Prospects for Sustained Peace in the Democratic Republic of Congo

Professor Wamba dia Wamba is a leader of the Rassemblement Congolais la democratie (RCD-Kisangani), and is based in Kinshasa, the capital town of the Democratic Republic of Congo. He is a recipient of the prestigious Prince Claus Award for Culture and Development in recognition of his “scholarly contribution to the development of African philosophy and for sparking off the philosophical debate on social and political themes in Africa.” He has written innumerable articles in various scientific and non-scientific journals on the politics in Africa. He has taught at Harvard University and at the University of Dar-es-Salaam, to name but a few. He is a member of the Honorary Board of the Ota Benga Alliance. We are pleased to present this thoughtful analysis from July of 2003, recently posted on Transcend Africa Network, September 15, 2008.


1. Since the creation of the Congo, at the Berlin Conference (1884-1885) as a result of the resolution of the conflict opposing imperial Africa conquering powers, the struggle for or against the Congo has always been international, roughly opposing two camps: the pro-Congolese people camp and the Congolese people ignoring/marginalizing/repressing camp. The identity of the various actors in each camp is very complex and situational. In the 1960’s, President Kwame Nkrumah, in his Challenge of the Congo (1967), gave an interesting indication of some of the then actors.

2. The camps are not distinguished along the lines of the distinction, internal (domestic) vs. external (foreign) forces. At times, during the epoch of the Congo Free State for example, external forces such as the Morel Movement seemed more pro-Congolese people than domestic ones. Even today, a great part of the Congolese “political class” seems to be compradorian. The status of domestic forces, in each camp, is decisive for the outcome of the struggle. The weakest the position of the pro-Congolese people domestic forces leads to the defeat of the Congolese people; i.e., the outcome is less favorable to them.

3. The Congo has always been at the center of the globalization process since the beginning. For a long time, the very hot Cold War, in all its various phases (peaceful coexistence, rivalry, détente, new rivalry, the end) shaped the struggle for or against the Congo. The secessions (first balkanization of the country), the assassinations of P.E. Lumumba and other nationalists and the dismantling of the nationalist regime were explained with reference to the Cold War.

4. The history of the Congo has been marked by a process of a never- ending crisis. The Congo Free State was marked by what Adam Hochschild (King Leopold’s Ghost, 1998) has called an ignored holocaust, the result of a brutal way of organizing the looting of the country’s natural resources (Red rubber). The Morel led international conflict resolution gave rise to Belgian Congo whose Colonial Charter’s application was crisis bound. Prophetist (Kimbangu) and trade-unionist uprisings were violently repressed. Starting with the crisis of Independence, on and off, the Congo has gone through wars since 1960, the one being ended is the eleventh. Or rather the war of emancipation (?) is in its eleventh phase. 1960-1963, the conflict led to the first balkanization of the country as a result of the Western dismantling of the nationalist regime ( with the assassination of Lumumba and other nationalist leaders), Katanga and Kasai mining companies and settlers organized secessions and the proclamation of the Stanleyville Peoples Republic. 1963-1967 and beyond: the defeat of the Second Independence armed struggle and Mobutu’s Coup d’Etat (1965) led to the reunification of the country under the banner of repression as policy by a clientelist and discriminatory State.

1967-1985: wars against mercenary (Jean Schramme) led rebellion and maquis resistance in eastern Congo and the so-called Shaba wars (1977-1978) took place. 1989-1997: with the end of the Cold War (on the basis of the collapse of the State-Party formations), the West nearly abandoned the Western friendly tyran, Mobutu, and supported the SNC movement of democratization based on a restored multipartyism. The truth based national reconciliation was not achieved and this led to a non-ending transition to democracy. Refusing to be replaced or significantly reformed, Mobutu’s regime resorted to a destructive policy of regionalism, ethnic cleansing, State repression of Tutsi Congolese minority and regional destabilization: through involvement in supporting genocidaire Rwandese regime and Angolan UNITA, for examples. This gave the occasion to the region, with the USA conniving, to militarily and diplomatically intervening on the side of the Congolese people to overthrow Mobutu’s regime. Countries involved included: Tanzania, South Africa, Rwanda, Uganda, Erytrea, Angola. The AFDL regime failed to go into the roots of the never-ending crisis: no truth based national reconciliation was contemplated, no resumption of the democratization process, as Congolese people have hoped, its governance fell very quickly into Mobutuist-like solitary exercise of power and repression covered by an anti-Western phobic Lumumbist sounding discourse and a resumption of regional destabilization policy starting with the humiliation of some of its former allies and military backers. This made the re-building of the decomposed State more difficult. Military and political dissidence arose and received regional backing. This led to the so-called ” African First World War” ( Madeleine Albright), the second balkanization of the country into five “administrations” (Kinshasa, Goma, Gbadolite, Bunia and Isiro), and an estimated human cost of 3 million people dead.

5. So far, each phase has ended without having resolved the basic underlining fundamental problems generating protracted armed conflicts. Each phase has been also marked by direct involvement of external forces through an “alignment” with some clientelist internal forces. The strategic position of the country in Africa (if not the world), its rich natural resources potential (strategic resources for the succeeding capitalist phases: from tropical agriculture experienced slaves, rubber, copper, cobalt/uranium, oil, coltan, biodiversity and soon, water; without neglecting the money laundering diamond) and the relative absence of strong national pro-Congo leadership institutions make the country a continuous prey for protracted external interventions and easy target for continuous people exploitation and pauperization. People resistance, passive and active, makes the country a war zone. The Congo has never had a sustained peace.


6. The capacities of the national leadership at independence were not sufficient to start tackling correctly the problems of the country in the World divided by Cold War, given the country’s strategic position. In fact, very soon the leadership that fought for independence and had some sense of its significance was replaced as a presumed solution to the crisis of independence. The resulting troubled Congolese history made it difficult to develop those necessary capacities. Western dependency mentality, on the part of would-be-leaders, has increased than decreased: each time the country faces a problem the call is made for outside help. To the extent that Western direct involvement tends to be a problem, basic problems remain unresolved. The impression given by the nature of help which comes is that the Congo is seen as ‘ a sick person that must be kept alive in an intensive care unit, but not allowed to be totally cured.” There has been no real vision to guide the transformation of a conquered and colonized territory, freed with precipitation, into a self-reliant Nation, responding positively to the basic interests of the Congolese majority of people. The Congolese people have, thus, had no confidence in the existing institutions and their actors. The latter have failed to develop mutual trust with each other, and each actor, in the main, has had no self-confidence. And while occupying a strategic position, the country’s public consciousness has never reached the level required by that position.

7. Crucial problems have not been mastered. The country, so large, has not been even physically sufficiently integrated. Surrounded by 9 bordering countries, the country’s well understood national interest can only be articulated with some consideration of its relation to those of the neighboring countries. 6 out of the 9 countries have had or are still undergoing civil wars: which, due to the decomposition of our State, have been slipping over the DRC, making it easier for external interventions into the country. The international dimension of the country has not been mastered. The nature of the post-colonial State, as a colonial legacy, i.e., a State created through conquest and non-responsive to the basic needs of the conquered peoples, has not been problematized and transformed to make it responsive to the needs of all Congolese. The economy, dominated by a problematic of extraction of natural resources whose markets are outside of the country, entertains violent forced labor relations of production and a dynamics of looting. This makes it unresponsive to the basic needs of impoverished masses of people. The centuries’ history of the Congo’s foreign capital investment and wealth creation based on resource extraction has been a complete and total failure in terms of human and socioeconomic conditions of the Congolese society. In the absence of a true middle class and a patriotic political class, it is difficult to achieve and sustain the necessary structural break from the existing political economic structure. This break, if accomplished, would allow both foreign investors and Congolese society conceptualize, define and articulate their respective interests, requirements and needs as equal stakeholders in mutual beneficial partnership based relationships. The primary sources of conflict, in the Congo, are political and socioeconomic structural problems. They have national, regional and global dimensions.

8. The protracted crisis has always had concrete symptomatic forms of expression in each situation. Presently, we are facing principally a major political crisis, whose symptoms are as follows: a) an absence of legitimate political institutions serving openly all the Congolese and responding positively to their basic needs and aspirations and in which they have confidence and trust; b) an absence of a democratically rooted constitutionalism, since the 1965 coup d’Etat, constitution-making has been devoted to underwrite and justify dictatorial powers; c) the incumbent President, in a state of emergency it is true, was designated by a small circle with no constitutional known powers and endorsed by a parliament appointed by a self-proclaimed President, the late L.D. Kabila; d) an absence of a relatively independent, self-reliant and truly patriotic national political leadership mobilizing the population to keep at bay interventionist forces and tendencies; e) an insufficient national consciousness among the people; f) a de facto balkanization of the country; g) a continuous militarization of the politico-administrative structure; being closer to or having recourse to arms as a way of getting to or keeping power is seen as a good thing and warlords seen as heroes awarded with the title of ‘leader’; h) an absence, especially within the structures and institutions of leadership, of political ethics ( public morality, respect for the res publica, active opposition to corruption and other negative values, the will to truth, active pursuit of a healthy interethnic conviviality, ultimate concern for human life, respect for political adversaries or dissidents, etc.); i) the debasing of Congolese intellectuals, devoting their intellectual work to the celebration of dictators, to spreading fear in the population or in gravitating around mediocrity; k) with the lapsing of the political model of ‘liberation movements’ and the crisis of Party form, the existing numerous Parties (close to 400 registered) function as NGO’s almost the same way as civil society NGO’s with no clear vision or organized people mobilization; l) even after the end of the Cold War and the overthrow of Mobutu’s one-Party State kleptocratic ‘dictatorship’, a transition to democratic rule has been indefinite: the country giving the impression of having embarked on a self-destructive course and a real possibility of partition.


9. SADC sponsored search for peace in the DRC– leading to the Lusaka Cease-Fire Accord– and the long lasting Inter-Congolese political negotiations: leading to the Global and Inclusive Accord– have singled out the end of war, peace, the re-unification of the country and a transition towards a new political dispensation as their targets. The complexity of the problem, the shaky determination of the African leadership and its relative financial and material poverty allowed the international community to take over the active “sponsorship” of the overall process. The SADC group was particularly sidelined.

10. Political problems aside, peace negotiations have suffered from conceptual confusions. When the people are not at the center of the search for peace, situations of conflict are not correctly grasped: what makes peace impossible in each situation is grasped through generalities drawn from a context-free conceptual framework model which guides the peace negotiations. The silencing of weapons seems to be the end-result target. The so-called realist politics, centered around the notion of might is right, or the idea of the ’strong man’ coupled with the notion of a zero-sum game provide for the conceptual apparatus to deal with peace negotiations. ” How and by whom are people represented in peace negotiations?” This question is often not contemplated. Negotiations are centered around warlords i.e., anyone posing a visible threat to peace has more consideration, not the most victimized. In a situation where we refuse to think on our own, refuse to take our history seriously or to see things from a long perspective, we don’t start from a rational sum-up of past outcomes of conflict resolutions: the lessons of the failures and/or successes of the 1993 Arusha Peace Agreement for Rwanda, the 1994 Peace Protocols for Angola, the Namibia Accords, etc. The ICD lasted so long and cost so much because it was badly organized and too much groping in the dark. This allowed pandora boxes to be drawn in and be open.

11. The long and frustrating process of inter-Congolese negotiations eventually led to the Global and Inclusive Accord, now being implemented. Due to the nature of the Congolese “political class” and the mediation methodology, no real dialogue over the Congolese crisis really took place. Negotiations were subordinated to the imperatives of power sharing: you must get a State post or chair or die! The mediation team was composed of representatives of the UN (the UNSG’s Special Envoy, Moustapha Niasse) and the South African government. It followed a strategy which, while making it possible to reach the result faster, did not facilitate confidence building and trust among the Congolese parties. From the beginning to the end, no point of agreement was reached between Congolese themselves without outside pressure. Informal consultations and discussions were used and only results were presented in the plenary meetings. Questions of procedure were entirely handled by the moderation, with no room for organized input from the Congolese parties. The mediation paid more attention to negotiations with the components referred to as ‘big belligerents’: Kinshasa Government, MLC and RCD-Goma. The other components and entities (Civil Society, Non-armed Political Opposition, RCD-ML, RCD-N and Mai Mai) were more or less called upon to endorse points of agreement reached by the big belligerents. The exchanges between delegates were indirect, passing through mediators. At no time, almost, did any of the delegates meet and discuss, face to face, to defend each other’s positions. No real palaver took place. The pressure was permanent on the delegates; thus avoiding a situation where certain parties could behave as if they had a veto right. And yet, the so-called ‘big belligerents’ knew they counted more than the other parties. As a consequence, the other parties, especially the Non-armed Political Opposition and Civil Society, lost their relative autonomy. Each organization of those components felt obliged to align itself with one or the other big armed component in the hope to have access to important posts in the transitional institutions. Almost all groups developed a strong tendency to seek more posts in the State institutions rather than lowering their demands for them, at the expense of national reconciliation. The armed groups continue to seek to implant themselves politically throughout the whole country through the acquired posts in the transition. Instead of focusing primarily on resolving the current Congolese crisis, they are more concerned with how to win elections through the use of their positions in State structures. Briefly, the logic of negotiations was predicated on the realist politics of ‘might is right’. It did contradict the very thrust of the Accord which puts emphasis on inclusiveness, consensus, working/moving/winning together and not at the expense of some. For the big armed groups, inclusiveness meant trying everything to get their members and perhaps their allies or clients in as many important posts of the transitional institutions as possible. There was no attempt to make sure that nobody felt being excluded; and the issue of how to regenerate the Congolese people’s confidence in the transitional institutions and officials was never raised.


12. No transition, so far has succeeded in the Congo. A new attempt has taken off, with the formation of the transitional government. The transition, starting with the end of the first balkanization, to a federal democracy was stopped by the 1965 coup d’Etat. The SNC organized transition was resisted by the refusal of Mobutu’s regime to give up and eventually ended with the overthrow of that regime by AFDL led armed struggle supported by a regional unified effort. The AFDL proclaimed plan of transition never even took off. Will this transition succeed? Of course, the crisis of legitimacy has been at the center of the Congolese political crisis, not size of the country, ethnicity or the mere presence of the ‘fabulous’ potential of natural resources. Transition to democracy aims at dealing precisely with the legitimacy question. Forces (domestic and external), opposed to democracy, have made democratic transition in the Congo almost impossible.

13. To assess the chances of success of this new attempt, two questions need to be addressed separately: what is ending and what is starting? Basic principles which guide the process of transition have been arrived at on the basis of a formal consensus between Congolese parties reached and sustained under foreign pressure. Mistrust between Congolese actors still prevails. The profound pauperization of the population at large, the absence of people political mobilization and the absence of political will on the part of ‘leaders’ to deal with crucial issues of the crisis make the people at large uninterested and politically powerless to exercise pressure for the transition to be non-conflict bound and successful. While we have been lucky to have had both dictators, Mobutu and L.D. Kabila, and we should now know what not to do, even if we may not know what to do differently, would-be leaders are behaving as if nothing has been learned. Mobutist legacy weighs heavily on the leaders’ and the people’s minds and behaviors. External actors do not seem to have drawn any positive lessons from the dictators’ political catastrophes either. The overall powerful and mostly negative external influence on the course of events shows that the national question remains unresolved and more bloody future historical episodes are likely. The very way the transitional institutions are being put in place, with the re-activation of so-called anti-valeurs (clientelism, regionalism, ethnicism or tribalism, corruption, etc.) makes their sustainability precarious. Democratic values are spoken about only with the strong desire on each party to mend the process to win the elections, not to act positively according to those values. The adversary pluralist cohabitation (with 4 Vice-Presidents), in the presidential political space, does not help eradicate mistrust at all. Rumors of possibilities of a coup d’Etat are already being heard. Neo-Mobutism haunts the political scene; this is a Mobutism that has not self-criticized and likely to be revengeful. Are we headed towards one more tragedy or a farce? Did we need to sacrifice close to 3 millions Congolese to reach this result?

14. So, what is ending? People want the war and balkanization to end as a way also of ending the State decomposition and collapsing. The reconstructed State is supposed to transform the conditions of existence of the protracted Congolese crisis. Foremost, it is supposed to organize credible, free and fair elections to lay to rest the problem of legitimacy. With the warlike Presidential collegiality, the spectre of the “strong man” or “providential man” politics seems to have diminished. Perhaps, such as a situation may end the destruction of the relative autonomy of State by the past dictators. Even if there is no debate, and thus clarity, on what type of State is going to be reconstructed. The people want it to be the one responsive to their needs; this will need to be struggled for. While party politics are still conceived within the horizon of State-party as a party-form, party pluralism is now inscribed within the State institutions and may enhance pluralism. The only worry is that even the armed forces seem to be marked by such adversary pluralism making their unity, apolitical, professional and republican characters precarious.

15. And what is starting? Pluralism is creating a real possibility of debates on national issues. Political battles are likely to be conducted on the basis of ‘policy against policy’ (politique contre politique) and battles may be more focused on points of public consciousness. With this, different forms of political organization of politics are likely. The question of what kind of relationship to power is possible for power to be openly serving the Congolese people is going to be raised and confronted more consciously. If institutions of democratic empowerment are allowed to function relatively independently, transition will be more focused on bringing about credible, free and fair elections. These possibilities will be very much constrained by the everlasting weight of external forces opposed to the transformation of the structural socio-economic conditions of the Congolese crisis. The result of the now being planned international conference on the Great Lakes region will be the test of the political will of the regional political leadership and the international community to opt for sustained regional peace, equity, representative democracy, social justice, mutual trust based pursuit of regional security and pro-people developmentalist regional cooperation. It is a big challenge; it requires stronger and more open and trustworthy types of political leaderships within each country and in the region.


16. I tried, in a very condensed form, to provide basic elements to grasp the Congolese precarious history of bloody conflicts. I could not deal with all the cases that needed to be discussed. The Ituri situation alone would require a full paper and so would require the Kivu focalized Rwanda-Congo relations. I wanted to provide a broader picture which may help the understanding of specific crucial issues. If time allows it, I will entertain questions on issues not dealt with.

Kinshasa, July 26, 2003.

Newsletter #5a & 5b

Following are two newsletters. The first, in English, continues the discussion of sexual violence against women and children in the DRC. The second, in French, concerns the recent passage of legislation which makes it illegal to accuse children of witchcraft (sorcery). We are extremely sorry that we do not have translations available for both articles. We hope to remedy this situation soon.–OBA Executive Board

March 17–April 17, 2008

Is One Month Against Sexual Violence in the DRC Enough?

From March 17 through April 17, women in the DRC marched against sexual abuses. The UN Population fund provided support for the various events aimed at stemming the tide of sexual violence, not just in the eastern part of the country, but everywhere. Happening at about the same time as the announcement of the law to end the criminalization of children (by way of accusing them of being witches), could this be the beginning of real changes in the DRC?

Optimistically speaking, this initiative by the women (and those men who joined them) of the DRC could be seen as a tiny and yet powerful signal of a self-reliant process of rebuilding a society which is tired of its never-ending dissolution, tired of a political leadership which only thinks of itself, tired of those who, having gotten away with the worst crimes, go on committing more horrendous ones, with impunity. On a recent film about sexual abuses in the DRC, the rapists, in fact, brag about it as if it were a great achievement.

For the women and children of Panzi it comes as a sign of solidarity, that they are not alone. Most people are likely to think that sexual abuse is so widespread that this action will not make a dent on the dominant mindset–a dominant mindset which keeps repeating in many different ways, from the most brutal to the gentlest, that women exist only for the sole pleasure of men.

However, this one-month campaign is far from enough. It must continue until the mindset disappears which reinforces the abusers in their practices. If healing from such a mindset is going to take place, then surely it should be kept going until visible healing and healed signs appear and take root. After all, who would visit a physician whose practice is to tell his/her patients that the treatment will stop after a month, regardless of the results?

Is it too harsh to ask oneself whether the campaign stopped after one month because that is what had been budgeted by the UN and other supporting NGOs, and agencies? Could it be that in a country like the DRC, moral and ethical values have been so badly eroded that nothing can be done unless one is paid for it–including getting rid of crimes like sexual violence against women and children,? The dominant mindset is not just one that is standing above us. It has taken root within ourselves. It has taken root within the minds of those who are the primary victims of its dominance.

If sexual violence were to be considered, like slavery, as a crime against humanity, would one be so nonchalant toward it? From 1791 through 1804, the Africans who had been enslaved in Haiti got rid of slavery. They did not achieve this through one month campaigns and fundraising exercises. They had no support from outside, no human rights organizations to rely on. They only had themselves, their consciences and their convictions that no human being should be enslaved.

Then, the mindset of the enslavers accepted as normal that Africans were meant to be slaves. Step by step, over centuries, the mindset of the enslavers has enslaved parts of humanity to the notion that women and children are fair game for the abusive sexual behavior and pleasure of men. In such a predatory environment, one should still be allowed to look at a month against sexual violence in the DRC as a possible turning point toward a world in which children and women will be treasured more than coltan.

Jacques Depelchin
Executive Director

May 8, 2008


Oui, mille fois oui à la promesse d’une loi visant à mettre fin à la pratique de se débarrasser des enfants en les accusant de sorcellerie. Il faut applaudir cette initiative, même s’il ne s’agit que d’une promesse dans un pays où les politiciens sont passés maîtres à promettre et à oublier ce qu’ils promettent.

Les statistiques avancées par l’organisation Save the Children de son siège à Kinshasa parlent de plus de 13.000 enfants vivant dans la rue suite à cette accusation qui les réduit à chercher à se nourrir par tous les moyens. Parmi ces enfants, certains sont âgés de 3 ans.

Que penser d’une société dont certains membres, pour résoudre le problème de comment nourrir une famille, recourent au rejet pur et simple de ses membres les plus faibles ou les plus difficiles à gérer? Question valable sans doute, en soi, mais qui court aussi le risque de tomber dans la pratique déjà bien connue de chercher un bouc émissaire ailleurs que là où presque tout le monde sait qu’il se trouve. Plus intéressant serait de savoir si l’annonce de cette loi est le résultat de prescriptions venant de membres de la société ou d’organisations Non Gouvernementales étrangères. Ces dernières, généralement,sont plus facilement écoutées par les gouvernants que les premiers. Optimiste de vocation, nous penserons qu’au sein d’une société congolaise il y a des gens qui, matin et soir, se sont dit que ce mal devrait absolument être traité, en toute priorité.

Une telle approche permet de mettre l’accent sur la volonté féroce des gens de partout en RDC de faire de la société congolaise une société décidée à se reconstituer par ses propres forces quitte à bousculer ceux-là mêmes qui devraient être les premiers à veiller sur le bien-être et la sécurité de ses membres les plus faibles. Penser ainsi permet d’élaborer des espoirs, de formuler des prescriptions encore plus intrépides sur un Etat existant dans la forme, mais comateux depuis des décennies.

Ainsi les Congolais pourraient/devraient imaginer/prescrire un Etat se voulant (moyens à l’appui) le plus grand amoureux de ses habitants les plus faibles. Ainsi, de prescriptions en prescriptions un tel Etat se transformerait de paradis des appareils de sécurité des plus forts en paradis des enfants. Pourquoi la RDC, par ses citoyens les plus audacieux ne rêverait-elle pas de devenir un exemple pour le monde entier en ce qui concerne un amour exemplaire de ses enfants ?

Une préoccupation constante de la sécurité des plus faibles, de leur bien-être ferait passer la RDC de la sécurocratie/démocratie des plus forts à la sécurisation des plus faibles. Un rêve utopique ne cadrant pas avec le possible, diront certains ? Qui ne risque rien n’a rien, diront d’autres. De tels rêves, nous l’oublions trop souvent, sont de ceux qui ont changé le monde. Évidemment de tels rêves ne seront pas propagés par les propagandistes de la Mondialisation.

Ceux-ci n’aiment pas qu’on leur rappelle que ce sont les Africains importés (esclavisés comme aiment dire les Brésiliens) à Haiti qui ont hissé au plus haut la triple prescription de l’Humanité : Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité. (1791-1804) Cette prescription continue en suspens par manque de fidélité. Nos frères et sOEurs Haitiens continuent de compter sur nous pour sa finalisation, non seulement au niveau du Congo ou de l’Afrique, mais au niveau de l’Humanité.

Ce premier pas vers le désensorcellement de notre société permet de penser/imaginer/prescrire un Etat où les enfants seraient protégés, par exemple, comme le fut Pélé au Brésil au temps de sa gloire. Les enfants, trésors inestimables, traités comme tels. Ces enfants, choyés au maximum, sous tous les aspects deviendraient, par entraînement/mimétisme, le vivier d’une société prescrivant le parcours d’un Etat solidaire de ses membres les plus fragiles.

Cette prescription juste sur l’Etat et l’Etat des Enfants accusés d’être sorciers, nous encourage tous à insister sur la continuation du réveil des consciences de dirigeants ruinés par l’imitation servile de penser, de s’enrichir, de s’armer comme les plus puissants de la terre.

Jacques Depelchin

Le 23 avril 23, 2008

Newsletter #4

This is the fourth in a series of newsletters sent to friends and supporters of the Ota Benga Alliance. We hope they will be of interest to website visitors.

April 21, 2008

A State Which Respects Its Own People Does Not Go to War Against Them

Dear Friends,

If you are following events in the DRC, you may have heard about the latest surge of violence in the Lower Congo Region South West of Kinshasa. Militarized police went with heavy weaponry into the cities of Banza Nseke and Luozi at the beginning of March 2008, just before International Women’s Day. Depending on the sources, the death toll is said to be between less than 10 to about 100.

You may wonder why a government which has gone out of its way to organize a two- week Peace and Reconciliation Conference in the eastern part in the country a few months before it would decide to go to war against people who are merely protesting against the manner in which the government has been treating them, more specifically about the fact that the government has failed to respect various provisions of the constitution regarding:

o Sending back to the province 40% of the revenues which had been sent to the central government;
o The election of the provincial government which was imposed by vote rigging;
o A provincial governor who is accountable to the Minister of Interior rather than to the Provincial Assembly.

Then there is the whole issue of the government’s vendetta against the Bundu dia Kongo (BDK), an organization which came about during the days of the Mobutu Regime (1969). Ne Mwana Nsemi is its leader. Sometimes described as a religious sect, it is much more than that. The context which gave rise to the BDK is one which saw the culture and the values of the Congolese people turned inside out, creating such a sense of disorientation and loss that the emergence of the BDK can/must be seen as one of the few positive reactions to the indignities and humiliations inflicted upon the Congolese people following their independence.

Prof Ernest Wamba dia Wamba’s contextualizing of the rise of the BDK as part of the process of resolving the National Question is more than welcome in a country which tends to be seen as so destroyed that nothing good could possibly come out of it. It is an extremely condensed, point by point, analysis/summary of a protracted process seen from a Congolese angle, pointing out with equanimity the various levels of responsibility in the failure to resolve.[See attachment in French–we hope to have a translation on the website soon.]

The readers with superficial knowledge of the post-independent history of the Congo may miss some of the more subtle points and allusions to how blind ethnocentrism stood in the way of building a national community of interest. As might be expected for such a highly condensed text, others with deeper knowledge of our history will find a weakness here and there. As, for example, with regard to the extra emphasis which could have been attributed to external influences (which are mentioned). Among them, the role played by the Congolese hierarchy of the Catholic Church in the demonization of Patrice Lumumba.

Jacques Depelchin
Executive Director

Newsletter #3

This is the third in a series of newsletters sent to friends and supporters of the Ota Benga Alliance. We hope they will be of interest to website visitors. The following two letters, one in English and one in French, were written to commemorate International Women’s Day, March 8, 2008. They are not translations of each other, but a different version of the same theme: the refusal to accept rape.


(near Bukavu, provincial capital of South Kivu Province in eastern DR Congo)

The rapes suffered by children and women from Panzi were on a different scale (see IRIN, Democracy Now). From the testimonies available, one can easily feel the witnesses searching for the adequate appropriate combination of words, emotions, feelings, empathy to render as faithfully as possible what the women went through. This newsletter is being written not so much to add to the outrage that has already been expressed. It is to face rape itself in a way which at least half of humanity, i.e. men, refuse to face, and/or face up to: a crime against humanity. It is written in the hope that male-driven humanity might be shaken from its complacency toward self-annihilation. For those who have been raped everything must be done so that remaining silent is not the only trustworthy refuge.

Is it really possible to bring people to look at rape as the one crime which opens the way to everything else. What would happen to humanity if rape were treated as the mother of all forms of violence, in thought and in practice? What if rape were to be understood as being one of, if not, the principal root of the competitive mindset leading to the generic will to power and, from there, to genocidal sequences?

If one assumes that the task of every single human being is to stand up for the safety and security of every other single human being, then the above questions, however simpleminded they may sound to some, may help change how rape is seen, felt. More crucially, is it not time to completely reverse the male power-driven mindset which takes for granted that the raped person was looking for it and only deserved what happened to her? But, when children are raped, is it enough to draw the line around pedophiles? The question then boils down to this: why and how do collective rapes like the ones in eastern DRC or in the Balkans in the 1990s occur? The context of warfare is not enough of an explanation. After all, the cases of children being raped have been reported in perfectly peaceful societies, so-called advanced ones too.

This letter is written to/for the women of Panzi, to/for the children of Panzi. It is to say that their agonizing indescribable pain shall not be in vain. However symbolic it may sound, it is to share the pain, it is to call on those who are helping you to heal, to make your pain felt as deeply and as intensely as you felt it and continue to feel it. I do not know how to do that myself, but I do know that shared pain and suffering, even as horrendous as the ones you have experienced, will be soothed–especially if practiced till such horrors are wiped off the surface of the planet.

I am fully aware of how inadequate these words are in helping you bear your pain, but I would rather be stumbling inadequately toward finding healing words than remaining silent. To be raped, I imagine, is to be violated, brutalized in a way which leaves the person frozen into disbelief, paralyzed by suffering, terror, shame, and more bewildering emotions than a human mind, at rest or even under intense creative pulse, could possibly imagine. Even if one were to inventory all of the emotions, one would still be far below the reality felt by a person who has been raped. If there were such a thing as a measuring standard for evaluating human pain, rape would, under this so-called civilization framed and driven by competitive mindset, be at the top.

In a nutshell and at the risk of being repetitive: until there are steps taken to move away from the trivialization of rape as it is understood among humans, the idea that Gaia, Mother Earth, must no longer be raped is simply a delusion. Humanity, including those who have most suffered from horrendously indescribable acts, will tend to silence what it went through even if encouraged to speak up. The suffering led to a sort of complete seizure of the soul, and all of the senses and sensibilities which, we have been telling ourselves, distinguish humanity from the animal world. The pain and suffering inflicted remain silenced because that is where it feels safest, given the extremely hostile mindset toward victims of rape.

Even in this silence, one can imagine your words struggling to come out of your maimed, tortured body. It is up to us to make sure that those words do eventually get born, and through them hear the sounds of a humanity freed from fear, from the never ending pain kept alive for as long as the body continues to breathe. For you to be free from the pain inflicted, and the desire to silence the pain, we must carry on a never-ending battle against rape and rapists, against the mindset which says that such a task is not a priority and should only be a priority once a year. Only by battling against that mindset of might is right, all the time, will it be possible to bring about a context favorable to treating women and children as our most treasured people. A healing process toward a rape free world is one which never stops.

J. Depelchin

16 March 2008

Chères Mamans, Soeurs et Enfants de Panzi,

Bonjour et bonne fête du 8 mars.

Tous les jours depuis le moment où j’ai appris ce qui vous était arrivé, je ne sais pas quoi faire pour vous soulager des souffrances qui vous assaillent de partout, sans arrêt. Je me suis dit que je devrais au moins vous faire savoir que je sais ce qui vous est arrivé. Je me suis dit que quand on souffre on respire un peu mieux, un peu plus facilement en sentant la présence d’autres personnes, même des inconnus, à ses côtés, même si ces personnes sont très loin physiquement.

Je me suis dit que si d’autres personnes pensent de la même façon, nous pourrons au moins diminuer l’isolement et le sentiment de rejet qui a suivi la descente dans chacun de votre enfer. Je me suis dit que même si je ne peux pas comprendre l’indicible de votre souffrance, au moins je devrais me mettre à vos côtés et vous le faire savoir.

La sécurité tant recherchée par les fabricants d’ armes de destruction massive est probablement une des plus grandes fraudes de l’histoire de l’humanité. Je me demande tous les jours pourquoi tous ceux qui veulent assurer la sécurité de l’humanité refusent de reconnaître le viol comme la pire des violations de tout ce qui vit, de tout ce qui respire

Je me dis, si tous les hommes de la RDC, si tous les hommes en Afrique faisaient serment d’empêcher tout viol et tout geste, toute parole qui peuvent directement ou indirectement y conduire ; je me répète que si nous disions non au viol par solidarité avec les femmes et les enfants, par solidarité avec ceux et celles qui ont besoin de la plus grande protection, parce que les plus vulnérables, nous pourrions, pourquoi pas, réduire et puis éliminer le besoin des armes de destruction massive

Je me dis que tout geste, toute parole, toute émotion qui irait dans ce sens, patiemment, avec persistance, sans hésitation changerait le climat actuellement dominé par les plus forts, par les plus violents. Le viol est le geste le plus destructeur inventé par l’humain. La violence du viol est telle qu’elle est indescriptible. Pour l’abolir pourrions-nous faire naître une volonté plus forte que la loi des plus forts: celle qui vient d’une solidarité sans limite, sans répit pour que cesse à jamais le viol.

Je me suis dit qu’il faut faire quelque chose pour que ce qui vous est arrivé reste le point le plus haut (ou le plus bas) de la violence contre les femmes et contre les enfants en terre Africaine. Je me suis dit que vous devez guérir de vos blessures, de vos souffrances, de la terreur qui vous empêche de dormir, de l’isolement.

Pour que les opposants au viol l’emportent sur les alliés déclarés et non déclarés des violeurs, est-ce trop fort de vous demander de résister à l’envie de ne pas parler de ce qui vous est arrivé ? Les violeurs et leurs alliés cherchent par la peur collective à nous réduire au silence, à la soumission de la loi des plus forts.

Dans un monde où le viol est accepté comme un fait divers, vous les enfants, les mamans, les sOEurs de Panzi, ensemble nous ferons tout pour que vos témoignages percent les murs blindés par la peur, le silence et la honte. Vous devez nous aider à mieux vous connaître.

Nous vous embrassons tous bien fort, humblement avec respect et amour.

Je : pour les amis immortels d’Ota Benga.

Jacques Depelchin

Le 6 mars 2008

Newsletter #2

This is the second in a series of newsletters sent to friends and supporters of the Ota Benga Alliance. We hope they will be of interest to web site visitors.

February 12, 2008

Dear Friends,

Yes, it was bound to happen. After such a long time of not corresponding one tends to forget about some of the the most important things which have been accomplished thanks to your generous support. For example, about the financing of Mbongi women’s projects aimed at generating incomes to pay school fees for their children. The good news is that it has helped them survive in the midst of harsh conditions which do not seem to soften with each passing week, month, year. It only seems to get worse. The bad news is that the women who borrowed money from the Mbongi for school fees have had great difficulty repaying it. We were not surprised to learn of the difficulties because of the horrendous conditions in the country, but have kept encouraging them to let us know how things were going, even if (especially if one might say) they feel bad about not having kept their promises. Remember that the original idea was to pay back so as to offer the possibility to others to access badly needed cash.

The Mbongi itself, based in Kinshasa, keeps thriving. As you may remember, the Mbongi is an assembly of people (coming from 11 of Kinshasa’s burroughs. The entire city has 24 of them) who have agreed on common principles, and meet regularly to discuss how to change the situations in which they live, for the better for everyone. It is a dialoguing around issues which are crucial to everyone. One of the most important principles is that everyone must speak. From Ernest’s reports, we hear that some of the women members who are usually quiet at these kinds of gatherings have become outspoken. Some of the Mbongi a Nsi pamphlets -most in French, so far–can be seen on our website (, and the rest will be posted soon.

Speaking of the website. You may (or may not) remember that it took us a while to really get visible on the web. At times we even disappeared, and at other times it looked like someone was messing with it. Then we were helped, graciously and generously, by Sara Tarano’s father. Then, about a year ago, we were joined by Raj Patel, author of Stuffed and Starved: Markets, Power and the Hidden Battle for the World Food System (published in Europe and the UK in 2007, just out in paperback in the US). Raj also works with Abalhali baseMjondolo in Durban (South Africa). Among many things (a web wizard, an inspiring and generous artist of the word and how to spread it), he has helped Ota Benga Alliance be aware of, and seek to reconnect with, those communities which are in the forefront of healing Mother Earth, in South Africa, Asia and Latin America.

As alluded to above, shame can be a powerful self-silencing tool, on both sides of one of the most lethal divides, between those who have and those who have not. Among those who have inherited what they think as the right to own Mother Earth, there are people who are aware of the fearful, shameful, murderous manner in which that right was seized; among these same people there are those who, out of that shame and fear, will do anything to make sure that the real story never comes out. Among some of the descendants of those who suffered the genocidal violence at the birth of the currently triumphant system, there are also feelings of shame and fear–the kind of shame and fear which grips any person who has been violated.

It is impossible to make an inventory of all those things humanity needs to heal from, but shame and fear stand out because, on both sides of the rich/poor divide, it has generated the kinds of mindsets which stand in the way of healing (to be continued with a discussion on how shame and fear around the assassination of Lumumba is standing as one of the biggest obstacles toward healing). However, before that, we shall revisit the women of Panzi, near Bukavu in Eastern DRCongo.

Jacques Depelchin
Executive Director

Newsletter #1

This is the first of a series of newsletters sent to friends and supporters of the Ota Benga Alliance. We hope they will be of interest to web site visitors.

February 5, 2008

Dear Friends,

As 2008 unfolds, I have promised to stop procrastinating and communicate more frequently through regular newsletters. In this first one, we are pleased to announce the (nearly) new website of Ota Benga Alliance:, where you’ll find articles from and about the DRCongo, and other issues related to peace, healing, and dignity.

In 2007, we continued to support the Center for Human Dignity, our sister organization in Kinshasa which struggles valiantly in extraordinarily difficult times to build community structures (Mbongi) bringing people together in ways that help and heal. More on this later. On the website you can read some of the bulletins they have put out, as well as commentary from the director, Ernest Wamba dia Wamba.

The bottom line has not changed: namely, how to bring people inside and outside of the DRCongo to change their attitudes toward the situations lived daily by millions of people in the Congo and too many other places in the world.

For the average Congolese, 2007 was a horrendous year once again. Elections took place, a new government was installed—yet, for most of the 60 million people, daily life has remained the same or gotten worse, especially for the most vulnerable ones, like women and children. They, more than any other group, deserve our attention, and we will focus on them in subsequent newsletters.

Since the beginning of the 1990s, it is hard to remember a year when one didn’t hear of women being raped, some in conflict situations, some not. But in 2007, especially in the eastern part of the country, around the city of Bukavu, the rape of women went beyond anything heard before. Some have called it feminicide…and no amount of shared information, even of the most shocking kind, even when the stories are personalized, seems to budge anyone from their apathy—or is it paralysis, cynicism, despair?

Reading what happened to the women who are hospitalized in a special ward of a hospital in Panzi, about 10 km south of Bukavu, the capital city of South Kivu Province, leaves one aghast. How could someone inflict such destruction on a human being, leaving her with no control over the functioning of the most intimate, sensitive, fragile parts of her body? One of the persons who inflicted such unbearable trauma stated he wanted to do something which would put him (and his victims) beyond the pale of recovery or healing, pariahs in their own society. The victims of rape lose everything within the community: respect and dignity. What’s worse, in a world that thinks rape is not such a big deal, they have no one to turn to…unless a campaign is mounted to declare rape a crime against humanity.

Short of this, the battle against this mindset leading to the desacralization of life is likely to remain at the level of blahblahblah. For healing to be taken seriously, not just by a few, but by all living beings, it will help the Congolese to know one of the routes by which the sacredness of life was destroyed—going all the way back to when the richest resource of the Congo was siphoned off, long before the system which emerged from that turned its savagery toward things like coltan, diamonds, and gold. Healing is not just for the Congolese people, it is also for those who have most benefited from the dominant narrative/history, a history they would prefer to forget. Healing requires knowing everything about how the wound was inflicted, so that healing can take place without reproducing any part, however small, of the mindset which led to the wound.

A passage from Henri Christophe’s personal secretary, who lived more than half his life as a slave, describes the crimes perpetrated against the slaves of Saint-Domingue by their French masters:

“Have they not hung up men with heads downward, drowned them in
sacks, crucified them on planks, buried them alive, crushed them in
mortars? Have they not forced them to eat shit? And, having flayed
them with the lash, have they not cast them alive to be devoured by
worms, or onto anthills, or lashed them to stakes in the swamp to be
devoured by mosquitoes? Have they not thrown them into boiling
cauldrons of cane syrup? Have they not put men and women inside
barrels studded with spikes and rolled them down mountainsides into
the abyss? Have they not consigned these miserable blacks to man-eating dogs until the latter, sated by human flesh, left the mangled victims to be finished off with bayonet and poniard?”

–Robert Heinl, Written in Blood: The History of the Haitian People (University Press of America: Lantham, Md., 1996)

These are the wounds from which we all must heal, perpetrators as well as victims.

Peace and solidarity,

Jacques Depelchin
Executive Director