Congo welcomes back remains of De Brazza

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Republic of Congo welcomed home the remains of its colonial founder on Monday with plans to re-inter the body in the capital that bears his name, prompting a fiery debate about whether the country should be commemorating its colonisers.

Francois Camille Pierre Savorgnan De Brazza founded the city of Brazzaville in 1884 and began to establish the colony that became Republic of Congo after independence from France in 1960. He governed the colony from 1886 to 1897.

De Brazza's family had asked that their forefather be buried in the city he founded and administrated.

Government officials said they wanted to Honor the request and to recognise De Brazza's contributions to the country.

"What interests us here is the humanitarian dimension of De Brazza, his fight against slavery and the abuses and excesses of export companies during the colonial period," Presidency Minister Charles Bowao said. De Brazza is remembered in the Central African country for mounting investigations into charges of exploitation of the native population.

But the move rankled some Congolese, who said immortalising a coloniser was a step backward in history.

"It's a dishonour to the collective memory. Never in history have we seen a country construct a monument in homage to its colonisers," said Lecas Antondi-Momondjo, a historian and teacher at Brazzaville's University Marien Ngoubabi.

"It is a waste to devote so much money to the memory of those who have plundered our wealth and massacred native populations," said Loemba Moke, president of a local human rights organisation. The government says it has spent about AUS$2-million (about R15-million) on the project.

On Tuesday, President Denis Sassou-Nguesso will place De Brazza's remains and those of his wife and four children in a marble mausoleum built specially for the purpose near the Congo River.

The coffins, dug up from their previous resting place in Algeria, were flown into Brazzaville on a commercial flight and put on public display at its city hall until the Tuesday ceremony.

De Brazza was born in Italy in 1852, but later took French citizenship and first travelled to Central Africa on exploratory missions for the French navy.

He died in 1905 in Dakar, the present-day capital of Senegal. He had lived out much of his later years in Algeria.

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