Painting by Cheri Samba

Lokuta eyaka na ascenseur, kasi vérité eyei na escalier mpe ekomi. Lies come up in the elevator; the truth takes the stairs but gets here eventually. - Koffi Olomide

Ésthetique eboma vélo. Aesthetics will kill a bicycle. - Felix Wazekwa

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

The mystery of Dongo

Over two months since fighting first erupted in Dongo (Equateur), the situation there remains a mystery. What caused the fighting initially to break out on 29 and 30 October last year? If it was really just a local conflict over fishing and land rights, why did Kabila send a battalion of special forces from the eastern Congo and hundreds of police, while MONUC sent a company of their troops? Why did over a hundred thousand people flee to violence, over 80,000 ending up in their neighboring Republic of Congo? Why have the press in Kinshasa seized on this rebellion, expressing far more interest than in what is happening in the Kivus?

The situation still remains shrouded in mystery, even the internal MONUC reports don't shed a great deal of light on the matter. I spoke with two different MLC representatives in Kinshasa about the matter, one of them from Equateur, and they also appear confused.

It appears that the fighting did initially erupt over local fishing rights, at least that was the trigger. Afterwards, some former Mobutu officers (ex-FAZ) and members of the MLC joined in, taking advantage of the armes caches left in the area by the MLC after the war. There have been allegations that the government troops sent in initially to quell the insurgency only fanned the flames by committing numerous abuses against the local population, but I haven't seen any confirmation of this.

It is also clear that what started as a small quarrel between neighboring communities quickly grew to something far more serious. MONUC troops deployed to the area reported seeing dozens, perhaps hundreds of Congolese army soldiers dead and wounded from the fighting, some of whom they evacuated with their helicopters. A MONUC helicopter was shot at by the insurgents, as well. Whatever this armed group was, they had gotten their hands on quite a few small caliber weapons. "This is about more than just smoked fish," one MONUC official told me.

Rumors in Kinshasa reported that Angola was behind this, taking advantage of a local feud to express their discontent with the government in Kinshasa, which is trying to wrest a lucrative offshore oil field away from them. Others have alleged that the former Mobutists in exile are backing the movement, pointing at Honore Ngbanda (Mobutu's former security advisor, now based in Paris), who has been publishing a stream of propaganda for the insurgents through his political "party", APARECO. Still others allege that Kabila's government has fomented this, in order to create a pretext to crack down on Equateurians.

A loose movement was created in the Diaspora, including Congolese in France, Norway and South Africa, calling itself the Patriotes Resistants, led by an hitherto unknown Ambroise Lobala. Funnily enough, some of the fighters on the ground who have been interviewed by MONUC have no idea what this movement is or who Lobala is, all they know is that their leader is the witchdoctor Udjani, who initially launched the rebellion in October last year. So it is not clear to what degree Lobala is in control of anything happening in the field.

Apparently the fighter's fortune has turned in the past week - they were surrounded on the night of New Year's in Inyele (65 km south of Dongo). According to an internal MONUC report, as well as the Congolese media, 157 Enyele fighters were killed and 12 Congolese soldiers wounded. Reports on the other side of the Oubangui river, including foreign doctors working in clinics there, indicate that no Enyele wounded have arrived there from this fighting - they last war wounded they treated arrived there several weeks ago.


Alex Engwete said...

It's funny you mention APARECO and Ambroise Lobala Mokobe whom I have dubbed the "Charognards de Dongo" (Dongo scavengers) in a 4-part series of the same title on my French blog Alex Engwete.

Ngbanda (Paris-wing APARECO), the breakaway London-wing of APARECO with its online organ Radiotvbendele ("bendele" means flag in Lingala) and Ambroise Lobala Mokobe have indeed no connection to what is going at Dongo. They have jumped into the bandwagon of Dongo to milk this conflict for their own political and financial gains, as Congolese politicians are wont to. Radiotvbendele had even launched a fundraiser for the "Patriotes-résistants de Dongo," complete with a bank account in GB and a lame YouTube video...

I also read your previous post on Dongo where I gather that you aren't aware that the Enyele and the Monzaya have been at loggerheads since 1946 and in the 1960s... In fact, Joseph Kasa-Vubu, the first postcolonial president of Congo, had even gone to the area to "pacify" these communities...

Rumor turned into a cultural trait of Congo ever since Mobutu nationalized and monopolized the media, triggering what's now known as Radio-trottoir (sidewalk radio of rumors), initially a popular alternative to Mobutu's propaganda machine. "Anchors" of Radio-trottoir, called "Parlementaires debout" (stand-up MPs) often congregate at Place de la Victoire in Kinshasa where they rehash their rumors, a self-cannibalizing exercise to say the least. And some of these guys have found their way into the "mainstream" media and political parties. For the Kinois "Parlementaires debout" and APARECO, Kabila is a Rwandan citizen (called Hippolyte Kanambe) placed in the entourage of Laurent Kabila by Kagame! So, for them, anything goes as long as it's against Joseph Kabila...

This being said, the situation in Dongo quickly got out of control because, as you obviously know, Kabila seems to be asleep at the switch in Kinshasa--his leadership type is reactive, not proactive. And without the logistical support of MONUC, I bet the Dongo insurrection would have caught up and by this time it would have morphed into something far bigger... Which makes me question the wisdom of Kinshasa to do away with MONUC. (MONUC helicopters are for example instrumental in mapping out the direction of the lava being spitted by the fire fountains of Nyamulagira Volcano.)

BTW, this is a great blog into which I even tapped for some of my posts (with full credits given to the source, of course). Keep the fires up!

Jason Stearns said...

Merci, Alex -

I had read your postings on the Dongo affaire and on Lobala - do you have any more details about the historical conflict that opposes the Monzaya and Enyele?

Alex Engwete said...

Not particularly, except to mention that Honore Ngbanda, who is a member of the bigger ethnic group Ngbaka, hails from the same area...

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