Lumbumbashi, April 18, 2003

Ah, the UN.  Where else can you have free day and night guarded airport parking right at the runway?  Or take a two-hour plane ride for free to have a pizza and do some shopping?  But this is nothing next to the free rideand paid vacation the eight Military Observers (MilObs) are getting inLubumbashi, Congo’s most modern and comfortable city.


Lubumbashi is not the Congo.  It is the modern world, more like SouthAfrica:  Large walled-in estates, sprawling residential districts with lovely and large modern houses, quiet streets lined with trees, three and four-story red brick apartment buildings, balconies and terraces decorated with flowers and plants, shopping centers, nightclubs and discotheques, restaurants with pure South African beef and home-made cream pie, imported beer served in frozen mugs straight out of the freezer, paved roads and modern gas-stations, banks with international connections and heavy traffic and fast cars … Lubumbashi spells ‘money’.


The wealth of this city of an estimated (everything is estimated in the Congo) one million people comes not only fromthe copper and uranium mines but also because it is a major railroad andhighway hub for transportation of produce between Southern Africa and East Africa.  It is an extremely cosmopolitan city where the people bask in the austral autumn sun at sidewalkcafes.


Katanga, or Shaba (it’s a political choice of words) is about the size of France with a population of seven million people (estimate).  This is where the   the MilObs comes in.


Scattered in the brush of Katanga are thousands of Rwandan Hutus who fled their country after the 1994 Genocide and their subsequent defeat before the Tutsi led Army now in power in Kigali.  They are often referred to as the Interahamwe. These refugees in hiding were the excuse Rwanda first used toinvade the Congo and the Interahamwe have been involved in fighting, along withthe Mayi Mayi, against the RCD-Goma rebels and the Rwandans.  The UN struck a deal with Rwanda totake back those who were not masterminds of the genocide, without fear ofprosecution or persecution.  Thereare two tasks to be carried out: getting word to them that they can go backhome and convincing them that they need not fear revenge (it is widely believed that few Hutu adults did not bloody their hands in the 1994 massacres).


There are eight MilObs in Lubumbashi.  They live in a two-story brick townhouse with running water, hot and cold, electricity, servants and cooks,all paid by the UN.  They all collect 138 dollars a day in UN pay plus their Army pay as officers overseas.  In other words, they aremaking a killing.  The problem?  Only one speaks French  and he is leaving at the end of April after a five-month tour.


Benin’s Lieutenant Colonel M. Zankoro is achubby man behind purple sunglasses with a barrel voice, which at the friendliest of times booms like a drill sergeant’s.  He cannot drive to save his ass, especially when he is onthe cell phone, but he sure can bitch about how inefficient the MilObs are here.


You have to go to the people!  But how can they?  They don’t speak French.  All they can do is sleep all day.”


Well, they don’t just sleep.  The Indian captain was bragging of thegreat nightlife, beautiful women and nice bars.  Along with the Indian were officers from Egypt, Bangladesh,the Ukraine, Zambia and Malawi. None of them could speak French and even less Kinyarwanda.


I pointed this out to the Paraguayan Major Trorres who handles the DDRRR (Demobilization, Demilitarization, Reinsertion,Repatriation and Resettlement) program from Kananga.


Yes, it is a problem,” he admitted while he congratulated the team on doing such a greatjob.  Yes, a great job.  Today we were bringing back one‘ex-combatant’ and twelve family members. In the year that the MilObs have been living it up in Lubumbashi, they have managed to repatriate some 100 Rwandans, ex-combatants and their families.  You can calculate for yourself their success and the price paid by the UN for each ‘ex-combatant’ sent back to Rwanda.  Given there are still hundreds of thousands of Interahamwe hiding in the forests, it will take a lifetime and billions of dollars to get half of them back.


This has got to be made public,” Lieutenant Colonel Zankoro roared. He insisted the UN has to get serious and make sure the MilObs spoke at least French.  Swahili would work too.”


The Colonel wants us to do at Radio Okapiwhat the royally paid incompetent MilObs are supposed to be doing.  You have to broadcast the message overthe local radios.  You have to setup an Okapi station in Lubumbashi. We have to get the message out.” 


This officer from Benin is one of the fewMilObs I have met in the Congo who takes his mission to heart.  Usually the officers are sent here as a gift under the influence of their well placed family and friends.  Officers in all the armies fightfor this mission because the pay is so good,” Major Trorres admits with slight embarrassment.


As I first wrote in Kinshasa, it has beenthe same all along: fat, mostly white, officers compete around a beer for thebest camouflage uniform contest. The Africans can be even more incompetent.  Swiss Major Roland Zeifel’s problems in Kindu will underline the point.


MilObs from Kenya and Zambia had been flownin.  At the morning briefing they announced that, “planes had flown in soldiers”.

How many soldiers?

Don’t know.  We did not count.”

What kind of weapons?

Don’t know. We didn’t look.  Were we supposed to?” 

What kind of aircraft?  What were the markings?

Don’t know.”

And believe it or not, they kept reporting the same way, day after day.  Major Roland Zeifel said he could not even get them to talk on the radio correctly although he explained it until he was blue in the face.  Yet, no MilObs are sent home for incompetence.  It is hard tobelieve the MONUC (UN Mission to Congo) is serious about its mandate given the lack of efficiency and the amount of unprofessional behavior permitted.


The cost is astronomical.  For every MilObs in the country, youhave a huge civilian force for support: air, supply, electricians, plumbers, communications etc.  So far, theUruguayans are the only contingent who has been totally self-sufficient.  I believe the South Africans will probably also be self-sufficient, if their contingent for Kindu everarrives.  Yes, somebody in thepress should break the story and get the MONUC to take its mission moreseriously.


I told you about the mass grave found in Kindu and how no experts had come to investigate.  It is the same thing in Kisangani.  Well, the MONUC Spokesman, a UN bureaucrat in Kinshasa, clarified the question the other day. He was pressured by an Okapi reporter for an explanation as to why theywere so quick to react in the Ituri massacres last month and have still done nothing about the mass graves in Kisangani and Kindu.


First the UN Spokesman waffled and fluffed,and then lied that they had done something, and then he back-tracked, and then he told the truth:  The Iturimass graves are more serious because they are fresher,” he said.  Yes, that is exactly what he said.


I will tell you how to read this incredible statement.  Anything that was done before the peace accords were signed could hurt the peace process.  Anything that happens after the peaceaccords were signed could hurt the peace process.  The only thing that counts is the pieces of paper signed in Pretoria and Sun City and the appearance that MONUC is working,


Ignore the fact that the RCD-Goma refusesto abide by its signature and the others drag their feet; that Rwandan troopsare back (MONUC has still not been able to ‘confirm’ what everybody can see inthe East); that Kinshasa asked the Ugandans to stay; that the fighting has notstopped; that thirty-thousand people die every month because of the war (theNew York based International Rescue Committee who, after a serous study, put the number of war related dead since August 1998 at three million three hundredthousand!); ignore the fact that the accords allow some of the biggest butchers in modern history to share power, the just rewards for a job well done.


Fortunately, in all of this, Radio Okapi is doing something.  The radio is exposing Human Rights violations, revealing the on going fighting, demonstrating that you can face the strongmen and ask them to account for their actions.  It is a ray of hope in a‘heart of darkness”.


p.s. Upon my return from Lubumbashi, Ivan, a twenty-seven-year-old, one meter ninety-three for one hundred-and-twenty kilogram, shapeless South African civilian worker with a beer belly who made the grave error of shaving his head, asked me if I remembered to bring him back his pizza.


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