One of the things required of newcomers in Uvira is meeting with the ANR, the office of local intelligence, a relic of Mobutu’s paranoia. The office for our quartier is not too far from where we live, so Ned, Isidord, Pascal (my neighbor), and I weaved our way to the crumbling brick building. The secretary of the ANR, a small, suspicious-looking gentleman with shifty eyes, perused my passport with interest. He then announced that my visa from the embassy in Bujumbura was not sufficient to travel between the 11 provinces of the DRC, and I needed to register with the Grand Chef de l’ANR, the big boss. The secretary called his boss, who arrived about forty minutes later, completely drunk. The Grand Chef stumbled in, yelling at me in Swahili, but eventually gathered his faculties enough to sit down and speak to me in French. He made me fill out another bogus “registration” form, and even had me fill out the part that read “for administration only”. After this was done he took my passport and demanded 30 American dollars to complete my “registration”. When we protested, he put my passport in his dossier and got up as if to leave. We acquiesced, and I slipped him three ten-dollar bills. The Grand Chef and his secretary chuckled with satisfaction, and we left without further ado. The form I filled out will probably be used to light charcoal.
So, such is corruption. However, one must remember that shaking down mzungu for $30 is one of the nicer things that corrupt government officials do around here. Imagine what life is like for ordinary Congolese, who are exploited and pushed around by the powers-that-be every day. There is a prominent yet ironic billboard in town depicting a FARDC soldier shielding fearful Congolese peasants from missiles and bombs falling from neighboring lands. The irony is that Congolese people have a lot to fear from the predatory actions of agents of their own government, not just from invading armies. This is what it must be like to be completely powerless, ravaged without respite by marauders both foreign and domestic.
Posted By Walter James
Posted Jun 11th, 2009