Over two months since fighting first erupted in Dongo (Equateur), the situation there remains a mystery. What caused the fighting initially to break out on 29 and 30 October last year? If it was really just a local conflict over fishing and land rights, why did Kabila send a battalion of special forces from the eastern Congo and hundreds of police, while MONUC sent a company of their troops? Why did over a hundred thousand people flee to violence, over 80,000 ending up in their neighboring Republic of Congo? Why have the press in Kinshasa seized on this rebellion, expressing far more interest than in what is happening in the Kivus?
The situation still remains shrouded in mystery, even the internal MONUC reports don’t shed a great deal of light on the matter. I spoke with two different MLC representatives in Kinshasa about the matter, one of them from Equateur, and they also appear confused.
It appears that the fighting did initially erupt over local fishing rights, at least that was the trigger. Afterwards, some former Mobutu officers (ex-FAZ) and members of the MLC joined in, taking advantage of the armes caches left in the area by the MLC after the war. There have been allegations that the government troops sent in initially to quell the insurgency only fanned the flames by committing numerous abuses against the local population, but I haven’t seen any confirmation of this.
It is also clear that what started as a small quarrel between neighboring communities quickly grew to something far more serious. MONUC troops deployed to the area reported seeing dozens, perhaps hundreds of Congolese army soldiers dead and wounded from the fighting, some of whom they evacuated with their helicopters. A MONUC helicopter was shot at by the insurgents, as well. Whatever this armed group was, they had gotten their hands on quite a few small caliber weapons. “This is about more than just smoked fish,” one MONUC official told me.
Rumors in Kinshasa reported that Angola was behind this, taking advantage of a local feud to express their discontent with the government in Kinshasa, which is trying to wrest a lucrative offshore oil field away from them. Others have alleged that the former Mobutists in exile are backing the movement, pointing at Honore Ngbanda (Mobutu’s former security advisor, now based in Paris), who has been publishing a stream of propaganda for the insurgents through his political “party”, APARECO. Still others allege that Kabila’s government has fomented this, in order to create a pretext to crack down on Equateurians.
A loose movement was created in the Diaspora, including Congolese in France, Norway and South Africa, calling itself the Patriotes Resistants, led by an hitherto unknown Ambroise Lobala. Funnily enough, some of the fighters on the ground who have been interviewed by MONUC have no idea what this movement is or who Lobala is, all they know is that their leader is the witchdoctor Udjani, who initially launched the rebellion in October last year. So it is not clear to what degree Lobala is in control of anything happening in the field.
Apparently the fighter’s fortune has turned in the past week – they were surrounded on the night of New Year’s in Inyele (65 km south of Dongo). According to an internal MONUC report, as well as the Congolese media, 157 Enyele fighters were killed and 12 Congolese soldiers wounded. Reports on the other side of the Oubangui river, including foreign doctors working in clinics there, indicate that no Enyele wounded have arrived there from this fighting – they last war wounded they treated arrived there several weeks ago.