Martyrs’ Day is celebrated every 4 January in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The day is in remembrance of the day that the Congolese rose up against Belgian colonialism.
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After World War II, the United Nations put pressure on Belgium to grant independence to all their colonies, including Congo. However, Belgium resisted, calling the request for them to decolonise “interference.” As time went on, however, it became clear that Belgium did not have a strategic long-term vision for Congo and the country began pushing for independence from Belgian rule.
On January 4, 1959, Congolese in Kinshasa staged an uprising against the Belgian regime which they felt was oppressive. What began as a peaceful march organised by the leading opposition party, Alliance des Bakongo (ABAKO), when they were denied assembly by the Belgian government, evolved into riots resulting in the death of 34 people.
The riots spread discontent against the Belgian government into the rural areas. Over the next few months, Congolese citizens staged quiet protests like failing to show up for the census or refusing to stand at attention before government leaders.
By May of that year, the Belgian government realised they needed to stage elections in Congo and attempted to place puppets in leadership roles in an effort to take the spotlight from radicals and stop the cries for independence. However, the people realised what the Belgian government was trying to do and boycotted the elections. The boycott was so successful, Belgium decided to give Congo its freedom.
Congolese citizens credit the martyrs who died on January 4 with their independence. They have celebrated Martyrs’ Day since the 1960s, calling it “la journee des martyrs de l’independence.”