congo watch: kin-la-poubelle
There is open fighting today in the Gombe neighborhood of Congo's capital, Kinshasa. Gombe is the downtown quarter where all the wealthy people (including most expatriates) live. It's where I stayed when I was in Kinshasa last March. Gombe is a very nice neighborhood. It's along the Congo River and is as close to lovely as you get in a dynsfunctional city of 10 million people. Imagine something like Austin's Westlake neighborhood if it were closer to downtown, Buckhead in Atlanta, or Highland Park in Dallas. Or Embassy Row in Washington. Now imagine those places full of soldiers who are firing bullets and mortar rounds and you'll get a sense of what it's like in Gombe today.
The fighting is over the refusal of Jean-Pierre Bemba (the former rebel leader and vice-president who was also the runner-up in the presidential election) to disarm his private militia and send the troops to be integrated into the national army. Bemba argues that without his private guard, his life would be in danger. Obviously you can't have more than one army in a country, but the pitiful thing is that Bemba is probably right that he wouldn't be safe without his troops. Bemba (and another former rebel leader) were supposed to disarm and send their troops for reintegration by March15. They didn't, and there's been a standoff up until today.
Several of my friends and my friends' families live in Gombe. The children who attend the French school (which is next door to Bemba's house) are trapped in their school's gym. So far the peacekeepers are standing by, but not intervening. They have stated their goal is to protect the civilian population.
I would appreciate your prayers for their safety, especially those families with children, and for all Congolese who have lived with this insecurity for far too long.