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

Sunday, November 7, 2010

A Series of Scandals Embroil Security Forces in the Congo

There have been several scandals in the Congo over the past month that have gone more or less unreported by the foreign press but that have had a large impact domestically, all involving abuses by the security forces.

First the Armand Tungulu affair. Tungulu was a Congolese who had been living in Belgium for many years. He returned home and was arrested on September 29 for throwing rocks at a presidential motorcade. On October 2, the government announced his death, saying he had committed suicide with a pillow in his jail cell - this provoked outrage, as there was little motive for a suicide and because Congolese prisons are not known for their pillows.

The Congolese government proceeded to arrest witnesses of Tungulu's arrest and defy a Belgian court, which ruled on October 11 that Kinshasa would have to return Tungulu to Belgium or pay 25,000 euros a day in damages. Other countries, including the United States, joined in voicing their concern. The inimitable Minister of Information Lambert Mende castigated the Belgian court and government for interfering in the affairs of a sovereign country.

This has all had more of an impact on the population of Kinshasa than the recent news from the Kivus. All the more surprising that the Tungulu's family in Kinshasa (his widow lives in Belgium) would drop their suit against the Congolese government this past week; many suspect pressure from the Congolese government.

The second incident, also involving the presidential guard in Kinshasa, took place on October 19. Apparently, a traffic cop at the Socimat intersection in downtown Kinshasa did not respect the approaching motorcade of Zoé Kabila, the president's brother, cutting off their path as they were approaching. Some members of the presidential guard who were escorting Zoé jumped down and beat up several policemen. Apparently, Zoé was himself outraged by his guard's behavior and paid for the policemen's treatment. Two guards were later arrested. But many Kinois were upset by the incident, which reminded some of Kongulu, Mobutu's notorious son, nicknamed "Saddam" for his abuses, and wondered why Zoé was being protected by such muscle in the first place.

Lastly, on October 12, riots broke out in Likasi, in Katanga province, where pupils went to the mayor's office to protest several traffic accidents that had affected them. The mayor reportedly said: "If you are educated, go home, if you are dogs you can stay," and had some of their parents arrested. This prompted riots that ransacked several state buildings and resulted in the death of at least one student.

Many Congolese can relate more to this kind of arrogance on the part of public officials and security forces than with the violence in the remote Kivus. These incidents just go to show how tense the situation is throughout the country and how much work Kabila will have to do before elections next year if he is to have a chance of fairly winning the polls.


Rich said...

Ref # "These incidents just go to show how tense the situation is throughout the country and how much work Kabila will have to do before elections next year if he is to have a chance of fairly winning the polls."

I would say, these incidents and many other that we cannot name here are clear signs of a dangerous drift towards a totalitarian regime.

J Kabila may have resisted far too long the temptation and ill advises from his handlers but it looks like he is now set and happy to try and expand his power on the flank of his own shortfalls.

My brother (a father of seven who never ever touched to politics in his 52 years old life) is in prison (Kasapa Lubumbashi), wrongly accused of plotting to destabilise the institutions etc. It has been almost 12 months since he has being illegally detained following the ANR's accusation.

For almost 12 months, the ANR has been unable to provide a single proof to support their accusations. All the ANR do is to mention the name of J Kabila to block the judicial system from settling this case or put off anyone who tries to find out more why my brother and two other civilian are in detention.

I can forward you a detailed report on this case if you want. The report was put together by the ACIDH (Action Contre l'Impunité pour les Droits Humains) Katanga. I also kept note of the chronology of this case since it started last year.

It seems like the regime is busy creating enemies instead of making friends.

I've always been quite optimistic about the situation in the DRC because that is the only sensible way forward but observing this dangerous drift towards a totalitarian regime is not encouraging news.

Jason Stearns said...

Yes, I wasn't being judgmental, but these arrests are not good news. The Tungulu and Chebeya cases are probably indeed part of a deep anxiety in the ruling class, an extreme sensitivity to criticism. The Zoé Kabila and Likasi cases are for me more of a symptom of the general arrogance and impunity of the security services, which has been relatively constant over past years.

And please do send me the ACIDH file on your brother, I would be interested.

Rich said...

Hey Jason,

Not too sure if the contact me link is alive on your blog!

I was unable to find a place where I can forward you the ACIDH document (it is a pdf file) Here is the ACIDH website but the link to the document I'm referring to is broken.

Alternatively, I will look at how to attach the document to my profile (if such a move is possible) and you will be able to download it from there.

I forgot to mention the case of the dispute over a house in Binza Macampagne not too far from the Palais de Marbre between Zoe Kabila and Dominique Sakombi Inongo (who is now dead after what is believed to be a heart attack). Zoe Kabila managed to get Sakombi kicked out of the property he seemed to own for the past 20 years or so... There is a similar case with the house of Kisombe that is involved in a dispute with presidential family members.

You are right, there is no need to be judgemental but these abuses of power need to be dealt with in a more efficient way.

Remember the DRC has a 32 years experience of accommodating a dictatorship. There is a sort of culture of impunity within the ruling class that is almost endemic.

The Congolese leadership must reconnect with ordinary people, work for them and constantly assess their mood towards the authority at any level and the security agencies.

Jason Stearns said...

Rich - you can also email me at

Unknown said...

Jason: Kikwit also has had significant security issues in the last 14 days with soldiers killed that were guarding munitions stockpiles, 1 non-congolese killed, and a lot of reported looting.

Jason Stearns said...

I heard about the Kikwit incident - will look into it, thanks.

Anonymous said...

There is no democracy in the D. Congo. I don’t know if these bloody politicians understand the meaning of “Democracy” they will face the consequences of all they are doing, if not in this life, I am certain about the life to come. God is not is unjust

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