Celebrated Congolese rumba performer Fally Ipupa is set to perform in Paris on February 28, but not if a coalition of Congolese political activists in diaspora have anything to say about it. These “combattants”, as they are referred to in French, have repeatedly attempted to shut down performances by Congolese artists in Europe in an effort to draw attention to ongoing violence and political instability, particularly in the Democratic Republic of the Congo’s eastern provinces. And this extends beyond France; combattants boycotts of Congolese performers have also happened in Great Britain, Germany, the Netherlands, and Belgium.
Why It Matters
These protests demonstrate the extent of the Congolese diaspora in Europe and their continuing impact on the Democratic Republic of the Congo’s politics. Most of the petitions for and against a boycott of Fally Ipupa’s concert reflects the growing importance of social media for political organizing, especially for scattered populations. It also emphasizes a global shrinkage: the political and security situation in the DRC is not a localized problem but one that has impacted observers in Europe and elsewhere. The combattants’ targeting of cultural productions like a rumba concert also builds off a growing protest tactic that uses public art performances as venues for political agitation, which pulls participants out of an escapist mentality and forces a recognition of the interconnections between art, politics, and violence.
How It Began
The combattants first formed in 2009 in opposition to the presidency of Joseph Kabila, which was marked by repression and poverty. More than a tactic to raise awareness, their targeting of Congolese musicians stems from a desire to chastise performers who wrote campaign songs for Kabila during the 2011 presidential election, which Kabila won. Yet Ipupa and others who have had their performances threatened or canceled recently are from a generation of artists who were never involved with Kabila; they are just the unfortunate victims of a political momentum that has not abated.
This tactic is not supported by all Congolese in the diaspora. Shortly after the announcement by the combattants that they will try to have Ipupa’s February concert cancelled, an opposing group formed in his defense. Former Congolese politicians also took to social media to express their support for Ipupa and chastise the combattants for “politicizing” the DRC’s cultural heritage.