‘Van waar ben je?’. De vraag zet me elke keer aan het denken. Van waar je geboren bent? Dan ben ik van Rwanda. Van waar je ouders komen?
Dear chair, please stand up for the people of Congo in the UN Security Council!
I‘ve been sitting here staring with dull eyes all night. Shall I blog about it again? Or doesn’t it all make sense? Isn’t it just a waste of time? After all, hasn’t the world long decided to turn its back on Eastern Congo for good?
For a moment, I had thought that at last a turning point was imminent. The VRT sent journalist Stijn Vercruysse to Beni to report on the killings! I did not hesitate to accept his proposal to work together to bring one of the most unimaginable crimes against humanity to the attention of public opinion in Belgium. It gave me a good feeling that I was able to do something concretely, hoping to have hit a decision-maker somewhere who would be able to make a difference. Someone who can still be touched and revolted by the deaths of innocent people, by the inability of a government to protect its people, by the cowardice of an international community that has never got beyond scraping its throat, while natural resources of depopulated areas enrich unscrupulous looters. And arm them.
But while VRT’s Terzake footage was still echoing on social networks, I heard the butchers of Beni grinding their machetes loud and clear. The breather of the first three weeks of the year turned out to be the silence before the storm. On the very day of the first anniversary of Tshisekedi’s swearing-in ceremony, the first attack already came. Since then they have continued unabated.
Bits and pieces
Yesterday I couldn’t keep my attention at work. Haughty officials came to evaluate our work. Throughout the day, they kept us occupied with questionable methodologies and veiled criticism while I was constantly distracted by one message after another coming in from the internet about what was happening at that very same time just a few dozen kilometres north as the crow flies.
In barely 48 hours, 62 civilians lost their lives
Bits and pieces of the puzzle came in from what ultimately cost the lives of 62 civilians in barely 48 hours, and perhaps even more because it is unlikely that all bodies have already been found.
In the night from Tuesday to Wednesday 29th January, between 8 p.m. and 5.30 a.m., men turned up door to door in three different villages west of Oïcha to kill, either with a bullet or a machete, everyone who ended up in their field of vision. At the same time they plundered goats, chickens and everything of value. So far 38 bodies have been salvaged, 6 others survived the attack despite their injuries.
The next morning another group appeared between 6.30 and 7.20 a.m. in a village 3 km east of Eringeti. There they attacked a camp of the government army, but the military were able to repel the attack. On their flight the assaillants crossed the path of the local pastor who was on his way to his field with his wife and they shot him in cold blood. His wife was able to escape. A little further on they killed two more peasant women on their field. Their bodies were not found until a day later.
Thursday morning, January 30th, three farmers were killed, 8 km east of Oïcha, on their way to their artisanal palm nut press where they were going to extract oil for cooking.
That same Thursday, around 1 o’clock in the afternoon, the village of Mantumbi, 18 km from Mbau, suffered an attack. So far 11 bodies have been found there. And a twelfth not far from there.
At 3 o’clock in the afternoon they invaded Mamove, killing three women, two men and a child, and setting fire to three houses.
Beni’s civil society is keeping statistics about the killings. They calculated that 320 civilians had already been massacred since the start of the offensive against the assaillants on 30 October 2019. That’s an average of more than 100 a month, more than three a day. I don’t know if that means anything to a reader in Europe. Living in a place where every day an average of three people die at the hands of an unknown, undefined, indefinable enemy with unclear intentions leads to an all-encompassing fear psychosis. And probably that is precisely the intention.
Contrary to the unbridled popular anger that erupted after the November massacres and turned against MONUSCO’s blue helmets, Beni now remains surprisingly calm. It seems as if habituation has done its work. The threshold of resignation seems to have lowered again.
Is there really nothing or nobody who can stop this madness? I know we can’t expect an answer from the Congolese government in its present configuration. When I contact the Belgian embassy, all I get is a cool reply that any useful information I can provide is mostly welcome. When I ask questions at our Foreign Office, I get silence as an answer. When I look for answers in the media, my chin falls on my keyboard while reading articles about Belgian diplomatic appearances, where not a word is said about the atrocities in Beni: redynamizing bilateral relations, relaunching cooperation, exchanging experiences, strengthening ties, blah, blah, while at the same time, as they speak, men, women and children are being murdered one by one by the Beni gang. Even though I am a well-connected citizen, I can’t get answers to the many questions. How much worse must this be if you have left your house and fields because of repeated attacks on your village community and are now trying to survive in the city without any kind of income or support?
Call for international help
Civil society is calling for a change in the army’s strategy. By means of maps they show that the military is actually giving free rein to the alleged ADF rebels to attack civilians outside of the war zone. The Congolese armed forces FARDC have seized only 30% of the ADF territory. This shows that they have not been cut off from their base, while they can attack new areas to the northwest. A bold strategy is needed, launching offensives on all fronts at the same time. But first, all ex-CNDP or M23 officers should be removed from the FARDC command structure on suspicion of complicity with Rwanda, which has been their bread and butter lord for years.
It is obvious that Congo alone will not solve this problem. How many more deaths must there be before the international community assumes its responsibility? This looks more and more like a clear case of refusing assistance to people in need.
President Tshisekedi himself, in his speech to accredited diplomats on the occasion of the exchange of New Year’s wishes, explicitly called for greater involvement of the international community in the fight against terrorism in Congo. Let it be clear to those who constantly wave the flag of foreign interference in Congo: this is an explicit question from the President himself. However, it is not very concrete, and other politicians are trying to make it more explicit.
The elected representatives of le Grand Nord of North Kivu have gone to American ambassador Mike Hammer with a three-point agenda: 1) what can the USA do to stop the killings once and for all? 2) urgent emergency aid is needed for the thousands of displaced persons who are not in camps but end up with family and friends who are themselves already very impoverished by the insecurity. 3) development aid to rebuild the affected area after the killer gangs will have been rounded up.
Valentin Mubake, together with some opposition colleagues, addressed President Macron of France with the request to convene an international conference to bring Congo back to peace with neighbouring countries. It is the Anglo-Saxons who profit from the plundering of raw materials, he believes, which is why France must now make a difference.
Playing games or ordering action?
Ferdinand Kambere of the government alliance FCC, coalition partner to president Tshisekedi’s UDPS, reacted strongly that it is MONUSCO who has to solve this problem. That is what they are paid for. He also insisted to address the issue of “those Congolese who do not want Beni’s situation to be improving”. Saying so, he shows that he has clearly already forgotten that his political idol, former president Joseph Kabila, wants Monusco out as soon as possible and that justice and security is definitely the responsibility of the government, in which his political family weighs most heavily.
Meanwhile, in Kinshasa, Tshisekedi is entangled in endless political threat games with his unreliable coalition partners that are likely to lead to another serious crisis in the coming days. This will only play into the hands of the assassins who will be given even more free rein.
First and foremost, an independent international investigation needs to be carried out to establish who is really responsible for the atrocities in Eastern Congo.
As of today, Belgium will chair the UN Security Council for a month. Will our country seize this excellent opportunity to take responsibility and kick the world a conscience? In the official press release, the three accents that our country wants to put on the international agenda are mentioned: children in armed conflict, transitional justice and European cooperation within the UNSC for more peace in the world. These three points can all be fully applied to the Congo. But this will only be effective if, first and foremost, an independent international investigation is carried out to establish who is really responsible for the atrocities in Eastern Congo. Without his, there will be no justice. If this cannot be decided under the Belgian presidency, I am afraid it is never going to happen and Eastern Congo will sink into a deep swamp of inhumanity, abandoned by the world. And us, Belgians, well, we will simply continue playing our own political games at home.