The Congo is broken, but we can fix it

Nicole Froio
143998258 300x198 The Congo is broken, but we can fix it

Congolese refugees under rebel attack, abandoning their homes at night and returning at daylight (Getty Images)

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 (

), 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 (

). 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

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 (, 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.

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  • Aidjunkie

    The UK has poured millions into the Congo for decades. Our contribution alone to pay the wages of the third world UN incompetents (20,000 troops) is £242,000 per day. Our aid spending is around 200 million per year in real terms if you take into account hidden aid through the IMF and World Bank. The DFID morons we employ have fallen over themselves to make excuses for this broken state whilst living like days of the Raj in huge villas. I lived there, the place is a shambles propped up by aid donations and thousand of do-gooders who have managed to achieve zero results despite decades of our money being poured into this hell hole. The figures spent over the past decades makes Afghanistan look like a tea party. Dont worry, its your pension funds they are wasting.

  • gunabut

    Can you imagine how bad it would be for the corporations that run the country if they lost control to the people. Corrupt despot leaders are sponsered by these corporations and western governments, since the last thing anyone wants is to empower the population. Not only would profits be compromised, the price price of electrical goods would rise so much the poor sheeple in the west would find it difficult to upgrade their phones every 6 months.
    The poor aid agencies would be out of a job as well and many agencies have made a career out of the controlled destitution in the country, and lets face it they can’t all move to Haiti.
    The LRA would not exist if western govs and corporations did not supply and pay them off to cause terror and diivision.

  • Jumah Imran Jumah

    There are so many realities in DR Congo, which is as big as the whole of Western Europe.. Refugees seeking assylum make up a good part of their stories… there’s so many many positive events taking place in DRC and yes there’s still a lot of misery too… The Congo as whole is a what anyone would term a sick society… it’s not an easy place to fix or govern, because the people who brought Congo where it is today, were the best of the best… I mean Mobutu’s regime for 32 years was composed of people who’s degrees read like alphabet soup… PhD’s, Professors, MBAs you name it – from the best universities in Europe and USA… Even Mr. Tshisekedi the main opposition guy who’s got 2 PhD’s in Law from some red brick French and Belgian universities and wrote Mobutu’s constitutions – was part of the system before he changed his mind… Mobutu’s half baked Africanist philosophies like “recour a l’authenthicite”, destroyed and corrupted the average Congolese mentality, they don’t think straight.. and his Zairianization destroyed the economy… it’s easy to criticize and even underestimate the country’s problems, but given where the country was in mid to late 90s and early 2000s – [at war, divided, lawless, starving, with an inflation rate in 000s% etc] – and now, there’s a huge difference and all that thanks to the support of the international community EU, UK, Belgium, France, US etc… Congolese individuals and society never admit responsibility for their country’s ills, they prefer to indulge in conspiracy theories… they think that it’s the West who’s causing all the havoc in the country in order to get its hands on the minerals… but I often tell them that for the West to invest in the extraction of those minerals, there must be peace first, so it’s illogical to believe that the same West which needs the minerals is the same West which is causing the wars…

  • Harrbrian

    Because of the riches in its earth, the hope that the West will stop effing up the Congo with one hand will ineffectually “helping” with the other is a vain one. A reasonable picture is painted in the Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver.

  • john

    Most of my people, I,m working class English, wouldn’t be able to find it on a map. And yet we are expected to care about it, and it’s people. I will only live so many days, work so many hours and then die, why should I care, and why is money taken from me and my people and sent there. The price of beer could be reduced here.

  • Happeh

    Another country destroyed by Israelis like Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, etc, etc, etc,etc, etc. So what? No one has ever done anything about the other Israeli destroyed countries, so who expects anyone to do anything about Congo?

    “The holocaust in Central Africa has claimed some six to ten million people in Congo since 1996, with 1500 people dying daily. But while the Africans are the victims of perpetual Holocaust, the persecutors hide behind history, complaining that they are the
    persecuted, or pretending they are the saviors. Who is responsible?

    For Israeli-American Dan Gertler, business in blood drenched Congo is not merely business, it is a quest for the Holy Grail. Young Dan Gertler goes nowhere—does nothing—without the spiritual guidance of Brooklyn-born Rabbi Chaim Yaakov Leibovitch, a personal friend of Condoleeza Rice.

    The warlord’s deadly battle in Congo in March 2007 was a bid between rival agents—Jean-Pierre Bemba and Joseph Kabila—to be the black gatekeeper for the mining cartels run by dynastic families like Templesman, Oppenheimer, Mendell, Forrest, Blattner, Hertzov, Gertler and Steinmetz, and for companies like NIKANOR, whose stock prices rose early in July 2006 in expectation of a July 30th “win” for Joseph Kabila.[3] Africa Confidential called President Kabila’s 2003 visit to the Bush White House a “coup” for the Israeli diamond magnates Dan Gertler and Beny Steinmetz.”

  • David Cage

    If we even try to fix it we are behaving like colonialists so let’s just leave them to it. It is none of our business. Africa has demanded independence and has had it for long enough for all the problems to be of their own making.
    The more we get involved the more the rot spreads here as politicians here see the corruption there and feel they are behaving perfectly reasonably when they fiddle their expenses.

  • David Cage

    It is the Africans who have wrecked the place. They are still so tribal they make the squabbles of the English Irish and Scots seem like friendly banter and the IRA like naughty infants throwing tantrums.

  • Josh Gartland

    You sir, are a douchebag.

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