Democratic Republic of Congo: Lubumbashi to Kinshasa

RadioBaobab

Adventurer
The efforts of the rocky climb were paid of with a beautiful view. We rarely had an overview of the landscape we were driving trough as there were walls of jungle on both sides of the roads. Luena can be seen below.



The road immediately went down again. Fortunately the road was in better condition.



At the bottom of the hill, were water would accumulate, there was a boghole. The "runners" were there too. We could have guessed it. They looked happy.

We gave them a hello and started exploring the possibilities. There were 3 routes that could lead trough the hole. The runners were quick to point out that we had to take the rightmost route. They claimed it was the best route and we would have no problems going trough there.

We did not even try to walk it, it was obviously the worst of the three options. Driving in there would mean we would get stuck. Not for hours, but for days.
We ignored their "advice" and started wading trough the other two options. The middle route had water up to chest height, but the underground was relatively solid. The left route was very muddy. It was not a very long patch of mud but we would have to drive on an angle and risked sliding sideways in the deep water. A tree was seperating the middle and the left route. Left seemed like the best way to go.

Once we made intentions to clear the left route of sticks one of the runners got really angry. His face turned red and he shouted. he was really upset that we did not ask them to help us. After all, "we were rich and we could pay them to help us trough".

We asked him why he was so surprised that we did not want to trust him with the duty of helping us trough after they had clearly given us false advice at first.

The "runner" now got really upset and shouted even louder, gesticulating wildly. He seemed so convinced that we did wrong to him that we thought he was about to start fighting with us. He threw a whole lot of arguments at us that did not make sense at all. This was nothing short of extortion. This is how corruption crept into normal life here. These were not officials making abuse of their power, this was a normal guy who wanted a piece of the cake that he strongly believed was his.

We got really mad at everything he said, but did not react. We were not in a position to make enemies there. The obstacle ahead of us made it quite likely that we would get ourselves stuck. We needed friends, not enemies. But we don't pay people to be our friends.

We chanced it. Josephine walked across first and gave me directions. I slowly entered the mudpit in 1st low and creeped forward. There was very little traction and I started to slide sideways into the deep water.

In a normal situation, this would the point that you stop, and reverse out again. And then try to build a dam to stop you sliding sideways and try again. But I could feel the the eyes of the angry runner in my back. I wanted to get out of here. Now!

I floored it. Mud flying everywhere. Sliding sideways I made it far enough not to slide in the deep water but hit the tree in the middle hard on the side of the car. The tree kept us upright and we plowed trough.

I could feel my hart beating wildly. Adrenaline pumping trough my veins. Josephine hopped in the car and we drove off. She was equally pumped up and we roared out our excitement. We couldn't care less about the dent.

We didn't look back at the runners when we dissapeared in the jungle.

How did a simple obstacle like this become such a nerve wrecking experience?
 

RadioBaobab

Adventurer


The goal for this day was Kamina. The central Franciscan mission for the Katange provice is there. Progress was slow but no major problems were had.

Most of the road lead trough dense jungle. Great for a short while, but it's not like you get a chance to enjoy the scenery. We passed many bogholes and had to be on the constant lookout of obstacles.





Erosian can do strange things... sometimes it even creates a perfect piste! These bits were short but it was great to use third gear for a change!





In the dense forest we often bumped into things. We accumulated small dents. Our bullbar also took a good hit when drove into a cut off tree that was hidden in the bushes.

 

RadioBaobab

Adventurer
As said, there is no trough traffic. Everything is done by train or air. Trucks are sometimes used to transport goods to area that are further away of the railline. They usually run on a fixed traject between settlements. They never venture further.

It is also a seasonal activity. They drive until the rainy season starts and the roads become impossible.

This was the start of the rainy season. We came across a stuck truck (can you see the constant here... every vehicle we pass is stuck :wink: ). They were offloading the load onto bicycles. There are very few trucks here, and none of them wanted to take the risk to pull him out now that the rainy season had started. The truck would be here for several months until the mudpit he was in would dry out.

Upon seeing us they got a bit excited and asked for all sorts of things. Whiskey and mobile phones mostly. That was a welcome (?) change from the usual demands for "Un jus" or money. They also asked for water and we poured water from our own bottles into their bottles. We had to throw away our bottles afterwards because of the horrible smell of cheap whiskey that came out ouf their bottles.

 

RadioBaobab

Adventurer
Approaching Kamina we could see people were dressed better. They actually waved to say hello. We saw kids in school uniforms. We were nearing a major town.

We rolled into Kamina and had a warm welcome by several "frères" (Brothers), among them Frère Louis, the belgian brother that hosted us in Luena. The other frères were Croatian. They all have their missions deep in the brousse, but this week they had their annual gettogether.

The missions was big and well organized. They had all the facilities, even a workshop. They were responsible for almost everything functional in Kamina. Churches, school, farms, factories, ...

They had several trucks and each brother had his own 4x4 to sevice their mission. In these circumstance only 1 vehicle is considered.



The 40 series was discontinued and no longer had an engine.





 

RadioBaobab

Adventurer
The last few times we started the engine we could hear the batteries were having a hard time turning around the starter motor. Upon checking we noticed that the alternator was shot. The batteries would have 1 or 2 more starts in it, but then it would be finished.

This couldn't have happened in a better place ofcourse. The mechanics from the missions dismantled the alternator and found the brushes to be worn down. Spares were ofcourse not at hand, but they found an alternator from a broken down hilux and used those brushes. It worked perfectly.

Up until now this fixed alternator is still in our Landcruiser.





The guys in the workshop were really friendly and extremely proud of their jobs. Nice people!

We felt like we were in heaven at the mission. Everybody was friendly, we had the opportunity to take our first shower since leaving Lubumbashi. And they had beer! Yeah! :)

That night we talked for hours with Frère Louis. Our little adventures here dissapear in the nothing compared to everything he went trough. He had been in DRC for over 40 years, he stayed during all the wars. He had to abandon everything and run for his live three times as teams were sent out to kill him. But he always returned. Many books could be filled with his adventures.

He is also responsible for most of the bridges Katanga. He build hundreds of bridges himself. He has a small working budget from Franciscans, but he funds most of it all by himself. He has put every last penny in the Congolese people. That is why his house in Luena was so rundown.

He also told us about the Mayi-Mayi rebels that still roam the jungle. We were not prepared for the horror stories we would hear. I still have problems giving these stories a place. They are not just stories though, he gave us a 100 page document with his interviews of victims. If you thought, like us, that cannibalism was something that belonged in comic books and dusty museums about Africa. You are wrong. :cry:

A few excerpts from his document..
 

RadioBaobab

Adventurer
I was not sure if I was going to post this installment, but I feel it is an important part of our experience in Congo. Nevertheless:

WARNING !!! If you are a sensitive person, skip this post. You can continue reading the rest of the report and you will not even notice you did not read this post. It contains background information on DRC but it is pretty horrific to read and not for the faint hearted.


So, some excerpts out the witness stories Frère Louis gathered. The reports are mixed in Dutch and French. I will quote them and (freely) translate into English, apologies if I make mistakes. I removed the names from the documents for privacy reasons.

20/04/2002
(this is during the "Second Congo War" : http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Second_Congo_War )

Frère Louis said:
De broer van "Y" was in Missa gaan vissen en heeft er geweldige baldadigheden gezien zoals oren afsnijden en dan braden ze die nog in de pan en ze eten ze op in het bijzijn van die sukkels die het slachtoffer zijn en beschuldigd worden van medewerking met het Congoleese leger FAC. Er wordt nog verder gegaan met mensenvlees te eten door die May May. De broer van "Y" is kunnen vluchten naar Bukama, daar waar ik hem gezien heb.
"Y"'s brother went fishing in Missa and saw mischief like cutting of ears. They fry the ears in a pan eat them. They make the victims look at how their own ears are being fried and eaten. They are being accused of cooperation with the Congolese FAC army. The May May continue to eat humans. Y's brother managed to escape to Bukama, this is where I met him.

Frère Louis said:
Ze doden die vier sodaten, eten hen op en dragen een hoofd van een soldaat naar Kintobongo en zetten dat ten toon op onze tafel in de missie om de millitairen te verwittigen dat ze niet mogen aanvallen en als ze dat toch riskeren dan staat hun dit te wachten
They kill those four soldiers and eat them. They then carry one of the heads of the murdered soldiers to Kintobongo and put the head on the table in our mission. They do this as warning not to attack hem, if not this is what happens.

Frère Louis said:
..en de jagers ( vragen eten aan de vrouwen van chef Kitumba, de vrouwen zegden dat ze geen eten hadden, dan hebben ze geeist aan die vrouwen om hun haar kind te braden.
..The hunters (May-May) asked food at the woman of Chef Kitumba. The women told they did not have food. The hunters then demanded that they roast their children for them to eat.

05/ 12/ 2004.
This is after the war officially ended.

Witness said:
J’avais profité du moment où mes deux gardes étaient entrés dans leur cabane pour manger le repas préparé à la viande d’une jeune femme que les May May venaient de tuer.
I made use of the time my two guards entered their hut to eat the meal they made out of a young woman that the MayMay just killed.

21/04/2006

Frère Louis said:
le commandant Bati se permet d’étaler une femme nue et au moyen d’un stylo il pointe chaque partie de l’organe intime de la femme pour les citer en dialecte. Quelle humiliation.
The commander Bati dared to display a naked woman. With a pen he pointed at every part of the "intimate organs" and told the onlookers the names in dialect. What a humiliation.

Frère Louis said:
. Nous sommes entrain de vivre du pur et simple cannibalisme où les gens May-May mangent de la chaire ou viande fumée ou séchée des hommes, pillent, violent et tuent les populations civiles . C’est le cas d’un chef MAY MAY KABALE ,tué le 13 05 dernier par la population de Kayumba
We are living in a situation of pure and simple cannibalism. The may-may plunder, rape and kill the civilian population. They then eath their meat, raw or smoked. This is true for the May-MAy chief Kabale, who was killed recently (15/05/2006) by the population of Kayumba.

--
I just selected some random pages of the 131 page long document and copied these excerpt. It is an endless accumulation of horror witness reports. All of this happened on a large scale, and only covers the area where Frére Louis operates in.

When the war ended (+- 2002) most of these activities stopped in this area. The May-may retreated north where they are still operational (the East Congo drama... still going on).

These things were regularly going on until 2 years before we drove trough the area. It was still very fresh in the memory of everybody we must have met on the road. This also explains the huge amount of orphans in these areas.

--

Let's put this in a bit of perspective: Frère Louis told us some of these stories while we were sitting in the comforts of the Kamina mission. He told the stories as if it was a daily occurance.. and that was actually the case indeed. At that moment we were shocked, but thought this was something of the (distant) past. And it was - at least in this area. It is only until after the trip, when we started reading his document, that we started to comprehend the large scale of the massacres that had been going on here.

We were here in 2008. The last reports of cannibalism in this area were from 2006.

All of the people we met in the DRC must have been confronted, one way or another, with these horrible events.

I never heard anything about this in the international news
 

RadioBaobab

Adventurer
Damn, I made a mistake in my report and skipped a day. Apologies. After our little ordeal with the "runners" we actually struggled on until we reached Kabondo Dianda.

So, Our progress after day 5 was:



And now after day 6 we got to Kamina (75km from Kabondo Dianda... takes a full day of driving)



So, the corrected overview is:

Day 1: Kansenia
Day 2: Rest day Kansenia
Day 3: Unknwon village
Day 4: Luena
Day 5: Kabondo Dianda
Day 6: Kamina

Sorry :oops:
 

RadioBaobab

Adventurer
We stayed another day (day 7) in Kamina and talked for hours with Frère Louis and got ourselves organized again.

Day 8
Our stay in the mission in Kamina was really great. We got our alternator fixed, had great conversations with the brothers, drank as much beer as we wanted and had some good food. We even managed to dry out our tent.

When we wanted to leave we wanted to pay for the repairs, the accomodation and the beer but they refused. They were so happy to have visitors. Genuinely great people, the fathers Franciscan at Kamina. They have my greatest respect!

We were invited to join breakfast and received lots and lots of information on the roads that we would be taking in the next days. They never drive all the way to Kananga (next big town), but they know all the roads and backroads in the area. Not surprising, as most of them were built by them.

It's funny how a brother in a white gown explains the best way how to take certain obstacles and which gears to use. They must have been one of the most experienced 4x4 drivers in Africa!



The landscape opened up a bit. Until now we were mostly driving trough jungle forest. Now we entered a more steppe-like area. The road was still mostly sandy, with muddy patches in between.



We approached another big farm(ranch?). The Route National went around the farm but was in a horrible state. The farm had a network of excellent dirt roads that could bypass a large part of the RN1. We were stopped at a "toll booth" but upon mentioning that we were friends of the Fathers we can pass for free.

We travel fast now, great little sandy tracks trough the steppe. Yihaa!

Until we reach the next obstacle... one we did not expect!
 

LaOutbackTrail

Adventure Photographer
I am still fascinated by your report here. I'd also like to thank you for posting the excerpts from the Frere's book. In 2008 I was taking two classes in college, the Geography of Africa and the Anthropology of Africa. Both fascinating classes. Not once was modern cannibalism mentioned--at least not that recent-- but had you posted this report then, I would have liked to gotten a copy of the book- somehow.

We did projects on different native groups of Africa. I was hoping for one of western Africa, but luck of the hat drew me the Massai people of the east. Equally fascinating and colorful but My interest has been drawn to western Africa for some reason.

Great report man, I'm enjoying it a lot, please continue!
 
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