DR Congo re­form­ers feel state’s iron fist


“We live in a city ... that has no roads, no in­fra­struc­ture, no schools, no wa­ter, no elec­tric­ity and no jobs,” says young democ­racy ac­tivist Tre­sor Ak­ili of his home town of Goma in the east of Demo­cratic Repub­lic of Congo, where decades of war and a myr­iad of mili­tias have bled the pop­u­la­tion dry.

“Our strug­gle was born of what we’ve lived through,” Ak­ili, 25, adds. “Ev­ery part of our daily lives in the Demo­cratic Repub­lic of Congo is dis­gust­ing.”

But rather than re­sort­ing to vi­o­lence to change that sit­u­a­tion, like many other young peo­ple in this trou­bled coun­try, Ak­ili joined the Strug­gle for Change (known as Lucha in French).

Founded in Goma in 2012 as a “non-po­lit­i­cal and non-vi­o­lent cit­i­zens’ move­ment,” Lucha is push­ing not just for peace, but for real democ­racy and a greater shar­ing of Demo­cratic Repub­lic of Congo’s huge min­eral wealth.

“We are adepts of non-vi­o­lence. We can’t stand arms,” says Juvin Kombi, who joined Lucha to shake his fel­low cit­i­zens out of their pas­sive ac­cep­tance of the po­lit­i­cal and eco­nomic or­der of a coun­try the United Na­tions says is one of the world’s least de­vel­oped.

“The thing we’re fight­ing against is above all injustice — so­cial injustice,” says Kombi, 26, claim­ing Lucha also de­fends the “hu­man dig­nity be­ing smoth­ered here amid the se­cu­rity sit­u­a­tion we con­front.”

Lucha took root three years ago in the blood-soaked soil of eastern Demo­cratic Repub­lic of Congo close to the Rwan­dan bor­der, whose re­source-rich land has been long bat­tled over for the for­tunes to be made from min­ing it.

Ak­ili and Kombi were only chil­dren when rebel chief Lau­rent-De­sire Ka­bila took power and be­came pres­i­dent in 1997.

They then grew up within the vi­o­lence of two long wars in the east, and the con­tin­ued un­rest af­ter Ka­bila was as­sas­si­nated and his son — cur­rent pres­i­dent Joseph Ka­bila — took power.

The geno­cide in neigh­bor­ing Rwanda in 1996 has­tened the de­scent into chaos and blood­shed as an in­flux of vi­o­lent Hutu mili­tias was fol­lowed by no fewer than two in­va­sions by Rwan­dan gov­ern­ment forces, who sup­ported Tutsi rebels in eastern Congo un­til 2013.

With that vi­o­lence only feed­ing more vi­o­lence, ac­tivists in Goma search­ing for a way out of fear and eco­nomic de­pri­va­tion formed Lucha, which Kombi and Ak­ili joined the year it was cre­ated.

‘I have a dream’

Like many fel­low mem­bers, Kombi and Ak­ili de­scribe their non­vi­o­lent strug­gle by quot­ing iconic po­lit­i­cal rebels and thinkers like Martin Luther King, Jr., right down to his “I have a dream” speech.

They also cite Amer­i­can Gene Sharp’s 1993 book “From Dic­ta­tor­ship to Democ­racy,” which is cred­ited with inspiring many at­tempts at peace­ful up­ris­ings around the world in re­cent years, in­clud­ing the Arab Spring.

Yet like groups be­hind those non-vi­o­lent re­volts, Lucha has suf­fered heavy-handed treat­ment from the au­thor­i­ties.

One of Lucha’s top fig­ures, Fred Bauma, has been kept in se­cret detention since his March 15 ar­rest in Kin­shasa while at­tend­ing a con­fer­ence on good gov­er­nance and democ­racy.

Par­tic­i­pants in that fo­rum from Sene­gal and Burk­ina Faso were even­tu­ally de­ported by Demo­cratic Repub­lic of Congo au­thor­i­ties who claimed they had been pre­par­ing “acts of vi­o­lence.”

But the rough treat­ment of Bauma and his fel­low ac­tivists drew in­ter­na­tional at­ten­tion to Lucha and its strug­gle at a crit­i­cal time for the coun­try.

It comes in the wake of deadly protests and mass ar­rests in Jan­uary of gov­ern­ment op­po­nents, who de­nounced moves they claimed were de­signed to de­lay pres­i­den­tial elec­tions and al­low Ka­bila to re­main in power in de­fi­ance of the con­sti­tu­tion.

Lucha hopes to in­spire the wider pop­u­la­tion to stand up to con­tin­u­ing abuses of power and pres­sure for greater re­dis­tri­bu­tion of the na­tion’s con­sid­er­able wealth.

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