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Democratic Republic of Congo marks 60 years since independence

World News | Published:

The anniversary fell as the king of former colonial power Belgium expressed regret for historic wrongdoing.

The Democratic Republic of Congo’s President Felix Tshisekedi vowed to root out the corruption and impunity that has hindered the country since its independence from Belgium as the nation marked its 60th anniversary amid a global reckoning over racial inequality.

While the milestone was commemorated in Belgium with gestures of atonement, Congolese reflected on the struggles that have engulfed the nation in the decades since independence and how to move forward.

Among the statues being removed around the world as countries confront legacies of slavery and colonialism was one being taken down on Tuesday in Belgium of King Leopold II, Congo’s brutal colonial ruler.

A letter sent to Congo’s current president stopped short of an official apology, but Belgium’s King Philippe conveyed his “deepest regrets” for the “acts of violence and cruelty” and the “suffering and humiliation” inflicted during the colonial era.

Patrice Lumumba, left, signs the act of independence of the DR Congo, with then prime minister of Belgium Gaston Eyskens, right, in Leopoldville, the capital before it was later renamed in 1966 to Kinshasa (Jean-Jacques Levy/AP)
Patrice Lumumba, left, signs the act of independence of the DR Congo, with then prime minister of Belgium Gaston Eyskens, right, in Leopoldville, the capital before it was later renamed in 1966 to Kinshasa (Jean-Jacques Levy/AP)

After independence in 1960, DR Congo soon fell under the repressive rule of dictator Mobutu Sese Seko who ruled for 32 years.

The first leader after Mr Mobutu’s death was assassinated, and his son Joseph Kabila then took over and headed the country for 18 years.

Mr Tshisekedi, whose father led Dr Congo’s largest opposition party until his death, took office last year but only after long-delayed elections were finally held.

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In a televised speech late on Monday, Mr Tshisekedi pledged to root out impunity so that the country could move forward.

“From independence to the present day, the main effect of our political policy has been to dilute efficiency, to dilute responsibility and ultimately to do disservice,” the president said.

A statue of King Leopold II riding a horse is seen at the Institute of National Museums of Congo, in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo (John Bompengo/AP)
A statue of King Leopold II riding a horse is seen at the Institute of National Museums of Congo, in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo (John Bompengo/AP)

DR Congolese, though, still used the occasion to reflect on the challenges facing the country.

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“Sixty years after independence, can we Congolese be proud of our country? I don’t think so,” political researcher Paulin Mbenza said.

“Congo can rise from its ashes … but this depends on the will of the politicians because they are more concerned with the personal interest than the general interest,” he said.

That criticism was echoed by Tapie Lutunu, a political analyst in Kinshasa.

“Education, employment, health, infrastructure — nothing works because of the poor management and mediocrity of the Congolese political class,” Mr Lutunu said.

“We need a new class of elites motivated by love of their country.”

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