The Congolese diaspora in Brussels and hybrid identity formation: multi-scalarity and diasporic citizenship

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1 Urban Research & Practice ISSN: (Print) (Online) Journal homepage: The Congolese diaspora in Brussels and hybrid identity formation: multi-scalarity and diasporic citizenship Eva Swyngedouw & Erik Swyngedouw To cite this article: Eva Swyngedouw & Erik Swyngedouw (2009) The Congolese diaspora in Brussels and hybrid identity formation: multi-scalarity and diasporic citizenship, Urban Research & Practice, 2:1, 68-90, DOI: / To link to this article: Published online: 02 Apr Submit your article to this journal Article views: 1566 View related articles Citing articles: 9 View citing articles Full Terms & Conditions of access and use can be found at Download by: [ ] Date: 17 November 2017, At: 12:18

2 Urban Research & Practice Vol. 2, No. 1, March 2009, RURP Urban Research & Practice, Vol. 2, No. 1, January 2009: pp The Congolese diaspora in Brussels and hybrid identity formation: multi-scalarity and diasporic citizenship Urban E. Swyngedouw Research and Practice E. Eva Swyngedouw a * and Erik Swyngedouw b a Department of Sociology, University of Leuven, Leuven, Belgium; b Department of Geography, School of Environment and Development, University of Manchester, Manchester, UK Matonge Ixelles. Porte de Namur! Porte de l Amour? J ai sillonné le monde entier, jamais je n ai vu une ville comme Bruxelles et un quartier comme Matonge d Ixelles où tout le monde se mêle (plus de 100 nationalités dans ce seul quartier). Difficile de décrire en un mot ce qu est Matonge Bruxelles ou Bruxelles elle-même. Bruxelles era ville mythique Bruxelles era lola (paradis) 1 Matonge Ixelles. Gate of Namur! Gate of Love? I have travelled around the world, never have I seen a city like Brussels and a quarter like Matonge in Ixelles where everybody gets involved (over 100 nationalities in this neigbourhood alone). Difficult to describe in one word what Matonge is Brussels or Brussels itself. Brussels is a mythical city Brussels is paradise In recent years, considerable attention has been paid to the rise of transnational communities in European cities. The interplay of economic globalisation, accelerating immigration, and transnational network formation have transformed the socio-cultural mix of Europe s larger cities, resulting in the emergence of ethnically highly diversified, multicultural, and cosmopolitan, or what Leonie Sandercock calls mongrel, cities (Sandercock 2003). This contribution aims to elucidate the relationship between new forms of emergent mongrel urbanities on the one hand and transnational hybrid identity formation among diaspora communities through the formation of multi-scalar spatial networks and arrangements on the other. We shall argue that these hybrid formations are constructed through, etched in, and expressed by the formation of particular urban socio-cultural and socio-economic environments that function as specific and concrete local anchoring points for multi-scalar identity formation. As Nina Glick Schiller and Ayse Çaglar (2009) argue, transnational identity formation, urban transformations, globalisation and scale restructuring are deeply implicated in and operate through particular urban locales (see also Herb and Kaplan 1999, Glick Schiller et al. 2006, Çaglar 2006, 2007). We wish to take seriously their call to problematise mainstream research on transnationalism and migration, with its implicit national bias (usually formulated in terms of the oppositional twin between either assimilation to a presumably given national culture on the one hand or insertion in a multicultural and *Corresponding author. ISSN print/issn online 2009 Taylor & Francis DOI: /

3 Urban Research and Practice 69 apparently tolerant host nation on the other). Instead, we focus on the local urban expression of scaled transnational network activities and the associated formation of a distinct multi-scalar hybrid identity that is neither assimilationist nor multicultural, but expresses a unique hybrid form. This, in turn, allows us to cast a new perspective on the process of globalisation from below on the one hand and the remaking of identity on the other. More importantly, in a context of growing transnational multi-scaled identity formation in European cities, such an approach demands that we take seriously the question of what constitutes urban citizenship in a post-national world of deterritorialised, or rather multi-scalar, identities. Moreover, the city itself is rescaling in important ways, and this is particularly clear in Brussels (see Baeten and Swyngedouw 2001, Swyngedouw and Kaika 2003). The federal implosion of Belgium, the political fragmentation of Brussels, the Europeanisation of the city, its accelerating differentiation and the emergence of a glocal urban gestalt is closely related to the newly emerging forms of transnational identity formation and their local-spatial expression as embodied in and performed through the everyday urban life of local transnational communities. Our focus is on a particular and largely ignored ethnic group in Belgium, namely the Congolese diasporic community. Its particular atypical history of migration and the presence of a large number of residents of Congolese origin in Brussels bring out a series of processes of hybrid identity formation that are underrepresented in the literature on European urban transnational immigration (which tends to focus either on migrating labour or on refugees). The Congolese diaspora, which does not fit either category well, offers a uniquely important and extraordinarily rich group who have formed a particular transnational, but locally embedded, hybrid identity, shaped exactly by their particular histories, geographical trajectories, scaled networking, and urban embedding. Moreover, the rapid growth of a population of Congolese decent was marked by the transformation of a neighborhood in Brussels (Matonge) into a distinct, globally localised African community, a transformation that coincided with the acceleration of globalisation. This case consequently offers a privileged insight into the making of glocalised mongrel urbanities. Figure 1 (as well as its caption) shows a mural (now removed to make way for an urban renovation project) by renowned Congolese artist Chéri Samba that for many years adorned one of the main streets leading into Matonge, the largely Congolese neighbourhood on the eastern fringe of Brussels city centre. The mural depicts everyday life in Matonge and celebrates the cultural diversity, ethnic mixing, and expressions of identity that fuse together an eclectic mélange of styles, colours, tastes, and activities. Matonge has a strong symbolic significance and attracts African (and not just Congolese) people from all over the world. It offers a kaleidoscopic view of glocalised urban life, one that suggests that identities are continuously refashioned, disassembled and reassembled, a process in which the geographical scales of social networking are of key importance. This contribution seeks, first, to undertake the archaeology of family, political, economic and socio-cultural networks among the Belgian-Congolese diaspora, and their spatial scaling with an eye towards excavating the processes through which urban hybrid identity formation is forged and structured. We maintain that it is the overlay of various articulated transnational networks in which local residents are embedded that are productive of new mongrel or hybrid identities. These new forms of hybrid identity formation shape the conditions of urban life in Europe and produce the contours for new forms of cosmopolitan citizenship that transcend older and often nation-centered forms

4 70 E. Swyngedouw and E. Swyngedouw Figure 1. Matonge-Ixelles. Porte de Namur, Porte de l Amour? of identity formation. It facilitates thinking through again how the urban experience is precisely one that is conditioned by the continuous rekindling of identities. This local embedding will be the theme of the second part of the paper. We shall conclude that this new form of urbanity has profound implications on both the conceptualisation of (urban) citizenship and the democratic content of city life, particularly as it will become evident that the national scale is perhaps no longer the privileged scale through which urban citizenship of the mongrel variety should be institutionalised. We argue that this problématique requires urgent attention as European cities are rapidly rescaling and transnationalising. However, before we embark on this, we explore briefly the historical-geographical dynamics of Congolese migration to Belgium and offer some pointers to conceptualising scaled hybrid identity formation. The Congolese diaspora in Belgium: an atypical case In most of the literature on transnational communities and urban identity formation, emphasis is placed on two main processes of immigration that have shaped transnational presence. On the one hand, considerable attention has been paid to the emergence of large communities of migrating people who were positively attracted, if not encouraged to move, to fuel local labor markets (as in the case of guest workers in North-Western Europe). On the other hand, research has focused on mass migration movements through colonial and post-colonial networks (as in the case of, for example, Asian and West Indian immigration into the UK) or the legacies of the slave trade (Koser 2003). Urban transnational communities are customarily analysed from either or both of these vantage points. The Congolese diaspora in Belgium, however, does not correspond easily to these two typical cases. This atypical character (but one that will become more prevalent in a neoliberal and post-national world), however, has important consequences and permits us to

5 Urban Research and Practice 71 think through the formation of transnational identity stripped from the singular dominance of the search for work and income on the one hand or symbolically overcoded by a distinct post-colonial sensitivity on the other. Of course, Congolese migration to Belgium is a product of the common colonial past too (De Clercq 2000, p. 227), although very different compared with, for example, the Commonwealth experience or the earlier slave-based African diaspora. This history began when the 1884 Berlin conference assigned Congo Free State as the personal possession of Leopold II, then king of Belgium. During this period, the only movement of Congolese people to Belgium was exclusively for urban exhibition display (such as during the world exhibitions of 1885 and 1897) where the imported exotica performed live shows about everyday life in Congo: playing tom-tom, performing traditional dance and mimicking tribal wars (Etambala 1993). A note on the fences of their compound read: Do not feed the blacks, they have already been fed. When the horrors of the king s ruthless exploitation of Congo became mediatised (and the financial cost to the king of maintaining order began to outweigh profits), the international community pressurised the state to take over colonial rule (1908). Etambala (1993, p. 25) argues that from this moment, the kernel of Congolese migration to Belgium was formed. Yet it remained extremely limited. According to census data, there were 15 Congolese in Belgium in 1910, 28 in 1920, and 98 in The colonial administration excelled in discouraging and controlling migration. During the colonial period, migration to Belgium was extremely limited. Officially, there was no migration. The few Belgian residents of Congolese dissent were students or the occasional rare visitor (Kagné 2001, p. 6). When in the post-war period the guest workers schemes tried to attract southern European, Turkish or Moroccan workers to Belgium, the colony was not used as a labour reserve for Belgium s industry. There are two reasons for this. First, there was a great need for workers in Congo itself for its industrial and agricultural exploitation. The colonial elite preferred to use Congolese workers locally. Second, the political elites were concerned with the racial homogeneity of Belgium, which they feared would be undermined with Congolese immigration (Kagné 2001, p. 6). After Congolese independence in 1960, a greater number of Congolese (Zairese after the change of name in 1971) began to reside, mostly temporarily, in Belgium. In 1970, for example, there were 5244 Zairese residents in Belgium (Kagné and Martiniello 2001, p. 9). Most of them were students, Zairese civil servants on training courses and diplomatic personnel. They were all assumed to return home after completing their stint (Kazadi Wa Kabwe and Segatti 2003, p. 125). In addition, elite political exiles entrenched in Brussels, joining the company of businessmen and other, usually highly educated, residents (De Clercq 2000, p. 227). The emergent diaspora community became a local satellite of the centre of power in Kinshasa. During the 1990s, then, the dynamics of Congolese immigration changed rapidly as the conditions in Congo deteriorated. The temporary colony of Congolese students and diplomats increased with the arrival of permanently residing illegal migrants, asylum seekers and labour migrants. In 2006, there were officially 26,909 Congolese citizens staying in Belgium. About half of them resided in Brussels (13,540) (Ecodata 2006). However, neither the several thousands that in the meantime had taken Belgian citizenship nor refugees, illegal migrants, or asylum seekers are included in the official data. De Bruyn and Wets (2006, p. 14) estimate that the Congolese diaspora in Belgium totals around 80,000 individuals. Congolese immigration is atypical, particularly as most migrated through personal choice and not as a result of active migration policies from the Belgian state or of special post-colonial arrangements.

6 72 E. Swyngedouw and E. Swyngedouw The symbolic centre of the Congolese (and other sub-saharan) communities in Belgium is the Matonge neighbourhood in Brussels. It is named after one of the most exclusive shopping and leisure districts in Kinshasa. Lingala is commonly spoken and the local experience is, according to Vincke (2000, p. 23), one that seems to be perpetually on the fence between Here and There. Although residents of African decent account for only 8% of the local population in the area, the neighbourhood remains the greatest centre of attraction for Congolese people, not only from Belgium but from all over the world. It has become a pivotal pole for conducting all manner of transactions and celebrating a wide range of activities (De Clercq 2000, p. 227). This area, therefore, functions, both symbolically and materially, as a key signifying place in the construction of Congolese diaspora identity, while shaping a new form of glocal urbanity in Brussels. Transnationalism, hybrid identities and place production Increasing migration has been closely related to globalisation and the greater porosity of borders for all manner of transactions and movements. It is exactly this type of networked cross-scalar existence that shapes everyday experiences and the formation of new glocal identities of diaspora groups (Song 2005, p. 62). The emergence of transnationalism and transnational identities that are no longer structured through national embedding but through post-national conditions are increasingly the defining transnational experience. Daily life is constructed trough a dialectical interaction between the global and the local (Giddens 1991), mediated by all manner of scalar networks (Swyngedouw 2004) that form a complex transnational arrangement (see also Castells 1996, 1997), but one that becomes etched in the configuration of particular localities. The concept of transnationalism was introduced by Basch et al. (1994, p. 7) in Nations Unbound: Transnational Projects, Postcolonial Predicaments, and Deterritorialised Nation-States. They define transnationalism as:...[t]he process by which immigrants forge and sustain multi-stranded relations that link together their societies of origin and settlement. We call these processes transnationalism to emphasize that many immigrants today build social fields that cross geographic, cultural and political borders. Immigrants who develop and maintain multiple relationships familial, economic, social, organizational, religious and political that span borders we call transmigrants. Transmigrants act, take decisions and develop identities embedded in relational networks that link two or more places at the same time. A transmigrant belongs to more than one place, region, or nation-state; he/she feels at home in the home locale, as well as in the receiving locale. However, the focus on the nation obfuscates a series of processes of extraordinary importance that this paper wishes to address. First, while individuals and their locally embedded territorialisation may be deterritorialised through the process of transnationalisation, Deleuzian deterritorialisation is, of necessity, of course always accompanied by reterritorialisation, the reinscription of the body in a set of localised practices and scaled relationships. Second, this reterritorialisation does not obliterate the socio-spatial field associated with previous experiences. On the contrary, the socio-spatial relational field becomes rekindled through restructured geo-relational configurations. Third, a series of new local, urban, regional, national, and transnational networks or fields of social interaction are constructed through the diasporic movement. These, in turn, transform local socio-spatial conditions and produce new scaled identities. Indeed, transnationalism and hybrid identity formation must be placed next to each other for two reasons

7 Urban Research and Practice 73 (Vertovec 2001, p. 573). First, many transnational networks are grounded in the perception that one shares a certain form of common identity. Second, identities of certain individuals and groups are negotiated inside social worlds that span more than one place. The centralised and closed identities of the national culture become more contested and delocalised because of expanding globalisation (Hall 1992, p. 309). Globalisation has a pluralising influence and makes identities diverse and less uniform and fixed. Likewise, Cohen (1997, p. 157) argues that social identities become deterritorialised. However, as they territorialise again in new configurations, new forms of hybrid identity will gain importance (Pieterse 1995). An important feature of a diaspora- or transnational community is the triadic relationship between the globally dispersed ethnic group, the place of residence and the homeland (Scheffer 1986). Consequently, the hybrid identity of a migrant originates from the interplay between the sending country, the receiving country and the migrant community (Staring et al. 1997, p. 16), that is through the performative interaction of local, global and intermediary network (see Figure 2). In sum, it evolves as a result of the interaction between networks of varying, overlapping and interpenetrating geometries and spatial extent. Vertovec (1999) identifies the emergence of a diasporic consciousness. This is characterised by creolisation, one that is acutely aware of the multi-locationality of identity and often seeks out those who share the same experiences (Gilroy 1993). Diaspora identities are the product of interpenetrating histories and geographies. Such cultures of hybridity [are...] defined [...] by the recognition of a necessary heterogeneity and diversity; by a conception of identity which lives with and through, not despite, difference (Hall 1990, p. 235). These identities are not fixed, but continuously renegotiated, subjected to multiple contradictions, and transformative. In this sense, these bricolaged identities are, according to Hall (1992, p. 310), one of the new forms of latemodern identity and a defining parameter of contemporary mongrel cultures that increasingly define European big city life. For the black diaspora, we can even speak about a specific black hybrid identity. The multi-scalar construction of hybrid identity becomes indeed acutely present in Euro-black identity formation. As Paul Gilroy (1993, p. 10) attests, [s]triving to be both European and Black requires some form of double consciousness. As will be shown below, however, there are a number of other spatial relationalities that are performative in the hybrid formation of Euro-black identity. As Stuart Hall argued, black identity fuses together two performative processes (Hall 1990, p. 223). First, black cultural identity can be seen as a part-unity, a shared culture, sutured by the collective black experience, resulting from a shared history of slavery, colonial domination and anti-colonial struggle. The idea of white exclusivity promoted a determined black diaspora and guaranteed its existence Global Ethnic Group Place of Origin Hybrid Identity translation Place of Residence Figure 2. The triadic construction of hybrid identity.

8 74 E. Swyngedouw and E. Swyngedouw (Segal 1998, p. 8), a process that also provided the ferment for a pan-african movement. Despite the efforts to offer a singular content to black identity, it remains (as is the case with others) caught within a multitude of socio-spatial formations. This brings the argument to the second moment of black identity formation. As cultural identity is never fixed and subject to continuous transformation, i.e. identity is a process of becoming as well as being (Hall 1990, p. 225), it is continuously caught in and between cultures, histories, spatialities, and power. It is only from this second perspective that we can observe the traumatic kernel of colonisation. The way in which Blacks were seen and positioned within dominant registers of representation not only resulted in Whites seeing Blacks as radically Other, but, equally important, that Blacks began to see themselves as such. This is the vital insight offered by Frantz Fanon (1967) in Black Skin, White Masks. This double procedure of dispossession produced beings without anchor, horizon, color, or state. Black cultural identity, from a non-essentialised perspective, results from the conflicting and dialectical dialogue between these two axes. While the first axis refers to continuity and equality and is grounded in past shared experience, the second refers to the differentiations in the present. Black culture is thus created through the diverse and contradictory histories and geographies that gave rise to the different African diasporas (Gilroy 1987, p. 296). Stuart Hall (1990) offers a key opening to understanding this process of hybridisation. Caribbean identity, for him, needs to be thought through three presences. First, there is the African presence that signifies the terrain of repression and of an unacknowledged presence; second, there is the European presence, symbol of exclusion and domination. And finally, there is the American presence, the place where this syncretism is negotiated. We maintain that, for the Congolese diaspora in Belgium, the first two presences need to be complemented by a multiplicity of other locales and spatialities. Black identity, articulated through local, regional and national connectivities with Congolese places, is inserted both in the particular histories of the Belgo-Congolese history and, more importantly, renegotiated through a globalising Europe (Balibar 2004). The self becomes associated with heterogeneity, multiplicity and difference/differance (Schrag 1997, p. 8). The relevance of this scalar reading, although stripped of its socio-cultural spatial specificities, is already hinted at by Tajfel and Turner (1986), who maintain that identity is forged through the interlacing of increasingly broader circles or networks of group membership and (be-)longing. We argue that the Congolese diaspora s hybridised identity is wrought through transnational, national, regional, and local scalar conceptualisations and practices of home and ethnicity through which affinities with home communities can be maintained and nurtured (see Herb and Kaplan 1999, Brinkerhoff 2005, p. 28,), while simultaneously fusing local, national and transnational associations structured by the insertion into the host location. A hybrid identity emerges as a result of the articulation of multiple and constructed elements: Black, African, European, Belgian, Congolese, urban,....; a multi-scalar one that already prefigures the dawn of a deterritorialised urban being. A summary is provided in Figure 3. It is exactly this multi-scalarity and its expression within the formation of mongrel urban neighbourhoods that our empirical work explored. This process becomes, as it were, the parallel dynamics of a rescaling city (Baeten and Swyngedouw 2001). And this is what we shall turn to next. Ways of being: mapping the Congolese transnational field I would like to have a dual nationality because I will always be shared between two cultures. (Louise)

9 Urban Research and Practice 75 Black identity African identity Hybrid identity and place formation Belgian identity European identity Congolese identity Local/regional identity Local identity Figure 3. Hybrid identity of the Congolese diaspora: a scaled construction. The research is based on the triangulation of three methods of data collection: 2 indepth life history interviews (12 men and 8 women) with first-generation immigrants from Congo, participant observation, and document analysis. The interviewees were contacted through a snowballing procedure that started with three local Congolese organisations, a socio-cultural organisation, a community centre and a civil society association in Matonge. In the remainder of this paper, quotes from the interviews will be identified by the first name of the respondent. These interviews were complemented by participant observation in a series of varied social, cultural, and political events of the Congolese community and through a range of activities in Matonge, conducted in the period between April 2006 and March Discourse analysis of websites, folders, brochures from different Congolese and Congo-Belgian civil society associations and movements completed the information collection. The research design and the analysis are qualitative and focused on mapping and identifying the socio-spatial configurations through which diaspora identity is constructed and articulated. Table 1 summarises the local embedding of interviewees and suggests that most (with the exception of students Loris and François) have a relatively long-term presence in Belgium and show a variety of characteristics that suggest a strong association with their local social environment and are, for many in a variety of ways, active in a range of local networks and activities. This local embedding, in turn, is articulated with a range of transnational activities that link individuals with one or more other places. We mapped the Congolese transnational socio-spatial field according to the classification of Itzigsohn et al. (1999, p. 324) and Portes et al. (1999, p. 222). The latter distinguish between economic, political and socio-cultural transnational relations, to which we added the spatial networking engendered through family relations. In line with Itzigsohn et al. (1999), we differentiate between narrow and broad transnationality. Narrow transnational practices comprise activities with a high degree of institutionalisation, with constant participation and regular movement. Broad transnational practices refer to activities with a lower degree of institutionalisation, occasional participation and sporadic movement between the two countries. Table 2 details the geographies of family relations. It suggests that most respondents maintain a wide and rhizomatic set of family relations that span a variety of places.

10 76 E. Swyngedouw and E. Swyngedouw Table 1. Local embedding of interviewees. Residing in Belgium for 10 years Friends of native Belgian origin Member of one or more sociocultural organizations of Belgian origin Belgian nationality Professional activity/student François Billy Antoine Nzema Louise Mulume Mweze Hélène Karol Godelieve Steve Lambert Mi-Jeanne Justin Loris Nadia Sandrine Marie-Louise Erik Olivier Table 2. Name of respondent Mi-Jeanne Antoine Nzema Billy Hélène Lambert Francois Karol Justin Loris Steve Olivier Godelieve Nadia Sandrine Marie-Louise Eric Mweze Louise The spatiality of family networks. Places of family relations Congo, Belgium, USA, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, The Netherlands Congo Congo, Belgium, USA, Canada, South Africa Congo, Belgium, USA Congo Congo, USA Congo Congo, Belgium. UK, France Congo, Belgium, South Africa Congo, Europe, USA, South Africa Congo, Belgium, Canada Congo, Belgium, France, South Africa Congo, Belgium Congo, Belgium, USA, Switzerland Congo, Belgium, Angola, UK, France, Germany Congo, Belgium Congo, Belgium, USA, France, Angola Congo, Belgium, USA, UK, France, South Africa, Kenya Congo, Belgium, USA, Canada, Italy Regular contact is maintained and mutual visits are part of mechanisms through which these translocal kinship connectivities are reproduced and nurtured. Mi-Jeanne summarised the multi-locational family connectivities and their importance as follows:

11 Urban Research and Practice 77 A part of my family is also in Belgium and the others a bit across the world. But we are always in contact, eh, we are still in regular contact [...] There are others who are in Canada, the USA, Germany, France, Italy, Holland, so a bit everywhere. [...] We see each other regularly. We see each other, we are in contact by telephone,... so they also spend their holidays here, such as me, I can go too. Table 3 summarises the heterogeneous and varied range of overlapping and interpenetrating economic, political and socio-cultural activities that are organised through a series of widely cast socio-spatial relations. All respondents reported several of these activities as Table 3. Ways of being: transnational activities of the Congolese diaspora community. Sector Economic Political Socio-cultural Trans-national activities Broad - Informal bi- or transnational traders, transport and sale/exchange of merchandise from occasional trips to Congo - Pakistani traders in Matonge, often of Congolese descent selling African products - Remittances from Congolese migrants to friends and family - Development organisation in Belgium investing in development projects in Congo Narrow - Belgo-Congolese transnational companies like MePharTech - Investments from Congolese migrants in Congolese microenterprises - Tourist, travel and money transfer businesses - Participation in electoral meetings, marches, and events - Action committees in relation to specific regions, places, and/or activities in Congo - Fundraising for home country electoral candidates - Home-town civic committees created by immigrants; membership of town committees - Alliances of immigrant committees with homecountry political associations - Participation in voluntary and charity events to support activities in Congo - Political activism (particularly related to l UDPS en APARECO) in Belgium - No official dual nationality is granted by Congolese government. Yet there are several known cases of dual nationality - Congolese immigrants who stood as candidate in the Congolese elections - Consular officials and representatives of national political parties in Belgium - Amateur bi- or multinational sport matches - Congolese folk and other music bands, theatre companies and the like performing in Brussels - Priests from Congo visit and organize their parishioners in Belgium - Self-definition and identification with and as a part of the Congolese diaspora - All manner of religious activities and meetings that relate to home religious activities - Exhibitions in Belgium of Congolese art and artists - Major Congolese artists perform in Brussels, Liège and other major cities - Congolese immigrants contribute to the cultural production and distribution of Congolese art - Participation in Congolese cultural production from and in Belgium

12 78 E. Swyngedouw and E. Swyngedouw part of their daily activities. It suggests the existence of a vibrant and active transnational community, one that is particularly thriving through family, political and socio-cultural activities. There is less sustained involvement in transnational economic activities, primarily because of the unstable economic and political situation in Congo. However, there are informal trading activities present within the Congolese community that centre around the Matonge area in Brussels. These ways of Being transnational provide the backdrop to the analysis of the ways of Belonging that we turn to in the next section. Ways of belonging: hybridism and multi-scalar identity Sans pièces d identités Il n y a plus d identité Les pièces d identités C est la sécurité 3 Without pieces of identity (identity documents) There is no more identity Pieces of identity (identity documents) That is security While the Ways of Being explored above refer to the actual transnational socio-spatial relations and practices in which individuals are engaged, Ways of Belonging emphasise the practices that are related to identity formation and enact a connection with specific groups, places, and activities (Levitt and Glick Schiller 2004, p. 1010; Glick Schiller 2004). Despite significant differences between individuals, usually related to different life trajectories, different time-space routines and histories of movement, and differential densities of local embedding in Belgium, Congo, and/or elsewhere, there are clear indications of the formation of a hybridised identity, signalling a sense of belonging, of feeling at home, in two or more places (Hall 1992, p. 310). Several respondents, when asked about their national cultural identification, indicated explicitly a sense of possessing a multiple identity, nurtured through their transnational existence, expressed in their everyday life, and often positively embracing the fusions of identity forged through transnational networks. Table 4 summarises some of the most salient statements that suggest a consciousness of and ability to articulate this hybrid condition. The interaction between transnational and local networking expressed in everyday ways of being of the Congolese diaspora in Brussels has a performative effect on identity formation. There is a clear identification of at least an emerging, and with others a wellestablished, hybrid identity. All respondents mobilise and interiorise to a greater or lesser extent elements from both Belgian and Congolese society and culture in their identification process who they are. There is clearly a double consciousness in Gilroy s sense of the word (Gilroy 1993, p. 10). This double consciousness is of course not equally strongly present among respondents. Those who are less well embedded in the locality emphasise their Congolese side. The regularity and frequency of transnational contacts influence and shape the formation of creole identities. Not surprisingly, the more intense the glocal connections, the greater the sense of belonging both to Belgium and Congo. However, the key argument advanced in this paper is how this creole identity is constructed through the articulation of scaled senses of belonging that produce a multilayered and complex glocal local gestalt. In what follows, we shall systematically discuss a series of scalar forms of identity-forming affinities. Of course, there is a variable geometry in the role and importance of each of these spatial scales, but they are systematically

13 Urban Research and Practice 79 Table 4. Performing and performative hybrid identities. I define myself as hybrid (métissé) Belgian-Congolese, as a hybrid of the North and the South. [...] I consider myself to be as much Belgian as Congolese. So my pleasure, my little happiness to me would be that I can go as easily to Congo and live there and to come to Belgium and live in Belgium (Nzema). I have the two cultures, I feel good in there (Billy). I consider myself to be a perfect cultural hybrid (un hybride culturel). So, I carry with me, in a balanced way, the positive values of my home country as well as the positive values from here. And I am doing very well in there [...] I, I feel... I really feel I am a cultural hybrid. I feel equally fine both here and in Congo (Héléne). I don t know, I think I must be a mixed one (un mixte) of all this, because when I return to Congo, they do not find me quite Congolese anymore. So, that s the influence, it is clear that my identity changes. I consider myself a combination (un mixte) of everything (Louise). I am proud to be a Congolese and I am proud to be Belgian, there where I am. [...] I am proud of both. I can not favour one and despise the other, no. Since the other... When I am in Belgium, I am proud to be Belgian and I contribute to everything that happens in my country. When I am in Congo, I am proud to be Congolese, I am involved in what happens. So I belong to two communities, I am proud of the two communities (Mulume). So, for now, I still can not deny my origins, therefore I am Congolese, thus Belgian of Congolese origin. Because there I still have roots, here is my host country. So I feel good in both countries, eh, these are my two countries, the country of origin and the host country, I feel good, like a fish in water, both in Belgium as over there (Mi-Jeanne). I am a little bit of everything. I am a little bit of everything, but my father is not a little bit of everything, if you understand. My mother is not a little bit of everything. But me, I am a little bit of everything (François). I consider myself as Congolese, I am really Congolese, but it is expected to be receptive to the world [...]. We are always open to the world. [...] I can always find values in Belgium and I hold on to them. That, I find good (Lambert). I am mestizo, mulatto. So, you see, I have the two, I have both, and that s an asset. And I try to take the best of Bel... Belgians, of Europe and the best of Africa. So, trying to have both and that is great wealth (Marie-Louise). Fifty-fifty. I m really Congolese and Belgian. I am Belgian, I always dress European, as a Belgian. I study here, I speak Dutch like everyone else. I go to the school here like everyone else. I also think in European way. But Congolese, I like to dance, I like dancing Congolese dance. I like listening to Congolese music. So fifty-fifty, I am Congolese and Belgian too (Sandrine). Me, I am not 100% Congolese, not 100% Belgian, really half-half (Godelieve). Rather a Congolese-Belgian identity. First Congolese. A Belgian... to a very small extent, yes. Why so? Because I ve learned to live as an ordinary Belgian. In my life, I can do all things that a Belgian citizen can do. So for me, Belgium is also important (Karol). present among most of the respondents. First, we discuss the pan-african or Black identity. Both concepts are used as synonymous, because respondents used them interchangeably. Second, the specific national Congolese condition is discussed. We then consider the local affinities, both in Congo and in Belgium. Next, the Belgian part of the self will be examined. Finally, we verify the existence of a cosmopolitan identity as part of their singularity. In this sense, identities are not structured purely transnationally or trans-locally, but they are also multi-layered in the way that different geographical scales (Congo, Africa, Brussels, Belgium, Europe) are horizontally interwoven. Moreover, this multi-scalar construction is not fixed but always subject to change (Hall 1992) as time space matrices and

14 80 E. Swyngedouw and E. Swyngedouw networks change. This scalarity is not hierarchical, but nested, in the sense that higher scales are not necessarily more important than lower ones. Olivier clarifies this process: I will say, yes, that s perhaps slightly exaggerated, but it still comes down to the fact that before 98, the first time that I went back, I was white, in the sense that my identity or my way of acting was not significantly different from the people I grew up with in Belgium, so whites. And that from 98, there has been a certain rebirth, I will not say that my... that I am changed from one day to the next. But I became more interested in Congo, read more, even after a time, I looked up more people of Congolese origin, became proficient in the language again and stuff, so I really do... Let us say, when I lived in Congo, I was a bit of a mix between white and black because I had white acquaintances as well as my African family when I grew up. I lost my black side when I came here and I ve recovered this somewhat from 98 onwards, systematically. That s why, after a while, I started searching for the balance between the Congolese culture, things that I felt were good and I wanted to take, and the Belgian culture from which I did not want throw everything away. And so I had to reconstruct my identity somewhat, so a mix of the two. [...] In that respect, I constructed my own identity somewhat. Nzema also alludes to this process of change, transformation and hybrid identity formation: Listen, I would say I am a hybrid of all this, I consider myself as a hybrid of everything. I am... I think that a reform happened slowly during these 29 years. It means that my mind has evolved towards other things, I think. I can sometimes feel very far removed from the Congolese, as well as far removed from the Belgians. Identity is therefore never finalised or fixed; it is continuously reworked and transformed. This variability opens up all manner of analytical difficulties to gauge the impact of various scales of belonging. Yet, in what follows, we attempt to chart the scalar contours of this process of hybrid identity formation. The pan-african or Black identity Each respondent (with the exception of François with whom this theme was not discussed), considers him- or herself to be African and, as a consequence of their skin colour, they regard themselves implicitly or explicitly as part of the Black movement. A pan- African or black identity has its origins in the experience of the past, and more particularly in the collective experience of the European colonisation of Africa. This idea of pan- African identity is also often associated with and is nurtured by the common experience of the anti-colonial struggles for independence conducted with the aim of the formation of a postcolonial society (Hall 1990, p. 223). They see themselves as One; and being black as the external feature in the struggle against oppression: It is, in fact, to the extent that we share the same destiny and the same history that has first of all been a history of exploitation and primarily of underdevelopment. [...] We have seen everything interrupt, we have seen the destruction of the culture, the imposition of things that were not fully understood. So I feel very connected in Africa with the pan-african community. And the struggle that we are fighting together, that is the battle to get out of this; here too I feel very strongly in solidarity with them. [...] The fight will organize until one day, we ourselves will be able to imagine the means to find interesting formulas to get out of our material poverty. An important point, and it is for that reason that I feel cemented to the pan-african community, starting from this ideal there. (Antoine)

15 Urban Research and Practice 81 Also in the West, Africans are often seen as the same. In the dominant regimes of representation during the colonial era, blacks were often staged as the homogenised Other. Still today, Africans are regularly represented as singular presence (Hall 1990, p. 227). Black identity does not mean that black people are culturally, ethnically, linguistically or physically homogenous, but rather signifies that the dominant culture treats them as such. In other words, the appropriation of a black identity is based on the Africanising conceptualisation by the dominant Western culture, a process that, in turn, is reappropriated in the formation of pan-africanism and a pan-african identity. Several persons have indicated this. The film director, Mweze Ngangura, for example, expresses this as follows: So I think that firstly, the gaze of the Other locks you in... It is that the Other assumes that you are, there is also sometimes the need for self-awareness that has elements from the past and then I think that what is strong in all that is racial; it is not something we decide. We may decide to be baptized, we can decide to be Catholic or Protestant or Muslim, but you cannot decide: I m going to be black or I will be yellow, or I ll be... that comes, that is. And therefore we must take that into account. And I think that it... is perhaps one of the strongest elements of identity, because it is what you cannot change. [...] I think there is something that does not change: it is racial affiliation. Godelieve, a woman with a Belgian father and a Congolese mother, concurs with this: Ethnic origin is important also because of the colour you have. Even if I have a Belgian surname. When people see me they do not see me as (provides Belgian surname + Congolese first name). They see me as an African. [...] And this is therefore important. Finally, it s really the gaze of others... which also made me to be what I am. It s not that I was asked for my opinion, that it is me who has chosen. But because you see it each time in the gaze of people [...] that the people see me as a migrant woman, as an African woman, as a woman of foreign origin. Justin also insists that Belgians never see him as Belgian, but in the first instance as an African: I do not know if you would call me a Belgian citizen [if you see me] on the street, even though I have a Belgian identity card. That will not happen. If you see me on the street you would call me an African in general. And if you know me, you would ask me: where exactly do you come from? All respondents, irrespective of their descent, agree that they are seen by the outside world as African, as not originating from Europe, as the Other. Through the gaze of the others, they are continuously reminded that they are black. This reverse identification is performative with respect to identity construction and perception. Their skin colour is therefore a part of their identity. This blackness can be perceived negatively in manifestations of racism as well as positively when being (or becoming) a proud carrier of the African identity. This is powerfully attested to by Olivier who testifies to the negative experiences that being black brought and how that, in turn, has shaped his identity: And I also think that my Congolese identity is formed in part by that racism. [...] But that is, I think, if someone else... a particular group identifies you with a particular colour, even if you think yourself that you are not really different, you automatically go searching for the aspect with which they identify you. [...] If you are rejected by a society, you automatically go searching for a society where you belong. [...] So in that sense, I think that racism has shaped my identity.

16 82 E. Swyngedouw and E. Swyngedouw Billy affirms the positive aspects of this racialised gazing whereby others put black migrants in the same category. This homogenising process becomes a means through which to bundle communal forces in the construction of a pan-african movement. I understand that we are the same for people. Therefore, I said to myself: this is a strength, it must be a force; it must be a force for change. Yet it is clear that within that unity of African culture, many differences prevail. Indeed, they share a similar (colonial) past, but African societies and cultures experienced highly diverse historical-geographical trajectories and cultural characteristics. Identity is after all the object of transformation as a result of differences in history, culture and personal trajectory (Hall 1990, p. 226). Congolese have come to recognise that they are part of the black community, yet identify themselves as mainly Congolese within that community, despite the fact that Congo and Congolese were of course recent and decidedly colonial inventions. These differences within the pan-african community are real and are repeatedly emphasised: The African does not exist, no, he doesn t exist. All West Africa... When I see Malians and others. Even so different. They are different, in fact. (François). This difference is affirmed by the respondents in their proud endorsement of their Congolese origin. The Congolese identity Every respondent in this research feels, without exception, Congolese. They carry their Congolese origin with pride in Belgium. Loris is very explicit in this respect: Being Congolese is doing the good, that s the definition of being Congolese. They also do evil, that is obvious, but the Congolese have really pushed to do good. [...] Of course, I am more than proud to be Congolese. If God would recommence the world, I would ask him to be always Congolese. Many look back to Congo with a certain melancholy. A recurrent theme is the fact that they miss the human warmth in Belgium. There is a social distance and interpersonal coldness. Lambert says the following about this: So, it s just this lack of enthusiasm in human relations, that s really... Belgium has a lot of work. It is a cultural problem too. Belgium has much to learn from Africa to this point, the warmth of human relations. Yet, they equally recognise that there are still many problems in Congo, both economically and politically: It is first of all the leaders we had until today who think only about themselves and do not think about the general interest. [...] There is no goodwill to do things. That s really a negative side. (Steve) Congolese-ness as a way of Belonging constitutes an important part of the identity of the Congolese migrant. They are connected to and involved in their country at the

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