Friday, February 15, 2008

Sexy Love

On recommendation from a good friend of ours, F tried to book a table at this romantic and aptly named Valentine’s Day dinner venue.

Photo by Vikky Bullock

Unfortunately, they were fully booked, so we sat at home and watched Supernanny Jo Frost bully a fiendish five year old into submission instead.

P.S: For reasons too complicated to go into right now, we actually celebrate Valentine’s Day on 15 February.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

All hail buckets and head torches

What should this fact tell you: The Congo River drains more than 1.3 million square miles, and, over a mere 220 miles, it descends nearly a thousand feet..?

Two things, I would suggest:

1. There is no water shortage in the Congo, at least not in the vicinity of the river.
2. There is no electricity shortage in the Congo, given the river’s incredible, unrivalled hydroelectric power.

Wrong, and wrong again.

Today we celebrate a welcome (if overdue) occasion: the return of running water after almost ten days without. Now it’s true that no African experience is possibly complete without its fair share of cold rainwater bucket showers, basin flushes and mineral water teeth brushing, and it certainly makes one more understanding of colleagues who on occasion smell rather less than fresh in the morning. Still, I was overjoyed to come home tonight to the long-awaited news that I could finally indulge in both washing my hair and pooing, without fear of running out of water.

Our 70's style bathtub

But then, just as I was basking in the luxury of lathering my hands under the tap, whilst mentally composing an ecstatic text message to our friends who so kindly allowed us to use their showers when we were reaching desperation point, I heard a frustratingly familiar click, followed by the inevitable pitch blackness. When it’s not one, it’s the other.

So now, there’s only one thing left for me to do: go take a shower while I still can.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Turmoil amongst magistrates

Too much detail for most of you, but some may be interested in the latest instalment in the ongoing tripartite tug-of-war between the judiciary, the executive and the legislature.

On Friday President Kabila announced out of the blue, seemingly without consulting anyone (except presumably the Minister of Justice), the immediate retirement of 92 magistrates (who were either over 65 or had been magistrates for 35+ years), thus making space for the promotion of 26 others. This includes the country’s top magistrate (First President of the Supreme Court of Justice) and top public prosecutor (Attorney General). It is seen by some as an unapologetic political manoeuvre by the President to promote his sympathisers within the judiciary ahead of major reforms due to be voted at the next Parliamentary sitting, thus positioning them for top posts in the new institutional set-up.

Understandably, the announcement has caused a lot of discontent and unrest amongst the magistrates, including those who were promoted (but are embarrassed about how it happened, saying it undermines their authority). After thirty-five years of service, some of the country’s most senior, highly respected magistrates discovered while watching television that they were effectively out of a job, with a pension of $300 per month to live on. Although the Presidency says it is a logical step given the advanced age of these magistrates, the way in which the decision was announced made it look to everyone like they were being sanctioned. Not to mention that there isn’t anyone to replace them, since there hasn’t been a recruitment exercise in over ten years.

At best, this is an example of terrible human resource management; at worst, it is a clear, conscious manipulation by the Presidency of a temporary institutional vaccuum in order to effectively breach the Constitution.

Perhaps this explains why the same magistrates were rushing home in a panic last week claiming that there had been a coup!

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

More from Radio Trottoir

If there is one thing I seem to report on over and over again, it is Kinshasa’s endless rumours and speculation.

After the preposterous story of the impending British invasion, since Friday we have been assailed by rumours of a coup attempt, which then turned into rumours of the President’s death (no less). The failure of both Joseph and his wife Olive to attend last Sunday’s massive celebrations at the stadium in honour of the new Archbishop Monseigneur Monsengwo confirmed the rumours’ truth in many people’s minds, to the point where they started exchanging news of where the President’s remains might be (South Africa).

This morning, the local newspapers (e.g. Le Potentiel) reported yesterday’s vehement denial by the Secretary General of the PPRD, Kabila’s party, who insisted that the President was in perfect health and that the rumours were a shameless plot to destabilise the state. But of course, there’s nothing like saying that something is a lie to set the tongues wagging. Especially when only six years ago, the same country was swayed to and fro for 48 hours with rumours and counter-rumours of the assassination of then President Laurent Désiré Kabila, father of the current President – one rumour that turned out to be true. (See this l’Internaute timeline for the 2001 rumours that became truth.)

“There’s no smoke without fire,” they say. So in this case, assuming the President is alive, what on earth started the fire?

I must admit that, after playing it very cool for days and refusing to be flustered by these absurdly tall tales, even I found myself contributing (modestly) to the traffic of concerned messages today, when I heard that Supreme Court judges were abandoning their offices and rushing home in a panic, calling over their shoulder that “this time it’s for real.” One of them must have wanted to get out of work early!

Sunday, February 03, 2008


Just in case anyone thought that the Kivus hadn’t had more than their fair share of calamity, two earthquakes (of respectively 6.0 and 5.0 magnitude) hit Bukavu (and Rwanda) this morning.

Rumour gone crazy

The peace agreement did get signed, on 24 January. Four days later came the first report of a ceasefire violation: CNDP (Nkunda’s people) accused PARECO and some Mai Mai groups of attacking and robbing villagers. Still, I don’t want to sound too cynical – the agreement surely represents a great opportunity, and I’m certain all those who were present at the Goma conference (starting with MONUC’s new boss, Alan Doss) are only too aware of the challenges that lie ahead.

Meanwhile, Kinshasa, city of rumours and startling tales, has reverted to form, in a frenzy of mobile phone text messages reminiscent of the electoral period.

First came the rumours, starting on Tuesday and escalating on Thursday, that British forces based in Brazzaville were about to invade Kinshasa. Some said the British had received advance notice of an upcoming attempt to destabilise the government: one text message circulating amongst the Congolese in Kinshasa read, “The British have arrived in Brazzaville to evacuate the Westerners living in Kinshasa. We have been told to get out before things get rough.” Others (including, I am told, one local newspaper that I haven’t yet managed to track down) claimed the British troops were there to help their Rwandan Tutsi allies take power in DRC.

Then, on Friday, new rumours spread of a crisis at President Kabila’s office in Palais de la Nation. Some even claim gunshots were heard. It seems that the Republican Guard were protesting because they did not receive their month’s pay. But of course, some leapt to the inevitable conclusion that the predicted British invasion had begun. Whatever really happened, it was enough to keep Kabila from traveling to the African Union summit in Addis Ababa as planned.

The rumours about the impending British invasion of Kinshasa were based on the signing of an agreement between the governments of Great Britain and Congo-Brazzaville, allowing British troops to land at the airport in Brazzaville in the event that an evacuation of its citizens in either Brazzaville or Kinshasa was deemed necessary for security reasons.