Paul Panda Farnana, a Congolese nationalist and pan-Africanist

Until 6 March 2022, the museum presents the exhibition Human Zoo. The age of colonial exhibitions. The exhibition focuses, among other things, on an important Congolese man: Paul Panda Farnana. He plays an important role in the history of the Democratic Republic of Congo. Farnana was a Congolese agronomist, nationalist and pan-Africanist. He helped lay the foundation for Congolese nationalism that would eventually lead to independence. Farnana also used his position to fight against the injustices that the Congolese faced under colonial rule.

Sent to Belgium as a child

Paul Panda Farnana M'Fumu was born in 1888 in Nzemba, close to Moanda in the present-day province of Kongo-Central. The word mfumu means chief in the Kikongo language. This can also be deduced from his origins. He was the son of Nsengo and Luizi Fernando, “chef médaillé” of the village of Nzemba. Chiefs who cooperated with the colonial administration were called so because of the medal they received in return.

In 1895, Jules Derscheid, director of a trading company in Boma, took Paul Panda Farnana with him to Belgium as a 'boy' or young household help. When Derscheid died, the custody of Panda Farnana was transferred to his sister Louise, who was an unmarried musician and gave piano lessons in Brussels. Louise Derscheid sent Farnana to secondary school at the Royal Atheneum in Ixelles.

In 1904, Farnana successfully took an entrance exam and enrolled in the horticultural and agricultural school in Vilvoorde. He obtained his diploma there in 1907 with great distinction. Paul Panda Farnana thus became the first Congolese to obtain a higher education diploma in Belgium. He also followed agricultural studies at the École supérieure de Nogent-sur-Marne, near Paris. Subsequently, Paul Panda Farnana attended the École supérieure commerciale et consulaire in Mons, where he deepened his knowledge of English.

Back to Congo

In 1909, a year after Leopold II's Congo Free State had become a Belgian colony, Farnana was employed as an agricultural specialist by the Belgian colonial government. He returned to Congo in the same year, where he was attached to the botanical garden of Eala in the Equatorial Province, where he also taught. He also later temporarily took on the position of district head in the Bas-Congo. There, he was discriminated against because of his skin colour. Farnana faced segregation, forced labour and violence towards his fellow countrymen.

African soldiers in the war

When the First World War broke out in 1914, Farnana found himself in Belgium. At that time, almost all of Africa was under European domination and there was fighting on both continents. Between 1914 and 1918, African soldiers were forced into Europe to fight for their colonial masters. The French and British sent hundreds of thousands of African and Asian soldiers to Europe. They often fought on the front lines, so few of them survived.

In contrast to these two European countries, the Belgians refused to do so. The decision did not stem from human concern, nor from scepticism about the fighting qualities of the colonial army, the Force publique. Belgian authorities were afraid of the long-term consequences of the presence of Congolese soldiers in Belgium.

According to the prevailing view in Europe that white people were superior to black people, colonialism was legitimised as a mission to 'civilise' the African population. In this respect, the Belgian authorities feared that the presence of Congolese soldiers in Belgium might affect the prestigious status of the white man. In addition, there was a fear of sexual relations between black soldiers and white women.

Soldier and prisoner of war

During the First World War, a number of Congolese were nevertheless already present in Belgium. They usually came there as 'boys' or as sailors. However, these Congolese were by no means considered Belgian citizens: they were not allowed to vote and were not allowed to be part of the Belgian army. The latter was to change with a new decree.

On 5 August 1914, the corps des volontaires congolais was established by Royal Decree, allowing Congolese to join the army. Thirty-two1 Congolese had joined up and fought in Namur, Antwerp and on the Yser. Some survived the war, in more or less good health, others died. One of those volunteers was Paul Panda Farnana. He took part in the defence of Namur. He was captured there by Germans, together with Joseph Adipanga and Albert Kudjabo. They were taken to Germany. Adipanga managed to escape. Farnana and Kudjabo remained behind in the POW camp until the end of the war. These years in captivity were marked by forced labour, disease and humiliation.

The First World War was also felt by the Congolese people in Congo. They were forced to produce more copper, cobalt, rubber and cotton for the Allies in Europe. The decree of 1917, part of the Allied war effort, obliged the Congolese population to plant, cultivate and harvest export crops.

Generally speaking, Belgium paid little or no attention to the contribution that the Congolese made in wartime as workers or soldiers. As a result, some Congolese began to show bitterness towards the Belgian rulers for whom they had risked their lives. The consciousness of a national community also grew among some Congolese.

The rise of Pan-Africanism

Pan-Africanism, which experienced its rise at the beginning of the twentieth century, would have an impact on the life of Paul Panda Farnana. This movement had a certain influence on his thinking, his ideological choices and his actions. The foundation of Pan-Africanism comes from the anti-slavery movement in the United States and the Caribbean. The movement is based on the idea that all populations of African descent, both on the continent and in the diaspora, should be united for development and freedom from colonialism.

In 1919, Farnana participated in the first Pan-African Congress organised in Paris at the initiative of William Edward Burghardt Du Bois and Blaise Diagne, the first black-African delegate elected to the French National Assembly in 1914. Du Bois, an African-American human rights activist, historian, sociologist and academic, is considered the father of Pan-Africanism. In the aftermath of this congress, Panda Farnana and a few other Congolese, mostly war veterans, founded the first Congolese association in Belgium: the Union congolaise. This organisation was described as an "association for mutual aid and moral development of the Congolese race".

The Union congolaise did not focus solely on social and cultural aspects. The Union also had a clearly defined political agenda and pleaded for more participation of the Congolese in the colonial administration, for the reduction of forced labour and for the improvement of education. The Union also strove for better recognition of Congolese veterans of the First World War.

In a letter which is preserved in the archives of the AfricaMuseum, Paul Panda Farnana asked the Belgian Alexandre Delcommune for support. Delcommune was a colonialist who was involved in several colonial financial ventures, which gave him good connections. In this letter, Panda argues that he wants to establish a school to improve the general education of the Congolese. The letter dates from the same period as the foundation of the Union congolaise.

Although this association had an unmistakably political character, it was not prevented from being founded. It was, however, under the protection of Louis Franck, the Liberal Minister of the Colonies, and Emile Vandervelde, the Socialist leader and Minister of Justice. The Pan-African Congresses, especially in that early period, became places for defining goals and a vision for Africa. The main themes were the struggle for racial equality, the political autonomy of the African continent, the right to self-government and the recognition of populations of African origin as equal citizens of the world. These are all issues for which Paul Panda Farnana fought.

A struggle against colonial rule

From 18 to 20 September 1920, the first National Colonial Congress was established by the Belgian Parliament. This meeting took place in Brussels and was organised to discuss colonial issues. It is noteworthy that Farnana was the only Congolese who was invited to speak before colonial, ecclesiastical and civilian figures. On this occasion, he spoke as a spokesman for the Congolese people. Farnana pleaded for the political participation of Congolese in the colonial administration. He also called for better wages and access to education for the Congolese community. He also fought for equal treatment and equal opportunities for all Africans. 

A year later, the Second Pan-African Congress was held in London and Brussels. Farnana organised this event together with Blaise Diagne, W.E.B. Du Bois, Paul Otlet (writer, entrepreneur, lawyer, social activist and pacifist) and Jessie Fauset (an Afro-American author, poet, essayist, novelist and educator, editor of The Crisis Magazine). During this congress, Congo was again represented by Farnana.

In his writings, Paul Panda Farnana often emphasised the intimidation, looting, oppression and injustice suffered by Congolese in Congo. He also urged the Belgian authorities to include the Congolese chiefs in the decision-making bodies. He successfully argued for the erection of a monument to the unknown Congolese soldier. He also obtained subsidies from the Ministry of Colonies for organising specific courses for the Congolese in Marchienne-au-Pont, Charleroi and Brussels.

Paul Panda Farnana was increasingly targeted by the colonial press. The Belgian government considered him a dangerous individual and the press portrayed him in a more hostile light.

The Pan-Africanism that emerged in the diaspora was built into a movement in the first half of the 20th century by means of congresses organised by W.E.B. Du Bois and also by Marcus Garvey, a Jamaican black nationalist and leader of the Pan-African movement. From 1945, Pan-Africanism became the main anti-colonialist doctrine developed by and for Africans.

Paul Panda Farnana did not live to see this. In 1929 he left Belgium and returned to Nzemba, his native village in Congo. There he founded a school and a chapel. One year later, on 12 May 1930, Farnana died of poisoning at the age of 42.


Paul Panda Farnana M'Fumu has left his mark on the history of Congo in many ways. He is the first Congolese to have studied in Belgium and France. He also fought for the social rights of the Congolese during Belgium's colonial rule. His writings and speeches are the first steps of Congolese nationalism. Paul Panda Farnana's discourse was mainly participatory, reformist and pacifist.

The Belgian sculptor Guillaume Charlier made a bust of the young Paul Panda Farnana, which belongs to the collection of the city of Mons today.

Although his story remained unknown for a long time, it is kept alive today in various ways. In 2011, the exhibition Visages de Paul Panda Farnana was organised in Brussels at the instigation of the Congolese historian Antoine Tshitungu Kongola. That same year, Françoise Levie devoted a documentary to his life, entitled Panda Farnana: un Congolais qui dérange. A memorial plaque was inaugurated at his former school in the rue Jules Bouillon in Ixelles in 2011. In 2014, his life story was also the subject of a comic strip, Paul Panda Farnana, une vie oubliée (drawing: Asimba Bathy, Yann Kumbozi, Djeis Djemba et Dody Lobela. Script: Antoine Tshitungu).

This article was based on the following publications:

  • Boukari-Yabara A. Africa unite!: une histoire du panafricanisme. La Découverte, 2017.
  • Brosens, G. Congo aan den Yser: De 32 Congolese soldaten van het Belgisch leger in de Eerste Wereldoorlog. Cahiers Bruxellois – Brusselse Cahiers, vol. xlvi, no. 1, 2014, pp. 253-265.
  • Onyebuchi Eze, M. Pan Africanism: A brief intellectual history. History compass 11.9 (2013): 663-674.
  • Goddeeris I., Lauro A. & Vanthemsche G. Koloniaal Congo. Een geschiedenis in vragen. Polis, 2020. 
  • Malisa M. & Nhengeze P. Pan-Africanism: A quest for liberation and the pursuit of a united Africa. Genealogy 2.3 (2018): 28. 12.
  • Tshitungu, A. Visages de Paul Panda Farnana Nationaliste Panafricaniste Intellectuel, 2011.

1 The 32 Congolese who joined the army: Joseph Adipanga, Pierre Alomon, Jean Balamba, Paul Bayon, Antoine Boïmbo, Edouard Bolia, Camille Bolofo, Antoine Bomjo, Eugène Bonkakou, Pius Bouclou, Léon De Cassa, Joseph Droeven, Honoré Fataki, Jean Jacob Ilanga, Jean-Baptiste Jessy, Albert Kudjabo, Honoré Kulu, Simon Lisasi, Michel Longo, Joseph Lopiko, François Mabilla, Antoine Manglunki, Pierre M’Bimba, Jacques M’Bondo, Jules Moké, Antoine Mona, Paul Panda Farnana, Pierre Sangwali, Thomas Seres, Sébastien Simba, Pierre Soumbou, Antoine Yoka.