Friday, March 30, 2007


IF you can keep your head when all about you
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 aftermath

As I drove around town today, I kept having to shake the feeling that the shooting had all been a particularly vivid nightmare. Everything looks remarkably the same. With a few notable exceptions, there is so little destruction, it’s almost eerie. People said the same thing after the fighting in August, sparking speculation that soldiers on both sides had shot in the air.

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

Good morning

9am, all okay. No soldiers came to visit us during the night. It turns out last night was pretty quiet on the looting front. Of course we still jumped at every noise outside, convinced that someone was prowling around.

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

The snail reflex

For someone who claims she’s not really into this blogging business at all, I was remarkably pleased to find that Fred and I, along with a couple other addicted Kinshasa bloggers, made the headline on the Global Voices website.

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.

Final Act?

All is quiet. The last bursts of sporadic shooting are so distant that Fred optimistically questions whether they could be thunder. The first reports of friends escaping the office in which they spent the last 30 hours and making it home down the Boulevard have just come in. I am told the buildings still stand (except the Spanish Embassy); the main victims are the trees. Of course we don’t yet have any real idea of the body count.

The main concern now is looting. Meanwhile, we still await our elusive rescue convoy.

More drama

As I said, I slept surprisingly well in our little cocoon. Except when someone gave us a fright by knocking loudly at our window, then refusing to answer when Fred called out, "C'est qui?" I’d virtually forgotten about the event altogether, but just now when I ventured out to feed the kittens, I was informed by our heroic housekeeper that during the night a Republican Guard soldier came through the 'parcelle' we share with five other households, looting our neighbours and trying to get into our house. She warded him off, swearing that no one was home and that she didn't have the keys to our place (the woman will get a raise!). Apparently he is still outside our gate terrorising our guards, but hopefully our proximity to the police will finally come in handy.

The morning after

The shooting and shelling continues, but it seems appreciatively remote and infrequent after yesterday’s close call. From time to time our police neighbours fire a round from the roof to keep their opponents at bay, but we hardly notice anymore. We can hear tanks firing from the Boulevard, so it must be pretty tense up there.

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

Too close for comfort

Yesterday I received an e-mail from a friend of mine living in Sri Lanka. He’s just been offered a job in Kinshasa and was asking whether it was safe. I wrote back saying that despite the occasional spark of tension, the security situation has been pretty stable on the whole, particularly since the elections. Famous last words.

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.