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UDPS Protest - Lubumbashi

© Phil Moore/AFP

© Phil Moore/AFP

© Phil Moore/AFP

© Phil Moore/AFP

© Phil Moore/AFP

© Phil Moore/AFP

UDPS Protest

For Fabien Mutomb, provincial vice-president of the Union for Democracy and Social Progress (UDPS - Union pour la Democratie et le Progrès Sociale), the morning started in Lubumbashi’s courthouse, pressing charges with the district prosecutor against the closure of the UDPS provincial headquarters in Lubumbashi. Their offices—like, ostensibly, other party offices in the city centre, although rather more forcibly, and strictly, than others—have been closed for over a week on the orders of Katanga’s governor.

The core members of the party then marched in protest through neighbouring streets, against this closure, and against their allegations of “fraud and cheating” in the November 28th elections, where incumbent president Joseph Kabila had been recently named the winner.

It wasn’t long before the police and army intervened, stopping the group of party heads. When faced with the army, the group sat down in the road. This would be a peaceful protest, and had decided to limit it to just the party heads to prevent things from getting out of hand.

Soldiers surrounded them, with Mr. Mutomb on the wrong end of a soldier’s boot as he refused to get up. For several minutes, the group lay in the road leading to the central square where the statue of Moise Tshombe stands, a reminder of Katanga’s independence.

The group was then raised, lined up, and marched towards the courthouse. By this point, a large group of people had gathered: some bystanders, others UDPS supporters, jeering the soldiers whenever they shoved one of the protestors. As the group was marched off, Mutomb raised his arms to calm the supporters; he seemed intent that this would not degenerate.

The narrow street leading to the courthouse was, by this point, lined with UDPS supporters, who flanked the column of protestors and soldiers. As they reached the end of the road, the protestors were suddenly released, under the orders of a police chief. Jubilation ensued, and Mutomb was raised onto his supporters’ shoulders and carried back up the road.

After a brief discussion with the police, and a speech to his followers, the crowd was dispersed and Mutomb led off to a car.

This would be my last day of covering events in Lubumbashi.

DR Congo election day attacks

“I’ve got to go, there is some shooting going on not far from here” were my parting words as I hung up the phone to the London office. I’d just finished filing the morning pictures, and was clarifying the caption to a small piece of video I had shot when the crack-crack of small arms fire rang out.

This was not something I was expecting with the election coverage, at least not outside of the capital, Kinshasa.

Out in the street, people were running from the direction of the gunfire. I have to get there. The driver didn’t agree. More gunfire, some of it heavier. A rush of adrenaline that I hadn’t felt since Libya surged through my veins.

After what seemed like an age, we were in the car, scanning the streets. A column of soldiers were walking down the road. I stepped out of the car to take a photo, but the commander shoved me back in. “No photos” he said, and wasn’t in the mood to discuss. I was still new to Congo, and didn’t know how far I could push these guys. A rocket launcher passed by.

In the Bel Air cemetery—where the white colonialists used to bury their dead—a stage had been set for The Final Confrontation between the gunmen and the army. Soldiers and armed police stood on the road. Occasional bursts of gunfire rang out from inside — everybody ducked.

After some negotiation, I joined them. Skirting along the wall towards the entrance I came across a group of soldiers taking cover behind a wall. Camera held high, I approached them. They weren’t keen to have a civilian there, but did agree to show me something.

As we crossed some open land, another column of soldiers strafed across the grass a hundred metres ahead of us. Our soldiers called out, and they had turned and trained their guns on us. Shouting in a language I didn’t speak. They eventually turned and continued towards the cemetery. And then I was directed towards a lone body, lying on the grass, trousers around ankles and the skin missing from the side of the face; burned off. This is what they wanted to show me. “Rebel” they said, in French, but that’s all they could give me. The gri-gri on his arm suggested he was a member of the Katanga secession group, but nothing was sure. He had been dragged from where he was shot dead, so there was no way to know if he had been involved in the fighting or not. An unidentified dead man lying in a field.

The day becomes more complex.

DR Congo election day

The ballots were due to open at 7am. At the polling stations, an hour or so beforehand, the queues were already forming, but it would prove to be far too optimistic. Huddled under umbrellas, voters waited for what would be only the second democratic elections in four decades, and the first one to be organised by the Congolese; the previous elections were largely organised by the international community and the United Nations.

Officials at a school-cum-polling station said that they were still awaiting election materials: not only the ballot papers themselves, but voting booths and urns.

This was not the case throughout the city. At the largest voting station in the Lubumbashi—DR Congo’s second city—voting opened as small queues trickled into the many classrooms that had been transformed into voting offices. The maze of striped plastic tape marking out queuing lines for each office seemed a little optimistic.

Then came news of the first of the day’s incidents. In the early hours of the morning, a convoy of pick-up trucks delivering voting materials had been attacked, leaving two burning by the side of the road, their ballot papers smouldering.

We raced over there, and found a crowd of people. Cautiously, I approached as my colleagues from the BBC and RFI spoke to people standing around; I hoped the mob would not turn angry.

I was accosted by people showing me burned ballot papers, amidst cries in French of fraud. Every now and then, a “pre-marked” ballot paper would be held out, but after several minutes of photographing them, I began to question their veracity. Different pens, some crosses, some ticks, a few with thumb prints on them. And none of the papers still burning in the trucks showed evidence of tampering. The local populace, who had rushed the scene, had done this themselves I concluded, after conferring with the radio folk.

It was 9am, and already, there were several angles to cover in the day’s voting. This was going to be a long day.