Olusegun Obasanjo and Malik Dechambenoit: Reclaiming the Sword: 50 years later, a Brief Account of Africa’s Road to Independence

Roundup: Talking About History

[Olusegun Obasanjo is a former president of Nigeria (1999-2003). Former President Obasanjo is a leading voice on African governance issues. He is one of the architects of Nepad, the New Partnership for Africa’s Development. He is also a member of numerous influential organizations, including the Africa Progress Panel, the Inter-Action Council of Former Heads of Government and Club of Madrid.

Malik Dechambenoit is the CEO of Sankoré, an Africa focused Strategic Advisory firm based in Johannesburg, South Africa. Prior to founding Sankoré, Malik was a senior political staff at the United Nations in New York, Nairobi and Kinshasa. He dedicated his UN career to the resolution of the conflict in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Great Lakes Region of Central Africa. Malik is a national of Côte d’Ivoire.]

On June 30th of this year, in Kinshasa, in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Belgian King Albert II stood alongside 39-year-old Congolese President Joseph Kabila to celebrate the country’s 50 years of independence from Belgium. The two men watched solemnly as the Congolese military paraded along the city’s main avenue, an avenue recently renovated with the assistance of Africa’s newest “best friend”, China.

Exactly 50 years earlier, on June 30th, 1960, King Albert II's late brother, King Baudouin, rode down Kinshasa’s main boulevard in an open-top limousine. He had come there to grant freedom to the Congolese people, after some 80 years of brutal colonial rule. Joseph Kasavubu, the Congo’s first president, sat next to him in the car. A large crowd had gathered to witness the event and welcome the “Bwana Kitoko” (handsome master), most of them unaware of the true content and limits of their eagerly anticipated independence.

As the convoy made its way across the city, King Baudouin rested his sword on the vehicle’s backseat and rose to salute the expectant crowds. Suddenly, a young Congolese man, Ambroise Biombo, jumped out of nowhere and seized the Belgian King’s sword! He had boldly reclaimed for himself, and for millions of long-suffering Congolese, the symbol of Belgian authority!

For a brief moment, Biombo was allowed to parade his “trophy” before the cheering crowds. Soon enough, however, he was caught by a detail of nervous policemen and brutally beaten. Stunned, onlookers failed to understand why Biombo’s patriotic feat had been so forcefully repressed by their “newly emancipated” security forces.

Three months later, in October 1960, a young officer named Olusegun Obasanjo arrived in the Congo as part of an early United Nations' peacekeeping force, which had been deployed to put an end to a secessionist rebellion that threatened the integrity of this young African nation. 39 years later, in 1999, Obasanjo would become the first democratically elected president of Nigeria after 15 years of military rule, Africa's most populous black nation. In 2008, he would return to the Congo to broker peace as a United Nations envoy! Thus began the tumultuous, complicated 50-year-long journey of modern, independent Africa!

2010 is a momentous year for Africa. 17 African countries are celebrating 50 years of independence from colonial rule, including 13 former French colonies from West and Central Africa, Madagascar, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Nigeria and Somalia. For the majority of these countries, independence was the result of a painstaking transformation process, accelerated by the political and social conditions that prevailed after World War II....

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