Friday, November 23, 2012


  For the last 7 months M23 (a Congolese rebel or army mutineer group) has been a hot topic among those who follow the political banter in Africa’s Great Lakes.    The gist of the banter comes from UN and the Western Non-Government Organizations and media accusing Rwanda and Uganda of being the hidden driving force behind M23.   Many also accuse M23 of human rights abuses such as recruitment of child soldiers and systematic rape.    The Rwanda and Uganda governments have consistently denied their support of M23.   Independent media voices from Africa’s Great Lakes have generally pointed out the vulnerability of Rwanda with the Interhamwe (perpetrators of the 1994 Rwanda Genocide) still on the loose in Eastern Congo, and the lack of both moral authority and pragmatic common sense from the UN and associated Rwanda and Uganda accusers.

 On Tuesday, November 20 M23 captured Goma, the capital of North Kivu, Congo.     This has great significance due to several factors.   One is Goma is the next door / twin city of Rubavu (Gisenyi) Rwanda.   Another is that Goma is a very busy airport, supply center, and mineral export hub.   Lastly, it signals a shift of M23 from a rural based guerrilla army to one with the possible intent of governance.    The capture of Goma quickly created twitter banter.   Though the capture was a military maneuver with associated violence most of the news coming from Goma by both traditional and social media report Goma quickly returning to business as normal.   For observers of history Goma in late November 2012 sounds quite similar to National Resistance Movement (NRM) controlled Uganda before January 26, 1986 – peace is quickly restored; offers of reconciliation are offered to police, bureaucrats, and former armed enemies; and M23 seems to have its sights on taking more territory with a hope of a greater share in Congo’s governance.   

Democracy thrives in church reception conversations
I’m writing not to add any more political commentary.   I’m writing as an amateur historian, and as a marginally experienced in Africa’s Great Lake’s church planting pastor and missionary.    Some of my better advisors in the region remark that the most influential conversations in our region happen in school cafeterias and dorms plus Ntinda’s pork joints, and Kigali’s bars.    Their belief is that the free flowing exchange of ideas in social contexts lays the true foundation for enduring democracy.   They also add that agreements reached through informal debate provide the substance of consensus that becomes national policy.

I add to their social insight that church receptions also provide one of the enduring conversation points as policy is crafted.    In fact, many times pastors become aware of matters that require great wrestling with the paradoxical virtues of confidence and transparency.   Thus it seems appropriate for me to add to the discussion the substance of many years of Congo conversations I’ve heard and observed in church receptions (lobbies).


Weddings display our heritage of unity
                One of my missionary mzee (wise elder statesman) once told me to watch the cars in parking lots of urban churches.    He pointed out cars tell us many things.    One is the origin and social reach of those attending church functions.     I’ve repeatedly noticed Congolese license plates at weddings and funerals that take place in Rwanda and Western Uganda.    Many of the extended families in Eastern Congo, Western Uganda, and Rwanda have intermarried for generations.    The borders between these nations have economic and political significance.    However; historically, culturally, socially, and spiritually the nation-state borders are largely irrelevant.

                Historians write of the kingdoms of the interlacustrine area—i.e., the region bounded by Lakes Victoria, Kyoga, Albert, Edward, and Tanganyika.    As European explorers reached Africa’s Great Lakes they found well organized and powerful kingdoms.    These kingdoms’ history was told orally so there is some debate about the kingdoms origins.    However, it is obvious that these kingdoms had some ebb and flow of influence.   At times the kingdoms were at war.   At times the kingdoms were at peace.    During seasons of peace the leading families of different kingdoms intermarried.    During times of war families found refuge in neighboring kingdoms.    Thus many conclude historical leadership in Africa’s Great Lakes is in many ways the stories of broad extended families.

                One of the leading historical kingdoms in Uganda was Bunyoro-Kitara.    The histories of Bunyoro’s neighboring kingdoms frequently mention in their origins Bunyoro.    Many Banyoro will interpret their kingdom’s ebbs and flows to have reached deeply into Eastern Congo.    I’ve been surprised to listen to Runyoro speaking missionaries who return after a visit to Eastern Congo with stories of their surprise at how many Runyoro speakers they find in Congo.    Social patterns from marriages and linguistic proficiency make church conversations about Congo conclude, “This is our family.”

                Rwanda was another of the historical influential kingdoms in the interlacustrine region.    Rwanda historians will tell of the Rwanda kingdom reaching at times deeply into Eastern Congo.    There is some debate about whether the reach was completely under the Rwanda kingdom’s control.    However, it is obvious that Kinyarwanda speakers migrated into Eastern Congo and took on new descriptions of themselves with names such as the Bafumbira and Banyamulenge.     The Kinyarwanda speakers of Eastern Congo can be described as both Tutsi and Hutu.    Kinyarwanda speaking missionaries remark that when they visit Eastern Congo they are struck by how much Kinyarwanda they find being spoken in heart conversations in homes and churches.   Again, social patterns from marriage and linguistic proficiency make many church conversations about Congo conclude, “This is our family.”

                Our Balokole (Saved / Evangelical) history in Africa’s Great Lakes tells of beginning in the East African Revival of the 1930’s and 40’s.    From a relatively isolated outpost of Gahini, Rwanda the Revival spread.    Our grandfathers were missionaries who started churches and schools in Eastern Congo.   Some of our historic churches (Episcopal / Anglican) hierarchies once governed Eastern Congo in the same Diocese that governed Western Uganda, Rwanda, and Burundi.    Thus it is quite easy in our church conversations about Congo to conclude, “This is our family.”


                Many of us in Africa’s Great Lakes have a deep fear of soldiers.    Our fear was developed by suffering at the hands of the soldiers employed by Idi Amin and Milton Obote in Uganda.    Yet, another season of soldiering burned deeply into our emotional bank accounts.    Those seasons were of the safety and discipline that came when the Museveni’s National Resistance Army (NRA) captured ground in Uganda.   Another season was when the Rwanda Patriot Front (RPF) stopped the Genocide in Rwanda.     We know those soldiers as our sons, brothers, uncles, fathers, and friends.    Those soldiers are our family so we know they have failings.    Yet, while our memories are of Amin and Obote’s soldiers terrorizing us at road blocks many of us can’t remember NRA or RPF soldiers ever treating us like prey.    They are our sons.   We are at peace when they are near.   (Yet, I recognize that some in my community have had different experiences with NRA and RPF soldiers.   In no way, do I seek to deny or minimize their experiences.    My intent is to display that the soldiers of our region our part of our broader community.)

                Some of us have memories of growing up in Congo in relative peace.   Then after the Genocide of 1994 our lives became chaotic and our safety was threatened.    Our sons rescued some of us.    

                We continued to watch Congo with fear.   The Interhamwe and their military weapons had found safe harbor in Congo.   At times our borders were crossed and our family terrorized by the Interhamwe.
Soldiers were once children and have children

                I remember in March 1997 being on furlough in the USA.   CNN was broadcasting live of Mobutu’s Zaire (now Congo) capital, Kinshasa falling to rebels.   A CNN reporter with entering rebels in the background said, “There are rumors of Uganda and Rwanda soldiers being part of the rebels toppling Mobutu.”    I heard the rebels in the background speaking Kiswahili mixed with Kiganda accents.    I knew the rebel soldiers were our sons.    I giggled at CNN naivety, but thanked God that our sons had taken Kinshasa.   I hoped they would bring peace like they had done in Kampala in 1986 and Kigali in 1994.

                For years we’ve been dumbfounded.   We’ve prayed.   We’ve learned a few things.   We’ve at times been disappointed in our sons.    Yet, we’ve believed the best in our son’s intents.   At times someone asked us to pray for a nephew or grandson serving in Congo.    We know that our leaders tell stories a little different from our auntie’s interpretation, and we’re ok with the differences.    We pray for our sons.   We trust God to make things right in time.

                Congo has not settled down despite both our regions and our world’s leaders’ best attempts.   In fact, we remember that even American and British tourists have been murdered when our sons didn’t succeed in their military maneuvers in Congo.    The massacre of American and British tourist in Uganda’s Bwindi national park in March 1999 burned deeply into my emotional bank account.    We want our sons to find success in Congo.

American Bomber Pilots in World War 2
                My first pastorate in the USA had several bzee who were bomber pilots in World War 2.    Some whispered that they were war heroes, but the bzee always dodged the compliment.     Over time I learned a few things.   To be an Allied bomber pilot flying over Nazi Germany required great courage and skill.    Many did not return from the missions.    Recently, I’ve learned that there was great debate about the bzee’s missions.    Their leaders concluded that to most quickly end the war they must bomb German cities to break German morale and also destroy the German war industry.   The bombings killed thousands of German civilians.    The History Channel documentaries show photos of German children’s corpses after the bombings of German cities.   Many historians with great ethical wrestling concluded the bombing of German cities saved Allied lives and with the Holocaust in progress prevented the world from falling into a new Dark Age.    Yet, if history had gone a little different my heroic bzee could be labeled war criminals.

                Thus in church receptions we conclude many of these soldiers in Congo are our sons.    In the American Civil War, General William Sherman remarked, “War is hell.”    We agree.   War is about death and destruction.    We know our sons have seen and done terrible things.    Yet, we hope our sons will be shown in history to have been agents of justice and peace.   We continue to pray for our sons in church reception conversations about Congo.


Gossip magazines or Congo history books?
                Congo’s history reads like the magazines in a USA supermarket checkout line – drama, drama, and more drama.   No good guys exist.    Moral authority is a possession of almost none.     It is little wonder that our region’s leaders are angry when outsiders lecture them.   It is also little wonder why our independent media leaders portray the UN and their allies in the Congo discussion as lacking pragmatic common sense.

                In church receptions we heal from the wounds of history.   We talk.   We pray.   We trust another day is coming.   Yet, we’ve got to live in the here and now and day by day.

                Our Congolese history bank remembers that the some of the first foreigners to enter our region were slave traders.   We’re ashamed that some of our kingdoms participated in the slave trade.    Yet in Ankole, Rwanda, and Burundi slave trading was difficult.   In Rwanda slave trading became impossible.   The slave traders circled some of our kingdoms and set up shop in Eastern Congo.

                Then came the Belgian colonialists.    The British were far from perfect colonialists, but in the oldest parts of their cities we find schools, churches, and administrative centers.   In old Belgium colonial cities we find churches, administrative centers, and prisons.     The Belgium colonialists exploited Congo’s mineral and people resources without building enduring institutions and infrastructure.

                Congo independence came with great turmoil, but also hope.   Then Congo’s first Prime Minister, Patrice Lumumba was assassinated by the CIA.    Some of our parents were friends with Lumumba.   We can’t forget the betrayal of our hope.

                Mobutu followed Lumumba and ruled with a corrupt clique of thugs.   In the end Mobutu sheltered the thugs of all thugs – Genocidaires.   Now Kabila continues the sins of Congo’s fathers.

One of the last photos of Congo Prime Minister, Patrice Lumumba
                The voices that banter with our regions leaders lack a basic message we hear preached in our churches – repentance.    In churches we read of brave men and women who had the courage to acknowledge both their sins and the sins of their fathers.    They deeply grieved over their past and present failures.   Then these both humble and courageous people of the past repented.    The not only apologized they changed their behavior.   They ceased to do the same old bad behaviors over and over again.   They did good things.   They brought enduring change.   

                Quite frankly in church receptions we remark that those who banter with our region’s leaders over Congo have absolutely no moral authority.    Until they repent we in church receptions will simply not listen to their banter.   


M23 Facebook Cover Photo
                Facebook and twitter document our community’s conversations.    M23 has a Facebook page.   A few weeks ago it had around 1,400 likes with 3 of my Facebook friends who are fans of M23.    I suspected many in my community see M23 as our family and sons, but are too timid to publicly document their relationship web.    As M23 took Goma the M23 Facebook page went bonkers.    The M23 Facebook page this morning has 6,448 likes and 20 of my Facebook friends like M23. 
                M23 has failings.   However, M23 is our community.

                I anticipate someday I’ll meet M23 leaders.   I suspect I’ve probably already met a few at funerals and weddings.   The faces on the M23 Facebook page look familiar.   

                When I meet M23 leaders they may be recognized leaders in Eastern Congo.   I’ll do what my bzee taught me to do.   I’ll try my best to become their friend.   I’ll pray.   They’ll check my references.   They’ll find I’ve got failings.   Yet, they’ll also find I’ve used my pastoral wealth to build churches and schools.   I’ve preached justice and reconciliation.   Hopefully, I’ve lived it.    If given an opportunity I’ll call M23 my community and labor with them to build churches and schools.   After all, our Revival grandparents did the same in Eastern Congo.   Why not try again?

                In church receptions Eastern Congo is our community.


                Our government leaders can’t always be as candid as we are in church receptions.    They must be diplomatic.   They also must play by the rules of the international community.   In church receptions we can say anything that we can explain with an open Bible.    That makes our conversations very lively.   Sometimes we have unrealistic dreams, but in the freeing world created by an open Bible we can say what our government leaders can never say in public.

                Congo is a mess.   It’s been that way for generations.   Kinshasa has shown over and over again it is unable to govern Eastern Congo.    Our Congolese community has suffered over and over again.

                We enjoy it when the Congolese visit our churches.   They are the best musicians in our region.    We’ve noticed those from Eastern Congo can sing in Lingala.   Yet, they prefer Kiswahili.    Lingala is the language of Kinshasa.   In the East of Congo after our shared vernaculars are spoken the preferred trade language is our shared Kiswahili.  

                The first Americans who traveled through our region diaries remark that Eastern Congo is culturally, linguistically, and socially more like East Africa than Kinshasa.

                Maybe, the answer to our Congo community can’t be stated by our government leaders?

                The Congolese refugees in our churches have at times suggested to us that the partition is the answer to Congo.   They point out what we’ve noticed in our church receptions for years.

                We in church receptions believe all men are made in the image of God.   He places within men and women creative ideas that bring enduring solutions.   Can our church reception conversations about Congo be discussed as policy?

No comments:

Post a Comment