Kindu, April 2, 2003


Question: What did the Congolese use before candles?  Answer: Electricity.“But there are no candles.”“It’s just a joke.”

“There is no such thing as an underdeveloped country.  There are only underdeveloped people.  Put developed people in a country and you will have a developed country”  Congolese intellectual on Radio Okapi.

Mass rape and heavy fighting; one wonders what it would be like if they had not signed peace accords.  But then again, they did agree on April Fool’s Day.

  On Saturday night, a woman came running to two South African Military Policemen at the gate of their post near the airport, to say 25 women had just been abducted by RCD soldiers and taken into the woods beyond.  The women were raped for an hour-and-a-half and then released.  Two days later, the South African sergeant told the morning briefing: “Apparently 25 women were raped Saturday night.”  The UN Human Rights representative practically went through the ceiling.  It would seem that, for these South Africans, mass rape is not worth reporting.  I am told some women military observers will be arriving.  Perhaps rape is something they might take a bit more seriously than their male colleagues.

Heavy fighting has been taking place in several locations outside of town and throughout Maniema Province.  Refugees spoke of a whole village being looted and villagers shot, nine kilometers outside of town, by “men in uniform”, the code for RCD troops.  In fact, seven villages on the road to Lukando are reported to have been destroyed. The military observers cannot get out of town to verify.  The RCD maintains its checkpoints, i.d. roadblocks, on the secured perimeter of Kindu.

Two Mayi Mayi commanders, Santana (who takes his nom de guerre from Satan) and Kabambe have overcome their differences to join ranks and fight the RCD and Rwandans.  You remember the Uruguayan boat patrol sat and watched them fight each other last week. 

It is estimated that as many as 6000 troops were flown into Kindu over the past week from Goma (and Rwanda?).  The planes land at the end of the runway, the soldiers jump out and disappear in the forest.  The Rwandan officers in town are becoming less and less discrete yet the MONUC can still not certify there are Rwandans here, even though they speak English and Kinyarwanda and not Swahili or French.  Such information could hurt the peace process.  It is true that the vast majority of UN military personnel cannot speak French either.

The food situation had become better over the past couple of weeks because the RCD was letting people out to the forests and fields in exchange for half their produce and, in many cases, temporary use of the women.  The Mayi Mayi do the same.  However, with the fighting, people have not been able to go out to their fields again.  This has led to sky rocketing prices at the market as sellers speculate on severe food shortages in the coming days.  Also reducing the number of dead are the nutritional centers set up by the British NGO, Merlin and its Italian counterpart,  Coopi.

According to Abbey Robert Kisinga, head of Saint Paul Parish in Alungali, a town of 50 000 on the right bank of the Congo River, “only an average of five children are dying every day now.  The Abbey gave the nun’s convent to Coopi, a nice red brick structure with interior court and cloister (the nuns fled to the left bank to escape rape) in exchange for extensive repairs and a complete water system.  A three-meter high bamboo fence is being built around the center, which should open in two weeks.  The bamboo is brought in from the Mayi Mayi zone in exchange for “taxes”.  Outside the convent perimeter, dozens of men and boys cry out, holding their hoes and shovels, hoping for a dollar-a-day job. This scene can be seen outside all UN and NGO facilities.  The Only economy here, as I have said in previous reports, is the international community.

 empty-market.jpg Empty market in Shabunda.  People starved under Mayi Mayi seige.

But malnutrition still is to be seen everywhere.  I told you how our housecleaner and cook, Susan, lost a baby the day I arrived.  The one strapped to her back is not going to make it much longer.  The hair has fallen out, her eyes bulge and are lifeless, she makes no noise and is very bony.  Susan will only take the baby to the medical center once it is too late, which it may already be, because I fear there is brain damage.  The Congolese seem to have a problem with anticipating things.  There is only the here and now.  The baby is not in a coma, only very sick.  We will call this Acute Susan Syndrome, or ASS.

I have the same problem with many of the “educated” reporters at Okapi.  They say they understand, but continue in the same old ways.  There is a problem of converting thought and word into tangible reality. This is either because they have only known systems where people say one thing but reality is another or, because like the Pygmies, they just say ‘yes’ out of politeness, when the real answer is ‘no’.  Then again, some of them may just have ASS.

One Okapi reporter has not learned in three weeks how to put his walkie-talkie in the re-charger correctly.  In a year, he has not learned how to press the ‘play’ button on the minidisk recorder.  Nor does he make any attempt to learn.  Obviously it is not a problem for him except at the moment when I lose my temper.  But as ASS is only an immediate phenomenon, no sooner yelled, than gone.

Am I being too hard?  Is this blind white chauvinist racism?  Don’t tell me it is cultural if it is wrong.  Some cultural things have to be changed, like the slicing of the clitoris and unprotected promiscuity.  Being cynical may be the only way to maintain a front of indifference, which could preserve sanity.  What do you do when confronted by three crooked old women, holding themselves up with their walking sticks, hands out stretched and looking at you with hungry, milky, dry eyes (they probably cried out all their tears long ago)?  The elderly are very often abandoned here (several confirmations) and sit frail and homeless around town, seemingly waiting to die, too tired to get up and beg; they merely stretch out their hands from where they sit or lie.  There is a woman with a baby outside UN HQ.  She has lost her tongue and comes running up to you with the most God awful shrieks and shrills, her hand outstretched and there is nothing I can do for her.  I said it before; this is an African mess and they have got to start doing what is necessary to clean it up themselves.

Speaking of water, the RCD tried a new tax on the UN.  They asked the Monuc to pay taxes on the water they pump out of the river and purify at the Uruguayan station near the airport.  They also asked for taxes on the electricity the UN personnel produce with their own generators and the stolen UN fuel they buy on the street.  I explained in a previous paper how the RCD blocked getting the Kindu power plant re-started by the UN and how corruption shut down the water purification plant once the UN had repaired it.  Obviously, the RCD need money to pay the costs of transporting so many troops, especially given that so much of the income goes into the pockets of RCD leadership. 

Do I hate the RCD?  They have done nothing but suck the people’s blood until they are dry pulps, rape and murder, and worse, and fill their pockets.  But, they are no worse than the others who have signed the peace accords and are to take part in the transition government leading to democratic and free and fair elections in two-year’s time.

Another example of how the RCD cares little for the population.  The ferry has not been running here for ages.  The UN offered to send the two motors to Kinshasa for repairs in December.  The two motors came back this week in the same condition as when they left.  The excuse?  The RCD-Goma refuse to have anything done in a zone controlled by the Kinshasa government.  The real reason?  They do not want UN observers checking out their actions on the other side of the river.  The Monuc have proposed to fix it and assume the costs.  À suivre ….

On the brighter side, the Lumieres de la vie theatre troop, will perform next Sunday.  The troops is sponsored by the ICRC and other humanitarian groups to educate RCD soldiers, through theatre, on human rights, the Geneva Conventions, etc. Last Sunday’s performance was cancelled because they could not get the weapons and uniforms they needed for the performance from the RCD. The RCD soldiers lend them uniforms and weapons as props.  Apparently, the RCD soldiers were using them on Sunday. I asked Peter Mujinga, President of the theatre troop, who assured me the guns were unloaded during the performance, why he did not use toy guns?

            We don’t have any.”

            You can make them.”

            But we still need the uniforms anyway.”

Now, there is logic that is hard to beat.

Some of the Congolese have shown initiative in the face of adversity.  Let me tell you about “phonie”.  Although there is a Minister of Telecommunications in Kinshasa collecting a fat check, and others in the rebel zones, there is no telephone service in the country.  In a couple of larger cities, Kinshasa, Kisangani, Goma, you may have a private satellite operator but only to call abroad or to one of the few cities with the service and at exorbitant prices.  This is where “phonie” comes in.

Across from UN HQ is a series of Brick and concrete stalls with open fronts covered only by a hanging cloth.  Outside one is a small solar panel.  The wire runs into the stall where it is   attached to a car battery, which in turn is attached to a short-wave transmitter and receiver.  For a modest sum you can reach a short-wave radio in another town in the Congo, tell them who it is you want to talk to, and some kid will go find the person.  They seem to know all the frequencies of all their colleagues in the other towns.  Here in Kindu, the radio is controlled (run and taxed?) by the RCD Intelligence bureau.  A soldier sits next to the radio listening to all conversations, as do the people outside.  At least, people can talk to loved-ones in zones occupied by the other cut-throats.

Anton, the Fondation Hirondelle man who has been here for three months, goes home to Switzerland tomorrow…maybe.  Yesterday he came down with Malaria.  So short (short-timer is Army slang for someone about to be discharged).  That is always how it happens, even when you take your anti-malaria pills.  The strain here is very resistant and it kills.  The NGO Merlin says that, in the year 2001, 500 000 (I said five-hundred-thousand) Congolese died from malaria!  If this is accurate, which I doubt,  that is half the WHO world estimation, or the WHO figure is much too low.  Everybody has malaria and even UN personnel die from it.

Just a couple more lighter notes.  As soon as the Congolese women get a little money, they will go out and buy a wig: blue, red, yellow streaked, green streaked, you name it.  Mamy, an Okapi reporter with her own collection of wigs, says it is because sometimes they want to look Western.  But not too Western.  You remember that two girls were arrested for wearing tight trousers and shirts short enough to expose their navels.  Those who do not have wigs, have their hair braided into as many as 12 spikes coming out of their heads with no order, like nine inch nails with fuzzy ends.  This is a harmless cultural thing I can learn to live with much easier than the wigs.

If things continue the way they are with the Uruguayans, Kindu will be a Spanish-speaking town before long.  The kids make such quick progress.  But I do hate being called ‘Amigo’ and ‘Muchacho’ all day when I am trying to learn Swahili. Some of the smaller kids cry out with the cutest voices, “money, money, money” as if they were saying hello.  I believe some of them think this is how you say ‘hello’ in our countries.  The others know exactly what they are saying and can beg in several European languages. 

 The experts to inspect the ‘field of bones’ have still not arrived.  I guess massacres (and worse) of Congolese civilians are not as important as those of Albanians and Bosnians.

Some 60 Chinese should be arriving to run the UN hospital here, which is almost completed. Given that this is the land of Lucifer’s work, I suppose they will bring that SARS pneumonia with them.  After all, the Congo has everything else.

Erratum: I recently reported the public execution of three RCD soldiers without giving precise reasons.  Colonel Biamungu says they were executed for robbing a shopkeeper.  For Colonel Biamungu’s record on protecting the population, I refer you to the UN Human Rights report on the DRC dated January 2003.



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