Thursday, September 25, 2014

Thursday in History: Revolution and Independence

I had a really great professor for African History in college. He was passionate about his subject, and taught the facts with the addition of humor, making his subject both interesting and amusing. Actually, he was the professor who inspired me to become a history major.
His favorite rant was about the decolonization of Africa. Africa had been “colonized” by Europeans differently than other areas. North Africa, of course, had been in the hands of various different European powers for as long as anyone could remember. The rest of Africa had been carved up by some politicians at a peace conference (it’s why lots of African countries have such straight border lines, as opposed to the meandering river borders Europe has). It was divided near the end of the time when having colonies was all the rage, and those politicians realized that there was an entire continent that they’d overlooked that could be owned.
Since it had been colonized rather “late in the game,” many places in Africa were rather tardy to be decolonized, as well. Many had to fight for their independence, even though having colonies in the 1960s was viewed similarly to the way smoking is today: other people/countries would look at you distastefully and say, “You really… shouldn’t have a colony, you know… it’s really bad for you.”
Mozambique began their fight for independence on this day in history in 1964. Today, they celebrate Revolution Day. And judging by my professor’s rants, I’m surprised today isn’t a holiday in the Democratic Republic of the Congo to celebrate the death of their former monarch, King Leopold III of Belgium, who died on this day in history in 1983.
The people of the Congo fought for their independence as well, but Belgium was reluctant. Finally, they agreed that independence was the best idea for everyone involved, and decided to have a party. The leaders of the new free state were invited to give speeches, but only after the Belgian crown had their say, of course. Leopold was represented by his son, as he had been forced to abdicate by the Nazis during World War II. King Baudouin made a beautiful speech, praising the “civilizing mission” that his grandfather, Leopold II, had brought to the country. The new leaders of the new former colony, however, disagreed with the content of the speech, and instead of speaking as he had planned, Patrice Lumumba took the stage and delivered a scathing denouncement of Belgian “civilizing” that shocked (and pleased) attendees and nearly caused an international incident.
Happy Revolution Day, Mozambique. And my condolences, Belgian royal family (though the people of the DRC probably don’t feel the same way).

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