Africa Report Congo – Covenant World Missions

by Kenneth Satterberg

As I write this, I admit that I have not been following the radio news reports very closely so I have no idea where the rebels are right now in their campaign. As the war has dragged on, the reports of Congo have become much less urgent to international reporters.

In my last report, President Kabila had taken over the country formerly known as Zaire and changed the name to the Democratic Republic of Congo (the name before the arrival of the former president Mobutu in 1965). Our church members were very sceptical about Kabila as a leader, especially since his military had been quite aggressive in the take over, and since obvious improvements were slow in coming.

Now, a second rebellion has broken out, again in the East, against President Kabila. This new rebellion comes from the ethnic Tutsis who are known in Congo as the Bayamulenge. They are supported by other ethnic groups in the eastern Kivu Province and others from Rwanda and Uganda.

President Kabila had recruited both Ugandans and Rwandans to overthrow Mobutu last year. It is commonly believed that they helped Kabila in the war with an agreement that, if they won, he would give part or all of the Kivu Province (rich in gold and diamonds) to Rwanda and part of Upper Congo to Uganda.

Kabila did not follow through with this part of the bargain and began being quite active in repatriating Rwandan and Ugandan elements still hanging around in his country. It was this move to exclude these visitors that started off the new rebellion.

The rebellion started in two areas: Kinshasa, the capital in the Lower Congo Province, and Kivu in the central east province. (The Covenant serves in the Equateur Province in the northwest.) The rebels made a good attempt at controlling the capital but were not able to gain popular support. They did manage to capture the Inga hydroelectric plant which supplies power for Kinshasa and the rich mining regions of Congo, as well as the capital city of Brazzaville across the Congo river from Kinshasa.

It was at that point that Zimbabwe, Namibia, and Angola entered the fight on Kabila’s side. It is reported that president Kabila is deeply in debt financially to each of these countries following his takeover last year. With the entrance of these foreign powers, the rebellion in the Lower Congo was quick-ly controlled, and the troops holding Kin-shasa’s power source hostage agreed to turn it over with a promise of safe passage out of the country.

The rebellion continues in the east, and it seems that Zimbabwe, Namibia, and Angola do not want to continue with their direct involvement in the war. The rebels have moved closer to the region where the Congolese Covenant church is located with reports of them arriving in Bumba, which is our church region the furthest east on the Congo river.

Recently, one of the church’s shortwave radio operators relayed a news report of rebel movement, which he had heard on Radio France International. The Kabila military cut in on his communication to identify him and once identified, they came and arrested him and confiscated all of the radio and solar power equipment at the denominational headquarters. He has since been released but we have now heard that the military have, or have attempted to, confiscate all of the shortwave radios our church uses for communi-cations. There are no telephones in the interior of the country.

Following this incident the president of the Congolese Covenant church was arrested. His truck is being held, and he has been taken to the provincial capital of Mbandaka and is under house arrest. All of these events may be aggravated by the fact that the church has been supported by the Covenant Church based in the US and Canada. Just this summer, the Covenant invited five delegates to attend our annual meeting and church-planting workshop, bringing them to the US for a number of weeks.

A common rumor in Congo these days is that the US is backing the rebels against Kabila because he has not given the US mineral rights and other perks for helping him defeat Mobutu last year. So the fact that our church leaders have close contacts in the US does not look good to the threatened government. Suffice it to say, there is a negative sentiment toward Americans in Congo these days. It is hard to say how strong it is. Any association with American contacts is grounds for suspicion.

As Covenant missionaries living on the border, we try to access the situation as well as possible and to seek ways to be encour-aging. Our conversations with Congolese who cross the river to Bangui, often lead to the questions: “What is God doing through these events?” “What will be the outcome?” “How should we pray?”

One story comes from a veterinarian working at one of our agri-culture stations. He reports: “I was accused of being responsible for the death of two thieves who had stolen livestock from the mission. The Kabila military arrested me and took me by truck to a major town nearby. It was commonly known that if this group took you away to this town you would never return alive. They beat me and tied me up, repeatedly questioning me, putting a gun in my face, threatening to kill me. This went on for days, always the same questions and threats. I was tied around the neck and the rope was cutting in so that I couldn’t take it any more. I finally called the military head there and told him to kill me. I said that it is not worth going on, I could not bear any more, and I had nothing else to confess. He took me aside and asked me one more time to tell what had happened. I told him again, and when I was done he said: “Get your clothes, you can go.”

As we sat in Bangui and talked, months after the events, he was asking himself, “Why did God spare me? My life was gone, and He gave it back to me. What does He want me to do for him?”

God is at work, bringing his people to himself.

Kenneth Satterberg is a Covenant missionary to Africa.

See all articles by Kenneth Satterberg