In Congo, The Return Of Immigrants Who Failed To Strike It Rich In Europe

Return to Congo
Return to Congo
Mustapha Mulonda

GOMA – After trying their luck in Europe, a growing number of Congolese immigrants are returning home to Goma in the North Kivu province to start their own businesses. Their accounts of hardships – which offer an alternative view of Europe - discourage those who are thinking of following in their paths.

“Life in Europe is nice but it is even nicer to live here in Goma where everything is cheaper,” says Jospin Yoto, a young Congolese who returned to Goma after spending seven years in London. Just like Jospin, many immigrants, particularly those who stayed illegally abroad, failed to cope with their living conditions in these beautiful European cities formerly seen as an Eldorado.

Most have learned that Western life is no sure path to paradise. “I made $50 a day in a joiner’s workshop, which seems like a fair amount of money,” ” says Fiston Matungulu, who just came back to Goma after an extended stay in France. “But I was always afraid of getting caught by the police and I quickly realized that I could no longer handle hiding like a fugitive.”

Five years ago, sending a child to Europe was seen as prestigious for many Congolese, and other families across Africa. To make this dream come true, some had to sell valuables, hoping that the future immigrant would quickly succeed and the whole family would share the benefits.

"Doomed" to poverty

Yet for many immigrants, the dream often turns grim as soon as they set foot in Europe, and their once hopeful parents are left with both disappointment and despair. “I sold one of my houses to send my eldest son abroad,” explains Morisho K’s father. His son has never been able to make up for his initial travel costs.

Still, despite the many difficulties and risks of staying illegally in Europe, a lot of immigrants refuse to go home. They are afraid of having to start all over again or face seeing a childhood friend who managed to secure a job, a family and house in Congo.

For those who have come back, it is all clear: “I’m doing my best to make up for the time lost because my friends and my brothers who have stayed home have also succeeded in their own companies,” explains JKM, who came back from Ireland two years ago. He says that many Congolese abroad still believe that Congo is doomed to poverty, conflict and violence. JKM does not regret his decision to come back, since his mattress import business is booming.

According to an immigration official, dozens of Congolese come home from Europe every month and register to start their own businesses. “I have opened a multimedia studio to conceive and direct documentary films about our country” explains computer engineer Hashim Sambu, who particularly enjoys the flexibility of the local council as it often grants additional time and waivers for tax payments.

Back in Goma, some returnees get involved giving advice to their fellow citizens who still dream about trying their luck in Europe. While they do acknowledge the beauty of European cities, they mainly stress the hardships they experienced there, especially those who were living illegally.

Since he came home, James Bugera keeps telling his younger brothers about his painful journey: “I was working 12 hours a day as a handler in a cold storage facility and I was not making any money besides food and a place to sleep in my boss’ basement.”

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Saving The Planet Is Really A Question Of Dopamine

Our carelessness toward the environment could be due, in part, to the functioning of a very primitive area of our brain: the striatum.

Ad scuba-diver and brain coral

Stefano Lupieri

PARIS — Almost every week, a new scientific study alerts us to the degradation of the environment. And yet, we continue not to change anything fundamental in our systems of production and habits of consumption. Are we all suffering from blindness, or poisoned by denial?

In his popular books Le Bug humain (The Human Bug) and Où est le sens? (Where is the Sense?), Sébastien Bohler, a journalist in neuroscience and psychology, provides a much more rational explanation: The mechanism responsible for our propensity to destroy our natural environment is in fact a small, very deep and very primitive structure of our brain called the striatum.

This regulator of human motivation seems to have been programmed to favor behaviors that ensure the survival of the species.

Addictions to sex and social media

Since the dawn of humanity, gathering information about our environment, feeding ourselves, ensuring the transmission of our genes through sexual intercourse and asserting our social status have all been rewarded with a shot of dopamine, the 'pleasure hormone.'

Nothing has changed since then; except that, in our society of excess, there is no limit to the satisfaction of these needs. This leads to the overconsumption of food and addictions to everything from sex to social media — which together account for much of the world's destructive agricultural and energy practices.

No matter how much we realize that this is leading to our downfall, we can't help but relapse because we are prisoners of the dopamine pump in the striatum, which cannot be switched off.

Transverse section of striatum from a structural MRI image

Lindsay Hanford and Geoff B Hall via Wikipedia

Tweaking genetics 

According to Bohler, the only way out is to encourage the emergence of new values of sobriety, altruism and slowness. If adopted, these more sustainable notions could be recognized by the striatum as new sources of dopamine reward. But there's the challenge of promoting inspiring stories that infuse them with value.

Take the photo-collage exhibition "J'agis ici... et je m'y colle" ("I'm taking action here... and I'm sticking to it"), a collection of life-size portraits of residents committed to the energy transition, displayed on the walls of the French coastal city of La Rochelle.

Backed by the French National Center for Street Arts, photographer Martin Charpentier may be employing artistic techniques, but he's also tinkering with neuroscience in the process.

Les Echos
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