By Kalonji Bilolo Trésor
The Democratic Republic of Congo has just celebrated its 63rd independence anniversary on June 30, a time to reflect on its journey as a sovereign state and how to make the future better.
Decolonisation was a rocky road. Relations between the political elite and the former colonial power, Belgium, affected by the context of the Cold War and the multiple interferences centred around keeping a constant hold on the country's natural resources.
When world powers decided Africa’s fate, without Africans’ input, at the Berlin Conference, we were certainly not yet countries as such, but a grouping of tribes and ethnic communities governed by knowledge and traditions.
Colonialists then came and changed virtually everything now the continent is demarcated by borders.
During Belgium’s colonial rule in Congo, our forefathers were deprived of their freedom and governed by arbitrariness, in a segregated system that denied them many natural rights.
The public outcry of international opinion put an end to the colonial system which at some points was characterised by gross human rights abuses and killing of Congolese by the colonialists.
The most notorious of the atrocities were committed between 1885 and 1908 by the colonisers during the rule of King Leopold II of the Belgians.
Millions of Congolese were killed or tortured due to harsh labour and trade policies linked to extraction and export of natural rubber which some called ‘Blood Rubber’ because of the violence.
After so many years of servitude, independence seemed more than a liberation, but a re-appropriation of our multiple and long-obscured identities that make us Congolese.
During the many negotiations surrounding independence, a mistake made by the elite was to believe that political self-determination was the only way to ensure our decolonisation.
This was without taking into account the cracks that were deliberately kept open to divide the Congolese and lead to tensions.
Rebellion after rebellion, the Congolese identity has undergone numerous trials that have almost crumbled this vast territory with its very special characteristics, populated by 250 ethnic groups and more than a hundred languages.
Some had said that the country was too big to stand as a homogenous, unified entity.
But Congo’s independence hero and first Prime Minister, Patrice Lumumba, responded to this scepticism with a famous phrase: ‘’Congo is great, and it demands greatness from us.’’
Overrun by vice over the years, the Congo has been transformed into a consumerist society devoted to pleasures with the least effort, a place where people let themselves go without worrying about more demanding issues or the collective destiny.
How can we explain the fact that the DRC has 80 million hectares of arable land, but is unable to meet the food needs of 100 million Congolese?
About 62% of Congolese live on less than $2 a day according to the World Bank, and corruption has become endemic in both the public and private sectors. There are many other challenges.
Not all bad
In 1977, the phrase ‘’Yiba ndambu, tika ndambu’’ was popularised in the circles of power. It is loosely translated as: ‘’Don't steal everything, leave something too.’’ The result was a system of predation, in which public resources were regularly misappropriated.
But Congo is not all bad news. We have shown our resilience in the face of adversity. With a Gross Domestic Product of 69 billion dollars, the DRC was Africa's 10th largest economy in 2022.
With 45 million mobile phone subscribers and 22 million internet users, it is a land of opportunity for digital development and the technology revolution driven by artificial intelligence and internet of things.
About 10 million Congolese use electronic money transaction systems, and the country's tourism and industrial sectors are growing.
The future of the Congo is crucial for the future of Africa as a whole, because a peaceful and prosperous Congo will stimulate other sub-regions of the continent given its strategic importance in terms of potentials.
We are celebrating 63 years of independence without necessarily rejoicing. We must nevertheless tell ourselves that part of our independence has not yet been achieved: that of our mindset.
Changing our mindset and embracing what constitutes our real values, as opposed to colonial vestiges, is important for us to conquer.
Instead of giving up despite the challenges, the Congolese need to make a real diagnosis of what has gone wrong and re-evaluate their journey for the country to be in a better place in Africa and on the world stage especially its relationship with world powers when it comes to its resources.
Political independence was achieved at the expense of our economic interests and independence, giving rise to greed and the predation of our resources including coltan, diamond, gold and copper.
Redefining Congo’s alliances with other nations must be at the heart of its win-win development strategy.
The Democratic Republic of Congo and its people ought to be much better 63 years after independence given it is one of the richest countries in the world in terms of natural resources.
But Western countries who are still dominant in the country's extractive sector have continued to exploit the resources and corruption is pervasive domestically. This is a situation that must end to ensure Congo benefits maximally from its own wealth and freedom.
Congo's minerals must not continue to be a source of misfortune for our people but must really serve to fulfill the long-spoiled fate of the sons and daughters of the country. We deserve better.
The author, Kalonji Bilolo Trésor, is a social activist and the Vice President of the NGO Junior Chamber International in the DRC.
Disclaimer: The viewpoints expressed by the author do not necessarily reflect the opinions, viewpoints and editorial policies of TRT Afrika.