Revolution In Zaire (Or The Same Again?)

By Peng Reyes, cicm

Sometime ago we all watched Laurent Kabila as he advanced victoriously through Zaire and overthrew the dictator Mobutu and changed the country’s name to Congo. Fr. Peng Reyes is there now and tells us some of the inside story.

I was already at home in med-September 1996 when the Battle of the Great Lakes in Central Africa exploded. It was called the Battle of the Great Lakes because it involved at least five countries located near the great lakes of Tangayika and Victoria.

Great Exodus

My vacation in Philippines was a bit prolonged not because of the war in my mission country, Zaire, now democratic Republic of Congo, but because of my failing health. By the time I got back to Zaire this time, there were at least three kinds of exodus events happening:

First, the hundreds of thousands of Rwandan and Burundi refugees in their camps were either forced to return to their respective countries of origin or pushed into the equatorial rain forest toward Kisangani if they refused to take the road back home.

Secondly, most of the former military loyal to the then ailing President Mobutu and some government officials vacated their posts, and took with them to exile their ill-gotten wealth looted from the Public Treasury, church property and resources of foreign companies.

And lastly, many female pastoral agents, missionaries and even local sisters working in the danger zones were asked if not encouraged to take refuge in safe cities either in or out of the country because of unavoidable circumstances like looting and at times blood-shedding. These all happened while Laurent Kabila., the incoming President, advanced slowly yet surely toward the major cities yet unconquered.

Kabila, Kabila!

Everywhere, the rebels seemed to be welcomed by the populace according to their vast and varied conceptions: as liberators, as an alternative government, as elements of foreign domination or simply as the enemy of the people. I heard and saw them passing by on foot near our parish located in one of the popular quarters of the Capital City to the applause and acclamation of crowds: Kabila... Kabila...Kabila!

A Country Destroyed

The hysteria of liberation did not last long considering the huge and immense work the people had to do in reconstructing a nation devastated for many years by both government and military officials not to mention some foreign capitalists.

Mission Stations Abandoned

In the meantime, the dioceses and mission stations of the North and East of Democratic Republic of Congo, not excluding my own parish in the interior part of Kisangani, were looted; some totally destroyed and more still abandoned by their pastors, missionaries and local clergy. The Church, after all this, has to pause for awhile to examine her conscience and re-think a new mission and vision.

Miserable Wanderers

According to the last statistics, there are some 340, 000 Rwandan refugees and 44, 000 Burundi refugees still unaccounted for. These refugees have been wandering on foot across rivers and forest in the equatorial region of Congo without food, medicine and shelter for more than half a year now to flee their blood-thirsty slaughterers. How many of them are still alive? How many of them could still be saved?

Where were they?

The International Community has long been discussing what term to use “Massacre” or “Genocide” to describe the lamentable fate of thousands of Hutus and Tutsis. But the International Community delayed or even disregarded the pressing appeal of many NGOs and Human Rights Groups to send an International Protection Force that would assure the safety and protection of the countless refugees in their camps. Why did the United States, France and Belgium send a number of their military troops to Brazzaville to protect their own citizens while refusing to do the same service in behalf of the faceless and defenseless refugees? Do European and American citizens more that the African?

An Interesting Thought

Looking back on this sad and complex story one element is clear. Could the massacres have taken place without the unconscionable commerce in arms carried on by certain countries which claim themselves to be bastions of human rights? Just a thought to keep in mind!