Reporting on the Horrors and the Hope of the Congo

Published on AlterNet, by Catherine Corpeny, April 10, 2010.

Part 1 – I wanted to wait and write when I understood more about the politics behind the mind-bending atrocities going on here, but it will take much, much more time for me to absorb, process, and understand the components and intricacies that perpetuate this senseless and obscene war. Every day I see and learn something new about this country, its people, and the unrelenting conflict that’s turning both inside out.

So that being said I am going to report on both the horrors I’ve witnessed during my recent time in Congo as well as the hope, for the Congo encompasses high degrees of both.

First stop Kigali, Rwanda:

After 2 days of flying my travel buddy, Joseph Mbangu, and I finally land in Kigali. Safe. The supposed direct flight from Nairobi to Kigali was redirected making an unplanned stop in Bujumbura, Burundi. No one tells us why. Needless to say I was a little tense. I kept checking the faces of the flight attendants – they seemed calm so I, thankfully, did not head for the exit.

Forty-five minutes later we land in Burundi to an army battalion standing in the middle of the airfield in full military regalia. They turn and salute the plane. A red carpet is rolled out onto the runway. Once we come to a full stop the Tambourinaires (drummers) begin the local Intore Dance warrior dance. TV cameras roll, photographers point their lenses toward the aircraft – it turns out the vice-president of Kenya is on our flight! And because of security reasons they couldn’t tell anyone about the impromptu stop. As the Vice-President disembarks, Joseph and I, along with the rest of the passengers, watch the ceremony from the plane, and then head off to Kigali. Nice way to start the trip, and the first of many unplanned happenings. “This is Africa,” I tell myself and settle in.

Kigali is wild. Cars, pedestrians, and motos, scrap for a piece of the road. It reminds me of the media footage I’ve seen of New Delhi or Islamabad only without the poverty. An enormous amount of investing is taking place in Kigali. Lots of new construction – parks, schools, office buildings, beautification projects, and sub-divisions – part of the government’s rehabilitation plan to bring money back into the country after the 1994 slaughter of nearly 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus in just 100 days by the Interahamwe (Hutu militia).

Two things seem to be so consistently true here that in my mind they warrant skepticism – First, everyone in Kigali loves their president Paul Kagame, the RPF military commander who eventually drove the FDLR out of Rwanda (more on him later, A-hem). It’s hard to imagine that with a population of nearly eighty-five percent Hutu, that no one has a contrary word to say about Kagame. Second, no one likes to talk about the genocide – at least directly. Indirectly they talk about it all the time, in fact, it defines time: Rwandans often preface their sentences with “Before the genocide,” and “After the genocide,” but that’s all you’re likely to hear about it. They want to ‘forget’ it, which is understandable, and alarming … (full text).

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