He walked into battle seemingly without fear. As shells whistled overhead last July, Colonel Mamadou Ndala, towering above the men he commanded, stood tall, constantly switching between the mobile phone in one hand and the walkie-talkie in the other, and marched through the rugged, volcanic rock issuing orders to advance. He wasn’t armed, but trusted his men around him completely. Walking back from the front, three tanks were lined along the road. He shouted orders into his radio, and they sent shells towards his enemy’s hilltops.
A few days later, mobs were in the streets of Goma, burning tyres and barricading roads to protest the Colonel’s recall to Kinshasa. The order was but a rumour, but the population’s love of Mamadou was so great that they weren’t taking any chances. He took to local radio to assure people that he was still in town and not going anywhere. Things settled down again.
Less than a month later, and crowds were once again in the streets, stoning United Nations vehicles - the population perceived a restraining influence by the UN over the national army. Col. Mamadou’s jeep pulled up—everybody knew it by sight—and he stepped out. Chants of “Ma-ma-dou” filled the air, and the crowd was subdued. This one man commanded their attention; something that a dozen military police had failed to do hitherto. He addressed the crowd, told them that the UN were on their side, and left to cheers of support.
His popularity in Goma was born of two things: the military success he commanded over M23 rebels; and the discipline he instilled in his troops. The army’s popularity reached a low in November 2012 when the city of Goma fell to M23, the government troops fleeing at their advance. On top of that, the fleeing troops raped over 100 women in Minova, the town they retreated to. These soldiers were known amongst local populations as people to be feared: they looted, they raped, and were often drunk.
Mamadou commanded the 42nd battalion—the Rapid Response unit—of elite commandos who were instrumental in the first advances that the national army had made over M23 since the outbreak of their rebellion. His men were disciplined, and if they transgressed, were severely punished.
Whilst other units and other commanders played a significant role in the military defeat of M23 last October and November, it was Colonel Mamadou who received the public’s praise. He was the figurehead of the fight for the region.
Yesterday, on January 2, 2013, he was killed in an ambush on his vehicle in North Kivu province’s “Great North”, near Beni. He was there trying to oust another of eastern Congo’s myriad armed groups, the ADF-NALU. The reaction in Goma was of outrage. Youths once again barricaded the streets. But this time, the Colonel will not be there to pacify them.