When the three countries you have ties to refuse to grant you asylum, let alone citizenship, you know you’re in a tough spot. Meet Alec Lomami. Born in Belgium but not eligible for Belgian citizenship, raised in Kinshasa but denied citizenship by the Congolese government. Lomani went to visit family in the US in 1998, right as the civil war back in the DRC reached new proportions. This meant he was better off staying in the US and applying for asylum, which was denied to him. Thus began almost a decade of stateless living, which ended in an American prison. Meanwhile, five million Congolese perished in one of the most brutal conflicts of recent years.
But this is America, land of the happy ending. Lomani’s situation was eventually sorted thanks to his mom, who did obtain political asylum in the US, got her green card and filed for her son’s green card. And Lomani’s stint in jail gave him plenty of time to think and write. “I’m somewhat of a vagabond,” he says, “or a cultural bastard of some sort, but I’m a proud Congolese nonetheless.”
Download: Alec Lomani, “Kinshasa”
As I listened to the lyrics of his first recorded song, “Kinshasa,” I realized he’s got a lot to tell. But I didn’t realize just how much he had on his mind until we spoke a few days ago. Lomani moved from Brussels to Kinshasa when he was five, where he was, “either treated really well or really badly, because of the feeling of inferiority vis à vis of westerners. As a kid I didn’t want to be different so I would lie about my place of birth, I didn’t like the attention I got from it. I grew up to understand that—not to generalize too much—largely due to colonialism, [the Congolese people's] sense of worth was affected. Everything cool came from the West, and the image of Africa portrayed in the media was largely negative, being African just wasn’t hip!” After Lomani moved to the US, he continued to struggle with his identity. Yet with time, he’s found balance. “As an adult now, I came to appreciate my country, and my culture,” he says. “I’m a part of this emerging class of young Africans who look back to their traditions with pride, while being at home in the west. Call them Afropolitan, Afropean or whatever the trendy name for it is now, but I’m just glad that more and more Africans are okay with being African!”