Friday, 11 November 2016

Kinshasa: Harassed by undercover police in Victoire

I usually stick to the well beaten track in Kinshasa. There are places foreigners shouldn’t venture alone. At least it’s wise to have someone who knows the ropes before going into the more dangerous areas.
I needed to collect some money from Sr Rachel in Limete. I’d taken a mini-bus from quiet Kinsuka, where I’m staying, all the way to Victoire, where I met up with my chaperone for the day, Judith Bondjembo. Judith runs the nutrition project for me in Basankusu and is in Kinshasa, like me, on holiday, but also to accompany someone for medical treatment.

Selling bread in Kinshasa's Victoire neighbourhood (Nat. Geo.)
We’d left Sr Rachel and were looking for a shared taxi in Victoire. The taxi area near the large petrol station, opposite the monument, was crowded and milling with hundreds of people, as usual. Shops, market stalls, bars, beggars and all the world were there. A man standing near one of the taxis said he wanted to talk to me. This is quite usual – people either want to sell something or to beg money. I pushed past him but he insisted. He jumped in front of me and was joined by two other men. They each were holding walkie-talkies. He demanded to see my passport. I pushed him in the chest and he pushed me back. Eventually, I was surrounded by seven men who claimed to be police. I shouted “Au secours!” (Help!) as loud as I could in the hope that they would be embarrassed and leave me alone. Eventually a uniformed policeman came across – but he did nothing. The men then showed their ID and a document to show that they were, indeed, police. They demanded my passport and visa – or a photocopy.

The busy Victoire neighbourhood in Kinshasa (internet)

I would have remained standing where we were because it was quite a public place and a crowd had formed around us. Judith agreed that we should follow the men to a quieter spot. Although I tried to remain calm, my legs were already trembling. Personally, I would have liked to have stayed where I was.

Out of the view of the crowd, they tried to reassure us that there was nothing to worry about. Because I didn’t have my passport with me they demanded “a little something”. Judith offered them 10,000 FC but they then did the usual frightener and said that they would have to take us to their colonel. I imagined this was bluff, but Judith had already decided to give them all the money she had, which was 35,000 FC, about $35 US.

They then decided to push the situation further and said if we had a “little $100” it would be better.
I was extremely upset – mainly because there was no way out. I didn’t feel very well from the stress of it all and decided to act a little more sick than I felt. They seemed to take that seriously and let us go. As Judith helped me into a taxi, one of them leaned in and said, “If he dies, it wasn’t anything we did.”

I’m sure that you are unable to do anything about such incidents, but it’s good for you to know about it all the same. It’s strange to think that people here think that tourism could be developed in Congo – it might be a good idea for them to be a bit more welcoming to foreigners to begin with.

I've talked to people about these so-called police officers. It seems they were genuine - but it also seems likely that they were part of an elite group of supporters of the incumbent president. They are trained to harass foreigners and that could explain why the uniformed policeman didn't help me. The president of DR Congo wants to extend his mandate - because obviously nobody else could do the job as well as he has(n't). The government attitude at the moment is very "anti-foreigner" and this is one of three incidents where I've been targeted because of the colour of my skin. Here's a newspaper report about the present situation.

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