard to judge Kabila now, I wonder sometimes how much he himself controls the situation or that he gets manipulated by the powerful people around him, much of whom or former Mobutu collaborators. I just wonder how he will handle the next elections. Joseph Kabila is not his father and not Mobutu. He is much calmer and controlled. He keeps on the background while it is he who has the final say about important decisions, or so I think.
Next to the Belgian King there will be many other head of states tomorrow in Kinshasa. Most notably: Ugandan president Yoweri Museveni and Rwandan president Paul Kagame. They were both enemies during the Congolese wars (1998-2003) as they supported rebel groups in Congo against the Congolese army. But relationships between Congo and these countries has been smoothed out recently as they fight together now against the ‘bad guys’ (the rebels). My cousin who lives and works in Eastern Congo assures me that it hasn’t been so peaceful in many years. Still, army troops with guns but no salary is a dangerous feat. And last but not least, Mugabe, president of what is left of Zimbabwe, will ‘honor’ the ceremony with his presence.
Below a videoshoot of King Albert II's arrival in Kinshasa - No Comment