How have people in Kinshasa reacted to « Mzee’s » sudden death? A straight answer from our correspondent in the DRC.
It is true that when you stop inventing reality, you end up seeing things for what they really are. And one of Congo’s visible, concrete and lived realities was the death of the president of the Republic, Laurent-Désiré, « le Mzee » (« the wise man » in Swahili).
On 17 May 1997, the streets roared with joy. A long murmur grew and exploded into a shout at the sight of the child soldiers. One name was on everybody’s lips: Laurent-Désiré! Chanted like a knell, it resounded and filled the whole of Kinshasa, which was in turn « liberated » In a deserted house – all my cousins having gone out to applaud the « liberators » my great-uncle closed the shutters of the house. Without a word, he helped himself to a Primus (the local beer). I heard him mumble « the bloody fools! »
Three years and eight months later to the day, on the Bandal ‘estate’- one of Kin’s rough, working-class neighbourhoods – I was lulled by the sounds of ‘Kilimanjaro’on Africa n°1. I was almost dozing when the journalist on the seven o’clock news claimed ‘him’dead, assassinated. « The Congolese President is thought to have been killed » What came next? I don’t know. I was so dumbstruck that I didn’t follow anymore. If illness hadn’t killed Joseph-Désiré, his loss of power would have ended up finishing off, or vice-versa. With him at least, we were prepared somehow. With the other, no! So Laurent-Désiré was dead. You remember my great-uncle? Double zero! I watched Kin’s lights. The thunder rumbled. Outside, during that mad 16 January night, on the eve of our national hero Lumumba Day, the rain started to fall.
So Lumumba ended up giving us all a day of respite! It was the ideal excuse for everyone to stay at home asking questions such as « who does this crime benefit?, is this a ‘Cesar-Brutus’type tragedy, or rather a ‘Judas’style treason scenario? » But these were questions we preferred to ask in the safety of our own homes And, closely observing the determination to keep Laurent-Désiré alive another 48 hours despite all the confirmations possible of his death, one was tempted to think that the country’s authorities saw us a little as my great-uncle did
In any case, Tuesday or Thursday, officially or unofficially, no one was dupe and the fact was that Laurent-Désiré was no more! We are now in the midst of 30 days of national mourning. The radios and televisions have been ordered to broadcast only religious films, documents and music. But since the funeral, the stations have more or less resumed their normal schedules, with the exception of ‘world music’and theatre. This is why the Kinois are dancing the « ndombolo » to the rhythm of religious music in the clubs Because without music, Kinshasa is no longer Kinshasa, the town of the Wembas, the Rocheraus and the Koffis! All the same, death always leaves people dumbfounded in Africa, and this is the case here. The death of a chief, a child, a friend or an enemy is above all a loss, a disappearance!
Prior to Mzee’s funeral, branches (a sign of festivity, but also of mourning) decorated the capital’s main roads and several cars. The Kinois were in the streets to pay a last homage to Laurent-Désiré and to see his funeral procession. Of course, one mustn’t confuse the masses with the crowd. There were those who pitied him: such an end after such a 17 May 1997! Others were curious to know whether he was really dead after all the media contradictions. The rest really regretted this sudden death.
Other than that, the country is precariously calm. Junior has taken over the reigns of power in place of his father. He hasn’t been given any nicknames yet, but that will soon come. There are always over-zealous folks who don’t know how to enjoy the rest and respite that sleep naturally offers In our country, the hereditary or life-long presidential figures always buy into propaganda and the personality cult. There are things that disappear, certain values, such as believing in governments or hoping for better tomorrows Because we stop thinking about them, because we stop living with them in a vital manner!
A lot of people have stopped believing in the State, in democracy, because they have stopped enjoying certain freedoms and certain rights, such as the right to a salary! This was the case under Joseph-Désiré, and Laurent-Désiré didn’t really change things either But the Kinois of all orders constantly have to save their lives. It is true that they have so much fervour in them and so few avenues! Yet, resourcefulness and determination outstrip financial means thanks to a hell of a flair in finding and living the existence that suits them. And to think that they nonetheless lived the death of the man who supplanted the other with a certain degree of indifference would not be far from the truth. Not wanting to be taken for fools anymore is a form of struggle. We are in a vigorous country and everyone lives without illusions!
And people generally agree that Junior made a good speech for his age. But it was no more and no less than a speech! We are waiting to judge him by his actions. Will he, for example, resist that category of people who learnt to applaud right back in the Sixties? It has to be said that this is a nasty habit that has since refused to budge But for others, 32 years of dictatorship, topped with just over 3 years of war and crowned with vagueness for the rest, doesn’t really make you want to clap, nor laugh, nor even cry. Moreover, you shouldn’t trust the Kinois like that. They swing from hot to cold, skipping lukewarm. Joseph-Désiré discovered so bitterly at the height of his physical decline. Laurent-Désiré realized so at his expense, as he went from liberator to the very opposite!
Fortunately, in our list of successes, the likes of Lokua or Wenge Musica BCBG alone manage better to win unanimous approval, total backing than the Lusaka and Yaoundé summits put together! It is these artists way of stopping bemoaning our lot and of thinking about our history. On 26 February, Papa Wemba will celebrate Halla de la Gombe, the 24th anniversary of his Viva La Musica at the Kin CCF, whilst from 21 to 30 June, the Ecurie Maloba will hold the 6th edition of its International Actor’s Festival (FIA). That is history with a capital ‘H’. Our history. We don’t build it with arms or rebellions. It isn’t made on calculators and computers, but in these moments that escape all order and all measure.
///Article N° : 5498