Rumble: A "Blind Witness" Report of the Fighting in Kinshasa

MF, a dear friend of mine, works for OCHA in the Democratic Republic of Congo, based in Kinshasa. This is her story about the fighting last week, as described in an email to her friends:

Dear all,

I (we) have gone through “sheer hell” these past few days. We knew something was in the making. As I was driving to work on Thursday morning, I saw the UN Mission (MONUC) soldiers had reinforced their troops around Bemba’s house (he is the former vice president who also happens to have lost the first democratic elections last year). Bemba is also the man behind last August's fighting and the continued recurrence of violence last fall. Luckily for me, I had to go to the Chinese Embassy to get my visa for the big trip of my life. On my way back to the office, I realised that Bemba’s troops (we recognise them with their red bandannas) and the Government troops were positioning themselves to start fighting. It was eerie. People were fleeing, by foot and by the hundreds. I thought: "I am dreaming all of this!". I asked my driver to hurry home.

The heavy gun and mortar fire broke out just after I arrived home and it went on for a seven hours marathon. As the UN Secretary General mentioned: the civilian population was "seriously threatened by fighting in the heart of the city". Well, it just happens that the heart of the city is where both my office and my little bungalow are located. Charming isn’t?

There are many stories to be told; children stranded in schools, colleagues stranded in our building, and several friends and acquaintances stranded at their offices. All of us cut off from the world for a solid two days. Some did not have food but most had enough water. Since I am known to be a little squirrel, as I always leave food in my office, my colleagues could help themselves in my pantry!

I spent Thursday afternoon on the floor of my bathroom, as I felt my kitchen floor was not secure enough this time, as it has a big window. The sounds were unbearable, I tried to read, to write, to pray, to listen music… I just sat there, motionless. It sounded as if a constant fire works exploded but with an intensity difficult to describe to someone who has never heard such sounds. When grenades exploded near by, my little bungalow shook like a palm leave. I feared bullets landing inside my house, as it has been the case for several people.
I was in constant touch with friends and the MONUC soldiers. My cleaning lady was with me and she was very scared. I had to calm her down. This helped me to stay composed and alert. She and some 15 staff working in my compound stayed overnight. Luckily, I had enough rice to feed everyone…

Just as last August, I was the blind witness to a war. This one was worse, though. In fact, some told me that the fighting was the worse Kinshasa had known in 20 years! Casualties are heavy this time, some 700 persons were killed: 500 were soldiers and the rest are civilians. One young woman was sipping a drink at the bar of a hotel, another was killed watching TV and a colonel and his kids were shot dead when he was trying to bring them home from school prior to the start of the fighting! Homeless women were found dead with their babies on the street, as they were trying to flee for a secure shelter.

A friend of mine described how the streets were full of corpses by Thursday night. By dawn the next day and just prior to the start of the battle on the 2nd day (it started at 5h00 in the morning by the explosion of the oil reserves), the victim corpses were quickly dumped in the Congo river… That’s why official statistics only mention 160 losses!!!

There were many acts of bravery. Kids from a primary school had to be evacuated, as they were in the eye of the storm. Imagine little kids being transported in armored vehicles. They were repatriated at the French Embassy and were good as gold… For OCHA, our main casualty is a house converted into an office: it was damaged as shelling fell against the wall. Many windows were shattered and received bullets. I also found many bullets in my garden at home.

My neighbor received “lost bullets” in his living room and my other neighbor’s bedroom was cribbed with bullets. My UNICEF friend was evacuated by courageous Uruguachos during the battle as the building received some mortars shells. Luckily, they did not explode. If they had, both UNICEF and the Spanish Embassy staff would have been killed.

On Saturday, by lunch time, after 48 hours, just like all of us in Kinshasa, I finally ventured outside. Shops were full of people sharing stories and buying food. Yesterday, the boys and I ordered wine and made a toast to life.

Yes, I do thank God that I am alive and well and that I will soon be getting the hell out of here, as my old friend Tom ordered me to do! Enough of this life!!! I am off to motherhood in a peaceful environment…


Pictures: courtesy AFP


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