War in Kivu 2007 Â© G. Nienaber
Nkunda's Pilgrimage of Reconciliation
The YouTube video is amateurish and grainy, but the images are irrefutable testimony. The date is August 6, 2006 in the tiny village of Nyamitabo in eastern Congo-a region where warfare between various players including militias funded by multi-national interests, invading armies, rebel armies and Armed Forces of the Democratic Republic of Congo (Forces Armées de la République démocratique du Congo, or FARDC) has been ongoing for years at the cost of 6 million lives. Up to 1.1 million people are displaced here and aid agencies put the continuing death toll at 1,200 people per day. The numbers are truly Biblical in proportion.
The flickering images reveal a tall, lean-muscled man with wire-frame sunglasses and erect posture, dressed in crisp, green-camouflage army fatigues, field jacket and a dark green beret. He is holding a microphone in his left hand and addressing a large crowd in their dialect. The crowd of several thousand includes villagers, a contingent of soldiers loyal to this man, and other visitors.
Many are seated, and others are standing on a grassy hill and in a meadow. Various structures and canopy shelters ring the perimeter and high ground. Under the dignitaries' canopy atop the hill, the man has just received a ceremonial longbow, shield and spear from one of the village elders and is now addressing the crowds assembled around and below him. They treat the man with the respect due a tribal chief, which he is.
First of all I thank all the wise men behind me, and everybody. This day, we want to tell you, our parents, who spend nights without sleeping but thinking about us, that even if we know that many among us have lost their lives on military front; you have to be happy because we, the survivors, can come again and still do something for you. I like what our soldiers have sung: "No more people in exile" and that's true I repeat: "No more people will go into exile".
"Secondly, why Nyamitabo? In 1964, the North-Kivu authorities took the decision to exterminate the Kinyarwanda (Rwanda-Bantu language) speaking community. The meeting that saved us from this killing took place here at Nyamitabo; therefore forgetting this place is a curse. That meeting convinced the Kinyarwanda speaking community that they had a right to live even if other communities were planning their massacres. Those who participated in that important meeting deserve my respect. The participants at that meeting decided to help each other in order to survive these planned killings.
Let me once again honor them because without their courage, we wouldn't be born and alive today.
The man is relating a regional history that the crowd knows well. It is a history of genocide and exploitation that began in the late 1800's, when baskets of severed hands tallied the price of disloyalty to the armies of Belgium's King Leopold. By 1959 ethnic animosities fanned by the Catholic Church and multinational interests unleashed the "wind of destruction" against the people of this region. The historical presentation of this conflict as Hutu retribution against Tutsi is simplistic, and the Kinyarwanda know this.
As he speaks, this imposing figure moves about casually, continually and forcefully gesturing with his right hand to emphasize points, like a teacher lecturing his class for the afternoon. He has an air of confidence and charisma about him as he looks out on the crowds just below him, even a hint of evangelical fervor, which is not surprising for he happens to be an ordained Christian minister, as well as a rebel commander. Who is this man? Major General Laurent Nkunda, chairman of the CNDP- Le Congrès National pour la Défense du Peuple. He continues:
This time we are not only protecting the Kinyarwanda speaking community but also all tribes of the Eastern-DRC in duress, and those who are still in exile who have to come back to their homeland - Bahunde, Banyanga, Barega, Bashi, Bahema, Lendu, and people from Equateur are all here to support this common struggle. Therefore this is a struggle for the whole Congolese nation. Don't be afraid, nothing will stop you from achieving this noble objective.
The mention of "Equateur" is critical and is the word that gives Nkunda his legitimacy as a leader of this popular movement. In Equateur Province, the opposition candidate to current Congolese president Joseph Kabila, Jean-Pierre Bemba, won almost 100 percent of the vote at some polling stations. Bemba vowed to stand up to foreign interests that he said wanted to control Congo "like a puppet."
On May 24, 2008, authorities in Belgium arrested Bemba on the basis of a warrant charging him with war crimes and crimes against humanity for the rapes, torture, and looting allegedly carried out by his forces during the 2002-2003 conflict in the Central African Republic.
But before his arrest, Bemba was a serious threat to the political aspirations of Joseph Kabila. Kabila was, and is, willing to silence opposition at all costs. With Bemba silenced by The Hague, Nkunda rose to prominence as a defender of the rights of the Congolese people to their resources and destiny.
In a 96 page The link to this flash video was removed for security reasons
In effect, the Third Congo War continues to devour the living in eastern Congo while the one man most able to protect its population, General Laurent Nkunda, not wanted by any international crimes tribunal yet a gadfly to cynical governments, languishes under house arrest in Rwanda while hundreds of thousands of Congolese clamor desperately for his release.
Indeed, demonstrations for Nkunda's release by Congolese refugees in Rwanda have been hushed up, but photos survive, courtesy of an enterprising and brave Norwegian photographer by the name of Ilona Jablonski. These refugees from Kivu consider Nkunda their leader and "father."
The signs read, "We want you to release our Laurent, release him, release him."
Meanwhile, most of the members of DR Congo's top parliamentary committee have quit in a deepening dispute over the presence of Rwandan forces in the violent east. National Assembly President Vital Kamerhe has publicly criticized the decision by his former ally President Joseph Kabila to allow thousands of Rwandan troops to enter Congo last month to attempt to stamp out Rwandan Hutu rebel groups.
Human Rights Advocates and journalists both seek the truth. Anneke Van Woudenberg has shown by her bravery and tenacity that she is a truth-seeker.When asked if there was any person who offered hope for eastern Congo, Anneke Van Woudenberg said, "The problem with eastern Congo is that there are no good guys." The thousands of demonstrators in Rwandan IDP camps might want to have a conversation with her about that.