“You have to be really well tempered to put up with the things that happen here. It’s not good men but supermen that are needed.”
“In reality, the thought of remaining in the Congo continued to haunt me long into the night, and perhaps I did not so much take the decision as become one fugitive more.”
Che Guevarra to Fidel Castro in 1965.
2013 did not end well for Congo Kinshasa. A group of armed youth attacked the airport. They were quickly overpowered by the Congolese army, but the incident left a bitter taste in the country that otherwise had a relatively good year.
On November 5th Congo defeated the M23 rebel group, one of the main rebel groups in the East that murdered its way across the Kivus, drove 800,000 people from their homes and continued to destabilize the region. During my last visit in Congo the mood was upbeat.
The UN peace keepers (MONUSCO) were about to move out East to finally – after peace has arrived – be stationed where the war used to happen. The security briefing at the OCHA headquarters in November was calm throughout. A flashing powerpoint showed only minor conflicts. Words like “Guarded optimism about continuing surrenders of Raia Mukomboiki in Shabunda.” are taken as good signs. The military campaigns are not yet over though. The Forces Armees del la Republique Democratique due Congo (RAFRDC) still plunders the countryside and kidnaps villages and stray soldiers. Despite backing from the Force Intervention Brigarde (FIB) – composed of troops from Tanzania, South Africa and Malawi, the army is in a difficult state. A US initiative tries to help and train the state security forces. Roy, a soldier from the Oregon has been posted to Kinshasa in October to deliver training and support. Asked how the classes are going he says: “We have to vet each participant first to determine whether he has a history of Human Rights abuses.” How many have been cleared so far?” “None.”
The mood in the business community is generally upbeat as construction is picking up and investment is pouring into the country. Many buildings shine with in bright fresh colours and cranes dot Kinshasa’s skyline – yet complaints are ubiquitous. A dinner with a well to do Lebanese family who’ve run business in the Congo for 25 years yields some insight.
Corruption is a big problem. “In Tanzania and Kenya, corruption costs you about 5-10% of contract value. Here in Congo the Government put almost 90% of your investment into their own coffers”
Over homemade burgers and fries the stories keep pouring: “A couple of months back, I was told that I cannot fill my beverages into PET bottles anymore. I went to see the minister and said to him that my company that manufactures my PET bottles has 1000 employees that is roughly 5000 mouths I feed here. If I cannot use PET bottles how do I sell my water? In wooden canister? The minister replied offered me to drop the law in exchange for half a million dollars. So every now and then a lower rank ‘inspection officer’ comes round and waves the PET bottle law in front of me and I pay him some money and he leaves. The law is in essence just another tax now. That is doing business in the Congo. It’s getting better though. Kabila is a humble man and has done a lot for the country.” “For the country maybe”, another man on the table says, “But only for a few. Not for the many.”