Thursday, May 07, 2009

Hello world! � Back to the Congo

Hello world! � Back to the Congo

I like the title of this post… it is quite appropriate. So yes, hello world. After several years abroad, I am going back to my native Congo. It has been 6 years since the last time I was there, and in fact, it is the first time in 20 years I am going to be there for this long (a few months, maybe more).

I have endured devastating trials and tribulations in the USA, as well as great moments that I will never forget, and great friendships that will last forever. Now, I am going back home, which is exciting, but also brings with it its own set of trials and challenges. I have grown to be - I must admit - quite a Westernized Liberal, during my time in the US, and I do not know how I will be able to navigate the weight and tediousness of some aspects of my own native culture… just the fact that this is an issue in my head is concerning to me. And then there is the ever present corruption, the constant power outages, the rarity of water at the faucet, the lack of basic services, and the poor transportation system (which is going to be the greatest challenge, after being so used to the MTA in New York). When you add to this the new restrictions on my movements that I am foretold, especially at night, for safety and distance reasons (we live in an outlying suburb), you can understand that I am a bit anxious and apprehensive… which is frustrating to me because I love my country, and I resent having to feel apprehensive to live in it.

But I have prepared myself as best I could, and I am looking forward to going back home, despite the challenges. I will try - as safely as possible - to document my time, the issues I faces, the cool things I encounter, the debates I am suggested, and how life simply is in Kinshasa, especially as I am trying to get employed for the time I am there. In many ways this will be an expat-blog… well, more like a non-expat expat blog. See, in Congo, I have all the assets of an expat:

  • US-educated
  • Multilingual
  • Worldly
  • World citizen
  • Computer and Internet litterate
  • Itunes-addicted
  • Feels your pain
  • Eager to save the world

all the inconvenients of an expat:

  • Mistrusted
  • Outsider
  • Feared
  • conned
  • disoriented
  • Foreign-thinking, sounding, and acting

and none of the expat advantages:

  • a shiny SUV with a shiny logo (UN, Red Cross, CARE, etc) that opens some doors by its mere presence; with a driver
  • an expat-level salary waaaaay beyond what 95% of the Congolese people could dream to make, that allows them to live like kings in Congo
  • a foreign passport guaranteeing them evacuation should things get too dicey
  • and, let us be completely honest, white skin (or at least a “non-African” ethnic look) which - in a country still reeling from the complexes and fears born out of colonialism - is still a mark of wealth and authority, given priority and precedence in many instances, even when junior in rank, station, education and knowledge. (To carricature, think of the educated Congolese man as a black A-student from the University of Idaho, and some expats as the C-student from Yale. Somehow the latter always has more chances to be President than the former…)

So those are the realities I am preparing to face. I will have to learn to be somewhat of a second-class citizen in my own country (actually, third-class, since the expats are already second to the rich Congolese elites), after fighting discrimintaion in the US… a brother can’t catch a break!! But I really shouldn’t complain. I will have a car, and I have a strong family to support me. So, I am better than the average Congolese citizen, who is about sixth or seventh-class… ;)

I digress. So this blog: My life, back in the Congo. I hope you come back and read some of the stuff I write, and that I can bring some insight on this beautiful yet suffering country that I love, through my own experiences there. I will also write and/or post things that just randomly interest me, regardless of whether it linked to the Congo (I think that is what bloggers do, no?) This new blog , at Wordpress, is is a continuation of this blog, African in America.

Happy reading!

Friday, February 06, 2009


(from my other blog on Congo)

I have not been writing on The Salon for a while. That's because I have lost a bit of the grasp I had of the situation back home, in the Congo (DRC). Both the political power-players and the political game itself became blurry. There was a point when I could discern between constructive forces, and the destructive ones in a clearer fashion. Who pulls Kabila's strings? How to uncover the multiple layers of the mystery Kagame? What realistic and pragmatic alternatives exist on the field? Those are all things that I am trying to reacquaint myself with. But one thing I know: Laurent Nkunda may simply be a symptom of a larger problem, but he is definitely a parasite to be dealt with. That is why I was outraged when I saw this on Facebook:

A Fan-page for Nkunda? Are you serious? You have got to be kidding me!! A murderous warlord like him? I mean I wouldn't even tolerate a Fan-page for Kabila (because he is shady too), and he is the President!! I mean, this is not acceptable. I am all for freedom of expression, do not get me wrong, but this deserves some responses. I would appreciate suggestions.

What is appalling here is the proficiency and sophistication of Congo's foes in communication, media manipulation, and staying on message. They are always miles ahead of those of us standing for Congo, and we are always playing catch up. That needs to change. The narrative needs to change.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Mfumu Barack Hussein Obama

(English translation coming below. This is in Lingala.)

Ndeko bwa bolingo, Mfumu Barack Hussein Obama,

Olóngí likokí ya kobengama mfumu. Olóngí likokí i yina kaka na esika oyo osili kolonga te, esika oyo ebéngámí na batu mususu, “Mokambi ya mokili ya bonsómí”. Te. Olóngí yango, na mayele nayo, mpe na motoki ya mosala, mpe na móto ya makási mpe bolingo oyo osili kopelisa okati ya mitema ya batu awa na Lisanga lya Amerika (USA), mpe o bikólo nionso ya Mabele bolingo na biso.

Eyébání sika oyo o mokili mobimba ete na kolónga esika oyo olóngí, obalúsí ezaleli ya mokili na biso na ndenge kaka batu minene ya lisapo babalúsá yango. Okoti na molóngó ya ba Mfumu Nelson Mandela, Mfumu Mahatma Gandhi, mpe Nganga-nzambe Mfumu Martin Luther King, Jr., oyo balakísá biso ndenge ya kokolisa mayele ya batu, mpe kolanda banzèlú ya malamu koleka, mpona komeka kotonga mokili moko ya sika, oyo etondí makokí, bonsómí, bokokani, bobángani, mpe bondeko. Okómí moto muindo ya liboso oyo akómí mokambi-ekolo Lisangá lya Amerika, ekolo oyo eyébání mpona lisapo na yango ya bohumbu na bosámbuisi bayindo. Obalusi nde lisapo mpe elili ya batu muindo, mpe ya batu nionso, o mokili mobimba.

Libosó ya mokolo ya maponi ya suka, oyo ememí yo na esika oyo okómí, nakomákí mpo nakobimisa o mokanda, manso oyo elóngi na yo elingákí kobimisa okati motema na ngai, lokola mutu, mpe lokola mutu muindo. Yango wana nakolekisa tangu na yo mingi te. Natómeli yo se longonya, na kombo ya bana nionso ya Afrika, mama-etáká ya bankoko na yo, mpe ya batu nionso ya mokili. Na séngí yo kaka ete obosana te makanisi kitoko oyo òmemelakí biso na bambúla míbalé oyo malekí, mpe bapási ya batu oyo batié elikia na bango o maboko nayo, mpe ya basáleli nayo.

Mpe, na kosúkisa, na sengí yo, na makasi na ngai nionso, na motema na ngai nionso, mpe na elikia na ngai nionso, óbósana ekólo mpe batu ya Congo bolingo na ngai te. Na esika oyo okómí, ozali na makasi ya kopusa bakambi Congo, mpe banguna na Congo o bikolo Rwanda na Uganda, mpo ete bamóna ete kimia esengeli ezónga, mpe ezónga sika oyo. Batu bakufi mpe mingi, na tina oyo átá babundi mapingá yango bayebi te. Ngonga esi ebétákí kala.

Ndeko Barack, bana ya Congo bazalí mpe bana ya batu, na kitoko, maséngi, mpe makokí moko lokola Malía na Sasha. Basi ya Congo bazalí mpe na kitoko, maséngi, makokí, bolingo mpe bobángi moko mpo na bibota na bango, lokola Mama Michelle. Mibáli ya Congo bazalí mpe na makokí, bolingo, mpe bobángi mpo na bibota na bango lokola yo moko, mfumu Barack. Naséngí yo ótálela biso likambo oyo, mpe ósálisa biso na kozongisa bondeko mpe kimia okati ekolo oyo Congo bolingo na ngai, oyo ekoki kosalisa mokili mobimba na ndenge mingi, soki tozóngísélí bana Congo elikiá.

Natóndí yo botondi, natómélí yo lisusu longonya, Nzambe apambola yo, mpe naséngí yo óbósana biso te.

Na bosóló,

Ali Malau Mamina
Mwana Congo, Mwana Afrika, Mwana Molongo


Dear Brother, Your Excellency Barack Hussein Obama,

You have earned the right to be called Excellency. Not just because of the office you have now reached, an office called by some the “Leader of the free world”. No. You won this title with your intelligence, with the sweat of your work, and with the bright and shining fire and the love that you have ignited in the hearts of all people, here in the United States, and in every nation on our beloved earth.

It is now known around the world that this victory you have won, you have changed the essence of our world in the way that only the Greats are able to change it. You join the likes of our elders Nelson Mandela, Mahatma Gandhi, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who showed us the path to enlighten the minds of people around us, and taught us to turn to our better angels, in trying to build a new world, where rights, freedom, equality, respect and fraternity abound. You have become the first Black President of the United States of America, a nation with a history of slavery and humiliation of Black people. Amazing!

On the day before your election, I took the time to put in writing all the feelings, emotions, and aspirations that your victory would mean to me as a man, and as a Black man. So I will not waste too much of your time this time around. I just want to express the pride and honor that I feel for you, in the name of all the people of Africa, the mother-continent of your ancestors, and of all of humanity. I ask you not to forget all the ideals and idealism you professed and instilled in us in the past two years, and the pain and suffering of many of those that put their faith and their hope in your hands, and in the hands of your team.

And finally, I ask you, with all my strength, with all my heart, with all my soul, and with all my hopes, not to forget the country and the people of my beloved Congo. In your new office, you have the power and the clout to intimate to the leaders of Congo, and to the enemies of Congo at the helm of the nations of Rwanda and Uganda, that peace needs to be restored, and restored now. Too many people have died in a war who reasons and interests are a mystery even to most of the militiamen and soldiers that fight it. It is more than time for peace. It was already time 5 years ago.

Brother Barack, see, the children of the Congo are also human children, with beauty, rights, needs, and aspirations, just like Malia and Sasha. The women of the Congo are also humans, with beauty, rights, needs, aspirations and care and concern for their families, just like Michelle. The menthe men of Congo are also humans, with rights, needs, aspirations and care and concern for their families, just like you, your Excellency. I beg of you to look into this problem for us, to help restore peace, love and good-neighborliness in my beloved Congo, a country that could be such a great, positive contribution to the world, if only we could restore hope and faith in the minds and hearts the Congolese people.

Thank you, Excellency, I am proud of you, I wish you success, may God bless you, and please do not forget us.


Ali Malau Mamina
Congolese citizen, Son of Africa, Citizen of the World

Monday, December 15, 2008

It's starting...

So, during the Presidential campaign, like many Black people out there, I was scared to the bone by the prospect of an Obama assassination attempt. Now he has won, and I am still scared. And I was on the lookout for the crazies when I found this story (through DRUDGE), and I can't help but to feel like I won't rest easy for the next 4 years:
In Utah, the Parowan Prophet predicts disaster will prevent Obama from taking office - Los Angeles Times

"I think that you should hear what my opinion about the Obama election is: that he will not be the next president. I said on my home page in August that if he lost to expect to see the 'riots' that 2 Peter 2:13 tells us about. He didn't lose. But the story is not finished yet. I still think they may begin the riots before Christmas 2008, as I said."
The crazies are out in force, and we are going to have to learn to live with them, and and watch-out for them... Another testimony to the fact that although America has come a long way, it still has a long way to go.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Some related videos...

Obama WON!!!!!!!!!

(Picture from the Huffington Post)

I will write more about this in the days ahead, but for now, here are two videos, looking back at this historic - and worldwide - camapign and election:

A retrospective from MSNBC:

From Politico:

From CNN:

From the American News Project:

And the Obama victory speech from MSNBC:

I am sure it will sink in soon, but it hasn't yet. Change has come to America, and to the world.

Monday, November 03, 2008

On the eve of History...

I know, I know, many Americans, even some of those who look like epidermally, will say that I have absolutely nothing to say about the US 2008 elections, and on some level they are right. I am, after all, not a citizen of this country. But I have lived here for over 8 years now, and that should count for something, shouldn’t it? And the United States having the position it has in the world, the contentious History it has, and more importantly, the ethnic and demographic make-up that we all know, make an American election something to behold for the entire world.

Even more so this year. Even more so because of a young Senator from Illinois with a funny name – by American standards, with a father from the motherland, a mother from the winter-lands, and a family tree spanning continents – who dared to challenge the status-quo, and challenge the USA to live-up to the fullness of its noble and laudable proclaimed ideals: equality, freedom, and justice for ALL.

As I sat with my friends Jake, Remi and Jill, watching Barack Obama accepting the nomination of his party to run for the presidency of the USA, I couldn’t help but to shed a tear or two. Of joy, of course, but a joy that came as a healing balm for a series of pains. See, most of my fairer-skinned (I mean White) friends understand much of the Historic nature of Obama’s candidacy. What many do not get, it seems to me, is how profound the possibility of a President Obama touches my very being – and the very being of intellectual Black people around the world, Liberal or Conservative.

See, I was born at an American-missionary-run hospital in Kimpese, a laid-back town of Kongo-central province, DRCongo, Africa, to two loving parents, a loving family of 6 siblings, and in relative privilege (at least the last two thirds of my life) within my own society. I was never the stereotypical poor village-kid from Africa, although my parents were, and they are extremely proud of their rural roots. I was raised to recognize, acknowledge and respect the cultural background of the people I met, but never to hold it against them, when forming my opinion of them. I was taught to treat people as individuals first, not as mere representatives of a particular group (race, gender, ethnic group, religion, orientation, etc), and I try to do that in my daily life.

Yet, despite my international upbringing, despite all that my parents have painstakingly done to ensure that I experience a world where I am judged for the content of my character, the very high level of melanin in my skin is constantly – sometimes more directly than others – thrown back in my face like an indictment of my very soul, like a shameful disease that I should somehow be shameful and atone for, as long as I live.

Racism – whether overt, indirect, or internalized - is not simply about hatred, see. For the victims of racism, it is about the erosion of the foundations of our dignity. You know:
  • when you are tailed and followed around the store at Dillards’ here in the United States,
  • or when people switch sidewalks as you walk towards them, 
  • or when you are presumed dumber and less knowledgeable,
  • or when you are repeatedly singled-out as a potential criminal through profiling,
  • or when you enter a convenience store, and the White, or Arab, or South- Asian teller cannot help but to look towards his gun-rack to make sure the gun is easily accessible,
  • or when people in Berlin, Germany refuse to believe that you are an American citizen,
  • or when you are refused entrance into a plush restaurant in Harare, Zimbabwe,
  • or when taxis refuse to stop for you in Casablanca, Morocco, or right here in New York City,
  • or when you are seen as slave-material in Mauritania,
  • or when you are called a monkey, a gorilla, or a savage in Chennai, India, or in Shanghai, China,
  • or when you are vilified verbally and/or abused physically in front of your own children,
  • or when, in my 99.9% Black Congo, you are barred access to a hotel by a security guard, who simply cannot conceive that a fellow high-melanined person could have any business in the 5-star hotel he guards, simply because that person is wearing flip-flops, jeans and a t-shirt, instead of the Western business attire which even Westerners don’t wear in Africa most of the time, because it makes no sense with the climate there,
when all this - and other things - occur to you simply because of your DNA, something you had absolutely no hand in, tell me it does not affect your dignity, and your self-esteem. Tell me it does not start to raise unholy questions in one’s mind, which are extremely hindering to daily life.

Keeping strong, and staying proud of our Black roots, and learning to find and value the power, the dignity and the rich History of our African ancestry, and doing all that while staying civil to all others, and not holding the prejudices of some against all others, is a daily struggle for me, and I dare say for most Black people. We all have different ways to cope with it (blissful and willful ignorance, or outright anger, or intellectual research and response, or active struggle, or depression, or suicide, etc), but it is a constant struggle, all over the world.

And that, among many things (the fact that I have progressive convictions would be one of them), is why I shed a tear for Barack Obama’s nomination. Obama, a proudly self-identified Black man is poised to become arguably the most powerful person on the planet. And mind you, he is not just any Black man. No, he is an intelligent, knowledgeable, scholarly, charismatic, articulate, shrewd, methodical, worldly, Harvard Law man, who has masterfully and legitimately made his case for the presidency, to a people whose racial majority considered him and his "kind" subhuman only a century or so ago... I mean, wow!!! I mean Woooooooooow!!!!!

Barack Obama’s candidacy has dealt – and will continue to deal – so many mighty blows to harmful stereotypes about Black people the world over, that all of us Blacks, Whites, Hispanics, Asians, will end-up benefiting from it. Because aside from being “Black”, Barack is also Bi-racial. He not only embodies in him the pride of Blackness, but also the wonders that this world can produce when we all work together. And that is a lesson the entire world needs.

But, let us be clear. The “change we need”, the “change we can believe in”, is not just his DNA, and his worldwide family tree. It is definitely partly that, yes. But it is also, and maybe more importantly, the fact that attached to this wonderful biography, comes a philosophy that seeks to attempt to put into practice in the United States, and around the world, the principles that made his existence possible; the fullness of the noble ideals that those people in Philadelphia 200 years ago claimed to believe in, and put on paper: freedom, equality and justice for ALL.

I support Barack Obama because he is socially progressive, and economically common-sensical. I expect from Barack Obama a greater capacity for understanding cultural and regional nuances in Foreign policy. I admire Barack Obama, and Michelle Obama, because they had the temerity and the courage - and my friend Hillary M. added the "audacity of hope" - not to let society’s low expectations for their "kind", hinder their own high ambitions. I am proud of Barack Obama because, win or lose, he has ALREADY proven to the world, that I am neither more nor less able, neither more nor less intelligent, neither more nor less competent, neither more nor less human than others, because of my skin-color. And for that, I will be forever grateful to him. I was always proud to be who I am, despite the tribulations. But he made me that much prouder.

And so we are now, November 3rd, 2008, one day before a potential dramatic and everlasting change in the History of this country, and the History of the world. People, do you realize this? I mean, do you realize this? Don’t get me wrong, it’s not yet in the bag. Obama can still lose this election. As he says himself, “never underestimate the ability of Democrats to screw this up”. But people, we are that close!!! I am young, and I honestly never thought I would see the day in my lifetime where this is even this close!! Please call your friends who are citizens and tell them to go vote for this man. This country needs to do better. The world can do better. We can all work harder, work smarter, and do better.


Thursday, May 22, 2008

Anti-black racism still alive, and as insiduous as ever

It just struck me today (well that is not exactly true, I have thought this for years, but just roll with it): the problem is not just difference, the problem is - LITERALLY - "blackness"... Well, no, that is not exactly right either. Maybe more accurately, it's hair type... I don't know. Well, a combination of both. Let me explain.

I was reading the following - and very interesting - article on the Huffington Post today, about:
Who Is Bobby Jindal? The Good, The Bad, And The Ugly

"...But in an interesting development, the same quarters that have raised doubts about freshman Sen. Barack Obama's national security bona fides seem relatively unconcerned about Jindal's potential place on a ticket headed by a 71-year-old whose heath has been the subject of focus by the media..."

And it got me thinking: There really hasn't been as much of an issue with Bobby Jindal being a potential VP for John McCain, even though he is darker, and of Indian-descent (and I mean from India) - and that is just GREAT!!! And the VP is a heart-beat away from the Presidency (something that is made even more critical with John McCain's old age). Yet, we saw a great deal of resistance in Appalachia towards the similarly hued Barack Obama, specifically because he identifies as a Black man. That, and the whole foreign-sounding name, but I contend that if his name was Bill O'bummer, the situation would still be the same.

And this has to do with many realities. Part of the reason skin color is the problem, is the long history of denigration of people with darker skin by people with lighter skin, in many places in the world; particularly the long history of vilification, demonization, and/or animalization of melanin-endowed Africans (and Aborigines) by melanin-deprived Europeans.

With the European conquest of the world, and the control of world media by the West, the prejudices of Europe came to create, regenerate and/or reinforce the prejudices and complexes across the planet (including in Africa itself, but that is another, long and complicated story), thus generating our current situation, in which, consciously or subliminally, the world has been forced to internalize the tall White European male, and the skinny white blonde female model, as somewhat of an ideal to aspire to.

As a result, and for other related reasons, such as the rise in social status and safety that comes with "White-washing" in this West-dominated world:
  • some Africans (and people of African-descent) bleach their skin, relax their hair and wear weaves,
  • some "mongoloid" (for lack of another term in my head, if you know one enlighten me) Asians mess with their eyelids,
  • some light-skinned Black people tried to "pass",
  • some Asians, Arabs and light skinned people of African descent carry parasols to stay as light-skinned as they can,
  • thick black women are under-appreciated,
  • a lighter skin is considered a mark of greater beauty and status than a dark skin in many places around the world,
  • some Jews (as well as some Latinos of European-like pigmentation) worked hard to be integrated in the domain of "Whiteness" in the US, with varying degrees of success, etc, etc.

But I digress. All this is to say that the racial issue is still real, and more internalized and insidious than we give it credit. And it has raised its head in the US campaign for President in a special way, and I am tired of people trying to dismiss it, instead of dealing with it. As a dark-skinned, Black man, I am not, nor do I feel, inferior to any person who happens to be born in an area in which his/her ancestors developed less melanin. Yet there seems to be a number of people out there who think I am, without ever even meeting me, simply on account of my African-descent. That is simply outrageous, and I keep on wondering why this is not addressed more vocally, more passionately, and with more seriousness... by White people who claim not to be racist.

And that is when I start wondering: what makes me different from White people, Asians, Melanesians, etc? I am so used to focusing on all the things we have in common (that is my way to survive the daily small denigrations, like being followed around Dillard's), that I don't often ask myself that question. What is it that, besides History, makes it so that people of African descent seem to be more vilified and denigrated - and by more sections of humanity - than any other group in the world? Why is it that it seems like so many humans seem to feel they have more in common with every other section of humanity than they have with Black people? I mean there has to be a reason!

I thought it was skin-color at first. I mean it seems like the most obvious one. But then again there are Indians who are as dark as I am, even darker; and although they may be less-considered in their country because of their skin, it is still not the same kind of abhorrence. What did I ever do to the world to be considered inferior, evil, lazy, useless, demonic, corrupt, or cursed, by default, simply for being born with a higher level of pigmentation, under the radiant sun of the motherland? Why should Obama be so vilified today, not for the evil of his actions, but for the origins of his Y chromosome? Aren't we human too? What was it that bothered some White people so much about us, that they would consider any other race before they would consider Black people?

I couldn't find an answer, so I decided to have fun with this, and came to the conclusion that it has to be the hair. It is the one fundamental difference between Black people and the rest of the world. So different in fact, that Don Imus used it as a racial epithet ("nappy headed h@#$") with the consequences that we know. Our hair creates a very different experience of life. Just ask any Black woman you know. Or even better, asked any mixed woman, with a white mother, who had no idea what to do with her hair because she inherited so-called "bad-hair".

I will always remember a White female friend of mine who asked to touch my hair, and compared it to carpet hair (if she wasn't a woman, I am not sure I would have been so gracious in my response to her). I mean it is quite distinctive. Most people, even the straight-haired Japanese ladies, can go to any hair-salon in the US, France, Australia, South Africa, and even Congo, and they are relatively sure to have their hair treated properly. But for a Black woman, it's a whole different ballgame She has to find a specific hair-salon, with people (generally Black people) who specialize in Black people hair. The same is true for men. I mean the fact that we often cannot share a seat at a barbershop must be the reason why we are vilified, right? right?

Help me out here!!