29 June 2010
Last updated at 07:46
Democratic Republic of Congo gained independence from Belgium 50 years ago amid high hopes but the country remains mired in war, corruption and poverty. Here is a selection of the 50 Congolese photographed by Stephan Vanfleteren to mark the anniversary.
Abel, schools inspector, 71: "I should have retired in 2001, but people don't retire any more. So I'm still working. I'm a schools inspector. The monthly salary isn't always paid. The teachers go hungry. The level of education is very low."
Maman Nicole, housewife: "I've known I was HIV-positive since 1993. When my husband died of Aids my family rejected me. Look at Marianne [fellow member of HIV support group]: her husband was the ambassador and she ended up sleeping on a cardboard box."
Albert, butler at the Belgian embassy, 53: "The first day I got the job I said to myself: 'You're in Belgium now, not the Congo'. The ambassador's residence must always be clean. Here, there's electricity on tap, it's not like being at home."
General Malick Kijege, military general: "When [former dictator] Mobutu first came to power everything was going well and there were things to celebrate. Now there's no reason to celebrate, but people continue to enjoy themselves."
Tshipa Star, dancer: "Our music system sometimes gives out, and then we continue dancing without music. We then find a mechanic who can get the thing working again, generally with car spares. It's not really a Sony any more but a Renault."
Lucy Lusumba, housewife: "I get my hair done each week. Sometimes short, sometimes rather longer, or like now as a satellite. I don't do it just to look nice but also because my hair-do is the only event in my life."
John Amis, bicycle taxi driver, 14: "I know every street in Kisangani. Knowing the route is very important. You get fewer flat tyres and the customer sits more comfortably on the back of the bike. I use the money to pay for my school."
Jules Kabula Badibanga, headmaster: "No, no, I don't want to go back to the colonial times with Belgium. But why can't we work together? In the past, the roads were good, the schools were excellent and we could live a civilised life."
Denis Mukwege, surgeon, 55: "This hospital is really a maternity clinic but because of the war it became an asylum for thousands of women who had been sexually assaulted. An average of 10 new victims arrive each day. Sexual violence is a weapon of war."
Chance: "My mother is sick. She is in the hospital here. I don't know what's wrong with her. I don't know my father, or where he is. I don't know where I was born. I have been living here all my life, as far as I can remember."
Rosalie, office worker, 26: "My mother always says: 'All that reading and studying, you'll never get yourself a good husband like your sister.'"
Emmanuel Buhendwa, beggar: "My children have no money and so cannot look after me. During the day I beg in the streets of Bukavu. My wife works on a small plot of land where we have just enough to ward off starvation. Once I was a security officer."
Christiane, market-trader, 15: "My dream is to become a nurse, or if not, go to Europe. I'd like to marry a white man and become white myself. I couldn't be completely white, that's not possible, but cream is good for whitening the skin."
Aloys Kipembo Lokonda, headteacher: "The state pays us 35,000 Congolese francs - less than $50 (£33) - a pittance. Our salaries haven't changed in 20 years. I think it's a sorry situation but we are forced to ask for a little extra here and there."
Jean-Claude Lofili, photographer, 33: "I have to pay $25 (£17) each year to be allowed to photograph in the street. And even then, I often have to pay bribes to soldiers so they don't confiscate my camera."
Seyota Ndamuso m'Rashagua, farmer's wife: "My husband died from hunger six years ago. Sometimes we had to give up our meagre proceeds to soldiers. That was terrible, but it was better than a beating or, worse still, having one our children carried off."
Freddy Tsimba, sculptor: "Whenever a white man visited my workshop the rent goes up. It'll happen again now that they've seen you. People think I am becoming stinking rich from my sculpting."
Francis Mulamba, orphan, 11: "People told me that my mother died from loss of blood when I was born. She saw me and held me for a moment but died a few hours later. My dad did not want to look after me."
Jean Berghmans Mushegerha, teacher, 50: "The educational level has deteriorated… They have no time to study as they have to work the land. Some are traumatised by the war. It's my duty to prepare these children so this country can get back on its feet."