Thank you, Salomé, for making the time to meet with us. Can you tell us about yourself?
Thanks for having me! I am 26 years old, I was born and raised in Brussels and I recently graduated with a master in African studies. I have also been working on and off for the past two years in the Africa Museum in Tervuren. During my studies I did a research about the neighborhood Matonge and its link to the Congolese migration. My parents migrated in the 90s, like a lot of Congolese, due to political and economic instability that occurred during the Mobutu- epoch.
African studies seem interesting! Can you maybe explain us what the Diaspora is and what it means to you?
The diaspora consists of people who migrated to foreign countries and where they formed a community to have a sense of belonging. It also consists of second and third generation of migration. For me, the diaspora is important to keep a bond with the country of origin without necessarily visiting. It is also vital for me to construct my cultural identity, it is a reminder of where my roots are from. The diaspora is also a way to make contact with other people who are in similar situations. To tackle the mainstream ideas on diasporas, it is important to connect with other members and to create my own vision, and own perspective of people like me.
Can you explain us the roots of the Congolese diaspora in Belgium?
The Congolese migration started in 1908, when the Belgian State took over the colonial rule under pressure from the international community after the red rubber scandal that tainted Leopold II’s power”. By the 1950s, the limited amount of Congolese who came to Europe mostly consisted revolutionaries, students and servants. But of course, we cannot forget the world expositions of 1958; where several colonial powers decided to exhibit Congolese people to show Belgians how they lived so they also build replicas of the villages. So Congolese people were used to entertain Belgians. In 1879, 267 Congolese were exhibit but unfortunately 7 have died due to the cold temperature as they were forced to sleep outside. Those 7 bodies were never repatriated to the Democratic Republic of Congo, but they were buried near the church of Tervuren. Before the independence of the DRC, the Congolese that came in Belgium were of short-term stays: for work or study purposes. So, to sum up, the real migration of Congolese to Belgium is that of a postcolonial migration.
What does Matonge mean for the Congolese Diaspora?
Matonge is a neighborhood in the municipality Ixelles in Brussels that stretches from the ‘Chaussée Wavre’ to the ‘Chaussée Ixelles’. It is not far from the Royal Palace, the European district and the ‘Avenue Louise’. It is meeting point for the Congolese diaspora, it not necessarily where they live but where they meet up, have a drink, do their groceries and so on. There is also a Matonge in Kinshasa, this really shows the bond between Congo and Belgium.
What is the history of Matonge?
The history of Matonge cannot be detached from the history of the Congolese migration, because the first Congolese that arrived after the independence of Congo sought to live near or in Matonge. For different reasons: it is not far from the Université Libre de Bruxelles, near the Congolese Embassy and Luxury stores. The first wave of Congolese migrants were diplomats or of higher status that fled Congo for political reasons.
Why do you think it is important to discuss about the diaspora?
Well first of all, for historical purposes. Because it has a direct link with the colonization of the Democratic Republic of Congo, it is no coincidence that the Congolese migrated in Belgium from all places. It is a new generation that has been dismissed for too long, while there is so much talent in the Congolese diaspora. We have people who have higher education, artists, and musicians. But even after being in Belgium for over 50 years, the Congolese diaspora still face a lot of racism, lower chances to be able to rent a house, to find a job and are victim of colonial prejudice.
Thank you Salomé for this interesting talk! We wish you all the best!