US Marines In The Congo-Beni War by Hubert Kabasu Babu Katulondi (published by Author House) tells the story of a US marine sent to the Congo by the Pentagon to be part of a team of military instructors selected to train a battalion of Congolese Special Forces. He boarded a UN plane in Goma and was travelling to the training center in the city of Kisangani, in the DR Congo. However, the aircraft crashed in the middle of the jungle, with the crew perishing in the accident. The Marine and other passengers survived, only to be attacked and captured by merciless Simba militiamen. The story is based on true events, and 20% of all proceeds of the book will go to the casualty department of the Beni Hospital. This excerpt is published by permission.
The Schoolteacher with a Kalashnikov
In 2000, rebels from the Congolese Front for Liberty (CFL) broke a cease-fire agreed upon in the Lusaka Accord signed in 1998. Subsequently, they attacked government positions in the eastern region by the border with Uganda. Then they progressed to the north and captured the town of Mutwanga. Thereafter, they attempted to advance to the northwest, to the city of Beni. But they were defeated by Congolese soldiers assisted by a battalion made up of Zimbabwean and Namibian troops. The CFL rebels then blocked the road to Beni and occupied Mutwanga for a few months.
They were later kicked out by a joint offensive of the Congolese soldiers backed by the Zimbabwean Air Force F7 combat aircrafts. CFL rebels retreated to the south. The government stationed troops in the city of Beni and the town of Mutwanga. During the rebels’ occupation of Mutwanga in 2000, they unleashed their merciless wrath against all soldiers of the national army. These were hunted down throughout the entire region and killed callously.
Lieutenant André fled through the forests and walked over 80 miles to the northwest. He swam across crocodile-infested rivers and finally reached the village of Ukweli, where his cousin Fataki lived. They hid him there for a few weeks. André’s situation was desperate when he was fleeing from Mutwanga in 2000. He was hunted by rebel forces and wanted by the military police of the Congolese army. The latter had released an arrest warrant against him. He was accused of abandoning troops under his command and desertion. But André rejected that allegation. He later told his cousin Fataki that when the onslaught occurred, he left his border post and rushed to Mutwanga with some of his soldiers to support his colleagues and the troops being slaughtered by CFL rebels. Though he often quarrelled with the Mutwanga commander, André felt he had to help the man. They had disputes because the Mutwanga commander wanted to get André replaced by another lieutenant whom he could manipulate to obtain a larger share of the money from the border post.
When André arrived in Mutwanga, he found that the company there had been overwhelmed by enemy firepower. The commander of the government troops had vanished. The company was in disarray. André personally sprinted to the customs office, where he used the radio to alert the major in charge of government troops in Beni of the need for backup. But backup never arrived. The major later argued that army trucks at his disposal were all broken down. Two months prior to the offensive, he had sent several requests for spare parts. No response came from the regiment’s authorities in the city of Butembo. Nevertheless, Lieutenant André attempted to reorganize the troops for resistance. Rebels brought in more men and unleashed mayhem on government forces in Mutwanga.
Loyal troops were outnumbered and slaughtered. Half of the company was butchered. Many were maimed with machetes. André realized that without any backup, the situation was hopeless. He had no choice but to order his soldiers to flee. And so he fled to Ukweli and got a hiding place in his cousin’s home.
The priest of Ukweli Catholic parish was leaving for Kampala to attend a conference on peace in the region. Fataki begged him to give a ride to André. The Mutwanga commander later said he ran to Beni to seek help. He lambasted André as deprived of military dignity and a coward who abandoned troops to the hands of bloodthirsty CFL rebels.
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Now, on his return visit to Ukweli, André rushed outside to his Beniha motorbike and retrieved a large bag. He came back into the house and opened it. He looked at Martha, smiled, and said, “My dear Martha, here are two sets of materials for you and two pairs of shoes. Cousin, here are three shirts, two pairs of pants, and two pairs of shoes. The rest is for the kids. I hope the clothes will fit them. Ah! Here are 850,000 Congolese Francs for you to buy food. I must rush quickly, because I have to get to my destination before tonight.” “Thank you, thank you, André,” Martha shouted and hugged André. “God bless you, my brother-in-law. You have no idea how you have saved us! Today, we were wondering what we were going to feed the kids with. Actually, as we are here, our bigger boys have gone to hunt bats in the Ituri Forest caves.”
Fataki kept quiet. Overwhelmed, he rolled his eyes and looked dryly at André. He took his cousin’s hand and pulled him outside through the back door. The schoolteacher got closer to his cousin and said, “André, where have you gotten all this wealth?” “We are freedom fighters, my brother. We get a fair compensation for our sacrifice for our people and our nation. Plus Katulondi the UCPJ is a very well-organized movement. It takes good care of its revolutionaries,” André answered and shrugged his shoulders. “To be frank with you, André, I have never heard of that UCPJ of yours!” Fataki countered. “You know, armed groups, militias, and rebel organizations of all sorts mushroom as churches and political parties proliferate in this country. This UCPJ of yours—where does it operate, by the way?” “We are based around Geti, south of Lake Albert, by the border with Uganda. Come on, Fataki! You are a very smart man. And you are still strong. You can join us. You will serve your country and also provide for your family. Look at you! From what I have heard, this district is controlled by the treacherous Kinshasa government which, you know as well as I do, is filled with the Congolese lackeys of Rwandan invaders. You have not been paid for many years. That is what I heard people say in Kampala. Join us!” André suggested.
Fataki looked his cousin straight in the eye. A sequence of dry coughs escaped from his throat. “André, are you sure that your UCPJ is not a front for the Ugandans in their struggle for regional hegemony against the Rwandans? Your words seem to reflect the Ugandans’ hatred for Rwandans Tutsi politicians, whom they accuse of being arrogant and ungrateful for the help Uganda gave them to conquer power in Rwanda. Now they do not want to repay Ugandan authorities by sharing with them the spoils they get from Congo. Isn’t it so, André?” Fataki sounded very serious. “What nonsense is that, Fataki? Who fed you such rubbish? That is Rwandan propaganda,” André responded, almost angrily. “For sure there is competition between Ugandan and Rwandan authorities for regional hegemony, but that is none of our business. We are genuine patriots who want to liberate our beloved Congo. Join us, Fataki!” André suggested convincingly.