There have been several scandals in the Congo over the past month that have gone more or less unreported by the foreign press but that have had a large impact domestically, all involving abuses by the security forces.
First the Armand Tungulu affair. Tungulu was a Congolese who had been living in Belgium for many years. He returned home and was arrested on September 29 for throwing rocks at a presidential motorcade. On October 2, the government announced his death, saying he had committed suicide with a pillow in his jail cell – this provoked outrage, as there was little motive for a suicide and because Congolese prisons are not known for their pillows.
The Congolese government proceeded to arrest witnesses of Tungulu’s arrest and defy a Belgian court, which ruled on October 11 that Kinshasa would have to return Tungulu to Belgium or pay 25,000 euros a day in damages. Other countries, including the United States, joined in voicing their concern. The inimitable Minister of Information Lambert Mende castigated the Belgian court and government for interfering in the affairs of a sovereign country.
This has all had more of an impact on the population of Kinshasa than the recent news from the Kivus. All the more surprising that the Tungulu’s family in Kinshasa (his widow lives in Belgium) would drop their suit against the Congolese government this past week; many suspect pressure from the Congolese government.
The second incident, also involving the presidential guard in Kinshasa, took place on October 19. Apparently, a traffic cop at the Socimat intersection in downtown Kinshasa did not respect the approaching motorcade of Zoé Kabila, the president’s brother, cutting off their path as they were approaching. Some members of the presidential guard who were escorting Zoé jumped down and beat up several policemen. Apparently, Zoé was himself outraged by his guard’s behavior and paid for the policemen’s treatment. Two guards were later arrested. But many Kinois were upset by the incident, which reminded some of Kongulu, Mobutu’s notorious son, nicknamed “Saddam” for his abuses, and wondered why Zoé was being protected by such muscle in the first place.
Lastly, on October 12, riots broke out in Likasi, in Katanga province, where pupils went to the mayor’s office to protest several traffic accidents that had affected them. The mayor reportedly said: “If you are educated, go home, if you are dogs you can stay,” and had some of their parents arrested. This prompted riots that ransacked several state buildings and resulted in the death of at least one student.
Many Congolese can relate more to this kind of arrogance on the part of public officials and security forces than with the violence in the remote Kivus. These incidents just go to show how tense the situation is throughout the country and how much work Kabila will have to do before elections next year if he is to have a chance of fairly winning the polls.