Painting by Cheri Samba

Lokuta eyaka na ascenseur, kasi vérité eyei na escalier mpe ekomi. Lies come up in the elevator; the truth takes the stairs but gets here eventually. - Koffi Olomide

Ésthetique eboma vélo. Aesthetics will kill a bicycle. - Felix Wazekwa

Thursday, November 6, 2014

"Ebola" pre-empts Kabila's presidential aspirations

Ok, I can tell how that title can be a bit misleading. Perhaps I should have called it: Congolese singer flip-flops on backing the president. And, despite appearances, this is actually a serious story.

This is what happened. Koffi Olomide, perhaps the most famous Congolese singer and winner of 10 pan-African Kora Awards, is not known for his firm principles. Like most Congolese artists, he sells shout-outs (mabanga in Lingala) in his songs to the highest bidder––including Congo-Brazzaville President Denis Sassou-Nguesso and the former Ivorian rebel leader Guillaume Soro. In 2010, he even traveled to Kigali to support the election campaign of President Paul Kagame, a daring venture, given the Rwandan president's notoriety in the Congo. And then, to further infuriate inhabitants of the Congolese capital, he gave full-throttle support to Joseph Kabila's 2011 election campaign in this video clip, "Koffi Chante Kabila":

But all that changed last year. Koffi released a video that surprised many. Even the title of the video––"Koffi Chante Congo"––is an obvious counterpoint to his 2011 Kabila campaign video. He kicks it off by dedicating the song not to a politician (that practice was outlawed in 2009, but still continues) or businessman, but to his son Del Pirlo Mourinho (other children are called St James Rolls, Elvis, Rocky, and Didi Stone Nike). Pretty quickly his protégée and co-singer Cindy gets to the point: "We reject the abuse of power, all we do is cry, we go to sleep hungry, our children are suffering." The Koffi chimes in: "If you love the Congo, respect democracy, if you love the Congo, respect the institutions....respect the constitution, you don't change the rules in the middle of the football game."

The context is important: the video was released during the Concertations nationales in Kinshasa last year, which brought together members of the ruling coalition, civil society, and opposition, and where one of the items discussed was whether the constitution should be changed to allow Joseph Kabila to stay on. (The answer was clear: No.)

Is this the same Koffi? Well, perhaps. Cynics suggest that he only released the video because he, along with other Congolese singers, have been hit hard by the inability to perform in some European capitals due to oft-violent protests by Diaspora Congolese, who are outraged that their musicians opportunistically support politicians, especially Joseph Kabila. One commentator (almost Olomide's poetic equal): "Has Koffi met the angel of democracy or the demon of demagoguery?" But still: surely Koffi knew that he would face problems due to the video (although he does say in the song that people should respect the presidency, although not necessarily the president)?

So when Koffi was called in for questioning by the police commander of Kinshasa, General Célestin Kanyama, two weeks ago, many thought it was for a belated haranguing over the video. But no––it was because Koffi had started to call himself "Vieux Ebola," Old Ebola, and posters had even started appearing around town advertising his concerts thus. Of course, bear in mind that Koffi has called himself pretty much everything under the sun, including some that have offended the Catholic Church (they asked him to stop calling himself Benedict XVI). But Kanyama said that he shouldn't make light of such a serious disease.

Of course, what's Kanyama's nickname? "Esprit de mort," spirit of death. This might be why.

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