Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Congolese Tragedies event

Liam, Wendy and I were pleased to attend the Congolese Tragedies event at Kensington CP School on Saturday evening.

There were some very interesting contributions - art, a photography exhibition, artefacts, singing, acting and speeches, to explain the three tragedies that have faced the Congo over the centuries.

1. The slave trade - Yambi Africa had a very moving photo exhibition illustrating the slave trade, featuring locations in Congo from where slaves had been taken and where they were put on ships to be transported.

2. The decimation of the country by King Leopold II of Belgium. As the BBC relates here "he turned his "Congo Free State" into a massive labour camp, made a fortune for himself from the harvest of its wild rubber, and contributed in a large way to the death of perhaps 10 million innocent people."

3. This leads to the country's third tragedy. As the BBC further explains, "Legalized robbery enforced by violence", as Leopold's reign was described at the time, has remained, more or less, the template by which Congo's rulers have governed ever since. Meanwhile Congo's soldiers have never moved away from the role allocated to them by Leopold - as a force to coerce, torment and rape an unarmed civilian population."

It is believed that perhaps a further 10 million people have been killed since 1996 when the current conflicts began.

We heard a speech from the Congolese Association which was a message they are sending to the Government and to the establishment more generally, detailing the current state of affairs in the Congo and asking for ten points of action. I hope it is very well received.

Apparently the Congo is about the size of Western Europe, I had no idea it was so big. It is rich in minerals, diamonds, great wealth lies under the soil. I guess that is what a lot of the fighting is about, it usually is.

And the most poignant part of the evening for me was watching actors perform a sketch set in a pub in Kensington where local residents questioned a newly arrived asylum seeker over a few drinks, accusing him of getting in first for housing and having lots of money and a mobile phone. All the usual BNP rhetoric. The Congolese actor playing the asylum seeker explained how he was surviving on £25 and living in a flat in a house that had been derelict and that nobody wanted to live in.

I was really miserable that people from a country who had faced such terrible tragedies could face such suspicion and lack of good will here. I know it goes on, of course I do, but to see it enacted by people for whom it is an actual reality was very discomforting. It will stay with me for a long time.

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