Why football stars have DR Congo on their mind

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Christian KabaseleImage source, Getty Images
Image caption,
Christian Kabasele is from the region rich in minerals used in mobile phones

Amid the big games over the festive period, Congolese football stars may well have their minds focussed on events back home.

People in the vast country of the Democratic Republic of Congo are voting in crucial polls to replace 47-year-old President Joseph Kabila between Christmas and the New Year.

In the six decades since independence it has not had a peaceful transfer of power and 20 years ago what became known as Africa's World War was fought on Congolese soil. Insecurity and rebel groups still plague areas of the country.

"I feel sad not only because of the war, but the general situation in Congo. It's so sad to have a rich country and the people there being so poor. It's not normal," says Christian Kabasele, a defender with English Premier League side Watford.

Image source, Getty Images

The footballer was born in Lubumbashi, the main city in a region rich in minerals that are used to produce many of the world's mobile phones and electric car batteries.

"Money is not well distributed - only the politicians on top of the state, or those kinds of people, get the money. What is most painful for me is that it seems that not a lot of people in the world talk about this," he laments.

"It's like there is some problem in this country but we just don't care."

The 27-year-old says he has not been back home since he was young.

"I was a few months old and I don't have many memories. My parents thought the best way to have a better chance for my brother and I was to move to Belgium."

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He is among a large Congolese diaspora, including other high-profile football players, who left the country for Europe over the last four decades fleeing political and economic instability.

They are hoping that the elections will usher in a new era of peace and development.

'Complex subject'

Some of the football stars who were born in Europe still see themselves as Congolese, including Benik Afobe, who plays for Stoke City in England.

"Since I was born my parents taught me Lingala, the Congolese language. I eat Congolese food. I have always felt Congolese in my heart and in my blood," says Afobe, who also plays as a DR Congo international.

Belgium international and Manchester City captain, Vincent Kompany, who was also born in the diaspora, agrees his connection to DR Congo is strong.

"I have been to Congo many times, Kinshasa and Bukavu. It's my country. It feels close to my heart and everything I do.

"Everything I represent is always a little bit for Congo and for Belgium.

"I want the country to move forward like every Congolese guy," said Kompany.

When asked about the political situation in the country, where more than 20,000 UN peacekeepers have been deployed for the last two decades, he says, "It's such a broad and complex subject."

For DR Congo to progress, he urges everyone - voters and politicians include - to think of future generations.

"All I can say is that the future is always the children.

"However much we support them is however much the country is going to get back and perhaps that's the key for Africa to look after our children."

'We want peace'

For Lomana LuaLua, who played for Portsmouth and Newcastle in the English Premier League at the height of his career, the solution is more fundamental.

"For Congolese people first of all we really owe it to our hearts to love one another," said LuaLua.

Premier League defender, Arthur Masuaku, agrees the situation back home is sobering.

"It's sad because I know for a fact that we are the richest country in the world, but when you go there, you see poverty everywhere," the French-born West Ham player says.

With the campaign to elect a successor to Mr Kabila already marred by deadly clashes, his only wish is "no war, just peace, that's it."

For Kabasele, it time for voters to take the future into their hands.

"They don't have to be afraid of what could be the consequences if they don't vote for this guy or that guy.

"They need to have the courage.

"They need to respect the final decision and not, like so many times [in the past], go on the streets and create some chaos. But first of all they need to vote with courage."

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