«The headquarters of the rebel Congolese Rally for Democracy (RCD) is in Goma, a beautiful lakeside town on the shores of Lake Kivu surrounded by high green mountains. At nights, crowds of soldiers and civilians and a surprising number of Russians mingle in Goma’s restaurants and bars where the civil war seems far away.
The only sound that interrupts the dance music in the clubs is that of the thundering transport planes landing and taking off from the local airfield. It is the Russians who are flying in arms and supplies in their huge Antonov aircraft. From here they supply the remote towns in the central Congo captured by rebel forces in the last three months. The CentraAfrican Airlines could be more aptly named Air Russia. Silent Russian pilots and crews are just offering their services, like all the other freebooters interested in making big money out of the Congo’s tragic civil war.
The rebel leaders are grouped around their chairman Professor Ernest Wamba dia Wamba in a sort of informal ‘university club’. The professor who is doing interviews every day with the foreign press on his satellite phone concerning the military and political situation in the country does not even know how to communicate with his own troops; the same troops that are supposed to bring him to the presidential palace in the capital Kinshasa and a future, democratic Congo.
I suddenly remember a story about the old dictator in Zaire-Congo, President Mobutu that a Tutsi rebel commander in Rwanda told me. According to the story, Rwanda’s President Habyarimana phones his friend Mobutu when the Tutsi rebels (RPF) invaded Rwanda from Uganda in 1990.
‘The rebels are invading my country, what should I do?’, asked Habyarimana on the phone.
‘Are they coming in airplanes?’, Mobutu asked.
‘No, no they are coming in jeeps and trucks’, answered Habyarimana.
‘Brother, I told you not to build any roads’, Mobutu responded.
The fact is that still today there is no road connection through the enormous Congo, so the rebels have a long walk down to Kinshasa if they don’t use Russian airplanes. This is an offensive that, of course, has to be paid somehow – and that would be the minerals and natural resources as their only alternative»
Peter Strandberg | Goma, Congo-Kinshasa (DRC) | 1998