Kisangani, August 10, 2003

kikwit-2.jpg   The barges rolled into town, we gave the RCD-G authorities a hard time and they backed down but not much has changed. 3-barges-2.jpgtrompets-trombones-drums-maistro-1.jpgrcd-troop-rifle-on-back.jpglemrahi-and-kamwanya-bora-uzima.jpgMoroccan Colonel Lemrahi and RCD Colonel Kamwanya-Bora Uzima

I have not written you a report since my good friend, mentor and adopted father, Paul Oren, died on July 23.  The man had redirected and quite probably saved my life.  I am very grateful to him and his death is a tremendous loss for me.  Maybe now, I will finally get down to reading his cube theories on social interaction and its parallel with the I King.

A lot has happened in the past three weeks and not all of it bad.  The major event was the arrival of the long awaited convoy of commercial barges to Kisangani.  It was the first time since the beginning of the war commercial barges had made the run from Kinshasa.  It was not an easy voyage.  Five barges left the capital at the end of June after lengthy negotiations with the various parties who control different parts of the Congo River.  It took five weeks to accomplish the 12 day trip and, to make matters more complicated, three barges of passengers, not agreed upon in the accords, joined the convoy at Mbandaka.

But on August third, at around 15 hours, the barges slowly began arriving in Kisangani with UN 04 leading the way.  Tens of thousands of people lined both banks of the river; the tom-tom drums, which had been beating all day, began to echo furiously; piroguiers attached themselves to the barges, got on board and began dancing; in dozens of other pirogues people were standing and dancing and singing; and the crowd chanted “Libere! Libere!”  It was a very moving event and very embarrassing for the ruling RCD-Goma, who are quickly losing a grip five years of Rwandan backed and often led terror imposed.

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The high point came with the arrival of the three barges full of passengers, who, for the most part, were returning to their hometown and families for the first time in five years.  The people waved palm branches, the dancing and singing continued both on shore and on the barges: the people the RCD-G calls “clandestines”.    The last barge pulled into town at about ten in the morning of the fourth and the Boyamais (people of Kisangani) were still enthusiastically singing and dancing on the banks.

The lion is not yet without teeth

The RCD-G have their army yet and their soldiers are still robbing and frightening the people but there are examples of tolekas refusing to give soldiers free rides and others talking back at check points.  The soldiers did not like the UN breaking the blockade of the city.  They do not like our attempts to interfere in their freedom to murder, rape and rob with impunity. I was taken aside by three officers looking for a fight.  The UN are really false hearted (de mauvaise foi)  and don’t care about us,” said one.  The reason he gave was that the UN did not set up flood lights at the port for the barges.  It never crossed his mind that maybe it was the RCD-G’s responsibility to provide lighting for the port of Kisangani.  But we are dealing with people who never did anything for themselves and believe we must do everything for them, right down to wiping their asses.

To further prove this point the other officers continued: “Is the UN going to leave us Radio Okapi?  When is the UN going to give us a TV station?  Are you going to leave all the vehicles for us?  If you don’t it shows you really don’t care for the Congolese,” and so on.  I am so fed up with these bloodsuckers that I too became belligerent and over the week, the RCD-G local authorities and the Army learned about the power of the press, at least as long as we are protected by the UN because the threats were thinly veiled.

For once, the pen beat the sword

I took a reporter to a check point where the soldiers were making poor people with bicycles pay 200 francs to cross the bridge at the Tshopo River dam.  When we showed up they had bicycles stopped.  As soon as they saw us the cowards let the bikes go and denied any wrong doing.  We went away and came back a half hour later, the same thing.  One man told us: “I have to go to a wake on the other side but I don’t have the money to give them and I will miss the funeral.”

The Bourgmestre of Tshopo Commune, Therese Benda Malio, complained that the army should not be there at all; that it was the job of her tax people to collect money (one to five dollars per annum) and the job of her police to provide security.  She said she had informed those higher up of the “tracasseries”, the hassling of the population but that nothing had come of it. We aired everything.

Third Region military commander General Bora Uzima told me a few days later that he could have me arrested for interrogating his soldiers.  He also told me he had moved the checkpoint away from the bridge.  He wanted to know why Radio Okapi was picking on them.  I said: “You have every right to ask that I be repatriated.”

Oh, no.  You completely misunderstand me.” The General said, and then went on to explain how much he hates injustice because he had suffered so much under Kabila father.

Earlier in the week it was the Seventh Brigade commander, Colonel Seramphin Zirimani, who was angry with me and threatened one of my reporters.  We had heard that he had encouraged his men to “pay themselves from the population” because Colonel Zirimani was not given money by the Congolese Central Bank to pay the soldiers.  It is very strange that he would want to pay his men now, with the reunification that the RCD-G people do not really like, when the RCD-G has not paid the men a penny in five years.

Of course, during a ministerial change of planes at the airport, I had a reporter ask the Interior Minister, Theophile Mbemba, from the Kinshasa camp, if he had heard of planned looting in Kinsangani.  At the same time, the Senior UN Military Observer, Senegalese Colonel Samba, warned Colonel Zirimani that he would be held personally accountable for any misdoings by his troops.

Colonel Zirimani told me I was not to broadcast anything about his army without clearing it with him first.  Apparently, he actually believed I agreed to this when all I merely said is that I would be happy to come and interview him.  Of course, he was nowhere to be found when we did the story on the bridge road block.

And then it was the turn of the Governor, Jean-Pierre Bilusa.  He had put pressure on the Director of the Kisangani branch of the National Radio and TV, the RNTC, to fire the program director for having de-programmed two daily RCD-G slots.  The program director believed that now the country is reunified, there is no room for partisan programs on the national TV and that Kinshasa had to define program policies.  Well, our story not only sparked a strong reaction from the Minister of Information in Kinshasa but also from Reporters sans Frontieres. The Governor backtracked, ordered the program director to be reinstated and denied any prior knowledge of the sacking or pressure on the station director to fire him.  Nevertheless, the governor ordered the two RCD-G programs to be maintained adding that pluralism means everybody gets a chance to have partisan programs on the national TV.  The Governor will be burned once again on this one too.

The Governor is a strange man and I know psychiatry has words to describe this sort of person.  His kinky hair stands straight up as if he is in a static electricity zone; his eyes bulge out and move in jolts; the former professor of history talks non stop as if not letting anybody else get a word in means his arguments are accepted as truth and he rambles in such a way as to not make sense.  He is an extremely frightened man and seems to feel constantly persecuted by the outside world.  Perhaps talk of tribunals for War Crimes and Crimes Against Humanity have something to do with it.  He has been heard to say “it is time to turn the page and forget the past.”  Bilusa has a lot to answer for.

Another sign the RCD-G is losing a grip was on August second when they decided to celebrate the founding of their movement.  The date is in fact the fifth anniversary of the Rwandan invasion of the Congo.  Their movement arrived in Goma from Kigali on August 22, 1998, so they were in fact celebrating the beginning of the war.   Nevertheless, given the reunification and the attempt to melt all the different armies into one national army, the lower ranking RCD-G military and police refused to parade during the ceremony saying they were a national force now and the RCD-G was now a political party.  The military (Junior) officers also warned the RCD-G to pay them.  It was this celebration which probably explains why the RCD-G held the barges up an extra day in Isangi, 114 kilometers down river, postponing the arrival by 24 hours.  If they had arrived on the second, it would have taken all the attention away from the RCD-G rally and parade.

The reunification process has put a lot of pressure on the RCD-G to pretend to be going along and they have not quite figured out how to slow it down or sabotage it and at the same time make it look like they support the process.  One way they do this is by demanding a control over the new national army which the others could not possibly back and then saying it is the others who are blocking the process because they refuse to accept to give the RCD-G a role.

Fighting continues to rage here in the East but with small bands being presented as independent militias although it is clear they are RCD-G soldiers and those of other groups. Fighting is a big word.  It is mostly the killing of unarmed civilians. The RCD-G say they have been attacked by the former Rwandan Hutu army responsible for the 1994 genocide who hide in the Congolese jungle, the Interahamwe, with the backing of Burundi’s Hutu rebels. Some of this could be true. It is obviously an argument which the Rwandans will use to justify an ongoing presence in the East.  And without Rwanda, the much hated RCD-G would not last long.

We managed another good scoop this week.  Each of the major factions sent delegates with the barges: 5 for the government, 4 for the MLC and 4 for the RCD.  We were tipped off that on Wednesday night, August 6, RCD military police came on board the barges and arrested the delegates.  We went to the Military Prison Friday and ended up seeing General Uzima who admitted they had arrested the delegates because some were thought to be soldiers disguised as civilians.  As it turned out, four of the government delegates were in fact members of the FAC military intelligence and were posing as civilians.  The RCD-G had every right to be suspicious and even arrest them.  But with Okapi on the story, they decided to present them to the Monuc to prove they had not been mistreated and then let them go free under Monuc observation.  The RCD-G wanted to hand them over to the Monuc but the UN people refused to take them.  It is a Congolese problem they said.

As one MilOb put it, if it were not for you guys (Radio Okapi), they would be in prison for a long time.  

Who is doing what for whom?

I have found myself getting even nastier with some of the Congolese to see what their reactions are when they come out with this the ‘the world won’t do anything to help us’ crap.  At the UN Welfare Club, during a news item on Liberia, one of the Congolese workers asked: “Why is there so much war in Africa?  I said :  Maybe Africans like war.”  (I do not believe this). He said the UN could send in troops and put a stop to all this fighting.  I mentioned that nobody was ready to pay the bill to which he responded that the UN did it in Yugoslavia.  I informed him the UN did not do it in Yugoslavia, NATO did.  He left very upset. 

I have never yet heard a Congolese say “We must do something to end this war.”  It is always “What are you going to do to help us.”  Nothing is their own fault.  It is always the fault of those on the outside. But this war in the Congo is an African mess and the Congolese are the ones who have made it for the most part, with some help from their neighbors.  The UN has done a pretty good job just by containing this mess to the Congo.

I am sure I will eventually get in trouble for saying this truth out loud when official policy is the poor Congolese are suffering and we have to show compassion and respect.  However, most of those who are here feel as I do: Yes, they are suffering and no, they are doing nothing to put an end to it.  They are just waiting for others to do everything for them, their hands stretched out for the money they think they deserve.  It will take generations to overcome this.

A Canadian officer asked whether the Congolese had a missing chromosome which prevented them from remembering or understanding the consequences to their actions.  He says he has raised thousands of kids aged 17 and 18 during his Army career and that the Congolese are very much like those kids:  they are in need of the same treatment of consistency and not threats but action; i.e. you’re fired!  We all agree that the worst thing which could happen to them right now is the democracy they are in no way prepared for. “They need an intelligent and benevolent dictator,” we agreed, to which the Canadian added: “the last one they had the Americans killed: Patrice Lumumba.”

The interesting thing is that with the new tougher UN mandate enacting Chapter 7, the use of force, the UN military guys are getting harder on the Congolese thugs.  This could be dangerous because other than the paper and the status, we have no real protection should the thugs decide they have had enough of us and work up the courage to strike out at  the ‘father figure’.

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