04/19/2011

Kinshasa to Brussels via Geneva

A flight of Brussels Airlines from Kinshasa to Brussels dropped in at Geneva yesterday: the day that Geneva showed off its new logo. Almost certainly a coincidence!


The GVA.CH airport web site showed flight SN359, Brussels Airlines from Kinshasa, scheduled to land at 6h45 am, actually landing at 6h50 am. It then left again for Brussels about an hour later. The aircraft was an Airbus A330-301, built in 1994, registered as OO-SFO and owned by Brussels Airlines.

It is doubtful if this was the start of a regular service (for which we would surely have been told in advance), so one would assume that it was some exceptional situation. A possible reason might be a medical emergency (maybe after turbulence), but maybe there are other reasons. The desire to drop off someone in Geneva on the way past, or to fill up on fuel, would seem highly unlikely.

At a time when the stock market flotation of the mining conglomerate Glencore, based in the village of Baar in the canton of Zug, will probably make it overtake Nestlé in the list of main Swiss enterprises, I reflected on the connections of mining, Belgium and the Congo (which I always thought of as the Belgian Congo). Of course, it actually became an independent republic in around 1960, after a process of decolonisation by Belgium. As with other decolonisations by different European countries, this was accompanied by violence as various tribes and their leaders fought for power.

Brussels has retained many links with the Congo, just as has France with the Ivory Coast, Portugal with Angola and Britain with South Africa. There was also a strong German influence in South West Africa, which tried hard to prevent South Africa joining in on the side of the Allies in the second world war. Clearly, these links are important because of the mines in that continent: a subject which interests me because a family member was once a mine manager in the Congo, but had to leave there (for obvious reasons).

Students of history might care to read an interesting book on how the great powers got into Africa in the first place: I can recommend "The scramble for Africa", by Thomas Pakenham: it is subtitled "White Man's Conquest of the Dark Continent Fom 1876 to 1912". In the 1960s there was an equivalent scramble to get out of Africa with a minimum of damage: one supposed test of diplomatic skills was how to leave and organise free and fair elections, yet ensure that the winner of the elections would be the desired people!

Regrettably, subsequent history shows that fair elections in Africa have happened very rarely since then. It is a truism that incumbent african presidents (dictators!) do not accept to lose elections: if vote rigging is not sufficient then other means are tried. Perhaps the current Nigerian elections will be an exception to the rule, in that they may be more or less free, and that they will become more the norm. However, Zimbabwe is the reverse side of the coin: I remember long ago, when its independence was being negotiated, a friend in the UK diplomatic service who was involved in these negotiations, already predicted the trouble ahead.

So probably no other Geneva-Africa services (other than the notorious Mauritius flight) for the moment!

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