From DRC as a refugee to Belgium’s first black mayor, the story of Pierre Kompany

Theodora Aidoo Jul 15, 2020 at 11:00am

July 15, 2020 at 11:00 am | Opinions & Features, Success Story

Theodora Aidoo

Theodora Aidoo | Staff Writer

July 15, 2020 at 11:00 am | Opinions & Features, Success Story

Pierre Kompany was elected as Belgium’s first black mayor in 2018 Pic Credit: Judith Jockel/The Guardian

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

Even though he was born in a country, which is yet to reconcile her colonial past, Kompany was elected as Belgium’s first ever black mayor in 2018. He has been a member of Brussels’ regional parliament since 2014.

He 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. As the former captain of Manchester city, Vincent led his club to win the Premier League during the 2011–12 season, their first league title in 44 years.

Pierre Kompany with his son Vincent with the Premier League trophy in May 2014.
Pierre Kompany with his son Vincent with the Premier League trophy in May 2014 – Pic 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,” he 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.

Kompany Sr is Belgium's first ever black mayor
Pic Credit: Magali Delporte

He became a successful engineer and married Joseline Fraselle. He has three children, Christel, Vincent, and François. Kompany became involved in local politics. He joined the Socialist Party and later the Humanist Democratic Centre. Unfortunately, his marriage hit the rock.

When he was elected 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 is facing 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 colour 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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