Kinshasa, March 9, 2003

           Well, early Monday morning I am off to Kisangani and Kindu for six weeks.  I thought the Swiss were better organized but then again I am dealing also with the UN which functions as badly as the Army.  I did not get my UN plane tickets, (what they call MOP, whatever that stands for) until Saturday when I learned that I had to send my luggage ahead of time.  Of course it was too late to do that so I will show up at the airport and hope for the best.  I jettisoned a lot.  I’ll wear dirty underwear until the radio can get my bag to me.

            Last night one of our Swahili broadcasters, Paul, took three of us out to the Cité.  It was much more aggressive than during the day in the image of one man who yelled at us in English “what’s your problem?  Yves, a Breton here for a month, attracted all the young women who could not stand to see a guy lonely and I attracted all the mosquitoes.

            Paul asked how we Europeans could spend our whole lives with the same woman.  He has a wife and four kids in Katanga and explained how little it costs him to have pleasant company in Kinshasa.  When he goes to visit friends, they always give him a lady for company, which he gives back when he leaves.

            The Congolais would take you as their brother if you slept with a Congolaises.”

            Even it she were his sister?” I asked.

Especially if she were his sister. It’s the African way.

            Well, besides being great discussion for International Women’s Day to which Radio Okapi dedicated numerous magazines, it was not all that certain that it is the way of the africaines.

Last year Paul was arrested and jailed in the South East on suspicion of spying.  He told us how he watched from his cell window an event, which is an every day occurrence in this country, even as I write.

A girl, “she could not have been over nine”, came by selling manioc.  One of the policemen asked her how much.  She said 5 Congolese francs ($1=450 francs).  The policeman said 3 francs.  When the girl answered her mother would be angry at her and she could not do that, the policeman shot her dead.  Her body remained there all day and in the evening the Red Cross came and took her away.

This is happening every day around the country, except, I believe, in the Kinshasa region.  I knew before I came that I would not be able to look at a man with a weapon here without seeing a cold-blooded, unpunished murderer.  I knew I would have despise in my heart, nausea in my stomach and hoped to hide the hate in my eyes, each time I saw one of these cowards.  These are the people the Pretoria Accord says will make up the new transition Army and Police Force.  An Accord, which allows the war lords who carved this country in blood to share the dripping cake, and with UN blessings.  Men whose only place is in the docket before the International Penal Tribunal.  The Pretoria Accord does not have an impunity clause, I believe.  If it ever takes hold, if there are elections in two years, then perhaps there is a chance some of these butchers will be punished.  Being a reporter, skeptical by nature, and having seen other Accords elsewhere, I allow myself to doubt.

But the good thing is radio Okapi.  Wherever we go, people yell “Okapi, Okapi’.  You can see clusters of people gathered around a radio at news time listening in.  They have here what they call the “standing parliament” where animated street discussions follow the news bulletins.  People trust Okapi’s news, feel there is truth and independence.  The radio is creating a need, which did not exist before, a need, which future rulers will have to take into account even if the kolashnikov gets the last word.  Now that people see you do not have to grovel before men in power and that you can force them to answer simple straight-forward questions, going backwards will not be all that easy.  People know now.  Or as Paul says, “Thanks to Okapi, people see that these guys are not Gods but just men like anybody else, their magic is gone.

Paul got out of prison after 22 days in a very interesting fashion, showing that all hope in Congo is not lost.  On that day, a policeman came in the jail and asked if anybody knew how to play football.  Paul said he did and scored two goals for his tormentors’ team even though by that time he was ill and full of blisters.  After the match, a policeman from the same region as he is from, put him in a truck heading for Lumbumbashi and freedom.  Maybe the solution is to bring in fifty million footballs and trade them off against weapons.

My Swahili is advancing slowly but they say I have very good pronunciation. I should make lots of progress in the next six weeks because I will be in Swahili speaking areas.  Of course, the locals in Kin think I should be learning Lingala.  This country will have many divisions to get over even after the front lines disappear and the country is geographically reunified.

Salaam!

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