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Who killed Chebeya? Why?

The Congolese blogosphere is bubbling with talk about the death of Floribert Chebeya, the prominent human rights activist.

First, a short update on new developments. The Dutch doctors, who were allowed to participate in Chebeya’s autopsy, came out with their preliminary conclusion: They can’t rule out a violent murder, but they also haven’t been able to detect « any signs of excessive violence. » They will conduct further tests on sample they collected back in the Netherlands.

Also, human rights NGOs in Kinshasa insist that Chebeya’s funeral take place on June 30th, the date of Congo’s 50th anniversary celebrations. This demand will be seen by the government as undermining the festivities they have been planning for months.

Now, the most persistent rumor/information making the rounds is that Chebeya’s murder is much more than just the silencing of a prominent human rights activist, but that it would have been part of a larger political battle amongst Kinshasa elites. One version of this is presented by Jean Paul Mopo Kobanda, a Congolese lecturer at the Univesity of Paris, who suggests that there was an assassination attempt against Kabila planned for May, and that John Numbi was thought to have been involved in this. The attempt never took place, but Kabila needed to deal with the conspirators – so Chebeya may have only been a way to get at Numbi and some others.

Possible? Perhaps. Apparently the Simba battalion, a specialized para-military units set up by Numbi that has been involved in repression in Bas-Congo, was immediately disbanded after Numbi’s suspension. Was the presidency afraid that it was up to no good? There were also strange events over the past month that led some to believe that something was afoot: There was a alleged secession attempt foiled in Lubumbashi and Kamina, a shootout take place in downtown Kinshasa (Kintambo magasin) in May, and there have been rumors of new troubles in Bas-Congo.

Whatever was really happening, it seems that people in the presidency were pretty sure that something was afoot. Paranoia can fuel self-fulfilling prophecies.

Another sign has been Numbi’s appointment of a defense team, before he has even been charged with any offense (he is only suspended for the moment). He has apparently named three high-powered lawyers: Mbu ne Letang (Bandundu, has practiced in Lubumbashi and is a leader of RCD-Goma), Me Nyabirungu (Hutu from Rutshuru, leading PPRD member), and Ngele Masudi (a hardliner Katangais and former Minister of Justice). Their credentials indicate that he is bracing himself for a political battle as much as a legal one.

Lastly, the government itself has been less than transparent with the investigation into the murder. Apparently, the prosecutor general does not control the investigation, but rather it is being run out of the presidency, by the National Security Adviser Pierre Lumbi. He has tasked General Mukuntu, on of his staff, to lead the investigation. Both Mukuntu and the prosecutor general have refused to meet with MONUC regarding the investigation and it isn’t clear how many people have already been arrested, where they are being held and what crime they are being charged with.

As you can see, there is a lot of speculation at the moment. It is also possible that Chebeya’s death was an accident, that there never was a coup plot, or that there were other motives and actors. But the information above, from reliable sources in the diplomatic community, indicates that all is not well in Kinshasa.

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