Saturday, January 24, 2009

No holiday

This morning I read the news that Nkunda (the former leader of the CNDP) had been arrested. And then I headed out the door. As I dodged mud puddles, and trash being burned in the streets, it gradually occurred to me that there were no shops open. I looked at my watch, wondered what time they could possibly open, and cursed myself for getting out the door too early. This is probably the only time in my life when that has occurred. And then it struck me that by now, the shops really should be open. The outside vendors were all set up, with shoe displays and peanuts available on every corner, but the doors to every shop remained firmly shut.

A women came up to me saying “Nkunda, Nkunda, Nkunda…”; she said it in a mournful tone. I don’t think there are many people in Goma mourning Nkunda’s arrest, nor are they likely to be shouting it in the streets if they are, so I assume she was taunting me. As a member of the "international community", I guess she assumed that I should be a fan of his. The "international community" has long been accused by Congolese of supporting Nkunda.

As I trudged home, unable to find a single shop open, I asked a number of people why the shops were shut. I was informed by a number of different sources that today had been declared a holiday to celebrate Nkunda’s arrest. As it later turned out, there was no holiday. In fact the shops were closed because of a merchant strike related to customs taxes.

So no holiday for Nkunda. I must say, it didn’t really look like much of a holiday anyway. Apart from my “mournful” lady, no one was shouting in the streets. In Goma in the past few months, I have listened to no shortage of demands for Nkunda to be removed and claims that if only Nkunda were removed the region would be in great shape. It is understandable that people would expect a holiday today.

But I think that Nkunda’s arrest has taken the population by surprise. There was no time to plan a proper holiday. Not even a march in the street. No one seems to know what to make of the whole situation.

Yes, there have been a series of suprising turn-abouts in the past two weeks. First the CNDP ousted Nkunda from leadership. Then, despite stalled peace talks in Kenya, the CNDP, the Rwandan government and the Congolese government called a meeting here in Goma and agreed to work together. Apparently as part of that agreement, Rwandan soldiers have been permitted to enter the country. And finally a joint Rwandan/Congolese force put the pressure on Nkunda, causing him to flee into Rwanda where he was promptly arrested. All of the above would have been unimaginable even two weeks ago.

This is a place that has been longing to celebrate some sign that the war is ending. And this is a people who know how to celebrate. But I have to say, that even though there is no shortage here of people who are glad that Nkunda has been arrested, a holiday has definitely not been called. Even here, a place that would love to declare a victory, any victory, there is still a sense that we aren’t there yet.

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