Alain Daniel Shekomba’s aphorism about the problems of Africa might go over the heads of many South Africans, who might not be aware of the awful, bloody history of his country, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).
Africa will never achieve greatness, says Shekomba, unless it eradicates what he calls “the Leopold 2 Syndrome”.
He explains that when the Congo – as it was then called – was colonised by Belgium, King Leopold effectively used the vast mineral-rich territory as his personal piggy bank.
“The whole system was geared towards providing profit for one man,” says Shekomba. Even after Leopold “sold” the colony to his country, Belgium continued to exploit it in the same way.
“Education was something only granted to a certain level – to make the process of exploitation more efficient,” he adds.
That, in a nutshell, is the story of colonised Africa. It should have all changed 60 years ago, when the famed “winds of change” (as British Prime Minister Harold Macmillan described them) were sweeping across Africa.
Freedom and decolonisation should have brought an end to the exploitation. But it did not, says Shekomba.
“We replaced one type of exploiter – the colonialist – with another, our own people …”
So, King Leopold was succeded by “Leopold 2” when Africa’s own leaders and the elites surrounding them sucked the lifeblood out of people.
That’s why, Shekomba says, the continent has fallen so far behind the rest of the world.
But this is much more than an academic debate for the Congolese scientist-turned-businessperson.
He and a new wave of educated, younger people in his country are hoping that, backed by technology – which is freedom’s real vector in the 21st century – they will kickstart a process of change.
Shekomba is standing as one of 21 candidates in this month’s presidential election in the DRC. Opinion polls put him at fourth in the running.
“Only 20% of the people in my country are educated. The rest are not – and they’re easy prey for the promises and lies of politicians,” says Shekomba.
Of that 20% of educated people, though, 70% are young and tech-savvy and they have been the frontline army in his campaign.
He says that even among the uneducated Congolese, 70% are young and “they can see – from the internet and social media – how people in other countries are living. And they’re starting to ask: why can’t we live like that, too?”
Shekomba was a student leader at the University of Kinshasa and says he has a good grasp of what the issues are for ordinary people – so good a grasp, in fact, that he did time in detention because he was flagged as a troublemaker by former president Laurent Kabila.
He has been likened to Patrice Lumumba, the 1960s Congo president who was assassinated, allegedly on the instructions of the American Central Intelligence Organisation, because he was a vowed communist.
But he shrugs off the comparison: “I am not a communist. I am someone who wants to help the people of my country. So I suppose you could say I am like Lumumba, who also wanted to make a better country for his people …”
Kabila’s son Joseph is now the president and has overstayed his term by two years, having been forced into holding elections.
Shekomba has a cynical view about the “official opposition” who, he says, are “just the same – it is all about another leader, another elite, all sharing the spoils among themselves”.
He is putting his money – made from his life as a businessperson who spends a good part of the time in SA – where his mouth is and funding his campaign himself.
Shekomba’s campaign, he says, is going well, and his message is “going viral”, which is no surprise given the social media awareness of his followers.
But whatever happens, the message of the need to dismantle the “Leopold 2 Syndrome” will not be something the regime and its acolytes will be able to erase.
“And that will be a start,” he adds.