They organize the main public speaking competitions in French from Lubumbashi, the capital of Haut-Katanga, which is a pioneer city in the field in the DRC. Lawyer and French-language associate, Nelly Tshela Mutay is at the origin of the Female Eloquence Competition, which is aimed at middle and high school girls aged 13 to 17. The Lushoise association Les Talents has set up an inter-university eloquence competition. As for Me Jacques Mukonga, business lawyer at the Lubumbashi bar and, among others, first prize in the prestigious public speaking competition of the Conférence internationale des Barreaux (CIB), in Lausanne, in 2018, he created the “Competition d’eloquence Tshimbadi”, at the Faculty of Law of the University of Lubumbashi (Unilu). He also orchestrates “History Trials” as part of his Congo-Culture association and leads debates in his Éloquence club.
All started from the same observation: while there are certainly a few exceptions, most high school and university students find it difficult to write well and express themselves in public, especially young girls, who are often more shy than boys. Added to the apprehension of speaking is “the difficulty of conceiving, structuring and expressing ideas in a clear way”, specifies Jacques Mukonga.
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During Congolese secondary and higher education, including in law schools, one rarely learns the art of rhetoric. “We do not integrate oral expression techniques into teaching”, confirms Tell Mutay. While there are initiatives here and there to train young people in public speaking, they are ad hoc and informal. Hence the idea of structuring the teaching of public speaking through competitions. “It’s a way of forcing young people to get involved, by making the effort to register, and to persevere, by striving to follow all the stages until the final”, insists Live Makufa, administrative officer at the association Les Talents.
More and more candidates
The purpose of the exercise differs from one competition to another. The one organized by Les Talents aims to give young graduates the opportunity to open up to the professional world, get a job, promote themselves to an employer or defend an entrepreneurial project. The Tshimbadi competition – named after a famous lawyer from the Lubumbashi bar – which already has six editions, should enable a young lawyer to learn how to plead better. The Women’s Eloquence Competition aims to give middle school and high school girls “the basic tools” to conceive, organize and express an idea.
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The competitions are announced on social networks, sometimes by promotional spots broadcast in the audiovisual media. The organizers are also in contact with the heads of schools, universities and student cultural associations. Word of mouth does the rest. Over the years, the number of applications and associated cities increases. Thus, the first edition of the Tshela Mutay competition took place in Kinshasa in 2020, the second was held in 2021 in Lubumbashi, like that of March 2022, which brought together around fifty high school girls from Kinshasa, Lubumbashi and from Bunia (Ituri). As for the number of candidates for Talents, it has increased from 140 in 2021 to 180 this year, where the competition mobilized students from Kinshasa, Lubumbashi and Kolwezi (Lualaba), from around twenty universities. Two new provinces should be involved for the 2023 edition.
A common knowledge base
These competitions follow the same pattern. Before the final, each candidate must go through a series of stages, during which he will be trained, coached, judged, and possibly eliminated. Between the registration, the validation of the candidacy and the proclamation of the results, up to three months can pass. Because there is no rhetoric without mastery of writing, the first stage of the competition therefore invites the candidate to read, to carry out research to document himself on the proposed subject (generally drawn by lot), broaden their general culture and demonstrate their ability to demonstrate, with supporting arguments. “We must establish reading habits,” insists Nelly Tshela.
Then comes the training in rhetoric itself. Practical courses, teaching materials in the form of videos, manuals and booklets… Coaches use all media to achieve their goals. Renowned master in the matter, Jacques Mukonga has written extensively on public speaking. Like Tshela Mutay, author of the manual Oral expression module. Learning to communicate: a vital skill.
The topics offered are varied. Tshela Mutay, whose competition is held the first week of March, on the sidelines of International Women’s Rights Day – “so that March is not just a month during which young girls wear loincloths, but during which they their brains” – favors topics on ecology, respect for nature and current affairs. “For the 4e edition, I would like the girls to talk about soft skills [capacité d’adaptation, créativité, autonomie…] “, she adds. The Talents, whose competition is also organized in March, have their candidates work on general or philosophical subjects such as “Freedom and time” or “Should we be wary of each other? »
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Of course, the winners are awarded. Les Talents offers four distinctions: gold, silver, bronze and a shield – from the name of the locality in the Congo where bones were discovered, called “sticks of Ishango”, considered to be the ancestors of the calculator. The coaches and juries, made up of personalities from the academic, business and cultural worlds (lawyers, academics, business leaders, etc.), are themselves trained “so that everyone has the same approach to art oratory,” says Live Makufa.
Necessary adversarial debate
The oratorical art taught and promoted by these competitions goes beyond the rhetorical dimension alone. In addition to learning to obtain information, design, develop and express an idea, it is also learning and accepting adversarial debate that are at stake. Each competition in fact includes a stage where two candidates compete on a subject , each defending a point of view.
This approach is particularly visible in the History Trials organized by Congo-Culture. “In the literature devoted to historical figures, some books are incriminating, others more nuanced about the role they played. We bring these controversies to life in our trials. We conducted the trials of Leopold II, Mobutu, Tshombe and Lumumba,” explains Jacques Mukonga. And the latter to insist: “It is important to let the contradictory debate live, to allow people to continue to think, even if it is difficult in the current context, marked by a tendency to radicalize opinions. These competitions are at the crossroads of many social issues. »
Is it this sometimes stifled need for real debate, freedom of speech and tolerance that explains the success of these competitions? In any case, initiatives of the same kind are springing up almost everywhere: at the major seminary of Saint-Paul, they want to organize a contradictory debate; in some high schools, the prefects ask to be trained in rhetoric; and the videos on the history trials are widely viewed… Clearly, the demand is very real. Stay at to reinforce the offer.