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Making fun of the Belgians

Coen van Wyk

Posted on July 8, 2018 05:25

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Belgians are the butt of many jokes, despite their football prowess. It is no wonder that their colonization also became a source of fun. Belgian colonization of the Congo has been the subject of debate in many forums since the Berlin Conference of 1884. Their experience mirrors that of many other nations

An anonymous friend sent me this cartoon recently. For those who don’t know Tintin, he was an enterprising journalist (with a characteristic hairstyle) inhabiting Belgian cartoonspace during the early 1930’s. With his dog Snowy (Milou in French) he had many adventures and solved many crises. Cultural stereotypes abound: Captain Haddock, the Thompson twins, archetypal bumbling British detectives, Professor Calculus and Madame Castafiore cross the stage in visits to the Soviet Union, the USA, Egypt, Tibet, Latin America and other fictional countries. Critics claim that an anti-Semitic tendency spoils the series, and Tintin’s famous visit to the Congo has clear racist undertones: The Congolese are child-like characters, Tintin and his dog are masterful problem solvers.
 
Sent to the Congo to report on events, Tintin and Snowy are received by cheering Congolese. After adventures with lions, crocodiles, boa constrictors, criminals and witch doctors (Tintin incurs the wrath of one by curing malaria with quinine) Tintin is acclaimed: “White man very great!” He completes his visit by having an American diamond smuggler arrested.
 
Critics see Tintin as representative of the Belgian state, a god-like figure like Mr. Kurtz in Conrad’s ‘Heart of Darkness’ and a perpetrator of cruelty to animals.
 
Belgium’s colonization of the Congo was probably the most iconic of how colonization can go wrong, yet many Belgian officials literally dedicated their lives to make the Congo a better, safer, more healthy place. Of course the economic benefits were there for Brussels. And good intentions on behalf of people often considered less than able to govern themselves do not often translate into good results.
 
Today Belgium is a popular destination for Congolese emigrants. Having been told of the benefits of Belgian civilization, Congolese have been eager to try it out. Belgian governance failures and manipulation of state has left the Congo mostly ungovernable, leading to civil rights abuses, corruption and lack of services. Brussels has a large population of Congolese, occupying key positions in the economy.
 
And so the cartoon. Enjoy.

Tintin visits the Congo. Congolese visit Tintin. Source unknown


The same image is true for many other countries, of course. South African apartheid was based on a desire to civilize and Christianize the African people, but to remain apart from those who have different cultures. Well, we all know that apartheid did not work. The black Africans did not want to be apart, they were needed as workers, nurses and doctors, technicians, bankers, officials… In short, they came to stay.

Now I suppose we should talk of American exceptionalism. Does American investment, economic dominance, Hollywood propaganda and manufacturing strength succeed in telling south- and central Americans to rather develop their own countries? Did a history of political interference south of the border create stable, flourishing economies and stable democracies? I don’t know much about the Americas, so I wonder if we should look forward to a similar cartoon some time in the future.

Coen van Wyk

Posted on July 8, 2018 05:25

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Source: Reuters

KINSHASA (Reuters) - Belgium's foreign minister and democracy activists in Democratic Republic of Congo called on Congolese...

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