27. GOMA CONGO LUMUMBA VOLCANO
The Nyiragongo Volcano erupted on January 17th, 2002,
the 41st anniversary of the day
Patrice Lumumba was assassinated on January 17th, 1961.
On Tuesday, the day after our arrival in Gisenyi on Lake Kivu (and the day before our departure from Rwanda), we went with a guide over the Rwanda-Congo border to the neighbouring city of Goma.
Goma had played a big role in the 1994 genocide because just six miles out of its town centre a so-called "refugee" camp was established by the United Nations to look after the millions of Hutus who fled over the border from Rwanda, their killing of Tutsis having been stopped by the army of the Rwandese Patriotic Front (RPF) as they advanced through the country. In reality, the fleeing Hutus weren't refugees but "fugitives". See GOMA CAMP MAFIA HOTEL.
Goma is significant as well for being in the part of Congo (Kivu Province) which is next door to Stanleyville (in Northeastern Province) where Patrice Lumumba had been the most popular, and to which he was returning after escaping from house arrest down southwest in Leopoldville where he'd been illegally imprisoned by his political enemies. Just four months prior, in June 1960 - on Independence Day from Belgium - he had been sworn in as Congo's first democratically elected leader. See CONGO IS LUMUMBA LAND
I had first learned about Lumumba's heroic role in Congolese history (and African) after reading that he was admired by JFK who would have done everything in his power to get Lumumba out of prison and back in control of the Congo, had he become President of the USA in time. But, to make sure that JFK could never free him, Lumumba was assassinated on January 17th, 1961, three days before JFK's Inauguration on January 20th, 1961. See JFK CRIED FOR CONGO and JFK'S INAUGURAL ADDRESS.
Our guide, although presently living in Rwanda, was Congolese from Goma and wanted to show us the damage caused by the volcano that erupted there in 2002, destroying most of the city, including a business he owned.
He explained that four years ago the Nyiragongo Volcano - which is part of the Virungas where the gorillas live - erupted. About 30% of Goma was destroyed and 500,000 people made homeless. The entire downtown business district, 12,000 homes and the airport were destroyed. Miraculously, only 100 people were killed.
The photos below show the route we took through town and past the airport to the place where the volcanic lava erupted from underground:
Grey dust and black rocks - everywhere - describes Goma. I'd never seen anything like the bike this boy was pushing, although later we saw that many people had these wooden bikes with wooden wheels which seemed to be the main form of transporting goods. In the far distant upper left of the photo notice the triangular shaped building. Then, in the photo below see that building up close:
I'm standing in front of all that's left of a church that was otherwise completely destroyed by the volcano's eruption. The only reason this wall survived the heat and the crushing from the lava is because it is itself made of lava rock. It must have been built after the eruption in 1977, which killed several hundred people but caused less damage than the most recent one in 2002.
The photos below are at the outskirts of town, beyond the airport, and show where the lava came up from under the ground. It didn't spew out from the top or side of the volcano but instead ran underground and spewed out at this particular point. That's why there are trees still standing in the distance between the volcano and the lava:
The photo above shows a bike, like the one in the photo with the boy, loaded with bananas, requiring three men to balance and push it. The women are carrying water containers, the usual source of water for the majority of people. The photo on the right shows the volcano in the background from which some smoke can be seen escaping from its side. We picked up a piece of lava rock and brought it home as a souvenir. Driving back along the road and back to the Rwandan border I took a couple of photos from the car:
The poverty and eking out an existence by the people is obvious. Life is hard here and our guide explained that the mess from the volcano hasn't been cleaned up because there is no governmental infrastructure - no insurance, no delivery of services, nothing. He explained that the road ends after one-hundred miles and beyond that, it's impossible - and not safe - to travel.
We'd noticed many white UN vehicles on the road and he said they were here to monitor upcoming elections which were going to be the first since Lumumba's election forty-six years previously. I asked our guide if he was expecting the elections to be honest and although he didn't think they would be, he fervently hoped they would. I asked him what he thought of Patrice Lumumba and he told me that he was his hero - that he was everyone in the Congo's hero - and that actually it was on the anniversary of Lumumba's assassination - January 17th - that the volcano had erupted.
That struck me as amazingly coincidental, but maybe it's symbolic of the wrath Lumumba would no doubt express if he were alive today to see the hell hole that is the Congo in these forty-five years since his death. Had he lived, and his policies been enacted, the riches of the Congo would have benefited the people, and it would be a thriving, middle-class nation - an example to the entire continent.
The Congo has a heartbreaking history of enslavement and cruelty perpetrated by the Belgians who colonialized it, after it was handed over to them by King Leopold of Belgium who had run it as his personal property, using Stanley (of "Doctor Livingstone I presume" fame) to set up rubber and ivory camps along the Congo river which he had been the first to travel in its entirety.
Horror stories have been written about the 18th and 19th century rubber, ivory and slave trade in the Congo but it's less common knowledge about the horror stories that have been going on for the past forty-six years, since so-called "independence" regarding the copper, gold, oil and diamond trade, which goes on to this day (and now the ivory trade again). With its wealth in valuable mineral resources the Congo should be a modern nation with the government spending the money earned from the country's resources on providing water, electricity, roads, hospitals, schools and everything else civilized societies have. But, instead, the people of the Congo have had nothing in all these years and continue to have nothing. The only major form of transportation is still the Congo river, as roads and railway tracks only go back and forth to mineral mines to dig out the copper, cobalt, gold, diamonds etc. The people of the Congo are the slave labour while the thug politicians live like multi-millionaires on the perks they're given by the heads of the multi-national corporations who own the mines, be they Belgian, French, British, American, Russian or Chinese.
After our arrival back home to Canada we followed news of the Congo elections in July and were disappointed, but not surprised, that the present dictator - like his father Kabila and his predecessor Mobutu - has no intention of relinquishing power. When he didn't win the majority required he sent out his troops to surround and attack his closest opposition. Although there is no man like Lumumba in the running, at least there had been hope for the process. But those hopes, like Lumumba's democracy, have been killed in the cradle. ~ Jackie Jura
SLEEPING ON LAVA IN RAIN
Looting and anger in Congo capital (Residents of the capital, who live below the poverty line in this country so rich in natural resources, have had enough. "All we want is for the president not to be chosen through weapons"). BBC, Aug 23, 2006
People who never voted; candidates they've never heard of. Times, Jul 22, 2006
...25 million people will vote. The Democratic Republic of Congo has only 200 miles (320km) of paved road outside its cities; ballot papers the size of posters will be delivered to 46,718 polling stations by plane, boat, dug-out canoe, bicycle, mule and foot....33 presidential and 9,500 parliamentary candidates. The UN has trained 300,000 election workerss; 17,500 UN troops in the country; election itself will cost £235 million...The villagers have an extraordinary belief that casting a ballot will, almost miraculously, end the decades of dictatorship and war, though most have little idea how democracy works...President Kabila is expected to romp home...He is said to have bought off his most dangerous opponents and maintains strict control of the state media...Moreover, the powerful Church has warned the electorate that too much change could bring renewed conflict. Mr Kabila's conduct has brought only muted criticism from the West. Indeed, skeptics say that the election will serve merely to rubber-stamp his power...
CONGO IS LUMUMBA LAND and JFK CRIED FOR CONGO
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