On the streets of DR Congo’s Goma, rap gives youth a voice

In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, street rappers fight President Joseph Kabila’s government with music.

by Ingrid Gercama & Nathalie Bertrams

Goma, DRC – A young voice sings, “What’s up in Congo Kabila? Why so much crime, violence, corruption and killings?”

The lyrics are from the latest album by Shusha Ma Flow, a hip-hop collective made up of teenagers living on the streets of Goma, the provincial capital of North Kivu in the east of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).

“Here in Goma life is dangerous. We live in a war zone,” says 16-year-old Asili Power (nicknamed “Black Magic Power”).

Hundreds of children live on the streets here. Most have fled the armed conflict between the government and more than 120 armed groups in the area. Despite the presence of more than 16,000 UN peacekeepers in the region, the conflicts rage on.

Elections were scheduled for December 23 but were postponed by a week. Officials cited a fire that destroyed voting machines, but opposition groups accused authorities of trying to keep President Joseph Kabila, who is due to step down after ruling the country for nearly 18 years, in power.

Goma’s street children find shelter in the city’s many slums, which have been dubbed “al-Qaeda” or “FBI”. Here they face many dangers, including drug abuse, forced recruitment into armed groups and rape.

The young rappers of Shusha Ma Flow want to change the status quo.

“People in Congo are suffering, but Africa is able,” says 19-year-old Ivoire Papati Dance.

Music activist Wanny S-King works with PASO, a social change association based in Marseille, to teach Goma’s street teenagers to channel their anger and fear into art.

“The state puts them in prison, instead of caring for these kids,” Wanny says.

Wanny knows the streets. After his political protest song Wale Wale began to hit the bars of the city, Kabila’s administration began to actively hunt him.

Wanny is sceptical about the presidential elections: “You might replace the president, but the corrupt system does not change.”

Yet, the rappers of Shusha Ma Flow believe in the power of their beats: “Hip-hop transports me into paradise, rap slams the sound of all my troubles.”

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