Kindu, March 29, 2003

training.jpgTroop movements,  Rwandans in the city, fighting, black market of stolen UN goods and UN pedophiles : it was business as usual in Kindu this week.

My Congolese reporters are certain.  “Just look”, they say. Some 500 RCD-Goma and Rwandan fighters were flown in this week.  The Rwandans look sharp with their stiff green uniforms, brown leather boots, berets and towering posture. Of course, for the UN, there are no Rwandans in town (more on that later).  For those who follow the news, the Rwandans seem to have given their Wellingtons (rubber boots) to the RCD. The reinforcements coincide with troop movements all over the East as Rwanda and its allies prepare to do battle with Uganda and its allies while the Kinshasa Army takes up new positions along Lake Tanganyika.  The closer we get to implementing the Pretoria peace accords and setting up a transition government, the closer we get to a renewed all out war.  Maybe they should just stop making peace and fewer people will die.

Apparently, I have not explained the situation well enough for many of you.  This will be deliberately confusing, so, if it is too much for you, you may skip this next paragraph and live in ignorance.

The Background to the War

The Rwandans came into DR Congo, officially, to chase the Hutu Army et al,  responsible for the 1994 genocide, the Interahamwe.  The Ugandans came in to chase their own rebels.  While they were here, they thought they would help longtime rebel leader and womanizer, Laurent Desire Kabila, overthrow Mobutu.  The Rwandans said they would stick around to protect Congolese Tutsis.  The Ugandans stuck around too.  Both said it had nothing to do with the diamonds and gold and other precious resources they were taking home to sell.  Laurent Desire said thanks for the help but it’s time to go home.  This did not go down well and war broke out.  The Zimbabweans came to help Laurent Desire and at the same time help themselves to some diamonds and gold and so forth.  The Angolans came too, probably in part, to destroy the rear base area of their Unita rebel movement but they lost out;  no precious stones or metals in their zone of operations.  The Chadians came in and left even faster when they were ambushed by the Ugandans and Rwandans.  But Rwandan and Ugandan ambitions were too much for each other and so they went to war in the Congo.  This was the chance Congo factions with leaders looking for the opportunity to get rich were waiting for.  The RCD (Rassemblement Congolaise pour la Democratie) split and each greedy leader looked for a partner.  The RCD-Goma sided with the Rwandans who conquered most of the Eastern half of the country for them.  The RCD-K/ML sided with the Ugandans as did the UCP ( who recently changed sides and got their asses kicked for doing so by the Ugandans).  The RCD-N sided with Kabila and fought the MLC (Mouvement pour la Liberation du Congo) for control of the North of the country.  The MLC shared its forces with the Central African Republic’s President, Ange Felix Patasse, who was overthrown two weeks ago by a rebel general with Chadian backing (including troops).  So the MLC, whose leader was close to the defeated despot Mobutu, now finds itself between a rock and a hard place.  To make things clearer, in 2001, Laurent Desire Kabila was shot dead by his guards and in pure democratic fashion, a la congolaise, his son Joseph took over.  The result of all this is an estimated three million dead, a country on its knees, regimes of terror including acts of cannibalism, malnutrition and even starvation and pillaging of the country’s natural wealth.  To conclude, those responsible for this mess recently signed an accord in Pretoria which will allow them to do all these things together in what is being called a government of transition leading to democratic elections in two years time.  Dream On.

Kindu, Hell on Earth

Welcome back to Kindu, anus of the world.  We at Radio Okapi did a report about the Uruguayan soldiers taking little kids to the bars with them, making them drink beer and the rest is rumor.  The United Nations reacted quickly, but not as you would imagine.  They accused us of making the MONUC (UN Mission to Congo) look bad.  Things got very heavy between the radio (in part funded and managed by the UN) and UN management who see the Radio’s role as a propaganda machine to promote the UN and not as a public service to the Congolese.  Needless-to-say,  no investigation and the little boys and girls are still learning Spanish.

The UN mission to Kindu counts some 60 civilians and over 500 soldiers.  Another 1500 South African troops are coming in over the next month.  All these people believe if you get them young enough, you can avoid Aids.  So 11, 12, 13, it’s all fair game as long as you pay the families enough.  One South African Black soldier (I’m sorry but in Congo I have to specify the race) has made a mistake.  The 12 year-old he is having sex with is the daughter of a Magistrate (confirmation from diverse sources).  The local Prosecutor (an RCD man) told me he wants to press charges.  Did I tell you the RCD do not like the UN watching them kill people and make reports about it?  Any way, back to our story.  I asked the Monuc how they relate to local law.

            -We respect the laws of the country we are in.

            -So, they can arrest him for rape and try him?

-No, they come to us with their complaint and we investigate.  If it is true, we send the man out of the country on the next plane.

Excuse me, and correct me if I am wrong, but didn’t the UN pass resolutions making such things like pedophilia crimes punishable by prison terms?  And as far as investigations are concerned, you will be happy to know there are still no experts combing the ‘field of bones’ I told you about last week, nor has the investigation on our two cement stealing reporters advanced.

An RCD Air Force captain (the RCD has no planes) was apparently killed by his own men Thursday night for not giving his daughter to a superior officer.  The 18-year-old daughter in question is going out with a South African soldier who has promised to marry her.  Fat chance of that ever happening.  The men looted everything in the house while they were at it.  Bernard Buyamungu, whom you met last week, tried to pin it on the Mai Mai but the locals recognized some of the soldiers.  If anybody, including members of the family, breath a word of this, they will be dead before the

next dawn.

In other developments, the guarded motor pool at the airport was visited.  Every bulldozer, truck, jeep and crane had its tanks siphoned out. That is a full night’s work and yet nobody saw anything.  Now, I know how the local RCD thugs keep their three trucks going.  Normally, the Uruguayans steal the fuel and sell it to the locals for 20 dollars for 20 litres.  The locals then sell it to UN personnel 30 dollars for 20 litres so they can run their generators.  The Monuc should just sell it straight to the locals and make the business honest.  Of course, the RCD honchos would want to get into the act and the last thing any of us want is the UN openly supporting the RCD.

 boneyar1.jpgboneyar2.jpgboneyar3.jpg

The human bone yard near the air port

An example.  A NGO (Non Governmental Organization) wanted to rebuild a school for an estimated 30 000 dollars.  The Governor wanted his cut.  Everybody takes a cut, the Congolese believe, including the NGO’s. The NGO said ‘no’ and so the Governor shut down the work site under the pretext they were painting before they had put in the benches.  Do not be confused; Governor, Mayor, Judge are all political appointments.  There is nothing democratic anywhere in the Congo.  Everybody takes his cut according to his position in the hierarchy.

Some food reached the market in Kindu this week, getting down river from Mai Mai areas.  The pineapples are as big as pumpkins.  The Mai Mai took their cut of food on the way down and their cut of whatever the farmers were bringing back with them on the return trip.  In town, the RCD took its cut.  Some people like to call this a form of taxation.  I call it self enrichment at the expense of the people.  Taxes will build you roads (no roads here), give you electricity (no juice for 5 years), running water (see last week’s report) and education (only those who can pay get their kids in the classes that exist and of course the RCD take their cut).  The RCD army has never been paid and are forced to fight and live off the population.  Our local mass murderer, the Butcher of Kisangani, Commander of the 8th Brigade, Bernard Boyumungu, recently shot three of his soldiers to make a point and the point had nothing to do with abusing the people.

Good old Bernard, he really wanted me to see his trophies last Sunday.  It all began while I was drinking my coffee on the balcony after lunch and trying to listen to news of the war in Iraq on the short wave radio.  The Mai Mai and the RCD decided to try out their weapons in each other’s direction.  The problem was my balcony was right between them.  Two children and a woman in the house behind mine were hit by stray bullets.  After that, I just had to see the dead Mai Mai, Bernard insisted.  Take a picture!” the soldiers ordered.  I said I don’t use pictures at the radio.  I made them happy by inspecting the body.  Yeap.  He’s sure dead.”  What really upset me in all this was the loss of control on the part of people with the Mission with whom I have to work.  There has been fighting on the perimeter everyday but on Sunday the Mai Mai got right in the center of town.  The Rwandan Officers, which the Monuc deny they see all over the city (it would not be good for the peace process to have Rwandans back in Kindu), must be very disgusted by the amateur gang of murderers Bernard runs here.  They actually fired on each other with the Mai Mai in the middle. Of course, I could not listen to news about the Iraq war with all the racket.

Now, I learned that the UN wants to give a billion dollars in food aid alone to Iraq, a country of 23 million people, starved for 12 years by UN sanctions.  Very nice of them.  That is 200 million more dollars than is spent on the whole UN Mission to Congo, a continent sized country of 55 million people.

Across the river in Alungali there are three nutritional centers run by the British NGO ‘Merlin‘, caring for kids and breast-feeding mothers who don’t have enough to eat.  Saint Paul, nested in the hull of a war torn church, has 274 patients, its maximum capacity.

Up the dirt road is the General Hospital with 24 beds and 16 nurses of various qualifications.  No permanent doctors and none at all that day.  The Hospital is also aided by Merlin. There are dozens of ill sitting on top of each other, lying on the floor and spilling out into the courtyard.  An old woman shivers, her eyes fluttering, a child does not move and has that red tinge in his hair I have learned to identify with malnutrition. You can catch any disease you want there.  According to nurse Kapose Mpeseni, most of the illnesses can be traced to malnutrition.  They can’t go out to their fields because of the insecurity.

Now, this is not the kind of insecurity our interior ministers try to convince us we are afraid of in our countries of the North.  We are talking about trigger-happy boys and young men with Kolashnikofs.  Any livestock people try to keep is stolen by one or the other of the groups.

So, why don’t they fish?  Well, the RCD controls only a couple of  kilometer of the Congo river.  There are just so many fish you can get in that space and certainly not enough for a city of 200 000 people.  But I had some fish the other day.  I walked through the woman’s house where people were sitting on the floor morning the death of a young man of 20.  He died from illness,” Serge told me.  (You either die from bullets or ‘illness’ with no other precision, i.e. Aids, tuberculosis, starvation, malaria…).  The woman took us into a room in the back where there were two kinds of fried fish with an African red sauce, two kinds of fried bananas and foufou.  The problem with fish, which live off of eating raw sewage, is they are very fatty and a bit bland.

To give you and idea of how much food there is here, the official statistic says last year 360 goats (I said three-hundred-and-sixty) were slaughtered in Kindu.  Less than one a day for a city of 200 000.  Now, I do understand the plight of the Iraqis and, as many of you know, I opposed the sanctions, but if there is a little food left over from the billion dollars, I know where it can go.  Ah, if only the Congo had oil.  They could be invaded by the Americans, surrender (which they would do with open arms or mouths as the case may be) and live happily ever Master.

This brings me to another problem.  What aid people get here hardly ever gets where it is intended to go.  An example:  The ICRC (Red Cross for the illiterate) gave peanut and bean seeds for Mai Mai held zones.  The treated peanuts are on sale at the market and the whole city has diarrhea.  The beans are stacked in the RCD Bourgmaister’s home.   I am told this is in accord with the Mai Mai.  Politics go out the window when there is business to be done.  But who said the Mai Mai, or anybody else for that matter, has a real political agenda?

Let me finish with one more story.  There is a ferry but the engine does not run.  The UN agreed to send it to Kinshasa for repairs and pay for the repairs.  This was in December.  The un-repaired engine is back because the RCD say they refuse to have anything that was done in the government t zone.  The real reason is they do not want UN military observers going across the river with their vehicles to observe them killing people.  So, why doesn’t the UN bring in its own ferry?  What the UN does not know cannot hurt the peace process.

   

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