I received an email today from Goma in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).
"The violences (sic) that have started at the beginning of this week have continued up to now and it is reported that 5 people died only yesterday. The Internet was established only today but in town there is no activity."
Communications like these force me to cast aside writer's malaise and try once again to examine events in Congo and explain the convoluted and psychotic forces operating there to interested readers.
Has President Joseph Kabila finally revealed his true colors to the world? At least 36 people, including a police officer, were killed in demonstrations against proposed changes to the constitution. The changes would require a national census before the 2016 presidential elections. Political opposition leaders say the changes were aimed at extending President Kabila's term beyond the constitutionally mandated two terms.
Kabila assumed office in in 2001, ten days after the assassination of his father, President Laurent-Desire Kabila. Before Laurent Kabila, there was Joseph Mobutu (Mobutu Sese Seko) who staged a coup against President Joseph Kasavubu in 1965. Kasavubu's Prime Minister Patrice Lumumba, instrumental in forging Congo's independence from Belgium in 1960, was assassinated in 1961.
Whether Lumumba was directly killed by the CIA, Britain's M16, or Congolese actors aided by Belgium, the inconvenient Lumumba was eliminated. Since Mobutu, it has been difficult for Congo's leaders to stay alive, let alone retain power. It is reasonable to assume the younger Kabila's proposed census could never be completed before 2016. Congo is an impoverished nation, with no roads, and no access to remote villages in a landscape the size of Western Europe.
It was a smart move on Kabila's part to suggest the census to buy time.
The United States is expressing muted interest in the violence that has been ramping up as protests spread.
Demonstrations were held in cities across the country, including Kinshasa, Bukavu, Bunia, Goma, Lubumbashi, Mbandaka, and Uvira. In Kinshasa, protesters demonstrated on January 19, 20, and 21 near the Palais du Peuple parliament building, around the University of Kinshasa, and in Bandal, Kalamu, Kasa-vubu, Kimbanseke, Lemba, Limete, Makala, Masina, Matete, Ndjili, and Ngaba communes.
I realize the names mean nothing to readers who have never been to Congo. But names offer a sense of place to start a conversation about Congo. These are villages and cities populated with people living in a country where politicians, rebel armies, mercenaries and western interests control the world's most valuable natural resources. The Congolese have no personal wealth at all. Average income in Congo is $288 per year. Do the simple math. This is less than a dollar a day.
Human Rights Watch, and other press accounts say at least four were killed by government security forces in the Provincial Capitol of Goma. Add the five we know about from my friend's email and it as at least nine there. Then, remember this is Congo, and we will never know the true numbers. HRW documented a number of instances in which police or Republican Guard soldiers took away the bodies of those shot in an apparent attempt to remove evidence.
HRW announced on Tuesday that on January 26 that the president of the human rights organization Synergie Congo Culture et Developpement (Congo Culture and Development Synergy) was in the custody of Congo's national intelligence agency. Christopher Ngoyi Mutamba was involved in mobilizing public participation in demonstrations against proposed changes to the electoral law, on January 12 and during the week of January 19, in the capital, Kinshasa. He has been missing since January 21.