KINSHASA - The news that the eastern city of Goma had fallen on November 19 came as a brutal shock for most Congolese, strung along with the promises from the government and UN officials that the capital city of North Kivu would not wind up in the hands of rebel group M23.
Their anger is mostly aimed at the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) leader Joseph Kabila, who is accused of passivity and even treason. The following day, from Kisangani to Matadi as well as in the capital of Kinshasa, many Congolese began calling for Kabila to resign. In Kinshasa, students from several local universities took to the streets to express their solidarity with their fellow citizens from the North Kivu region, before policemen were quickly called in to disperse the demonstrators.
Fighting has been going on since April in North Kivu between M23 rebels and government forces following disagreements over a 2009 peace accord that integrated National Congress Defense of the People (CNDP) rebels into the national army. The fall of the city of Goma was evidence that the government was losing its battle with rebel leaders. Overall, according to the UN, the violence in eastern Congo has displaced nearly half a million people since April.
For many Congolese, complicity exists between top DRC officials and neighboring Rwanda. Some are even more cynical, telling people in Goma: you voted for Kabila, this is the result, deal with it. In the central city of Kisangani, a peaceful march launched by students of the University of Kisangani with city council support, turned into chaos with the arrival of youths from neighboring towns. It seems the youths were “encouraged” by the military to join the protests. Some of their signs read "they sold the country," "we ask the government to resign."
Protesters also targeted MONUSCO, the United Nations peacekeeping mission in the DRC, which they accused of duplicity. Many buildings were ransacked and burned down: Kabondo’s peace tribunal, the Independent National Electoral Commission offices, the headquarters of the PPRD (the presidential party), the offices of the presidential majority, the two homes of the former Governor. Three people were reportedly killed and several policemen and soldiers were badly wounded.
Who can you trust?
On Nov. 21, a group of organizations and activists from the western province condemned Rwanda's support of the M23 and the passivity of the Congolese government and head of state. In Matadi, southwest Congo, there is a relative peace, but youths are starting to question DRC leadership. "Our leaders are partners-in-crime [with M23 rebels]. Otherwise how could a small country like Rwanda succeed in its coup?" asks one.
Kabila's interview in the media on Nov. 21 did not convince anyone. "He spoke as if the country was not in danger," says a disappointed Boma resident. In Bukavu, organizations and activists have bigger ambitions, with plans for a huge march to voice their protest. There, people are worried. Goma is not so far away. Calmly and in an organized fashion, they are preparing themselves to resist the rebels.
People are building blockades on the road that leads to the airports. "We want to block the road to protect ourselves from the enemy, which could potentially come from the road or by plane," explains Déo Minani, one of the men building the blockade.
Meanwhile in Goma, reassured by the end of the fire exchanges that hit the city last Monday, people came out to see the rebels as they entered the city. Some even cheered them on. Life is returning to normal after M23 assured everyone that things would remain peaceful. People only want one thing: to live in peace. "They can stay as long as they leave us alone and let us go about our business," says one local.