Romelu Lukaku’s Symbolic Goal Celebration Calls for Action in the DR Congo

Romelu Lukaku, the distinguished striker for AS Roma, has recently made headlines not just for his performances on the field but also for his poignant celebration during a Europa League match against Feyenoord. After scoring a crucial goal, Lukaku chose a symbolic gesture to shine a light on the ongoing armed conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Facing the camera, he placed one hand over his mouth and pointed two fingers to his head, mimicking a gun. This act was not merely a celebration but a powerful statement, as he later elaborated on social media, captioning a photo of the gesture with “Free DRC. Stop the genocide.”

The eastern region of the DRC has been embroiled in conflict since late 2021, with the March 23 Movement (M23) supported by Rwandan army units, clashing with the Congolese army and various local militias branded as “Wazalendo”. This area’s strife has led to significant loss of life, displacement of communities, and a humanitarian crisis that has caught the attention of the international community.

Lukaku’s gesture is part of a broader movement among Congolese athletes and public figures to bring international focus to the plight of their country. The national team of the DRC had previously used the same gesture during the African Cup of Nations to protest against the violence. Similarly, Heritier Luvumbu, a former Congolese player for the Rwandan team Rayon Sports, was suspended for six months by the Rwandan football federation and prematurely ended his contract after making the same gesture, which was seen as provocative, especially by supporters of Rwandan President Paul Kagame’s regime. This has been in the context of allegations, confirmed by the United Nations and several Western countries, of Rwanda’s involvement in the DRC crisis by supporting the M23 rebels.