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What Does Justice Mean In The Case Of The Lynching Of A Congolese Man In Brazil?

The original version of this piece, in english, can be found at Truthout. The version below can also be found at
PHOTOS: Protest for Justice in the Moïse case in Barra, Rio de Janeiro (Credit: Fabio Teixeira)

Saturday, February 5th, protesters went to the streets of major Brazilian cities asking for Justice. A young African man has been lynched — tortured to death — on a beach in Rio de Janeiro. The perpetrators, working men themselves, are in custody, and claim there was no intention to kill; that they were responding to the erratic and irresponsible behavior of the victim. The victim’s family, on the other hand, claims he was only asking to be remunerated for two days of work. No narrative, however, justifies what happened, which was caught on video. Is the arrest of the men who tied another man down to beat him what Justice looks like?

Moïse was a Congolese refugee living in Brazil for a decade. At the beach where he was brutally murdered, he was known as the “Angolan”. That’s like nicknaming a US American “Mexican”, or a Brazilian “Venezuelan”, just because these are neighboring countries in the same continent. The lack of understanding his community had about the circumstances which brought him to Brazil in the first place is already an injustice — one which will not be reversed with someone’s imprisonment.

By 2008, the Second Congo War, which started in 1998, had killed over 5 million people and is considered the deadliest since World War II. The First one happened right before, also in the 90s, and was a direct result of Colonial and Imperialist forces meddling with African leaders and exploiting ethnic differences in the region. Zaire, which is now known as the Democratic Republic of the Congo, was made into a rope in the thug-of-war between Communist and Anti-communist forces, until the dissolution of the USSR and of the USA’s interest in endorsing its leader.

Moïse was born the year one war ended and as another one started, which was a period where over 5 million children did not receive an education due to political turmoil — literacy levels were at their lowest, and child labor and exploitation at their highest. Throughout his youth, his country was under a so-called “peacekeeping” United Nations operation (MONUSCO) which did more to create a clandestine weapons industry than to prevent conflict. Among the countries involved in this operation was Brazil, with its military and police personnel. Today, a Brazilian general is Force Commander of MONUSCO, and he is the fourth Lieutenant from Brazil to hold the position, making it the most represented country in terms of leadership.

Much before all that, the Congo region had already lived through atrocities under a Belgian regime and its rubber industry. At the turn of last century, between the last decade of the 1800s and the first one of the 1900s, Africans under the colonial regime of the Belgian king were enslaved, mutilated, and killed at barbaric rates. Famine, disease, and exploitation perpetuated by Colonialism and its for-profit industries were responsible for the deaths of over half of the local population — uncountable lives. But barbaric foreign meddling is not all there is to say about this Central African country.

(Credit: Fabio Teixeira)

Despite incessant geopolitical opportunism, Congo has endured geographically and thrives culturally. According to the WWF, “The Congo Basin has been inhabited by humans for more than 50,000 years and it provides food, fresh water and shelter to more than 75 million people.” The Congo River is the largest in volume after the Amazon River. Its tropical forest is also the largest after the Amazon. As a Brazilian, our passion for preserving our most magnificent and precious asset ought to be extended to our ecological neighbor, since, together, our countries are the keepers of the world’s most “important wilderness areas left on Earth.”

Congolese musicians and writers have also found artistic expression as a tool for self-esteem and power. Kolinga, a Congolese group, is around today making decolonial feminist anthems. Last century, soukous and Congolese rumba hits became international classics, perhaps best represented in the Congo Revolution compilation “Revolutionary and Evolutionary Sounds From The Two Congos 1955-62”. Literature, in much need of translation and wider distribution, is even more moving and representative of the artistic tide of the nation. The poem “Second Dimension” by the Congolese writer Rais Neza Boneza, from his book “Nomad, sounds of exile,” is particularly insightful, perhaps even specifically to the plight of Moïse and his immigrant community in Brazil. May it speak for itself:

Near his table rests a glass of water;

Through his window he glances at passerby:

He observes and always waits, waits, waits.

Bitterness nourishes his being;

Subjected to misunderstandings

And false airs of 'people'

He is a prisoner.

He sits, hands cupped around his chin

Solemnly thinking

In his dreaming, his spirits escape

The world of hardships

And travel in the expanses of the

Wild blue sky

He leans on his table, half worried, half-contented.

In this place of his there is no compassion;

Evil prowls around its prey;

Rancor sings its melody of morning,

A stranger to his land,

He melancholically sips from his glass--

A sip of freedom.

Marginalized and needy,

Very far is the wind of liberty blowing for him

He is a clandestine, always without address,

Not a nomad, but a recluse in the midst of humanity.

In his unbroken crystal enclosure

He follows the echoes of his silent screams.

A rock of madness, only solitude answers him.

He startles!

His heart rapidly beats!

He rises from his bed!

Ah! It's only a nightmare!

This is a nightmare Moïse and his family will not wake up from, nor will the African diasporic community at large be shielded from the inhumanity of such barbaric acts. But we can, as a society, begin to perceive Justice as a much border concept — not only as something the judicial system can provide. Justice means seeing, respecting, and appreciating the value of welcoming people who are different from us into our communities. Justice means doing what we can to learn, understand and fight against a geopolitical paradigm driven by abuse and exploitation (e.g. by demanding reparations). Justice means thinking, asking and feeling the Humanity in all of us.

Protest for Justice in the Moïse case in São Paulo, MASP, February 5 — Photo and video (Credit: Mirna Wabi-Sabi).
Mirna Wabi-Sabi is a writer, editor, and translator from Brazil. She is the founder of the Plataforma9 initiative and is the author of the bilingual pocket book Anarcho-Transcreation (Anarco-Transcriação).
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