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Independence, Cha Cha Cha!

July 4, 2011
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Happy Independence Day!!

So, all our family and friends at home will probably be lighting up the barbecue today, grilling up some hot dogs and burgers with a side of potato salad and some sweet red water melon, splashing in the pool or throwing back a cold one, then spreading out a blanket on the grass of the high school football field, or maybe on friend’s roof, or even out on the beach to lay back and watch fireworks explode in coordination with patriotic songs about stars, stripes and amber waves of grain.

Aww, I love 4th of July!

Jamie went and bought some sausages and buns today that we may grill up for dinner if we can get our hands on a BBQ… then look at pictures of fireworks online? Or maybe share favorite childhood 4th of July stories (like the time I lost my jellies shoes in the field by Grandpa’s house during the fireworks show and I made my parents take me back to look for them that night and probably every day for the next week because they were my favorite shoes ever, even though I had a sneaking suspicion that my parents actually took them and hid them because they didn’t think it was right for me to only wear jellies every day of my life…)

Anyways…

But just like many holidays, amid the red-white-and-blue jello salad and the sudden pyromania that takes hold of us on the driveway as we light our own mini fireworks that we bought in Mexico, sometimes I forget what Independence Day is really all about.

The birth of a nation can be a beautiful thing.

In DRC, the nation celebrated its Independence Day just a few days before the American one, on June 30th, 184 years later.  So, last Thursday, we all had the day off work, and folks took to the streets in impromptu parades, dressed in outfits made from matching African fabric, to celebrate 51 years as an independent nation.

When Congo gained its independence from Belgium 51 years ago, it was indeed a beautiful and inspiring day.

Patrice Lumumba and King Baudouin of Belgium sign the Independence Pact for Congo on June 30, 1960

The newly elected prime minister, Patrice Lumumba, gave a speech that shook the world a little that day.  It solidified him as a national hero in the eyes of many Congolese, and a potential threat in the eyes of foreigners who hoped to have their hands on the country’s wealth.

Adam Hochschild, author of King Leopold’s Ghost, describes that day in an Op-Ed piece from earlier this year in the New York Times.

“… after clashes with Congolese nationalists, the Belgians hastily arranged the first national election in 1960, and in June of that year King Baudouin arrived to formally give the territory its freedom.

“It is now up to you, gentlemen,” he arrogantly told Congolese dignitaries, “to show that you are worthy of our confidence.”

The Belgians, and their European and American fellow investors, expected to continue collecting profits from Congo’s factories, plantations and lucrative mines, which produced diamonds, gold, uranium, copper and more. But they had not planned on Lumumba.

A dramatic, angry speech he gave in reply to Baudouin brought Congolese legislators to their feet cheering, left the king startled and frowning and caught the world’s attention. Lumumba spoke forcefully of the violence and humiliations of colonialism, from the ruthless theft of African land to the way that French-speaking colonists talked to Africans as adults do to children, using the familiar “tu” instead of the formal “vous.” Political independence was not enough, he said; Africans had to also benefit from the great wealth in their soil.”

Below is the transcript from Lumumba’s speech that day.  It is an eloquent and powerful “F— you” to the king of Belgium, who was sitting right there as Lumumba spoke, and to Europe and the U.S. in general.

To me, it is an inspiring reminder of what Independence Day really means, and the passion and fight that comes from a population yearning for self-governance, whether in 1700s America or 1950-60s Congo.

You can listen to the audio clip+ English subtitles for the first half of the speech on the Youtube video below…

Patrice Lumumba, June 30th, 1960

Men and women of the Congo,

Victorious fighters for independence, today victorious, I greet you in the name of the Congolese government. All of you, my friends, who have fought tirelessly at our sides, I ask you to make this June 30, 1960, an illustrious date that you will keep indelibly engraved in your hearts, a date of significance of which you will teach to your children, so that they will make known to their sons and to their grandchildren the glorious history of our fight for liberty.

For this independence of the Congo, even as it is celebrated today with Belgium, a friendly country with whom we deal as equal to equal, no Congolese worthy of the name will ever be able to forget that is was by fighting that it has been won, a day-to-day fight, an ardent and idealistic fight, a fight in which we were spared neither privation nor suffering, and for which we gave our strength and our blood.

We are proud of this struggle, of tears, of fire, and of blood, to the depths of our being, for it was a noble and just struggle, and indispensable to put an end to the humiliating slavery which was imposed upon us by force.

This was our fate for 80 years of a colonial regime; our wounds are too fresh and too painful still for us to drive them from our memory. We have known harassing work, exacted in exchange for salaries which did not permit us to eat enough to drive away hunger, or to clothe ourselves, or to house ourselves decently, or to raise our children as creatures dear to us.

We have known ironies, insults, blows that we endured morning, noon and evening, because we are Negroes. Who will forget that to a Black one said “tu”, certainly not as to a friend, but because the more honorable “vous” was reserved for whites alone?

Patrice Lumumba, first democratically elected prime minister of DRC

We have seen our lands seized in the name of allegedly legal laws, which in fact recognized only that might is right. We have seen that the law was not the same for a white and for a Black – accommodating for the first, cruel and inhuman for the other.

We have witnessed atrocious sufferings of those condemned for their political opinions or religious beliefs, exiled in their own country, their fate truly worse than death itself.

We have seen that in the towns there were magnificent houses for the whites and crumbling shanties for the Blacks; that a Black was not admitted in the motion-picture houses, in the restaurants, in the stores of the Europeans; that a Black traveled in the holds, at the feet of the whites in their luxury cabins.

Who will ever forget the massacres where so many of our brothers perished, the cells into which those who refused to submit to a regime of oppression and exploitation were thrown?

All that, my brothers, we have endured. But we, whom the vote of your elected representatives have given the right to direct our dear country, we who have suffered in our body and in our heart from colonial oppression, we tell you very loud, all that is henceforth ended.

The Republic of the Congo has been proclaimed, and our country is now in the hands of its own children. Together, my brothers, my sisters, we are going to begin a new struggle, a sublime struggle, which will lead our country to peace, prosperity and greatness.

Together, we are going to establish social justice and make sure everyone has just remuneration for his labor.

We are going to show the world what the Black man can do when he works in freedom, and we are going to make of the Congo the center of the sun’s radiance for all of Africa.

We are going to keep watch over the lands of our country so that they truly profit her children. We are going to restore ancient laws and make new ones which will be just and noble.

We are going to put an end to suppression of free thought and see to it that all our citizens enjoy to the full the fundamental liberties foreseen in the Declaration of the Rights of Man.

We are going to do away with all discrimination of every variety and assure for each and all the position to which human dignity, work and dedication entitles him.

We are going to rule not by the peace of guns and bayonets but by a peace of the heart and the will.

And for all that, dear fellow countrymen, be sure that we will count not only on our enormous strength and immense riches but on the assistance of numerous foreign countries whose collaboration we will accept if it is offered freely and with no attempt to impose on us an alien culture of no matter what nature.

In this domain, Belgium, at last accepting the flow of history, has not tried to oppose our independence and is ready to give us their aid and their friendship, and a treaty has just been signed between our two countries, equal and independent. On our side, while we stay vigilant, we shall respect our obligations, given freely.

Thus, in the interior and the exterior, the new Congo, our dear Republic that my government will create, will be a rich, free and prosperous country. But so that we will reach this aim without delay, I ask all of you, legislators and citizens, to help me with all your strength.

Patrice Lumumba

I ask all of you to forget your tribal quarrels. They exhaust us. They risk making us despised abroad.

I ask the parliamentary minority to help my government through a constructive opposition and to limit themselves strictly to legal and democratic channels.

I ask all of you not to shrink before any sacrifice in order to achieve the success of our huge undertaking.

In conclusion, I ask you unconditionally to respect the life and the property of your fellow citizens and of foreigners living in our country. If the conduct of these foreigners leaves something to be desired, our justice will be prompt in expelling them from the territory of the republic; if, on the contrary, their conduct is good, they must be left in peace, for they also are working for our country’s prosperity.

The Congo’s independence marks a decisive step towards the liberation of the entire African continent.

Sire, excellencies, mesdames, messieurs, my dear fellow countrymen, my brothers of race, my brothers of struggle – this is what I wanted to tell you in the name of the government on this magnificent day of our complete independence.

Our government – strong, national, popular – will be the health of our country.

I call on all Congolese citizens – men, women and children – to set themselves resolutely to the task of creating a prosperous national economy which will assure our economic independence.

Glory to the fighters for national liberation! Long live independence and African unity! Long live the independent and sovereign Congo! [applause, long and loud]

About 6 months after this speech, Patrice Lumumba was assassinated by political opponents, with the help of Belgium and the U.S. CIA.

In the New York Times article mentioned above, Hochschild goes into more detail about this, and some of the repercussions for the country, asking the question, “What would DRC be like today if Lumumba had lived?”  (Click to go to the article- a very, very good read!)

***********

On a lighter and much less tragic note, Lumumba’s speech wasn’t the only inspired and inspiring performance on the day of Congo’s independence 51 years ago.

That day was also the birth of the Indepence Cha Cha!

Composed and performed by Joseph Kabasselé, a.k.a. Le Grand Kalé, said to be the father of Congolese music, this song became the unofficial anthem for the new nation.  I first heard it as a ring tone on my colleague’s cell phone.

The words of the chorus are…

Indépendance cha cha tozui e

Oh ! Kimpuanza cha cha tubakidi

Oh ! Table Ronde cha cha babagné o

Oh ! Dipanda cha cha tozui e

………

(Independence cha cha, we have won it

Oh! Independence cha cha, we have got it

Oh! The round table cha cha, they’ve taken it back

Oh! Independence cha cha, we have won it!)

The Congolese artist Baloji did a cover of this classic song last year for the 50 year celebration of Congo’s independence, a great mix of old and new Congolese music, with a really awesome video…

So, now you’re all set to cha-cha your way over to the ice chest and give a cheers to your country’s glorious independence.

Happy Independence Day!!

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. Bruce Prario permalink
    July 15, 2011 10:39 pm

    Hi, My name is Bruce and I lived in Zaire in 1972 and in South Africa in 1979/80. I am always looking back at those times and searching on line for pictures etc to remind me of those times. When I found your site I was really taken by both of you. But not just because you live where I would love to be but because of what you are doing there. Some of what you wright (which I love your writing and humor) points out the decline of the Congo and yet the fact that you are there gives me hope that things can turn around and not just be better economy wise but safe for all the people there. Maybe with the kind of peace that the first President spoke of. And the recipe…I can’t wait to try it. I think of food from the Congo all the time. I did have a couple of questions to ask. Because I too love music I have long searched for a couple of songs from 1972. One was a patriotic song about Zaire with some of the words being”ooo Zaire mbokan gai na kori” and another had
    the swahili words “Na Kupenda Mama” in it. I didn’t know if any of your older frinds might recall these. My second question is that most of my time was spent in Kisangani and Bunia. I had made many local friends and with all the trouble there alot of them may have left or moved around. Your site mentions no more post office which explains why my letters probably don’t go anywhere, so how would someone like me try to find some of my friends today. I keep thinking the internet may
    help. Anyway once again i really enjoyed reading what you are doing and all the best. By the way I am from San Diego

    • Katie R permalink*
      July 23, 2011 10:21 pm

      Hi Bruce, thanks so much for your comment! I’m really glad that you came across our blog and that it brought back some good travel memories for you! Living here in Congo is such an experience, it’s really great to share stories with folks who know the country.

      I asked around about the songs that you mentioned. Luckily, one of my coworkers is basically an encyclopedia of Congolese music. According to him, the first song (”ooo Zaire mbokan gai na kori”, in Lingala, “ooo Zaire, my country where I grew up”) is by Kalé Kato with the band African Jazz, and the other (“Na Kupenda Mama” in Swahili, “I love you Mama”) is by Abeti Masikini. Do these artists ring a bell? He said he’d show me where I can go buy the records, so I’ll let you know if I find anything. I’ve been meaning to get some more music anyway!

      About getting in touch with folks here, this may sound strange, but Facebook might be one option you could try. Even if you search and can’t find you’re friends directly, I think there might be FB pages or groups for certain cities (I know there is for Lubumbashi, and some towns in Bas Congo). You could start there and ask the other members if they know of your friends. You never know!

      Sincerely, Katie

Trackbacks

  1. Baloji – LE JOUR D’APRES / SIKU YA BAADAYE (INDEPENDANCE CHA-CHA) h/t xandimusic « Throughhisown's Weblog

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