Last week, I accompanied Secretary Clinton on her visit to Kinshasa, the capital of the Democratic Republic of Congo. It was my second time traveling with the Secretary – and my first time in Africa – and I was lucky enough to explore Kinshasa for a few hours.
Steve Kenoyer, a political officer at the U.S. Embassy, drove me through parts of the city I never would have seen on my own. Driving down dirt roads brought me face to face with the realities of life in Kinshasa. The crowded, narrow roads had open sewers and trash strewn everywhere -- I could only imagine what washed into people homes when it rained. The neighborhood was alive and bustling with people selling food and other goods.
Steve brought me to a beautiful art gallery coupled with a souvenir shop. Owned by a German couple, the outdoor gallery displayed paintings by local Congolese artists. Beyond the locked gate, the gallery was housed in a beautiful garden. Watching peacocks strut by, I almost forgot I was in a city still recovering from a brutal dictatorship. Many people struggle with basic needs in the Congo, but art and culture still flourish.
After looking around the gallery, we headed to the residence of the former Congolese president, Mobutu Sese Seko. His shadow can still be seen throughout the city, from his childhood home to the gigantic tower he built to show off Kinshasa to visiting dignitaries. We passed a statue Mobuto had built in honor of former Prime Minister Patrice Lumumba. It was just another reminder of what the Congolese people have survived.
I never thought I would visit the Congo. Throughout Secretary Clinton’s trip, she said: “We believe in Africa’s promise. We are committed to Africa’s future. And we will be partners with Africa’s people.” I am proud to be part of her effort to forge new partnerships and create new opportunities. I hope one day I have the chance to see Kinshasa again.