Friday, March 30, 2007
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or being lied about, don't deal in lies,
Or being hated, don't give way to hating,
And yet don't look too good, nor talk too wise:
If you can dream - and not make dreams your master;
If you can think - and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same;
If you can bear to hear the truth you've spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build 'em up with worn-out tools:
If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breathe a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: 'Hold on!'
If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with Kings - nor lose the common touch,
if neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds' worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that's in it,
And - which is more - you'll be a Man, my son!
-- Rudyard Kipling
Monday, March 26, 2007
The main difference with the August fighting, and proof that the fighting was real, is in the body count. The official verdict is 60 dead, but on Saturday the BBC was already claiming 150, and a police general told me today it was likely to be at least twice that. One of the most widely read Congolese newspapers, Le Potentiel, called Thursday and Friday the “craziest and most murderous days in [Kinshasa’s] history.”
The question now for many is how to interpret and respond to the events.
The government position is that Bemba committed treason in using the armed forces for his own ends, and they issued an arrest warrant for him on Friday. In an interview with Le Soir, Bemba denied plotting military action to overthrow the president and claimed he had been attacked. His supporters point to the fact that no effort has been made to disarm Ruberwa, another former Vice President with his own personal security force, as evidence that the last few days were a personal vendetta by Kabila against Bemba.
No one really knows for sure what sparked the actual fighting. Despite the increasingly explosive situation, both sides were still negotiating. Some say that, feeling encircled, Bemba ordered a pre-emptive attack. Others claim that Kabila was determined to rid himself of this problem once and for all and purposefully sent in the army to provoke Bemba’s guards.
MONUC issued a statement on Saturday reproduced by Extra Extra saying it “deeply regrets the fact that force was used in order to resolve a situation that could and should have been settled through dialogue,” and adding that “the Government will have to restore confidence in its judgement by the way in which it treats the defeated militia.”
Some diplomats take a tougher stance, believing these and the events in Matadi last February to be evidence that Kabila has no intention of allowing real political opposition. The EU certainly didn’t take kindly to the fact that the army shelled the BIAC building, which houses the Spanish and Greek Embassies and UNICEF.
For others yet, notably the French, this appears to be business as usual. The French Minister for Cooperation signed a €200 million partnership agreement with the Congolese government no later than Friday, in the midst of the fighting. I wonder how the French Parliament will react.
Bemba is now in the South African Embassy, we think, although I have also heard rumours that he had been moved to MONUC. His party, the MLC, is about to meet to analyse the situation and take a position. Some of its members have already fled. The party may choose to detach itself from its leader in an attempt to salvage its position in parliament.
And meanwhile, does anyone know where President Kabila is?
Close-up of the BIAC building from Dany Masson's blog
Saturday, March 24, 2007
After a few final bursts of heavy artillery near N’dolo Airport and the river at dawn, everything now seems to be over. The minivans and taxis are on the roads again, our landlady’s gardener came into work this morning, and the French Ambassador has given the green light for parents to go fetch their kids at the school where they have been stuck for 48 hours.
Meanwhile we have just received a phone call to confirm that the rescue convoy is on its way. The irony.
Friday, March 23, 2007
Fred and I are now posting from the most inconspicuous room at the back of the house, behind locked doors and windows, curtains drawn, lights out, AC off (pretty hot, yes), ensconced in a single, stuffy room with our kettle, two sachets of powder soup, a couple of bottles of water, a bottle of champagne (style before reason) and our laptops. The aim of the game is to pretend we’re not home, lest our ‘friends’ who came a’knocking yesterday and took several thousand dollars’ worth of money and jewellery from our landlady and neighbours come back for more. This afternoon Fred spied FARDC soldiers helping themselves quite nonchalantly to some goodies across the street.
To be honest, there’s not much I would mind losing – my mother’s pendant, our Syrian carpet and the pictures on this laptop, basically. Even my wedding ring is replaceable – after all Fred lost his in the Bombolomeni rapids six months into our marriage. But I don’t particularly want to meet a Republican Guard or FARDC soldier face to face after dark, merci beaucoup.
Needless to say, the convoy never came. But I was relieved to hear about the 8pm curfew, and I like to think that MONUC APCs will be patrolling our area regularly throughout the night.
Some good pictures on the BBC site.
The main concern now is looting. Meanwhile, we still await our elusive rescue convoy.
The Spanish Embassy was hit, the Nigerian Ambassador is hurt, and a number of shops and offices were looted during the night. AFP reports that a container holding 2,500 cubic meters of fuel was hit near N’dolo, which explains the column of smoke observed by fellow bloggers. Bemba has been ensconced in the South African Embassy for the night.
I slept surprisingly well in a little cocoon we put together on the floor of the spare room.
Rumour has it that an armed convoy is being organised to rescue the schoolchildren stuck overnight at the French (and Belgian?) school(s). We may be invited to join. Having got accustomed to my makeshift bunker in the now relatively quiet zone, I am somewhat loathe to join an armed convoy taking me in the direction of the front line, even if it is to the safety of the embassy compound.
Thursday, March 22, 2007
First sign of trouble today mid-morning: we witnessed people fleeing en masse down our road towards the ‘cité’, where most of them live. When the Congolese traders leave their post, it’s a sure sign something is amiss. The shooting started at 12.45, just as I was about to leave the house for a meeting, having received the green light from Security (I won’t say whose). Instead, we took cover in our corridor, the only space in our house without windows, and spent the next 5 hours crouched on the floor, listening to heavy gunfire outside, juggling radios and mobile phones in a frantic attempt to quench our voracious thirst for information.
Note to self: Never again rent a house that shares a wall with the police HQ lest it come under attack.
If I’m totally honest, I will hesitantly admit that I was ever-so-slightly disappointed that we’d ‘missed all the fun’ in the last three shoot-outs in August and November – the first two times because we were out of the country, and the third time because we were safely ensconced in the embassy compound. I was a nincompoop and I take it all away. It’s terrifying. Fred recorded some of it for Extra Extra.
The 6pm ceasefire appears to be respected, more or less, and the fireworks have reduced to just a few sporadic and distant bursts. Negotiations start first thing tomorrow. Fingers crossed.
We’ve been here before. The issue remains that opposition leader Jean-Pierre Bemba refuses to disband his personal militia, despite a government order to do so by 15 March. He understandably feels that the mere 12 policemen planned by decree for his protection are not enough. President Kabila understandably feels that allowing a few hundred armed men who respond to his rival reside smack in the centre of town is unacceptable. So he sent in the military. But rumour has it that the Seventh Integrated Brigade mutinied and joined forces with Bemba, which would explain why his men seem to have taken so much of Gombe (the downtown area where we live). And then there’s the mysterious story of the motorcyclist who may or may not have tried to kill Prime Minister Gizenga today, an event which is said to have sparked the clashes. More tomorrow.