Page last updated at 12:53 GMT, Monday, 1 December 2008

Dead explorer fights knife crime

By Angus Crawford
BBC News

Sir Henry Morton Stanley
Stanley 'wanted trade to benefit the people of the Congo'
As the government battles to steer youngsters away from gangs and knife crime, one group has enlisted the help of a 19th century explorer.

Elders from London's Congolese community have begun a scheme to teach teenagers about Sir Henry Morton Stanley.

He was one of the Victorian age's greatest adventurers and helped to open up the Congo basin.

The scheme hopes to give children with Congolese backgrounds a sense of identity and stop them getting involved in gangs.

Wearing hoods and baggy jeans, chatting in a mixture of English and Lingala (one of the languages of the Congo) they are not the kind of people you would expect to see walking through a Surrey graveyard.

But the members of the Bantu Welfare Future Builder group are visiting Stanley's grave in a cemetery at Pirbright, near Guildford.

On the large Dartmoor granite headstone are the words "Bula Mutari", which means "Breaker of Rocks".

Possibly Britain's greatest explorer, Stanley made several epic journeys across Africa. In 1871, he found the missing missionary Dr Livingstone.

Legend has it that he greeted him with the words: "Dr Livingstone, I presume".

Stanley, who had Anglo-American nationality, also opened up the vast Congo basin, ushering in a brutal colonial regime under the Belgian king Leopold II. Millions died as the country was exploited for rubber and ivory.

Despite this terrible history, Congolese elders in the UK want to use Stanley's example to help stop their young people getting into trouble.

Thousands of refugees have fled the civil war, which has blighted the Democratic Republic of Congo for years, to settle in the UK.

But in the last two years, 10 young Congolese men have died violently in London, victims of crime.

This is going to empower the young people to have a sense of identity - to help them have communication with the elderly of the community
Thomas Bikebi
Bantu Future Welfare Builder

"The problem at the moment is really huge," says Thomas Bikebi, who runs Bantu Welfare Future Builder.

"We're talking about broken families, educational underachievement, lack of community cohesion.

"If we do not take our responsibility, this is going to a big disaster for the community."

Love of Africa

Mr Bikebi hopes the history lessons will help.

"If you don't know where you are coming from, it's difficult to know where you are going," he says.

At a lecture organised by the group, one youngster - recently released from prison - admits it is only the youngsters who can change things.

"Why did I go to prison? We need to ask ourselves questions again and again," he says.

Another asks: "I know friends and their families are broken, what can we do... to make a difference?"

Mr Bikebi hopes to show these young people that Britain and Congo have strong links, not only through Stanley, but human rights campaigners like author Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and the diplomat Roger Casement, who organised protests about Belgian rule at the start of the 20th Century.

"This is going to empower the young people to have a sense of identity, to help them have communication with the elderly of the community," he says.

Tim Jeal has written the definitive biography of Stanley, who he believes was Britain's greatest-ever explorer.

People displaced by war in the Congo
Civil war in the Congo has created thousands of refugees

He says Stanley was flawed, but had extraordinary resilience, integrity and a profound love of Africa.

"He thought of the Congo as a wonderful place, not a place to exploit. He wanted trade to flow up the Congo to the benefit of the Congolese."

But can learning about him really help young people struggling between two cultures - the Congo of their parents and the Britain of their peers?

Group member Kavine, 14, doubts it.

"For this country to be successful, my country had to suffer - it don't mean nothing to me," she says.

Her friend Ben, also 14, is more positive.

"Britain and the Congo are linked together so, for me, knowing that make me feel less of a stranger and more like someone who was born here," he says.

They might be using an unusual method, but organisers hope that making these youngsters feel more at home will be an important first step in helping them keep clear of the gangs.

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