Congo hopes new museum can heal nation's scars

Thu Mar 11, 2010 11:20am EST
Email This Article |
Share This Article
  • Facebook
  • LinkedIn
  • Twitter
| Print This Article | Single Page
[-] Text [+]

By Katrina Manson

KINSHASA (Reuters) - In a macabre echo of the punishments Belgian colonials once meted out to their Congolese laborers, a faded bronze statue of the explorer who carved out the country is missing two of his limbs.

Pulled down by anti-imperialists after Congo's former dictator Mobutu Sese Seko declared a policy rejecting colonial vestiges in 1971, the statue of Britain's Henry Morton Stanley lies clutching a broken baton, his feet severed.

Stanley's broken statue is one of more than 40,000 objects stored at Kinshasa's national museum, which for 40 years has kept one of sub-Saharan Africa's largest collections of art behind closed doors in one of Mobutu's old palaces.

The Institute of National Museums of Congo opens the collection -- rich in chief's clothing, masks, spears, and other relics of Central African country's cultural past -- to Kinshasa's public for the first time on Thursday in a park overlooking a sweep of the Congo River.

"These are the things that can bring a people back to life -- this is what gives people pride in their country, to be Congolese," said Professor Joseph Ibongo, director general of the museum.

Congo sorely needs it. As the country approaches its 50th year of independence from Belgian rule on June 30 it remains haunted by memories of brutal colonial masters, a 1998-2003 war in which millions died, and continued violence in the north and east.

"You can have a bloody, sad page in the book of our history, but you can't tear out that page," said Ibongo.


<p>Congolese artefacts are seen on display at Kinshasa's national museum March 10, 2010. REUTERS/Katrina Manson</p>