Pierre Kompany: DRC Refugee To Become First Black Mayor In Belgium

by Duke Magazine

Pierre Kompany left the military camp in the central Africa country of Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), where he was incarcerated on the orders of then country’s dictator, Mobutu Sese Seko in 1975 as a refugee. Today, the then refugee is a Belgian politician overseeing the Brussels suburb of Ganshoren, and the first black person to record such feat.

Born in a Francophone county which yet to have a reconciliation with her past, Kompany was in 2018 elected as Belgium’s first Black mayor. However, he had a member of Brussels’ regional parliament since 2014. 

Kompany is the proud father of Belgian professional footballer and manager and one of the best defenders in the world, Vincent Kompany, who plays as a centre back and acts as a player-manager for R.S.C. Anderlecht. Vincent was the former captain of Manchester City football club of England, and he led the club to win its first league title in 44 years in the 2011/12 league season.

Pierre Kompany with his son Vincent with the Premier League trophy in May 2014 – Image credit: Martin Rickett/PA

Born to a tribal clan chief in the Kasai region of the Congo, Kompany was also a footballer playing for leading club Tout Puissant Mazembe. When he was young, he and 206 other students reportedly protested against the policies of the country’s leader in the early 1970s.

“He was strong and a big power. He put us in a military camp but he knew that he could have a problem with the European press so what he did was say that they are doing their military service. So we stayed there for 13 months and 15 days – I cannot forget that,” Kompany told The Guardian.

“From the beginning, it was very hard,” he said, reminiscing the beatings and those who disappeared having been dropped in the Congo river with a stone around their head. “They told the military that we were the rebels. And at the same time, the rebels were fighting in the east. So when they bring us to the camp the soldiers thought we were rebels, and they knew that some of them would die in eastern Congo. It was crazy.”

When Kompany was later released he went back to study, but he never neglected football. It was while playing football that he met a doctor who forged a medical referral letter to a specialist clinician in Belgium for treatment for a disease he did not have.

“I was playing football with the doctors at university. One of them wrote for me a certificate saying that I had to go because I had something. I don’t know what was written.”

Kompany arrived in Belgium in 1975 and made a claim for refugee status. He did all kinds of work to survive. In 1982, he’d receive his permit so he started working as a taxi driver while studying in mechanical engineering in the university.

Image credit: Magali Delporte

Kompany later became a successful engineer and married Joseline Fraselle. He has three children, Christel, Vincent, and François. Kompany delved into local politics, where he joined the Socialist Party and later the Humanist Democratic Centre. 

Upon his election as mayor, he said: “My success, my election, shows the direction of the march of history, which is towards a more peaceful history… I think one has to regard this as a victory for humanity as a whole,” 

According to him, his election shows that Belgium has made significant progress towards integrating a people who, not so long ago, it systematically suppressed, exploited and almost annihilated.

Kompany never shies away from his background. The now 72-year-old, who had always been outspoken about racism recently said that Belgium should apologize for colonizing Congo, a statement Kompany faced a backlash for.

“The problem is the same as ever, it’s people’s mentality. It’s about when people don’t respect someone else because of the color of their skin, and take them for less. We have to find a way to change people’s mentalities. And that happens with education, so it’s education that has to change,” he said in a recent interview.

Kompany argues Belgians should be thankful to Congolese for helping in their country’s development through their natural resources. “Belgium is recognized thanks to the Congo, which was a very rich country, and everybody wanted to buy its mineral products”.

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