Modern history

CHAPTER 13

LA BIÈRE ET LA PRIÈRE (SUDS AND SANCTITY)

New Players in a Wasted Land

2002–2006

ASK ALMOST ANY CONGOLESE WHERE HE WOULD REALLY like to live, and there’s a good chance that he will say “na Poto,” in Europe. Poto in Lingala comes from Portugal, the first European country with which Central Africa became acquainted. In more concrete terms, Poto means Brussels or Paris, because the rest of Europe—with the possible exception of London—doesn’t count. Jamais Kolonga, the first Congolese man to dance with a white woman in the 1950s, proudly told me that all eight of his children now live in Europe. Poto means success. Ask the same Congolese where he definitely does not want to go, and you will be sure to hear “na Makala.” Makala means charcoal, but it is also an outlying district of Kinshasa where charcoal was once made, and where today Kinshasa’s Centre Pénitentiaire et de Rééducation is located, the central prison. In the popular imagination, the word makala stands for everything the Congolese fear and hate. Ever since the days of Mobutu, that horrible word summons up images of starvation, torture and murder. Makala is where the state shows its fangs, a gloomy, pitch-black place dripping with blood and death. Taxi drivers often refuse to take you there.

“And you must absolutely, absolutely not lose this little blue slip,” the guard says to me before opening the gates. In a chaotic entrance hall where everyone shouts that he is responsible for la sécurité, I am frisked a number of times and have to turn in my cell phone and my money. In exchange for my phone I am handed a crumpled piece of cardboard with a number on it; I had taken out the SIM card beforehand. My cash—twenty dollars, I brought no more than that on purpose—disappeared into a drawer. An official tore off a scrap of paper and wrote on it that I, Monsieur David, had turned in twenty dollars. But even more important than these two hat-check stubs, it seems, is the little slip of blue paper that I hadn’t asked for. Smaller than a cigarette paper, it nevertheless turns out to be essential to my future well-being. “When you come out later on, you have to hand this in. If you don’t have it, we can’t let you through. Then you’ll have to wait for evening roll call, to see if everyone is still here.” My questioning look receives a reply. “We have to make sure you didn’t give it to a prisoner who’s taken off, you see.” And what if a prisoner happens to be missing? “Then you’re the prime suspect.” And what if I really don’t have it anymore? “Then you stay here.” Welcome to Makala.

The bolt is slid aside. I cross a patch of dry lawn and arrive at a building with turnstiles, where I nod to a few apathetic-looking guards. “Pavilion 1?” I ask as casually as possible, as though it were something I did every week, pay a visit to death row. One of them raises his chin slowly to indicate a door. I find myself in a narrow corridor between two high concrete walls. The realm of the guards ends here, this is where the realm of the criminals begins. The guards haven’t been paid for years, which means they’re on something like permanent strike. They still show up, but they don’t do diddly-squat. They drape themselves listlessly over their plastic lawn chairs and fiddle with their broken walkie-talkies. The warden has therefore farmed out the upholding of intramural discipline to the prisoners themselves—with all that obviously entails. The sky is a blue strip far above. In the corridor, hundreds of eyes stare at me. Raucous noise. No one is wearing a prison uniform. Basketball jerseys. Tank tops. Muscular bodies. Shaven heads. Makala was originally built for fifteen hundred prisoners; today it holds six thousand.

Standing still is a sign of weakness, so I worm my way through a row of young men who ask for, no, who demand, money and cigarettes. A little farther along I arrive at the notorious pavilion. The bright daylight is suddenly cut off. The long, gloomy corridor with cells on both sides is plunged in darkness. A few of the cell doors are open; there is laundry hanging out to dry. Hubbub. Here and there in the darkness I see the faces of prisoners sitting around little coal fires. It reminds me of a Russian Orthodox church just before midnight liturgy, but these are not icons illuminated by flickering candlelight. These are condemned men, preparing their meal on primitive stoves, for there is no official prison grub distributed in Makala. If your family doesn’t bring you something, you eat grass or gravel.

“I’ve been here for eight years,” Antoine Vumilia tells me in his barebones cell. I look around: the entire cell seems to measure about seven by three-and-a-half feet, narrower than a good-sized twin bed in Europe. “I share this cell with two other people.” He has me sit down on his cot. There are a few books on the nightstand: Celine’s Voyage to the End of the Night, A Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez, books by Abdourahman Waberi, Zadie Smith, Colette Braeckman . . . . It is a good thing for him that he has them, the books. “The most hardened prisoners are lord and master around here. The warden’s office lets them do whatever they want. They run the drug trade, money changing, the trade in mobile-phone vouchers.” And then, in a whisper: “Last year they ‘executed’ three prisoners.” With a gun? “No, they just kicked them to death.”

IT WAS JANUARY 16, 2001. Antoine Vumilia was employed by the Conseil National de Sécurité, Laurent-Désiré Kabila’s intelligence service. His office was right beside the Palais de Marbre, the residence of the head of state. Only a single wall separated him from the presidential quarters. A little after noon he was startled by an infernal racket. “I heard shots,” Vumilia told me there on death row, “three of them. And a couple of minutes later, eight or ten more.”

On the far side of that wall, Kabila was meeting with an adviser when a kadogo came up to him. Mzee’s guard still consisted of faithful child soldiers from Kivu. Although Ruffin had been demobilized by UNICEF a year earlier—he was seventeen and had to go back to school in short pants, amid city kids of twelve who didn’t even know how to take apart an AK-47—Rashidi, one of his former comrades in arms, was still in service. It was Rashidi who walked up to the president now. It looked like he meant to whisper something in his ear, but then he drew an automatic pistol and fired three times. One of the bullets went through the back of the president’s colossal head. Kabila died immediately, forty years less a day after Lumumba was murdered. A few minutes later, young Rashidi was riddled by bullets fired by a colonel in the palace.

Vumilia had heard that gun battle. One week later he was arrested on suspicion of conspiring in the murder. As a security officer, Vumilia had written a report in which he warned of irritation among the child soldiers from Kivu. The kadogos were Kabila’s most loyal followers, but it seemed as though they too were starting to feel passed over. Vumilia himself came from Kivu; he knew what was going on there, but because he was personally acquainted with the ones involved he had decided not to tell everything he knew. “I was in a dilemma: I had to protect the regime, but these were my friends. They were extremely dissatisfied. What do you expect? Masasu had been murdered in November 2000.” Young Anselme Masasu Nindaga was their hero: a street fighter like themselves, a man of verve and daring, one of the founding fathers of the AFDL.1 After Kinshasa was taken in May 1997, however, Kabila shoved him aside and had him thrown in prison. When he was released in fall 2000, he dreamt aloud of Kivu’s secession and won a large following. Soon after that, he was shot. In the violent protests that followed among the child soldiers in Kinshasa, dozens of people were killed. The love affair with Mzee was over for good. Kabila had now even blown up the bridge connecting him to the ones he called “my children.” Bitterly, the children began plotting. Revenge, blood, murder. Vumilia tried to talk them out of it: “These were really young boys. All they wanted was to show that they were fed up. I told them it was pure suicide, that there was no future in.” But he was arrested along with them and refused to testify against them in a trial that was no trial at all. “They wanted me to testify against people I knew, people I ate with every day in prison.”

Besides, wasn’t it possible that Kabila had been murdered for very different reasons?2 Could one really be sure that the plot came from Kivu? What if Angola was involved? Couldn’t it perhaps all have been about diamonds? There were rumors that Kabila, who owed so much to Angola, had entered into cahoots with the hated UNITA rebels who controlled northern Angola with its wealth of diamonds. Hadn’t there been Lebanese men who acted as mediators between Kabila and UNITA? And weren’t eleven Lebanese diamond dealers murdered in Kinshasa right after Kabila’s assassination? Yes, that was all true. But it was all so vague, so shadowy. No one could get to the heart of the matter, especially not Vumilia. “I tried to get the boys off the hook, but that made people conclude that I must be one of them.” Along with thirty others, Vumilia was sentenced to death with no chance of appeal. International human rights organizations called the trial a miscarriage of justice.3

For the thousandth time, Vumilia’s eyes traced the walls of his cell. “I’ve been here for eight years already. It’s unspeakable, it’s incredibly hypocritical. The leaders of the regime know the truth, but all they wanted was to keep the public quiet by quickly giving them a scapegoat.”4

KABILA’S DEATH WAS A TURNING POINT in the Second Congo War. His son, Joseph Kabila, was quickly appointed to replace him. With his wavering voice and extreme youth (he was only twenty-nine), he at first cut a rather feeble figure. The Congolese barely knew him; the West figured he was a marionette. But less than one month later, he met his Rwandan counterpart and archenemy Paul Kagame in New York and delivered a number of striking speeches. He spoke of peace, national unity, and the role of the international community. Could this mean that a new era was dawning? Yes, it could. After a number of United Nations reports had clearly shown how Rwanda and Uganda were pillaging the country’s raw materials, Kagame and Yoweri Museveni could no longer claim that they were in Congo only for national security reasons. This resulted in a long series of peace talks in Gabarone (August 2001), Sun City (April 2002), Pretoria (July 2002), Luanda (September 2002), Gbadolite (December 2002), and again in Pretoria (December 2002). At this final meeting, thanks to brilliant negotiations by Senegalese UN negotiator Moustapha Niasse and considerable pressure from South Africa and the African Union, the crucial agreement to put a complete stop to the war was signed at 3 A.M. on December 17, 2002: the Accord Global et Inclusif. Rwanda and Uganda had already agreed to a withdrawal, but this time the agreement also applied to their domestic militias. The signatories included the government in Kinshasa, a few representatives of Congolese civil society, Tshisekedi’s UDPS, Jean-Pierre Bemba’s MLC, Azarias Ruberwa’s RCD-G, Antipas Mbusa Nyamwisi’s RCD-ML, Roger Lumbala’s RCD-N, and the Mai-mai. The term inclusif was apt enough. In fact, the agreement was so all-inclusive that war criminals, to keep the peace, were not prosecuted but promoted to the office of vice president.

The accord allowed for a two-year transitional period, during which power was to be distributed according to the formula “1 + 4”: beside President Kabila there were to be four vice presidents, two from among the rebels (Bemba and Ruberwa), one from Kabila’s entourage (Abdoulaye Yerodia) and one from the peaceful opposition (surprisingly enough, not Étienne Tshisekedi, who had been carrying out a nonviolent struggle for the last ten years, but Arthur Z’Ahidi Ngoma). Within that two-year period all existing militias were to be combined into a new national army and preparations were to be made for democratic elections. The term could be extended by two six-month periods. In anticipation of the long-awaited popular vote, an interim parliament and cabinet were installed.

The agreement was absolutely historic. Now, after years of despair, there was a major chance of achieving peace and reconstruction. The new Congo therefore received the international community’s concerted support: the troop strength of MONUC, the UN peacekeeping force, was raised to 8,700 blue helmets and rose in subsequent years to 16,700, making it the biggest UN operation in history (and, with an annual budget of around $1 billion, also the most expensive).5 Led by the always-optimistic American William Swing, the soldiers were to safeguard the ceasefire and supervise disarmament. “Ça va swing!” a popular song on Congolese radio in those days, parodied his pronounced Anglo-Saxon accent. The new regime was assisted in policy matters by the the Comité International d’Accompagnement à la Transition (CIAT), a unique instance of bilateral and multilateral diplomacy in which the ambassadors of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council, along with those from Belgium, Canada, Angola, Gabon, Zambia, and South Africa, and representatives from the African Union, the European Union, and the MONUC, actually helped to run the country. The CIAT was no external advisory body, but a formal transitional institution.6 “We were, in fact, a supervisory committee,” said Johan Swinnen, Belgium’s ambassador in Kinshasa at the time. “We had no legislative power, but we served to provide momentum and to stimulate. We supplied expertise. We didn’t want to be busybodies, but partners. Still, there were frictions between the CIAT and the 1 + 4. When the process was over, we issued a few highly critical and outspoken communiqués. We had abuse heaped on us. After that, they didn’t like us anymore.”7 There was talk of “monitored sovereignty”; the country, however, was at least partly in de facto receivership. The MONUC and the CIAT were more than just the training wheels of the new Congo.8

And that support was badly needed. The new leaders did not do a particularly good job; they emulated the abuses of Mobutism with a zeal that would have startled Mobutu himself. While crucial dossiers dealing with military reform and the electoral process awaited action, one of the first laws to pass through parliament stipulated . . . higher wages for the members of parliament. The fixed salary of six hundred dollars a month (already generous in a country where a university professor earned thirty) was doubled to twelve hundred. The senators, as political elders, even jacked up their pay to fifteen hundred dollars a month.9 In 2005 the members of parliament as a whole (620 souls) treated themselves to a respectable vehicle: each representative was given a brand-new SUV valued at twenty-two thousand dollars—the terrible condition of Kinshasa’s roads, after all, called for solid coachwork.10 That those same roads could have been repaired for that money seemed hardly relevant. Rather than an opportunity for a lasting reconstruction of society, political mandates were still the fast lane to individual financial gain. There were no incentives for good governance, not as long as corruption was so rewarding, both financially and socially: it was considered praiseworthy. “You mustn’t forget that our politicians are the children of poor people,” a Congolese school principal told me once.11 While corruption in the West is viewed as unjustifiable, in Congo it is seen as extremely justified: it is the person who misses out on a perfect opportunity to feed his family who is acting in a completely unjustifiable fashion.12

The cabinet ministers and vice presidents were not about to miss out. All of them felt that they had a right to “special treatment” for their “logistical requirements.” In everyday language that meant: a villa and a large automobile. The four vice presidents even received villas with three bathrooms, in addition to a Mercedes limousine, a luxury passenger car, and two escort cars. The hope that the quinquevirate of president plus vice presidents would serve to maintain an ethical balance soon proved quite naive. The gentlemen gave each other plenty of room and shared only one concern: making sure the transition lasted as long as possible. In 2004, they all exceeded their budget by more than 100 percent, Bemba by even 600 percent.13 The 2005 budget awarded the head of state a sum eight times that reserved for health care in Congo as a whole and sixteen times the country’s agricultural budget. Politics was war by other means. The state-owned Gécamines enterprise still had all the resources needed to breathe new life into the national economy, but the president’s circles signed a series of dubious contracts with often extremely shady foreign businesses. Those contracts established joint ventures that allowed foreign cowboys free rein within certain operational arms of the mining giant. They were allowed to exploit and export at will, while the Congolese state received little or nothing in return—and the well-filled envelopes went on changing hands under the table.14 Once again, a tiny elite was being given the keys to the kingdom. Clientelism was in ruddy good health. “1 + 4 = 0” was the equation popular painters sometimes added to their satirical canvases.

The army fared no better. Officially, all of the militias were to be fused into a new, 120,000-man army.15 And yes, quite a few former rebels suddenly received a national army uniform, while many of their commanders received a high rank (always good bait for pulling in warlords), but in actual practice this brassage (intermingling) barely scratched the surface. Behind the facade, nothing changed. Soldiers who have been each other’s enemies for five years do not embrace each other that quickly. By 2006 only three of the planned eighteen brigades had actually fused.16 What’s more, the brassage had rendered the Congolese army top-heavy: after the promotions of all those former rebels, there were now almost twice as many officers and noncoms as foot soldiers.17 Within the Congolese armed forces, commanding was considered more pleasant than obeying—no, not commanding, but commandeering. The extensive officers’ corps busied itself with the mass misappropriation of funds. The salaries of the rank and file vanished into the pockets of colonels and generals who did not hesitate to roundly exaggerate the numbers of their enlisted men in order to receive more funding. The underpaid and badly trained soldiers themselves were neither motivated nor disciplined, and behaved accordingly. The new government army, the Forces Armées de la République Démocratique du Congo (FARDC), should have been the cornerstone of the resurrected state, but instead became as much a whited sepulcher as the FAC of Kabila père, Mobutu’s FAZ, or even Lumumba and Tshombe’s ANC. Jokingly, people sometimes twisted the acronym FARDC to make of it: phare décès (dead beacon). Since gaining independence, Congo has never had at its disposal an army comparable in efficiency and discipline to the former Force Publique. For that reason, that army has never been able fulfill the primary function of statehood, that of maintaining the monopoly on violence.

Does it come as any surprise then that the war was never completely over? As long as the security forces remained a sham, the MONUC stood alone. But one cannot hold together a territory half the size of Europe with only seventeen thousand men; even the biggest UN mission in history was no more than a drop in the ocean. In Iraq, six times smaller than Congo, there were stationed at that moment some 150,000 American troops, and even they were unable to contain the violence. The blue helmets’ presence had a calmative effect is some areas, but elsewhere impotence was their portion.

EASTERN CONGO remained in turmoil, even after the Accord Global et Inclusif. There the conflict entered its third phase. Its theater of operations was much smaller, but the human suffering was still great. In essence, the violence was now concentrated in two areas: Ituri and the two Kivu provinces. By no coincidence whatsoever, both areas were rich in ore and bordered on Uganda and Rwanda, respectively.

In Ituri, the conflict flared up precisely because of the peace agreement. When the Ugandan army withdrew definitively from Bunia on May 6, 2003, Lendu militias pounced on the city’s center and killed dozens of Hemas. A few days later the Hemas rolled in, in turn, and killed off dozens of Lendus. The conflict resembled a miniature version of the 1994 genocide. The cattle-breeding Hema felt affinity with the Tutsis: an ethnic minority that formed the social elite. The Lendu were farmers who compared themselves to the Hutus: numerous, but at the bottom of the social ladder. It was, in fact, the ancient conflict between herders and farmers concerning access to the land, the conflict between the pastures and fields and the crops that were eaten by cows.18 But this time that Cain-and-Abel conflict was stirred up by overpopulation, and put to good use by a Uganda greedy for gold.19 The ethnic tension in the region rose to such heights that devoutly Catholic women from both sides told me: “Even we, les mamans, took up arms. We felt threatened.” Or: “We were accomplices. We carried weapons in our baskets and water jugs.”20 The ethnic violence in Ituri was no atavism, no primitive reflex, but the logical result of the scarcity of land in a wartime economy in the service of globalization—and, in that sense, a foreshadowing of what is in store for an overpopulated planet. Congo does not lag behind the course of history, but runs out in front.

Hundreds had already been killed in the provincial town of Bunia within one week in May 2003, but the entire region was entangled in a bloody war of inextricable complexity. And in terms of that complexity, in the Ituri district, the Second Congo War reached its absolute nadir. A dozen militias were active, loosely organized little armies of children in flip-flops toting guns, led by dodgy young men in their twenties and thirties who often operated under an assumed name and switched alliances back and forth with other warlords. With its countless mergers, schisms, joint ventures, and takeovers, this new brand of armed conflict looked more like the business world than war as we know it. In the offices of the MONUC, dispirited officials hung charts on the wall tracing the organization of the various militias: it made them only more dispirited. Every month a new militia came along, or the orderly chart had to be rearranged—more columns, more arrows, more acronyms, more additions to the rogues’ gallery of photos beside them—until the chaos finally jibed with that in the field and lost all explanative value. But there was one constant factor: sooner or later, all parties received weapons from and were trained by Uganda.21 That was less an indication of a conscious divide-and-conquer policy in Kampala, however, than of the internal rivalry within the Ugandan army; each general had his own militia in Congo, a militia he could abandon or resuscitate as the situation required. Even more arrows, even more connections, for on the Ugandan side too there was no solid ground. Rwanda backed the occasional militia as well. No, the war was not over yet. It had become a small but stubborn snarl, a form of self-perpetuating armed banditry.

Exactly one year later, in May 2004, Kivu was the scene of extreme outbursts of violence. The major rift there remained that between Hutus and Tutsis; there too overpopulation played a role, but particularly the overpopulation in Rwanda itself. Ten years after the genocide, Rwandan Hutus still could not return to their overfull fatherland, where partisan prosecution awaited them. “Kabila doesn’t chase them away and Kagame won’t have them,” was the pithy way Belgian diplomat Johan Swinnen summarized the situation.22 Their long-lasting exile was still causing unrest, prompting Rwanda’s continued support for Congolese Tutsis willing to deal with the Hutus. In May 2004, therefore, Laurent Nkunda’s men, along with those of Mutebusi, moved killing and plundering through the streets of Bukavu. They raped dozens of women and girls, usually as a gang. Some of the girls were no older than three.23 Nkunda was a Tutsi from North Kivu and a welcome guest in Kigali. From 1990 on he had fought alongside Kagame; in 1996 he had advanced along with the AFDL. He had held a top position in the RCD-G in 1998 and terrorized the population of Kigali with an iron fist in 2002. Because of his leading role in the massacres, he was leery of accepting a position in the new government army. And so Nkunda became Kigali’s new golden boy, taking Bukavu in his own, characteristic fashion. For a time, the fragile peace process seemed to ground to a halt. Was this the start of a third war?

Amid general outrage, the UN blue helmets (most of them Uruguayan) in both Bunia and Bukavu stood by and watched powerlessly, to say nothing of faintheartedly. But, thanks to a number of historical firsts, calm soon descended again in Ituri. For the first time in history the European Union carried out a joint military action, with something like a European army. With UN approval, primarily French commandoes pacified the city of Bunia during Operation Artémis. International arrest warrants were issued for the most important warlords. Three of them were detained and sent to The Hague, including Thomas Lubanga, the head of the biggest Hema militia. In 2010 he was the first defendant to be tried by the new International Court of Justice. In that regard, too, Congo is at the vanguard rather than the rearguard of history.

In Kivu the transition seemed about to founder and make way for a new war when 160 refugees—most of them Congolese Tutsis—were brutally murdered at the Gatumba camp in Burundi, in reaction to Nkunda’s violence. Rwanda once again sent troops to Congo to protect the befriended Tutsis. For a while everything seemed to be starting all over again, but the United Nations, South Africa, and the CIAT did everything in their power to ease the pressure.

During the third phase of the war, the conflict gradually reverted to what it had been at the start: a clash between Rwanda and Congo concerning the treatment of Hutu exiles in Kivu. Kagame still hoped to neutralize them, fearing as he did that they were plotting a coup in Rwanda. Just as his own regime had been molded during banishment in Uganda, he now believed that a Hutu takeover was being plotted in eastern Congo. And he had no intention of letting that happen: Rwanda was full and firmly in Tutsi hands. The chronic conflict has now lasted for more than fifteen years. The suffering in the area around the Great Lakes can be traced back to that fateful day in spring 1994 when the French government decided to allow the Hutu regime to escape to eastern Congo, weapons and all.

Today, small but powerful Rwanda—still in great favor among the donor countries—displays all the earmarks of a blossoming military dictatorship, while neighboring Congo remains huge, sluggish and weak, and unable to deal with the problems of the day. It is as though a lone professional soldier, Rwanda, were living in a rigorously simple one-room flat in a chaotic apartment building inhabited by an enormously loud and dysfunctional family that has fights, neglects to pay its bills, and sometimes even forgets to turn off the gas stove. On more than one occasion the soldier takes his gun down off the wall and storms into the neighbor’s kitchen, where he causes more damage than necessary. Rather than simply turning off the gas, he shatters all the cups and saucers, shoots holes in the kitchen ceiling, and marches out again with a boiled ham under his arm. The result is more noise and more fighting. A neighbors’ quarrel: that, in effect, is what is going on in Central Africa today, a neighbors’ quarrel in which one party roundly curses the other. Not without reason, by the way, for Kigali is every bit as culpable as Kinshasa. The conclusion, however, remains bitter: as long as the crucial transition simply refused to take place in Kinshasa, the Second Congo War in the east simply would not stop.

THE CLINKING OF BEER BOTTLES—hundreds, thousands of beer bottles, big brown bottles jostling for position on the conveyor belt—drowned out the other factory noises. It sounded like a carillon, a high, insistent tinkling that rose above the hiss of the rinsing machine, the clack of the labeler, the rattle of the conveyor, and the sigh of the pressure hoses—like the sound of chimes ringing out above the bustle of a busy city. The nervous, cheerful tinkling rolled through the noisy factory hall and mingled with the smell of malt and alcohol. It was 2002 in Kinshasa and Bralima, and the Primus brewery had just opened two ultramodern, fully automatic packaging lines that could process seventy-two thousand bottles an hour. The war was barely over, but the brewing industry was bursting at the seams. Bralima (from Brasserie et Limonaderie de Léopoldville) started as a small colonial brewery in 1923, but has been owned by Heineken since 1987. In the war’s wake, the Dutch conglomerate had every intention of gaining control of and expanding the beer market in perennially thirsty Congo. A million and a half hectoliters (about 57,000 gallons) of suds went out the factory gates in 2002; by 2008 that was almost 3 million. That spectacular doubling of production, though, was still a far cry from the record that had been set in 1974, the magic year of the boxing match, when Bralima had produced 5.5 million hectoliters (over 200,000 gallons). But the future looked bright.24 In Kinshasa alone, Bralima once again had fifty thousand retail outlets and bars.

The way the politicians were dragging their feet did not, in any case, much faze the multinationals. The start of a new period of peace held the promise of new markets, which had to be conquered with all due speed. The same applied, a fortiori, to mobile telephone systems. Vodacom, the South African telephony operator, had started laying the first cables while the ethnic violence was still in full swing. During the worst firefights, the workers would simply stop digging and take cover for a few hours.25 Whence all the hurry? In a country where the telephone infrastructure had been in ruins for decades, there was an enormous demand for cell phones. The MONUC troops alone accounted for thousands of subscriptions. And the Congolese rank and file, too, began dreaming of owning a GSM. When I was in Kinshasa for the first time in 2003, a Congolese cell phone number had only seven digits; by 2006 it was up to ten. Mobile telephony is to Africa what movable print was to Europe: a true revolution that has profoundly redefined the structure of society.26

A weak state like Congo left plenty of room for new international players. During the Cold War it had been foreign nations (France, Belgium, and the United States) that helped determined Zaïre’s fate, but now it was increasingly foreign private partners, such as companies, churches, and NGOs. Since the end of the last war, large parts of Congo were run by international charities that took over government tasks. The reason Kabila could grant himself a budget eight times that for national health care was because he knew the money for that care would come from abroad anyway. The same went for education and agriculture: the favorite domains for international donors. The assistance granted by many hundreds of NGOs was often impressive, but not devoid of consequences. The corruption endemic within the Congolese civil service apparatus prompted many NGOs to remain “nongovernmental” in the host country as well and to work only with regional and local partners.27 Understandable, but hardly conducive to restoring the bond of trust between government and people. In addition, the influx of foreign funding created something like “aid addiction”: the Congolese began doubting their ability to manage for themselves. Monsieur Riza Labwe, a friendly but hardworking man who ran a modest hotel in Bandundu, was kicking against the pricks of such passivity when he said to me: “All these NGOs here make us too dependent. Someday an NGO is going to come along and start telling us how to brush our teeth.”28 Nowhere was this “NGO-ization” more obvious than in Goma, blasted to pieces by the war and overrun with lava since 2002. In December 2008, while crossing town at evening rush hour on the back of a scooter—the public transport of the common man—I looked around at the traffic we were jauntily zipping past: all jeeps, all belonging to NGOs, all of them with a logo decal on the door or a pennant on the antenna. For Justine Masika, the founder of La Synergie des Femmes, this was a source of great irritation.

There are more than two hundred organizations for women’s rights in Goma alone right now. There are a lot of fake NGOs among them, local organizations that line their own pockets with foreign money at the expense of women who are ill. Everyone just comes here and starts something up. The money from the donor countries goes by way of the United Nations, but they take a substantial commission, up to 20 or 30 percent. There is a true UN Mafia! I don’t work with them anymore. The UN Food Program, UNICEF . . . they come here with enormous budgets, but 60 percent of it goes to logistics, without any results being booked first. All these foreigners apparently have to receive “danger pay,” all these offices have to be air-conditioned, they have to be well-furnished and guarded. And a terrible amount of money goes to public relations. They want to have a high profile, even here. But the women it’s all about are in danger and require discretion.29

Tough language, and Masika is not just anybody: in 2005 she was one of the thousand women jointly nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize, and in 2009 she received the prestigious Human Rights Defenders Tulip from the Dutch government and the Pax Christi International Peace Award.

COMPARED WITH THE HUMANITARIAN PRETENSIONS of development aid, trade and industry were at least straightforward about their financial priorities. Profits were the thing. That there is nothing dishonorable about this requires no explanation for Dolf van den Brink. After taking a degree in philosophy and business administration, this irrepressibly dynamic young Dutchman became commercial director of Heineken in Kinshasa: the number two man at Bralima. In that position, he was one of those responsible for the exceptional growth seen in recent years. “When I came here in 2005, Primus had a 30 percent market share in Kinshasa, while Skol, the brand sold by our competitor Bracongo, had 70 percent. Now the situation has been reversed: we have 70 percent and Skol only 30.”30 He showed me a slide from a PowerPoint presentation. The line on the chart showed a rising curve. Written above it, in hip management lingo: On a gagné beaucoup de batailles, mais pas encore la guerre! We’ve won lots of battles, but we still haven’t won the war! In Bralima’s conference room there hung a plaque, to remind the staff of their first obligation: Esprit de combat!(fighting spirit!)—as though this country had not just emerged from a hideous conflict.

And a war it was. The main reason Bracongo had done so well at first was that it had Werrason, while Bralima had to make do with J. B. Mpiana. Werrason and Mpiana were wildly popular pop musicians who had taken part in both breweries’ promotional campaigns. In 2005 Werrason was clearly more successful and it was unthinkable that any of his fans would ever order a Primus. At a time when politicians were not elected, people had no jobs and three-quarters of the urban population was under twenty-five, pop musicians wielded immense power.

The rivalry between J. B. Mpiana and Werrason was legendary. Each generation in Congolese pop music had known its own clash: between Franco and Kabasele in the 1950s, between Franco and Tabu Ley in the 1960s, between Papa Wemba and Koffi Olomide in the 1980s. In the late 1990s, though, the mood became even grimmer. In 1981, Mpiana and Werrason had joined forces in a band with the megalomaniacal name Wenge Musica 4x4 Tout Terrain Bon Chic Bon Genre. That was asking for a row. It was a legendary lineup that bestowed upon the world in general and Kinshasa in particular the ndombolo, the most popular dance style of the nineties and of the new century, a choral dance in which the men bent down low and seemed to be boxing while the women rolled their buttocks in truly spectacular fashion. The ndombolo was provocative, obscene, hilarious, and, as often goes with trendy dance styles, also kind of fun. Onstage Werrason and Mpiana showed off their Telecels, the first generation of cell phones, which were the size of a rubber overshoe. At that point those devices were reserved almost exclusively for top military officials and cabinet ministers, but now fans shoved beer bottles far down into their back pockets to create the impression that they, too, owned such a voluminous example of cutting-edge technology. Wenge Musica was the sensation of the nineties. When Kabila took Kinshasa, people danced thendombolo. But Wenge Musica went the way of all Congolese pop groups or political parties once they gain a bit of success: it fell apart. Werrason and Mpiana were at each other’s throats, the fans were splintered, and even today they will talk to you of the power struggle with a passion and precision one rarely hears when they speak of the war.

People speak without irony of la guerre des albums, la guerre des salles, and la guerre des stades. Initially, Werrason was the contender who displayed exceptional militance: his first CD was called Force d’Intervention Rapide (rapid intervention force). With song titles like Attentat (Attack),État d’Urgence (State of Emergency), Ultimatum, Couvre-feu (Curfew), and Cessez-le-Feu (Cease-fire), it was clear that military jargon was already trickling into pop culture.31 Each album brought with it a new dance and a new fashion. Fans waited to buy clothes until the new CD was released. But in 1999, when Mpiana became the first of his generation to fill the legendary Parisian concert halls Zénith and Olympia, Werrason took revenge by playing to twenty-thousand fans at the Bercy sports palace, and then moving on to the Zénith and Olympia. In France, bien sûr; from now on, Congolese history would also be acted out in the haunts of its expatriates.

Around the metro stations Chateau d’Eau in Paris, Porte de Namur in Brussels, and Seven Sisters in London, Congolese entertainment districts arose, complete with hairdressers, music shops, and greengrocers selling manioc and smoked grubs. The country’s misery had caused tens of thousands to emigrate. In Kinshasa, Werrason and Mpiana tried to score points off each other during concerts at the Stade des Martyrs, where the audiences sometimes numbered more than one hundred thousand. In 2005 they held a showdown fara-fara (face-to-face), with podiums set up at opposite ends of the field. This concert du siècle was intended to be a war of attrition, to decide who was strongest. The bands began playing at 10 P.M. and went on all night. When police marshals tried to pull the plug the next morning, street children formed a living shield around the electrical generator. At one in the afternoon, the army put an end to the event with the use of tear gas. Despite the more than two hundred thousand spectators the battle remained undecided and Werrason’s star continued to rise.32

Roi de la forêt they called him, king of the jungle. His bodyguards were the manzaka na nkoy, the leopard’s angels.33 With his deadpan expression, his bombastic sunglasses, and razor-sharp goatee he became the living epitome of Congolese “cool.” Born on Christmas Day 1965, he seemed destined for greatness. The UNESCO appointed him its peace ambassador. The pope received him in Rome, and on CNN Jamaican superstar Shaggy called him “the greatest living African artist.”34 But to Kinshasa’s thousands of street children—little boys thrown out of their homes on suspicion of witchcraft, children who ran away voluntarily, AIDS orphans who camped out permanently in the sand in front of Werrason’s rehearsal rooms, all those who called themselves sheges, after Schengen, for they lived in an extremely free market place—to all those young bodies in worn-out rags he remained Igwe, the high priest. For him they were prepared to die.

And then, in July 2005, the news came in: Werrason was switching from Bracongo to Bralima! It struck like a bombshell. Werrason had been in Europe for months. On a Bralima expense account? To keep from having to serve out his contract with Bracongo? Everyone was speculating about it because music in Congo is more important than soccer in Italy. How much must they have paid him? To this day, the price of that transfer is the best-kept secret in Kinshasa. Dolf van den Brink knows how much it was; he is the one who arranged the deal. “I’m afraid I can’t tell you that,” he laughs from across the desk when I ask him. “Believe me, pop music costs us many hundreds of thousands of dollars each year. It accounts for two-thirds of our marketing budget. We’ve invested in a concert stage that cost three hundred thousand dollars, the biggest one in the country. We have trucks, generators, and stewards. We have an agency with thirty employees, so we can stage free concerts in the city. Once a year the artists write a Primus song for us. We pay for the studio and for the CD and video clip. That alone costs us between 100,000 and 150,000 dollars. We pass out four thousand free CDs and nine thousand cassette tapes through the bars in the cité. Everywhere, people dance to those Primus tracks.”

He seemed slightly dazzled by it himself. Given, he had written his thesis under the supervision of Dutch sociologist Dick Pels on the subject of “the aestheticization of business,” but he had never dreamed that he would become the patron of an African international superstar. “For me, there’s a symbiosis between music and the brewery. Werrason has three orchestras; more than a hundred people depend on him for a living. He can’t get by from the sales of CDs and cassettes alone. Concerts are prohibitively expensive. So sponsoring is crucial for him, in addition to VIP concerts and performances in Europe. And we handle that too. When he goes to le Zénith, we pay for fifty airline tickets; if we didn’t, he would leave.”

Werrason, an informal survey shows, has a reputation for being very difficult. A peace ambassador, true enough, but above all a pain in the ass. His sponsors are expected to import dozens of cars for him and his entourage and get them past customs. Appointments are of no importance. The rare person granted an interview catches at best a glimpse of him, and then futilely waits for hours for him to return, as this writer found out one icy cold December day in Paris. Dolf van den Brink sighs. He rummages around on his desk and shows me a scrap of paper. “Sylvia Mampata just came by, that’s his wife. She’s going to be giving a party soon and she’s asking us for fifty garden chairs, thirty crate loads of beer, and fifty thousand dollars. That’s how it goes the whole time. Do you get what I’m saying?”

Of course we do, because Dolf has just explained his PowerPoint graph. “Look, you can see it very clearly here,” he says contentedly. “Werrason came to us in July 2005. Within two months our market share rose by 6 percent: from 32 to 38. And that upward trend has held. Today we’re at 70.” Bralima became one of the Heineken concern’s fastest-growing subsidiaries. In 2009 it even had a market share of 75 percent: figures that European managers can only dream of. Van den Brink was rewarded with a transfer to America where, at the age of thirty-six, he became CEO of Heinken USA.

Bralima had indeed done its homework before Werrason’s historical switchover. A few days after his return from Europe—tens of thousands of young people accompanied him from the airport to Samba Playa, his rehearsal hall—he gave a Primus concert in his home town of Kikwit under the title Changement de fréquence (change of frequency). He had never performed there before. It was the biggest pop concert ever. Changement de fréquence, those were the riverboats full of sound equipment and lighting, electrical generators, and fifty thousand crates of Primus that Bralima had sent from Kinshasa months earlier. Changement de fréquence, that was the huge field close to the airport where the podium was erected and to which tens of thousands of people came on foot, from everywhere, sometimes even 120 kilometers away. Changement de fréquence, that was Werrason who arrived on the day of the concert in an Air Tropic Fokker, with traditional chieftains and village chiefs, and who kissed the ground when he had landed.Changement de fréquence, that was the King of the Jungle who was welcomed like a head of state, perched atop a Bralima truck. Changement de fréquence, that was his twenty-man orchestra, knocking the first notes through the sound system a few hours after sundown. The phenomenally tight rhythms of Kakol, the crystalline guitar solos of Flamme Kapaya, the effortless falsetto of Héritier, the burlesque raps of Roi David. The latter was the successor of the unforgettable “Bill Clinton,” the animateur who had gone solo and was now under contract to Kerrygold, where he composed tunes for powdered milk. Changement de fréquence, that was finally seeing in real life all those names you had been hearing for years. Seeing the improbably supple buns of Cuisse de Poulet roll as she danced the ndombolo on stage next to Bête Sauvage and Linda la Japonaise. My God, what a party! Changement de fréquence, finally, that was Werrason, coming on stage after midnight, looking out implacably over that sea of ecstatic humanity (how many were there? 300,000 according to the most sober estimates, 700,000 according to the fans), singing three songs and then passing out medicine to the widows and the sick, a gesture the government could learn from, with all its messing-about and infighting! Changement de fréquence, that was the heavyweight bout with Muhammad Ali revisited, the difference being that this time it was not the president footing the bill, but a limited-liability conglomerate from Amsterdam. That too was a change of frequency.35

“The crowd in Kikwit was enormous,” Flamme Kapaya told me one morning in Kisangani. It was the start of a sultry day and we were sitting in the overgrown garden of a house beside the river. For ten years Kapaya had been Werrason’s star guitarist and artistic director. Ask any young person in Congo who is the greatest living guitar player and they will inevitably reply: Flamme Kapaya. “We had to warm up the audience, tell them how fantastic Werrason was. We had to play and dance to get him to come up. But he sang for maybe fifteen minutes in total and he raked in all the money. We didn’t even get paid. The whole switch from Bracongo to Bralima didn’t change a thing for us. He took everything, we got nothing! Werrason became filthy rich and bought a house close to Brussels. He was like an heir to Mobutu.” And since profits were more important than reeducation, Bralima kept the system going, because the Heineken shareholders wanted to see pleasing charts and graphs. There is a fundamental similarity with the foreign interference of yesteryear: just as America gnashed its teeth but kept Mobutu in the saddle, so Heineken learned to live with Werrason’s whims, for otherwise he would switch to the competition. Loyalty came at the expense of integrity. Kapaya is still angry about that: “I composed the songs, I arranged them, but he had the songs registered in France under his own name. Arrangeur—compositeur: Werrason, that’s what it says on the CD. I’m only mentioned as the guitar player.” Kapaya was the musical brain behind Kibuisa Mpimpa, which is generally considered Werrason’s best album, one those in the know refer to as “culturally and musically revolutionary.”36 “I handled the recordings in Europe, I mixed the album, but when it was finished I didn’t even get a copy! Werrason even stole my five author’s copies.”

It seems hard to believe, but while I was spending those three hours in a cold Paris studio, amid female groupies in big, flashy winter coats, waiting fruitlessly for my interview, Werrason was nowhere to be found. Kakol and Héritier, the drummer and singer, did all the work. They instructed the background singers, operated the panel, and made the tough musical decisions. “We were so naive,” Kapaya sighed. “He wanted musicians who weren’t on to him. If you were, he didn’t want you around anymore. Music is the passion of all young people, but he misused that. What it really boils down to is people’s exploitation of other people. That’s why I left. I don’t want young people to go down that same road. They need to know their rights.” With his fingers he did a little drum roll on the edge of his chair, looked at the river and then said: “Werrason is a businessman and a politician. Lots of the women who danced on stage with him stayed in Europe. People paid him to be allowed to go along to Europe as a member of the band.”37 And Bralima just kept paying for dozens of tickets when Werrason flew to Paris with his “band.” His colleague Papa Wemba was sentenced in Paris to a few months in prison for similar practices. Frontier running, the French court ruled.

COMPANIES ARE NEVER NEUTRAL PLAYERS, particularly not in defective nation-states. With a promotional budget many times that of the local ministries of education or information, they reach more people than the government does. Kinshasa today is infested with billboards for multinationals like Nestlé, DHL, Vodacom, and Coca-Cola. The concrete walls around factories, stadiums, and army barracks are daubed with commercial slogans. Television stations spew more publicity than programming. The Primus songs performed by Bralima’s artists are seen on a number of channels all year round. They often last ten minutes or more. The dividing line between advertising and entertainment is fading. Kinshasa dances to promotional tracks.

The message is hammered in at other spots as well. Mobile-phone operator Tigo, a multinational active in sixteen countries and with its head offices in Luxembourg, was generous enough in 2006 to perk up the national airport’s dilapidated arrival hall; all big companies have their charity programs (scholarships, hospitals, teaching materials: anything as long as it’s visible). For the first time in decades the drab walls at Ndjili received a new coat of paint, but anyone coming off the plane into the hall today might think he has ended up in the Tigo stand at a trade fair rather than in a public building. The walls are festooned with dozens of the GSM operator’s banners and plaques, and there is no other advertising. And in the midst of that whirlwind of glitter the traveler stands, passport in hand, cursing the sluggish state.

Concerns such as Bralima and Tigo do, of course, pay taxes, more than they would like, for in a corrupt country new taxes are invented each week. But if things seem to be getting out of hand, they threaten with the ultimate sanction: closure. And that would mean not only unemployment for all their personnel, who are paid very reasonably, and poverty for those small-scale sellers of beer or phone vouchers, but above all a stop to the fiscal revenues for all those officials. No hungry tax inspector relishes that thought. Multinationals are the country’s biggest taxpayers. Governments therefore have a tendency to listen to them.

Back at the Berlin Conference of 1885, it was decided that the Congo Free State was to be open to international trade. Competition between market and state still exists today, in fact more than ever. In those days the focus was solely on the purchase of raw materials, today it’s about the selling of products as well—even in a desperately poor country, there is a great deal of money to be made with the trade in little commodities like phone vouchers, bottles of soda pop, or bags of powdered milk. To win the souls of all those dispossessed, foreign companies colonize the public spaces of the destroyed country with a temerity only thinly disguised by the bright smile of slick marketing.

In October 2008, for the period of one week, I became a minor celebrity in Kinshasa almost without lifting a finger. Strangers came up to me on the street, saying they recognized me from my pictures and were surprised that, despite my status, I had no car of my own. Dolf van den Brink had called me a few days earlier. “We’re organizing a concert with Werrason in the cité. Feel like going along?” The performance was to take place in Bumbu, one of Kinshasa’s poorest neighborhoods. As we drove there in convoy, he explained things to me. “Bracongo has started playing dirty. They’re running spots saying that Bumbu has ‘fallen,’ and that Primus is no longer market leader there. That’s patently untrue, but we’ve been forced into the defensive. Now we’re going to demonstrate the opposite with something big. Not a commercial, not a campaign, but a free Werrason concert! It’s the first time he’s ever played in Bumbu. I’m expecting a big crowd.”38 The air-conditioned SUV swerved around potholes. Dolf told me that Primus had gone through different phases in its marketing. At first the baseline had been Pelisa ngwasuma, freely translated as: get the groove started. The emphasis on ambiance went down well in a war-torn country. Then they changed the color of the label to match Congo’s national colors: blue, yellow, and red. Now that the war was over, Primus had to manifest itself as the national beer, bar none. The state was rotten to the core, but national pride was apparently still intact. Bralima took skillful advantage of that. Meanwhile they had arrived at a new baseline: Primus, Toujours leader—Primus, Still the Leader—because the point was to make the newly won market leadership seem unshakeable. The desire for dominance was an important issue among the people, Dolf believed; they needed to know who is “the strongest.” He was going to Bumbu to make that clear.

Interesting, I thought; GSM operator Vodacom hammered on precisely the same themes: national feeling and leadership. Un réseau, une nation had been their baseline in Congo for years: one network, one nation. Now they are presenting themselves as Leader dans le Monde Cellulaire, leader of the world of cell phones. Their Congolese website states that “our best is better than the best of all the rest. Losing is not an option. We are one team, and competition is our sport.” Which company is the most Congolese? And who is the leader? Weren’t those also the central themes in the electoral battle that was rolled out between Kabila and Bemba? In July 2006 the elections were ready to take place and the two favorites for the presidency were at each other’s throats like pop stars. Bemba, still more warlord than statesman, accused Kabila of being a quasi-Rwandan without the necessary congolité—a bizarre claim when one realizes that Bemba himself is one-quarter European. As president, Kabila tried to rise above the tumult by saying that “he who carries eggs doesn’t bicker”—a statement that would haunt him for months. The reference was to the street children who went from bar to bar, balancing a box of hard-boiled eggs on their heads to sell as snacks. But after that comment, all of Kinshasa thought the president was a mean bastard. The brusque accusations back and forth resembled the rivalry between Werrason and Mpiana, or between Bralima and Bracongo. In the struggle for the country’s highest office, the notion of leadership was linked directly to national identity. Commercial and political slogans were cross-pollinating back and forth.

As we pulled into Bumbu, Dolf peered out the window. The working-class neighborhood was dark, but the bars and sidewalk cafés were packed. Contentedly, he noted that about 80 percent of the bottles on the tables were Primus. A little farther along we saw Bracongo trucks parked along the streets: the competitor was bound to be passing out thousands of bottles of Skol during and after the concert. Dolf even wondered aloud whether Bracongo might not have hired a few youth gangs to stir things up. Bralima, in any case, had brought along its own security. And that was no unnecessary precaution; the young people of Bumbu—in fact the only generation present—had turned out in force. The closer we came to the concert grounds (the band was already playing, we could hear them from far away), the more young people began recklessly clinging to one of the cars at the back of the convoy. It was an SUV with tinted windows, painted in the Primus colors. They seemed convinced that Werrason was inside it. After we had been forced to a halt for a moment amid an ecstatic crowd, we were able to take a detour to the rear of the podium. The cars parked facing out: all the better to drive away quickly if things got out of hand. We climbed out and walked to the podium, shaking a few hands along the way. In the half-light backstage, with the basses thumping so hard you felt it in your midriff, I didn’t recognize him right away. He looked much more normal than I remembered from the pictures, more timid too. “Monsieur Werrason,” I said, “bon concert.” “Mmm,” he replied. And there it was, my shortest interview ever.

We climbed onto the podium. A row of dancers, behind them a row of musicians, all wearing Primus T-shirts. A wall of sound. I waved to Kakol, the drummer. Behind him, the back wall of the stage was covered by a huge banner: Primus, Toujours Leader! I shielded my eyes with my hand to look out at the audience. The podium had been set up at a broad intersection. In all three directions: hundreds of meters of people all crushed together. I tried to count one section, in order to extrapolate. Thirty thousand people? Forty thousand? Someone handed me a bottle of Primus. Cameramen filmed the two white men on the podium. And then, then the seemingly shy man with the goatee came up the steel steps to the left of the podium. Slowly, almost listlessly, he stepped up to the spotlights. He peered out into the restless darkness. Thousands of arms were raised, fists crossed at the wrists. Igwe! Igwe! was the deafening sound.

After the show, Dolf van den Brink was delighted. Not only had Werrason pulled little teenage girls up onto the stage to dance the ndombolo for him, but on two occasion, between songs, he had held a bottle of Primus aloft to tell the crowd that Bumbu was still in the hands of Bralima. Invaluable brand promotion. The show had cost ten thousand dollars. That was peanuts. The footage would be broadcast on TV nonstop in the next few days. Bralima paid thirty or forty thousand dollars a month to Antenne A, one of Kinshasa’s biggest broadcasters, which used that in turn to pay its personnel. Bralima, in fact, owned the station.

“But I know you,” a number of Kinois said to me a few days later when I sat down beside them in the backseat of a dilapidated taxi. “You’re the white guy who was up on stage at the Bumbu concert. Don’t you have a car?” It says something about Bralima’s clout. In a city of eight million, where I happened to be staying, I was suddenly more famous than in the city of one million where I had been living for the last ten years.

I USUALLY BUY MY MOBILE PHONE VOUCHERS from Beko, on the shadowy Avenue des Batetela, one of the few truly pleasant streets in Kinshasa. Beko, who is in his early twenties and holds a degree in education, sits beneath a parasol from six in the morning until eight at night, selling prepaid cards for Tigo, Vodacom, CelTel, and CCT. Every day. On Sundays, however, only from eleven o’clock on, for he attends mass first. That is his only diversion. The tree-lined footpath along the Avenue des Batetela has a little street market. Sitting beside him is a female money changer, beside her an old woman who fries little fish that, for reasons I still don’t understand, are referred to as Thomsons. A little farther along is a boy who sells pocket diaries, ballpoint pens and shoelaces, beside a young woman deep-frying beignets over a charcoal fire. A beignet is the only thing many people eat here in the course of a day. Tasty and filling.

On a good day Beko has a turnover of one hundred dollars, but less than eight dollars of that go to him. For every five-dollar voucher he sells, four dollars and sixty cents goes to the GSM operator, sometimes even as much as four seventy-five. “And it’s only the good customers who buy a five-dollar recharge,” he clarifies. All right, an eight-dollar profit, on the best of days. But Beko lives far away from the Avenue des Batetela, very far away. He is one of the 1.6 million people who commute to the city center each day in exhaust-belching, packed VW buses.39 His ride costs him hours of his time and one dollar and fifty cents. If he wants to eat something during the day, even if it’s only a chunk of manioc loaf with a little slice of fish, that easily costs him another dollar and a half. When he gets home he gives one dollar to the aunt he lives with, because his parents are dead. He is the sole breadwinner for his brothers and sisters. Of those eight dollars, he has already gone through more than half. And he is still not finished.

While we are talking, a loudmouth comes by and begins shouting at him and the other vendors. Without protest, Beko hands him two hundred Congolese francs. A little farther along is a man in a police uniform. “Officially, we’re not allowed to be here. He’s supposed to give us a fine, but he never does. Instead, he sics that man on us. If we give him two hundred francs, he leaves us alone. The only thing is, he comes by three or four times a day. If we don’t pay, he takes our wares. This way it only costs me a dollar or a dollar fifty.”40 Call it extortion or a form of ultradirect taxation, as long as the government doesn’t pay the policeman’s wages it won’t stop. Which is not to say that a police uniform is no longer a highly valuable asset. It guarantees its wearer a regular income, not from on high, but from the bottom up. No wonder that a trade has arisen in positions with the constabulary. Rumor has it that one can purchase a job with the police for a lot of money, the way one might take over a business.

Seven days a week, a little later on Sundays, the best years of Beko’s life are going by. Tigo has introduced another new service, he sees. For a pittance customers can receive a daily text message that, the company claims, will “brighten up your day.” Using Tigo Bible, you are sent a Bible verse each day; Tigo Foi provides religious counseling; Tigo Amour gives advice on your love life; Tigo Riche tells you how to make money. If you want cheering up, you can get it. The company offers no service with news flashes.

Beko laughs uneasily when I ask about his dream. “To become an ambassador,” he says guardedly. Politics fascinates him. At the newsstand he rents a paper each day: for a few cents he is allowed to read it for half an hour. Buying one is out of the question; a newspaper costs one dollar and they are a rarity in Kinshasa. The few that do exist have a circulation of no more than fifteen hundred, microscopic in a city of eight million. Outside the capital there is no printed news to be had. And the contents of the papers that do exist are generally meager. Le Potentiel and Le Soft do their best, but the rest are dominated by gossip and partisanship. Journalists accept pay from the ministers they write about.41 The layout is miserable, the quality of the printing depressing. But each day Beko hands his copy back neatly at the newsstand. Will his dream ever come true? He was twenty-two when I first met him in May 2007. “In Congo, people usually don’t live past forty-five,” he said with a wan smile, “c’est comme ça.” In that same year, Tigo grossed a profit of $1.65 billion.42

BEKO IS AN EXCEPTION. More than half of all Kinois consider themselves poorly informed, women even more than men. The only ones with a sense of being up to date are the men older than fifty with a university diploma, the last generation to receive a decent education.43 Yet there is no lack of media in Congo. Radio remains the most popular by far, television does particularly well in the cities, the Internet is bloodcurdlingly slow everywhere. At home, no one is on line. Surfing and drafting your résumé are things you do at Internet cafés, the so-called cybers—at least when the electricity hasn’t gone out.

The national broadcaster has been breathing its last for as long as anyone can remember, but in 2002 the MONUC, in cooperation with the Swiss NGO Fondation Hirondelle, set up Radio Okapi, a station with national coverage and editorial desks in ten cities. For years it has been the only national medium in Congo. Foreign and local journalists there press on courageously, day after day. Okapi reporters are among the best (and the best paid) in their profession. The daily news broadcasts are extremely worthwhile, but the annual $10 million price tag makes one wonder what will happen in the long run. Who is going to pay for that, once the United Nations leaves?

Television is everywhere in the big cities. Congolese men watch more than two and half hours a day, the women often more than three.44 During the 1 + 4 period, the medium experienced a remarkable boom. In February 2003 there were some twenty-five stations in Kinshasa alone; by July 2006, the month of the first round of presidential elections, there were thirty-seven.45 The vast majority of those were local broadcasters. One can begin a television station in Congo for less than twenty-five thousand dollars. Any self-respecting politician, entrepreneur or clergyman has his own station these days. Zapping past those channels is an educational experience, but not necessarily by reason of their content. Tropicana, Mirador, and Raga are commercial stations showing mostly music clips, interspersed with commercials, insofar as there is any difference. Digital Congo is President Kabila’s station, run by his twin sister and rivaled at that time by Canal Congo and Vice President Bemba’s Canal Kin. With the means at their disposal, Antenne A and the RTNC try to remain informative. Ratelki belongs to the Kimbanguists; Amen TV and Radio TV Puissance represent more recent Christian movements. More than half the channels belong to the Pentecostal churches.46 Pausing at RTVA, it is good to know that the station belongs to Pastor Léonard Bahuti, the man who admonishes his (largely female) viewers to swear off jewelry, nail polish and hair attachments. RTAE belongs to “Général” Sony Kafuta “Rockman,” the devout leader of l’Armée de l’Eternel. RTMV is in the hands of his archrival, “Archbishop” Fernando Kutino, founder of l’Armée de la Victoire, who has been in prison for years. All these religious broadcasters switch back and forth between sermons and soap operas. The dramatic installments deal with moral issues concerning life and survival in present-day Kinshasa (poverty, adultery, witchcraft, fertility, success) and emphasize that only charismatic Christianity can offer redemption amid the chaos of the day. In 2005 I was present when one such soap opera was recorded. What was striking was not so much the modest means (one camera, one lamp, one microphone) or the production-line approach (shooting today, editing tomorrow, broadcasting the next day), but the extreme youth of the actors. Young people in their twenties were doing their best to grant meaning to their lives and those of the viewers by means of fanatical religious discourse. The oddest station one comes across while zapping is NTV. There one watches as Pastor Denis Lessie, the owner, holds up his hands and invites you to place yours on the TV screen, touching his, because the Lord moves in ways that include optical fiber and airwaves. Hear the crackling of the Almighty, feel the hair rise on the back of your neck at the touch. Recently he asked his believers, by way of benediction, to sprinkle water on the picture tube or plasma screen.

I LEAFED THROUGH THE WELL-THUMBED GUESTBOOK of the little hotel in the interior. There hadn’t been many foreign guests before me. In fact, only one: Andrew Snyder from Florida. His handwriting was clear and firm. Occupation? Pastor. Reason for visit? Crusade. Ah, bon. The American evangelists’ crusades had apparently reached the provincial towns as well. It made me wonder how Fernando Kutino was getting along these days.

Kutino was a case unto himself. In Kinshasa in the early nineties he had seen the arrival of the first generation of American evangelists, a new kind of missionary who brought a charismatic variation of Christianity: Pentecostalism. Mobutu was so incensed over the power of the Catholics who had organized the March of Hope that he allowed other clerics to come and spread God’s word. Divide and conquer; that went for souls too. Fernando Kutino, still an unremarkable boy at the time, heard about Jimmy Swaggart, the American TV evangelist who had achieved world fame in the West with his weepy confession of sexual infidelity. In Kinshasa Swaggart became known for his rousing services that brought many thousands into a state of ecstasy. But the German evangelist Reinhard Bonnke came to town as well, as did the Dutchman John Maasbach, married men in neat suits who bore witness to their faith with lively shows and impeccable coiffures. They had not been sent out by a central ecclesiastical authority but operated on their own initiative, often assisted by their families. These “reborn Christians” hooked up with the local prayer groups that gathered weekly to lift up their hearts unto the Lord outside the regular Sunday services. It did not take long before native men of the cloth arose as well and Fernando Kutino was a key figure among them.

Kutino put on a tie, called himself “Reverend” and delivered a message that ran quite counter to the traditional churches and rituals. It was the starting shot for the Congolese églises du réveil, the churches of the awakening, the revival, the new beginning. The curious were drawn in by the emphasis placed on charismatic worship, in which “healing” and “salvation” could be obtained during moments of intense religious rapture. With its rituals of trance that the believers experienced as the presence of the Holy Spirit, Pentecostalism was a variation of Christianity that closely matched the spiritual cosmos of African ancestor worship. Praying aloud, casting out demons, speaking in tongues: it reminded one of Simon Kimbangu’s rise in 1921. Then too, fervent faith had been a remedy against witchcraft. Then too, people had begged for instant healing.

But Kutino added another layer, that of la prospérité. Redemption was not only spiritual, but also material by nature. During the bitter crisis years of the 1990s, this was the message people wanted to hear. What good did it do the poor, in spirit or otherwise, to be blessed when their children were dying of starvation? When your measly banknote turned out to be worth only half as much as it had when you got up that morning? No, not poverty but riches were the evidence of contact with the exalted. And to demonstrate his piety, Kutino decked himself out richly. A man of God, after all, could hardly appear in rags before his big boss? Seated on a bombastic throne he called on his followers each week to give gladly to his church. Ostentatious donorship became evidence of devotion and virtue. Kutino accepted the luxury automobiles and intergalactic GSMs with good grace. “I love money,” he told a French journalist, “it helps you to live well.”47 Revolting? Yes, but no different from the forces in medieval Europe that had seen to the building of cathedrals while the members of their religious orders walked around in gold brocade and filigree. Postmaterialism is a luxury only the wealthy can afford. The pauper looks up to the pimp. Just as Papa Wemba had brought a spark of hope to youth culture with la Sape, so did Kutino introduce a notion of prosperity via the detour of faith. Kutino himself, with his gold watches and crocodile-leather shoes, was nothing but a sapeur. He embodied success, strength and welfare.48 He was the Werrason of the liturgy. In December 2000 he brought a crowd of more than 100,000 believers to the heights of rapture in the Stade des Martyrs. His services were adorned with live pop music and offered plenty of opportunity for singing and dancing. “Sing, sing, sing, dance, dance, dance for the King of Kings,” a religious pop artist told his audience, “because if you people don’t do it here, it must be because you do it elsewhere, in the world of darkness.”49 Kinshasa had become the devil’s city; only God granted mercy and Kutino was his treasurer.

During the 2002–2006 transition, the églises du réveil experienced enormous growth, particularly in the cities. Kutino’s example inspired imitators everywhere. Under lean-tos, on city buses, and at busy intersections self-proclaimed pastors preached the word with verve. In Kinshasa one began finding stores that sold only lecterns, wooden or glass pulpits from behind which one could spread the good word. A new prophet arose every weekend. By 2005 there were an estimated three thousand Pentecostal churches in Kinshasa.50 Most of them were quite modest, a few were massive. “Full Gospel” filled the stadiums for marathon sessions lasting three days or more. Preachers from Nigeria and the United States came by with fiery confessions of faith. The songs of praise andactions de grace (thanksgiving) came raining down. An ad on the front page of Le Potentielpromised a “festival of miraculous healing” in the huge Stade des Martyrs, with Reverend Dr. Jaerock Lee, a South Korean: “The dead are raised, the dumb speak, the blind see, and the deaf hear. All manner of incurable illnesses, including AIDS, cancer, and leukemia, can be healed. With tangible proofs that God is alive: you yourself can be where the miracles happen. Free admission.”51

The churches tried to outdo each other with bellicose names like l’Armée de l’Eternel, l’Armée de la Victoire, Combat Spirituel and la Chapelle des Vainquers. It made one think of the warlike titles of the pop albums and the struggle for leadership in commerce and politics. Normally believers were faithful to a single church, but now the turnover was large. There arose something like serial monotheism. “If your God is dead, then try mine,” was the slogan of Pastor Kiziamina-Kibila, as though speaking of detergent. Many people shopped among the various churches. After Joseph Ratzinger was elected pope and adopted the name Benedict XVI, Koffi Olomide adopted a new stage name: Benoît XVI. When the Catholic Church reprimanded him for that, he simply changed it to Benoît XVII.52

But this was more than mere rivalry. In fact, it was about the struggle between good and evil, between Christ and Satan, between the true faith and sorcery. The églises du réveil held a simple, binary worldview that helped people place the contradictions in their lives within a framework. Adversity could be blamed on evil spirits in a world of shadows; good fortune was a gift from God. At l’Armée de l’Eternel, young women paid ten, twenty or fifty dollars to have the preacher, Général Sony Kafuta “Rockman,” perform the laying on of hands and so help them to find a husband, become pregnant, or get a visa for Europe. Wasn’t that brazen moneygrubbing at the expense of desperate people? “We want schools to be built too,” that church’s spokesman explained to me. “We feel that people need to work to earn money and not just pray. We organize free AIDS tests and teach young parents how to raise their children.”53 For a hardworking orphan like Beko, the church provided a social safety net. Religion rushed in where government failed. Some pastors were able to establish peace between rival youth gangs, something the police never tried.54 They took “witch’s children” off the street and tried to “cure” them.55 Like the multinationals, they filled the vacuum that had arisen when the state withdrew. Desperate people found a cozy shelter amid the warmth of fellow believers. Shops were rechristened La Grâce, Le Christ, Le Tout-Puissant, cybercafés became “Jesus.com,” exchange offices “God Is My Bank.” A new generation of first names even came into fashion: children were now called Touvidi (from Tout vient de Dieu, everything comes from God), Plamedi (Plan Merveilleux de Dieu, God’s marvelous plan), Emoro (Éternel Mon Rocher, the Eternal my rock), and the unlikely Merdi (from Merveille Divine, divine marvel, which had to be explained to me as well).56

On November 2, 2008, I attended a Sunday morning service of Parole de Dieu in Yolo-Sud, a poor neighborhood in the capital. More than a thousand people were there in the courtyard, packed in close together beneath a zinc roof. They sang, they danced, they shook homemade rattles. It was then that I understood something of the success of these churches: the atmosphere was incredible. No collection was held. Anyone wishing to make a donation could do so at the church entrance. Wearing sneakers, the prophet Dominique Khonde Mpolo sat on the podium. Simplicity was his motto. Not every pastor is a money-grubber. During his extremely lengthy sermon he railed against “Jésus Business” and suggested it be replaced by “Jésus Verité.” “All these other churches that promise people money . . . We have no need of luxury, we don’t even eat meat. No one here wears a suit. We need to work for our country rather than for our own self-image.” He himself specialized in resurrections. He claimed to have raised four people from the dead already. The first one had been the hardest, but now he had a magic potion. All you had to do was brush it onto the dead person’s lips.57

Abbé José Mpundu, the Catholic workingman’s priest who had helped to organize the March of Hope, considered it a disturbing development. “These new churches only rock people to sleep. They do nothing to liberate. They promise an easy kind of happiness in the form of ‘miracles,’ but they call no one to account. Nzambi akosala, the people say, God will take care of it. Let me be perfectly frank: those churches are a blessing for the regime. They make things easy for the politicians. That’s why the regime supports them so generously. Sony Kafuta, the one who calls himself ‘Rockman,’ is quite close to Kabila and his mother; he is their spiritual leader.”58

Sucking up to the powers that be, that was at least one thing of which Kutino could not be accused. In the course of his career, he had run up successively against Mobutu, Kabila père and Kabila fils. While the Kabilas had handed “Rockman” an appointment as head chaplain of the national army, Kutino had started Sauvons le Congo, the “Save Congo” campaign. Guests on his TV channel delivered straightforward diatribes against the 1 + 4. That made his organization one of the few critical voices heard from Pentecostal circles. Sharp criticism was leveled at what he called theanti-valeurs (the un-dignitaries). The tenor was extremely anti-Rwandan. Following insinuations that Joseph Kabila was letting himself be led by the Rwandan lobby—or, even worse, was himself a Rwandan Tutsi—the station was shut down and the “bishop” fled to Europe. He returned only in 2006.

But that was not the end. In May 2006, six weeks before the elections, Kutino—known by now as the Archbishop—landed at Kinshasa and held a huge rally in the Stade Tata Raphaël. He wore a scarlet bishop’s robe and hung out of a jeep, waving to great crowds of supporters. He continued to rant against “foreign” influences and accused Kabila of a lack of congolité. Sowing doubt about the president’s origins (his mother was not his real mother, he was Rwandan, etc.) became an approved tactic for the opposition. Not that there was proof of any such thing.59 The service was broadcast without interruption on the channel belonging to Kabila’s major rival, Jean-Pierre Bemba. As soon as it was over, Kutino was handcuffed and led away, and Bemba could go to visit him in Makala. One month later Kutino was sentenced to twenty years’ hard labor, including ten years’ probation. He was found guilty of the illegal possession of firearms, conspiracy, and attempted murder, but it was clearly a settling of accounts. International human rights organizations condemned the extremely shaky judicial process.60 On the website of Sauvons le Congo is a dramatic film clip of the prophet’s “last words,” filmed on the closing day of the trial. In it Kutino speaks more hesitantly than ever. There is nothing left of his legendary flux de bouche. The footage is mixed with the bloodiest scenes from Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ. This prophet, too, was crucified: that is the message. But in the courtroom he still wears a neat, tailored suit and pocket handkerchief. A martyr in a bespoke suit, that perhaps is the entire ambivalence of les églises du réveil.

AND SO A COUNTRY that was no country at all dragged itself toward its first free elections in forty-one years, as agreed in the Accord Global et Inclusif. Companies and churches—la bière et la prière—had co-opted the public spaces, befogging and gladdening the people’s minds. In the run-up to the proverbial “high day of democracy,” set for July 30, 2006, after much dragging of feet, the population consisted more of consumers and obsequious believers than alert citizens. In colonial days, the super-alliance of church, state, and industry—the notorious colonial trinitas—had seen to it that the population remained servile and obedient. Something similar was going on now as well. The state, it is true, was much weaker, but still fond of snuggling up to the two remaining pillars. The “post-colonial trinity” consisted of a corrupt political caste that entered an alliance with newfangled religions and pop stars raised on high by the business world. President Kabila, who had not distinguished himself during the transition by any excessive amount of dash, made full use of these alternative power blocs.

As early as April 2002, during his concert at the Zénith, Werrason had called on the people to support Kabila because of his “efforts for peace.”61 An invaluable piece of promotion, for Kabila enjoyed little support in Kinshasa’s working-class neighborhoods, where Bemba was toujours leader. At the signing of the Sun City peace agreement in 2003, Werrason, ambassadeur de la paix after all, gave a concert for the delegates.62 In 2004, when Nkunda took Bukavu and the the people turned against the UN blue helmets, he was even called in to quiet things down. The pop artist made great by a multinational was now charged with keeping the masses in line.

On January 25, 2005, Kabila invited all the greats of Congolese music to the presidential palace for a glass of champagne. Werrason and J. B. Mpiana were there, as were Papa Wemba and Koffi Olomide and a few other archrivals. The president was able once again to play the great conciliator, the one who had brought peace not only to the eastern hill country but also to the bars of Kinshasa. A photograph taken at that party was seen around the world. It was an exact copy of the snapshot Jamais Kolonga had shown me, when he and Franco and Kabasele stood with raised glasses beside Mobutu. In Congo close ties had always existed between politics and music. Hadn’t Kabasele gone along to the round-table conference in Brussels, when he composed his “Indépendance Cha-Cha”? Hadn’t Franco been closely involved in Mobutu’s policy of authenticité? Hadn’t Papa Wemba sung along when Kabila’s new currency was introduced? Yes, they had all done that.

But now things went a step further. In the 1990s it had become fashionable for private persons to pay artists to use their name in a song’s lyrics. For a fistful of dollars, Mpiana, Werrason, and their colleagues were willing to do a little name-dropping. With Mpiana, the results looked something like this: “Love, love, what’s that get us, Ruphin Makengo? / They start with love and that’s where it ends, Jean Ngendu. / Is it just a matter of pride, or what, Lidi Ebondja?” With Werrason, it sounded like: “You should have told me before, Hugues Kashala. / You’re wasting my time, all my friends are married, Chibebi Kangala. / Even my little sisters. / Claudine Kinua, she’s mad.”63 The phenomenon was referred to as kobwaka libanga, tossing pebbles, to draw attention. It has since become a regular feature of Congolese pop music. The second half of the song, the sebene, is the instrumental part in which guitar solos move the dancers to a climax, swept along by the animateur who belts out a whole list of names. Politicians and prominent figures not only pay journalists for an article, but also pay pop stars for a mention. If you go out to Le 144 on Louizalaan in Brussels, the chicest Congolese disco in town, you will even hear the DJ screaming to be heard above the music, telling the audience whose birthday it is and how many bottles of champagne they have ordered. In Kinshasa things occasionally got out of hand. “Treize ans” by Werrason contains no fewer than 110 names, “Lauréats” by Mpiana actually mentions two hundred.64 This was no longer simply the paying of tribute; this was serial product placement. Artistic autonomy? Of no importance, on the contrary. The real deadbeat was the one who couldn’t refer to the rich or powerful. That was proof of social isolation, and therefore deadly for an artist who wanted to be the leader. Werrason’s opportunistic collaboration with Kabila and his entourage was so obvious, as was Mpiana’s sympathy for Bemba by the way, that the Haute Autorité des Médias, the Congolese FCC, felt obliged in the weeks before the elections to ban broadcasts of their all-too-sectarian pop songs. Before that, however, they were aired nonstop. By that time, however, the popular singer Tabu Ley, a friend of Kabila father and son, had already been appointed vice governor of the city of Kinshasa, and Tshala Muana, one of the few female pop stars, had a hit with: “Vote, vote for Kabila / Everybody vote for Kabila / We’re all going to vote for Kabila, our boss / He’s the only right leader for Congo.”

The Pentecostal churches, too, with the exception of Kutino’s, hopped on the presidential bandwagon. “All authority comes from God,” the believers heard on Sunday morning, “so pray for your leaders.” And as if that weren’t explicit enough, the prophet of the moment would gladly add: “Let everyone who loves Jesus and Kabila stand up and clap.”65 The army chaplain Sony Kafuta became so caught up in his Kabila mania, both at his temple and on TV, that the communications authorities had to reprimand him for hate mongering.66 The Catholic Church watched it all from a distance and shook its head. This was a far cry from the critical role it had played in the struggle against Mobutu.67

IT WAS JULY 27, 2006, three days before the big day and Kinshasa was buzzing with electoral fever. That the elections were coming at all was due to the international pressure exerted by the CIAT, but above all to the brilliant work done by the Commission Électorale Indépendante (CEI), led by the inspirational priest Abbé Malu Malu. The preparations were truly impressive. Congo had become a country without an infrastructure. It was impossible to cross the country by car. Even the major urban centers were no longer connected. Congo was more an archipelago than a pays-continent, an archipelago whose islands could be reached only by plane, helicopter, or canoe. No one knew how many people lived there, no one kept track of the births, no one had an ID. The last forms of personal identification were the MPR membership cards from the Mobutu era. But on June 15, 2005, the CEI succeeded in registering twenty-five million voters, an overwhelming success. The outline of a new constitution was established by referendum on December 19, 2005. The new electoral law was ready on February 21, 2006. The campaign could begin. Tshisekedi, the opposition’s historical leader, boycotted the process from the start and fell victim to his own obstinacy. Vice President Ruberwa, who was still seen as Rwanda’s puppet, did not stand a ghost of a chance. After Operation Artémis in Bunia, the European Union launched a second military initiative: EUFOR, a 1,400-man European intervention force to keep the peace in Kinshasa; African elections, after all, tend to result more in rows than in democracy.

On July 27, Jean-Pierre Bemba, the man from Équateur, the fellow whose troops had practiced cannibalism, made his triumphal entry into Kinshasa. He was received with open arms: he was the mwana ya mboka, the country’s son, the true Congolese. More than a million people accompanied him on the classic route from airport to city center, the same twenty-kilometer (twelve-mile) route taken, amid loud cheering, by Baudouin, Mobutu, Tshisekedi, and Werrason. Bemba was going to speak to his followers at the Stade Tata Raphaël, the arena bound up with so many historic moments in Congolese history, ranging from the riots in 1959 by way of the heavyweight bout of 1974 to Kutino’s sermons in 2006. A group of drunken boys had brought a dog along with them, which they decked out with a campaign sweater bearing Kabila’s likeness. Always good for a laugh. The animal was completely unnerved and barked at its own tail. Others carried a gigantic portrait of Mobutu, that other strongman from Équateur, for by now a generation had arisen that only knew about Mobutism by word of mouth. Even the old green MPR flag waved over the stadium. Bemba represented the promise of a restored state and powerful leadership. Like Mobutu, he could easily deliver a ninety-minute speech without resorting to notes. His sturdy frame and direct language made him much more popular in a Kinshasa gone wild than timid Kabila with his fractured Lingala and his French, which still bore a trace of an English accent. To many Congolese, Kabila seemed a youthful pawn of the international community (he was only thirty-four, Bemba was forty-three), not someone who could infuse the country with new pride.

And then something telling happened. After Bemba’s rally, a frenzied crowd of young people moved through the city, attacking the major pillars of Kabila’s campaign. The postcolonial trinity linking President Kabila with the evangelist Sony Kafuta and singer-cum-beer promoter Werrason were the targets. The young Bemba supporters wreaked havoc at the Haute Autorité des Médias, who they suspected of partisanship in favor of the incumbent president. Then they moved on to the temple of Kabila adept Sony Kafuta, a little further way. They wrecked the huge meeting space of his Armée de l’Eternel, leaving that “army of the everlasting” in a state that looked more like the smoking ruins of the present. From there they marched on a few hundred meters to Samba Playa, Werrason’s rehearsal and concert hall. And that former place of pilgrimage for so many young, poor Kinois was also turned upside down in a flash by a furious crowd of those same young, poor Kinois. They felt betrayed by Werrason’s transparent support for Kabila.68 That month, Bralima lost 3 percent of its market share. The alliance between suds, sanctity, and the system might have been out to keep the people ignorant, but that did not mean the young voters were going to take it lying down. These were their elections.

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