The Congo is broken, but we can fix it
Mbungu Nlandu Ange lost his wife and children and his freedom when his village of Makombo, in the Democratic Republic of Congo, was attacked by men in army uniforms. That night, 321 people were brutally killed and another 250 were made captive to walk in a human herd in the African jungle for two months.
Mbungu was one of the many who were captured. He saw people die every day. Despite knowing that a foiled attempt at escape would mean certain death, Mbungu and two other captives slipped into the trees one night.
Three years later, Mbungu, is sitting across the table from me in the grey conference room in Rio de Janeiro.
“When I arrived in Brazil, I cried like never before,” he says.
He is the third Congolese refugee in Rio to tell me his story, three out of 364 human journeys from the heart of darkness. Most Congolese refugees in Brazil work in low paid tertiary jobs on construction sites, in shops or hair salons. Many have university degrees that qualify them to work at much higher positions. Mbungu and the other three Congolese sat around the plastic conference table work for a French company called ID Logistics (http://www.acnur.org/t3/portugues/noticias/noticia/parceria-no-rio-de-janeiro-cria-emprego-para-refugiados/
), where they shelve and organize products in the warehouse where we are currently sat in.
Mbungu has been out of reach from his captors for about two years, but he is also away from his home and family. When I first saw Mbungu, I thought his lips would never move to tell his story. He was slumped on his chair, as if his presence there was troublesome and didn’t seem to take the others’ stories seriously. Now I know why, he had seen his loved ones dead with his own two eyes – the others had suffered but not nearly as much as him.
The attack on his village was widely attributed to Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) in a report by Human Rights Watch, but it went unreported until a year after it happened ( http://www.hrw.org/sites/default/files/reports/drc0310webwcover_0.pdf
). The LRA has vehemently denied they had anything to do with the killing rampage that lasted three days and the capturing and torturing of so many people http://www.hrw.org/news/2012/04/20/central-african-republic-lra-attacks-escalate.
Mbungu and his companions wandered in the jungle for two weeks, until they reached the town of Kisagami, where Mbungu boarded a boat to the Congo’s capital, Kinshasa. From there, he got on a plane to Brazil.
The other men tell me similar stories. Yves Mumengi Ngamen had to flee his country because his uncle, General Faustin Munene, started a revolution. Babajiki Katumba had to leave his sick wife behind and run away with his small daughters because he saw people who were too young to vote casting votes for Joseph Kabila, DR Congo’s current president. Zumbila Makwala boarded a plane without knowing its destination because he worked for a non-profit organisation that had the courage to speak against the government. And although they have lost everything, they still love their country.
“I miss my country so much,” says Yves. “Your country is your country. And the Congolese are very patriotic. The Congo is broken, but we can fix it.”
His boss Ana Luiza Pazó, who started a programme to help unemployed refugees find work in ID Logistics, says refugee workers are more dedicated than any Brazilian worker.
“The thing about them is that most of them have skills most Brazilian workers don’t – we get Brazilians who haven’t even finished school. But these refugees, they all speak at least four languages and all have some kind of exceptional experience. Babajiki has managed a whole shop before and he is so dedicated. We combine their need to work with whatever positions we have here at the warehouse and give them opportunities to grow in the company.”
Even though I heard most of these men say they would have liked to end up in the USA, there is a heavy feeling of resentment against Barack Obama whose own father was from Kenya.
“America and France want to leave everything as it is there, and the only reason we haven’t completely destroyed the whole country is because the Congolese love their country,” says Yves.
“We only leave to run away, we would never leave because we want to. They only leave my country like it is because they want the gold, the diamond and the rubies in the earth.”
Everyone around the table nods solemnly. Somewhere inside their hearts I can see they believe telling me their stories will help their country and their loved ones left behind.
This is why they agreed to give me detailed accounts of their suffering. They believe people will finally be horrified enough by their stories to do something and end the reign of Joseph Kabila, they talk about America helping the Congo like they did Libya, giving them the democracy they deserve.
When Obama was elected president the whole Democratic Republic of Congo had a celebration party, believing that America would treat their issues differently now that the son of a Kenyan was in power. Indeed, Obama introduced and passed a bill which provides $52.000.000 in assistance each year to the Democratic Republic of Congo ( http://www.govtrack.us/congress/bills/109/s2125), but the money hardly helps when it is directly given to the Kabila government and not the people who need it.
Real issues like famine, authoritarian governments, poverty and civil wars aren’t being solved.
These stories aren’t new, they are as old as all African wars and all the movies made to shock us about the massacres that happen in that huge, beautiful continent.
But the remarkable characteristic all of them hold is the humbleness in which they are told, with the tangible hope that this is the story that will strike a chord in the Western world to help the Congo as a country, not only as lost individuals who sometimes need to find other nations to adopt them.Tagged in: barack obama, Brazil, Congo, human rights watch, Joseph Kabila, Lord’s Resistance Army, Makombo, refugees, Rio de Janeiro
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