Kisangani, June 8, 2003

 rifle-barrel.jpgI left Gbadolite with the journalists happy to finally be doing a local news program, the Monuc finally happy with the work of the reporters, me happy to finally be invited to the journalists’ homes for wonderful Congolese meals, the electricity failing and MLC rebel leader Jean-Pierre Bemba desperately trying to keep a hold on his power. 

UNESCO never contacted me on saving the antique marble head of Buddha looted from Mubuto’s palace and now hidden in a peasant’s mud hut.  I also learned of many of the myths surrounding Mobutu’s palace: “Mubutu killed all the architects so nobody would know the plans”; “Mobutu changed engineers every few meters so none would know the whole lay out”; “There is a vault full of treasure which one of Mobutu’s wives left open but was mysteriously closed and no techniques were able to open”; “although all the graves of Mobutu’s family members were dug up and looted, nobody could get into that of his first wife”;  there is a hidden underground car park with 2000 cars”; “the young man who took Mobutu’s leopard hat would recite in-texto Mobutu’s speeches when wearing it and then unexpectedly died” and more mythology, which will live on in popular lore.

On the way back to Mbandaka, we stopped over in a hole called Gemena where one of the battalions revolting against Bemba is operating.  The local rebel soldiers were unfriendly.

Mbandaka is a city of five hundred thousand with absolutely no economic justification.  When I asked Okapi reporter Theo why then were there so many people, he responded by saying “the African people are a people who give birth a lot.”  The words he used in French were “mettre bas” as if he were talking about some hen laying eggs.

Electricity is rare in Mbandaka.  However, the nunnery I slept in has solar batteries.  It was extremely comfortable and I slept the best I had for months despite the regular singing of cantiques in the chapel next to my room.  The peace of God and a woman’s touch were a rare luxury.  One of the garden workers asked me “what are you Monuc people going to do to help us displaced by the war?”  I told him I was not a social worker and asked him what he was going to do to help himself?  No response.

Thousands of government troops have been flown out of Mbandaka these past couple of weeks, reportedly to their new allies in Uganda for redeployment in Ituri to take part in the fighting.  The soldiers are digging trenches all around the air port as if this city so far from the fighting is under imminent danger of attack.  There is something going on that the MilObs have not been able to explain.

lawn-cutter-1.jpgThe lawn mowers at UN HQ in Kisanganilawn-cutters-duo.jpg

So, here I am back in Kisangani, the Toleka (bicycle taxi) capital of the Congo.  I have the same room at the UN Welfare Club I had in March.  The same two buckets of water for washing and flushing.  The same pale cream colored with light-blue trimming skeletal walls.  The same ceiling fan, which this time seems to move the atmosphere a little bit and not just add to it.  The same ugly pastic flowers in a tin pot.  It is the first time outside of the Hirondelle flat in Kinshasa that I have felt like I have come back home.

tolekas-2.jpgBusy Kisangani street

Unfortunately, I am told that the Welfare club will close at the end of the month under constant pressure from the local rebel RCD-Goma governor who says it is unfair competition for local hotels.  This is not good.  The Welfare Club is 20 dollars a night, has satellite TV, four computers with Internet connection, two bars and a restaurant, a fully equipped exercise room, a generator supplying electricity and a UN phone.  The local hotels are disgustingly dirty and vermin infested with no comfort and more expensive.  I saw it in Kindu.  The owners will charge a maximum but do nothing to improve their places with some of the money they take in.  I certainly hope the UN will reconsider their decision to cave in to the RCD thugs.

Kisangani has become a station for ‘debriefing’ those who have been to Bunia.  This is a euphemism for giving the shocked UN people psychiatric care.  Among the problems they face is an imbalance in the food chain in Bunia: dogs are devouring the putrefying human cadavers in the streets.  At least when humans devour humans, there is a certain respect of the food chain.  The carnage in and around Bunia has only intensified.  The French are arriving and the lunatic Lendu and Hema thugs are going to get a very ugly surprise many of them will never wake up from.  I only hope the International community does not stop there.  These gun-tooting killers are no match for well-trained soldiers.  The four hundred Uruguayans in Bunia managed to hold off thousands of them although they could not prevent the slaughter of villagers.

One UN person held up an arrow and a machete and told press people “here are your weapons of mass destruction.  But the locals have more sophisticated arms to do the job easily and quickly.  UN Information Officers have been instructed to refer to foreign countries backing the militias and not neighboring countries so as avoid ruffling any feathers.  Everybody knows the Hemas and Lendus, both of whom were armed by the Ugandans, I suppose for Kampala to prove that they should have stayed instead of withdrawing under international pressure in April, are fighting a war between Uganda and Rwanda, between the RCD-ML/K and Kinshasa against the RCD-Goma.  Does this not sound like all too familiar confusion?

I pointed out to UN people that one must not under-estimate the Congolese capacity to massacre each other without outside encouragement.  But it was also quite rightly pointed out that if there were no outside help, they would be using machetes “which is slow and tiring work.  Do you know how long it takes to kill 300 people with a machete?” a UN Information Officer who had seen enough death in Bunia to snap the strongest asked.  She has a good point.

I have said it before: I am not a social worker.  If the Congolese were animals I might find it possible to forgive them their lunacy and inhumanity.  But they are human beings and so I find it very difficult to forgive.  You see, I am not a racist after all even if I am beginning to wonder if being Congolese is not synonymous to psychopathic mental illness.  It is important for me to repeat that I have come across Congolese with rational heads and good hearts and this is enough to keep me going.  The Okapi radio experience is also a bright sun of hope in this “Heart of Darkness”.

I have, however, decided I do not like the Dark Ages and I am glad that the Europeans went through them with swords and not Kalashnikovs.  I also realize we did a good job in the twentieth century at massacring each other and that globalization is killing many more people every year than the Congolese are.  In my Kalima story in April, I pointed out how each and every one of us have a little piece of the Congo in our homes and in our pockets and how that town unwittingly helped the United States better kill Iraqis.  In my opinion, these are not redeeming factors for what I am seeing here.

It has been pointed out to me that I am arrogant to judge others.  Perhaps, but I reserve the right to judge because I feel I also judge myself.  Where I may sin is in double standards, either through ignorance or by choice.  For those of you who read my Rwanda paper in 1998, you may understand why, despite all this, I am trying to get stationed in Bunia.  This is about as naked (undressed for you Brits) as the real world can get.

Unfortunately for the Fondation Hirondelle’s assessment of my work, the reporters here are overjoyed to have me back and have shown great affection towards me.  I am also happy to be back among them although it has been made clear to me by the Fondation that I am not here as a trainer but rather as the station manager in the absence of the UN woman running things.  Rachelle is a small Haitian woman with the deep voice of a heavyset chain smoker.  She is only the latter.  She is intelligent and dedicated to radio Okapi.  I like her and I am sure we will get along just fine.

I will tell you more of the changes in Kisangani in my next report.  UN blue and white paint has been getting around town.

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