My name is Bienvenu Sene Mongaba, son of Nkubokoso Sene, who was
from the village of Mansi in the province of Mayi-Ndombe and of Mabiki Ngamonya Ida, born in Kinshasa and whose parents came from Mongama, also in the province of Mayi-Ndombe. I belong to the clan Monya-mo-letomo of the Batiene community of RD Congo.
I was born in Kinshasa, the capital, on Saturday 28 January 1967 at midnight and a half.
I am proud of my heritage and grateful towards my parents for making me the man I am today with my values and life goals.
My parents taught me from an early age to be proud of being an African, to know my people’s history and that I should never be embarrassed to speak my ancestors’ language. Because, in fact, our African languages can be used to express every idea of the human mind.
I grew up in Kinshasa where I pursued undergraduate chemistry studies at the University of Kinshasa. On 22 November 1996, I left Kinshasa for Belgium to continue my postgraduate studies in chemistry at the Université Libre de Bruxelles and I ended up staying. I now live in Wavre, Belgium, with my wife and our three children, two girls and a boy.
My arrival in Belgium was a shock. When I stepped off the plane at Brussels airport, the November cold was so biting that I took a step back, startling the passenger behind me.
I had read about the cold at my old school in Kinshasa but I wasn’t prepared to face it for real. In November, Belgium is already going through winter! How different from the Kinshasa heat of the rainy season.
I eventually walked on to the border control to have my visa checked. The police officer who examined my papers waved to me to move into the main office for deeper checks. Over there, a second police officer, in civilian clothes, proceeded to give me a full interrogation, not in the office but standing in the corridor. He asked me why I was arriving in November while university had already started in September. I replied that the Belgian Embassy in Kinshasa had finally issued my visa on 15 November, although I had applied in July.
“Well, then you are too late to start classes », he said.
“Not at all, I replied « The university has confirmed it, otherwise I wouldn’t have wasted my time coming all the way here”.
While I was talking, I instinctively put my hand on the wall. The officer looked at me and then at my hand. I looked at my hand too and then I looked at him. And then I left my hand where it was.
This non-verbal conversation had gone like this: “You are not supposed to put your hand on the wall”. “Well, after an 8-hour night flight you are wasting my time with questions instead of letting me go my way and get some rest, so of course I am leaving my hand there, I don’t want to fall over”.
He gave me back my papers and I left. My brother-in-law was outside to welcome me and we drove off to his house.
In the country where I had come to continue my studies, Belgium, I soon discovered first-hand that three language communities co-exist: the French-speaking, Dutch-speaking and German-speaking.
My university was French-speaking, but the Dutch-speaking equivalent was just next door. Besides the novelty of seeing people studying in different languages in the same country, at some point I had a professor of Czech origin. During lectures, he used a book written in Czech as reference and at the same time he taught us in French.
So I asked myself: “Why did I have to be taught in French throughout all my studies in Kinshasa, then, when in fact Lingala is our mother tongue there?”
So, I made the decision to work for the progress of African education in African languages. Besides pursuing my career and research in my chosen field of chemistry, I was active in the non-profit sector.
Asbl Mabiki, the organization I founded started publishing magazines from African expats in Belgium, and then novels and school books in African languages, mainly in Lingala.
The main goal was to give guidance to African expats in Belgium and to advance education and professional training in Congo, using the African languages spoken in everyday life by Africans. In 2006, the organization was awarded the Condorcet-Aron Prize for Democracy by the Brussels Parliament.
Since 2000, I have made it my life’s work to encourage Africans to write and produce knowledge in their mother tongues, the languages of Africa.
In order to do that, we publish books in African languages, especially in the 4 national languages of DR Congo and we organize events to promote the awareness that culture and education in Africa can and should be spread by the means of African languages. Years of research, my own and my academic partners’, are developing the vocabulary of the sciences in African languages.
I remember the amazement of Kinshasa chemistry teachers when they first saw our table of elements in Lingala. The amazement of education inspectors when they heard students discussing mathematics in Lingala as well.
In 2013, I set up a school in Kinshasa, the Nsene Etienne Institute, where teaching is dispensed in Lingala, while French and English are taught as school subjects. Students conduct lab experiments (chemistry, biology, physics and technology) in Lingala and learn for example how to purify water with local resources and materials.
Through our method, our students have significantly improved their competence in reading and writing, even in French and English, and they are more creative and reactive.
From the teacher and from the videos we record for them through Youtube and show them in class, they learn that culture is something which belongs to their world and is created by their own people.