Happy Independence Day (Bon Fête!) from Kisangani

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Yesterday, Kisangani celebrated the 51st anniversary of independence from Belgian colonial rule. This year’s festivities had a very different tone from the previous – which included a large carnival style atmosphere and fireworks. Instead, this year’s speeches and chatter centered around the upcoming national election scheduled for late November.

Around 10:00am, I left our compound with a friend who works for MONUSCO. He had a special invitation from the governor to attend the formal parade reception. We walked through town, which was eerily quiet and nearly deserted of motorbikes, bicycles, and pedestrians. We didn’t see a single car on the way to the central square where we would view the parade. Usually, Kisangani is fairly congested with traffic, but on this day everyone was either resting at home, preparing a feast for the evening, or already lining the parade route.

When we arrived at the viewing area, we found that while there were hundreds of people lining the route and the soldiers were already standing at attention, the formal viewing area was quite empty. While the invitation had said 10am, it was now around 10:30. We decided to walk around a bit, trying to find a cup of NesCafe and some sweet bread. We found a small café, but they said it would take about 30 minutes to prepare some instant coffee. We continued walking for a while, but finally decided to head back to the viewing area, fearful that we would be late for the governor’s and mayor’s speeches.

On the way back to the viewing area, several dozen motorbikes carrying two or three young people on each zoomed past honking while their occupants shouted into the air. They were some sort of youth political group. The police stood by shaking their heads in annoyance, but let the youth have their fun.

By the time we arrived back at the viewing area to take our seats, the sergeant at arms was already calling the troops to present arms. We were forced to awkwardly wait by someone else’s seats while the national anthem blared from the band several blocks away. Then we attempted to gracefully dash past the TV cameras to our seats just as the governor was being introduced.

Both the mayor of Kisangani and the governor of the Oriental province took this as a great opportunity for a public address in favor of the current president, Joseph Kabila II and the ruling party. Then the parade began with quite a bit of flare as a mixed band of FARDC troops and police marched into the square blaring the national anthem once more. As they played, police units and various members of the FARDC, many of which are currently undergoing “reintegration” after spending years as armed rebels fighting against the government marched past, saluting the flag. It was interesting to see their awkward discipline marching for a flag that they fought so strongly against. True ideology is a rarity in the Congo it seems. For many, survival is the only ideology that matters.

I was overcome with emotion seeing the soldiers that the US government has had a hand in helping at one of the bases in the area here. As they marched in formation and showed off their expensive trucks and equipment, I was impressed with their professionalism and discipline. The difference between these soldiers and their colleagues who had not received similar training was stark. Maybe we are doing some good here and making some sort of impact.

The parade descended into chaos after the military and police section was finished. There was a scramble among different groups to get into line, pushing and shoving in complete disarray. Eventually the governor called off the civilian side of the parade because of security concerns. By then I had long since left the parade area for the safe confines of my compound and then later a local swimming pool.

Compared to last year, this year’s festivities were rather quiet and low-key. There weren’t any fireworks and even the low “bump-bump” from the music at nearby bars and houses died early in the evening.

For more coverage of D.R. Congo’s 51st anniversary:

http://congosiasa.blogspot.com/2011/06/sword-thief-reflections-on-congolese.html

http://advocacynet.org/wordpress-mu/wjames/

http://www.state.gov/secretary/rm/2011/06/167313.htm

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-africa-13965617

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