Wednesday, 28 January 2009

political intrigues in the Congo

January 23rd

Well, the big news today is that the rebel leader in Congo, Laurent Nkunda, has been arrested. There’s a big joint army operation going on, and about four thousand Rwandan troops have crossed into Congo at the request of the Congolese government in Kinshasa. The last two times Rwandan soldiers entered the Congo it was to invade the place, so times really do change. The thinking here is that Nkunda has become an embarrassment to Kigali. He is reported as becoming increasingly detatched from reality, hence the recent split with his second in command. He tried to escape from advancing joint Congolese and Rwandan forces by entering Rwanda with a stash of money and diamonds, but was recognised and arrested. I’m sure he genuinely thought he would be warmly received here as a hero. He’s made a terrible mistake and I don’t fancy his chances of survival much longer. Memories are long here, and there are fourteen years’ worth of scores to settle.

Meanwhile, the Rwandan and Congolese soldiers are trying to flush out and get rid of, once and for all, the last remnants of the Interhamwe militias who caused all the carnage in Rwanda in 1994. These gangs are well armed and roam at will through the jungles of eastern Congo. The Rwandans and Congolese will be hard put to remove them entirely; the jungle cover is too thick, and the militias will just slip across the frontier into Uganda until things quieten down. And the civilian population caught up in all this excitement will be dreading yet another army rampaging through their villages and fields. None of these African armies seems to be able to deploy without pillaging, raping and murdering on a grand scale. We’ll be really lucky to get away without another mass refugee crisis, just when last autumn’s refugees are beginning to return home. Eastern Congo really is a wretched piece of the globe in which to live. On top of everything else it’s still raining very hard every day around Goma; the roads are almost impassible, and ebola and cholera are both around. Lucky people!

OK, that’s the big picture. For me it’s yet another day of last minute changes of plan. I ring Gahogo school to confirm it’s OK to visit them this morning, but Espérance says she’s having a staff meeting to explain all the changes agreed at yesterday’s District meeting to her teachers, and can I come on Monday instead. I have to hurriedly ring Michael and put him off because he was going to do the visit with me.

So I go up to the Office and work up there all morning. I get half way through the big pupil by pupil analysis of primary results. I’m definitely going to have a weekend completely off work, and I should be able to get the whole thing finished by the end of Tuesday unless we have more interruptions.

In the afternoon I visit Ruli ADEPR (Pentecostalist) school. Emmanuelle is a special friend and a very useful ally. She runs an excellent school; I’m able to tell her that by any count she’s in the top ten with her results this year, and on one measure she’s fourth out of 108 schools. I’m expecting some sort of heavy religious presence in the school, but it turns out to have the lightest touch in religious terms of any that I’ve visited. The Pentecostalists built it, but in every other aspect it’s rather like Beaminster – Christian faith but of no specific denomination. Thank the Lord for that – I had dreaded going into an assembly and finding year six speaking in tongues!

Discipline is excellent, but the standard of spoken English variable. At least pretty well every teacher is trying to work in English in years 4 and 5. The school was rebuilt in 2001 by a Japanese organisation. It’s well built, but the rooms seem very dark. It’s a chilly, overcast afternoon (all the staff are wearing coats to keep warm), and the dark timber ceilings and unplastered brick walls make it feel gloomy,

I give Emmanuelle the photo album of prints from her sister’s wedding, and she likes it. That’s good.

After leaving the school I get a slow matata to Kigali and drop my stuff off at Kersti’s house. I’m not going to see too much of her at the weekend; we have different social events on our calendars! But we have an hour or so to catch up on news. Irene’s not back from Holland yet.

Finally we both go to Han and Mans’ leaving party at Sole Luna Italian restaurant. There’s a vast number of people there – around forty, and we take the whole place over. They can barely keep pace with the number of pizzas we’re ordering.

I find myself sitting next to someone I don’t know. This lovely young woman turns out to be Andrea Bacfalusi from Toronto, and she is the Canadian who first sent me the offer of a place in Rwanda. She’s visiting here for a couple of weeks, and is having great fun meeting all the volunteers she’s placed here and putting faces to a list of names. She’s especially glad to meet the Canadian volunteers like Alain and Épi.

Also there are a clutch of former volunteers who were just finishing their service when Han and Mans arrived, but for various reasons are still living in Kigali. There’s Chris who I flew to and from home with at Christmas. There’s Meg who has also stayed on in Kigali and is setting up a school. There’s Isadora who I last saw working for the YWCA and is now working for the UN at quite a senior level here.

It’s late when we finish at the restaurant. Kersti is going clubbing tonight with Catherine and some others, but most of us decide for an early night and to paint the town red after the VSO “family dinner” tomorrow. So it’s back to chez Kersti and Nick and bed. Nick’s been to some gala dinner with his MTN company mates; he looks absolutely immaculate in a sharp western suit – very much the upcoming businessman. A lot of his job consists in networking with the right people, and he’s becoming the only person in Kigali who really knows how to handle BlackBerry devices. That makes him infinitely employable among Kigali’s nouveau riche.

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