Open-Air Justice for Mai-mai

Starting on the 19th of January 2021, there was a public trial in the town of Kindu, the nearest large town to the Lomami National Park.  On trial were six Mai-Mai insurgents – call them village terrorists – that had banded around two young war-lords, Fidel on the west side of the park and Bernard on the east side of the park.

Fidele Lofeno au milieu des acolytes_ligotés
At the trial: Fidel is in the middle with two others from his band on either side. Kindu watches from the street behind.

At first it seemed petty:  robbery at knife point, stealing a rifle from a park guard at night.  It quickly escalated (2019-2020) to torture, murder, ritual be-headings, cannibalism and live burials. The victims were from neighboring ethnic groups, but also much closer, even from clans that speak the same dialect.

La vidéo de l'enterrment de madame Honorine
On “stage” at the open-air trial

Defendants in green shirts on the left, witnesses seated in the back, the judges on the right. Here with video of the live-burial of Mama Honorine.

WHY did this horror happen? The Mai-Mai told victims, recruits and judges at the trial that they were protectors of their traditional forest.  They would make outsiders pay or leave; they would give back the park to their brothers.  But is that why you behead a shop-owner who hesitates to hand you all he has, or why you torture a fellow cultivator just down the road who says he is glad the military are after you?  Is that reason to bury alive a woman who says she knows nothing of secret forest treasures that you think she is hiding?  Your explanation does not explain why you gang-raped over a hundred married women and young girls in nearby villages.

Fidel was hand grabbed by the villagers themselves – they had had enough.  

Fidel_prisoner and being insulted by village
Fidel in captivity in Ohandja a village on the Pole-Pole road.

Villagers were tired of his extortion; they would no longer put up with his humiliation of women who were their sisters and cousins.  And also, they were given courage by an FZS-TL2 military sweep, on-going along the Lomami River.

mission leaves Polepole in TL2 dugout
The military, in an FZS-TL2 dugout, pull out from Pole-Pole where they had a shoot-out with Fidel’s band.

Bernard was caught by a military hit-squad.

Bernard captured
Bernard in captivity in Ichuku village before being transferred to Kindu.

He only spent a few days in Kindu before being flown to Kinshasa as informants believe he is supported by powerful people in Kindu.

After he was gone three of his band were caught, all with multiple accusations against them.  

What seemed strange to me is that at the trial itself, there were few witnesses. Enough to condemn them, though.  Three to life in prison, three to 20 years, one to 10 years.

Le  victime idrisa _FZS-TL2
Idris testifying.

Among the witnesses: Idris in white shirt, Katamoto in embroidered shirt and, next to him, Mama Marie from Ichuku.

We congratulate those witnesses who came forward at the open trial:

Katamoto – the leader of those who caught Fidel;
Idris – shot by Fidel’s gang, but survived;
Boji –  his nephew beaten, then shot and killed by Fidel;
Military — their own ambushed, shot and killed by Bernard’s gang;
Two married women – gang raped, stripped and made to walk through the village as their house was burned by Bernard’s gang.

Particularly damning was a video, made with a cheap phone, of Honorine’s live burial by Bernard and gang.  Unlike the middle ages, the executioners did not wear masks.  Totally visible  were the young men that beat her with sticks, the man who pulled her into the grave hole, and those that shoveled sandy clay over her last struggles.

Madame Marie Kafua témoigne contre Taye sur viol, torture et incendie de sa maison
Mama Marie from Ichuku testifies. The crowd has overflowed onto the “stage”.

Sitting on the bench below in the center is, Taye, one of the men that gang-raped her:

Simon Ndjate, Taye Ilungu au milieu et Patrice Sona (1)
Taye, center, with two others from Bernard’s band.

BUT where were the majority of the witnesses?

We were told repeatedly that tradition is stronger than government.  The legal system has little credibility in remote villages.  As before colonial time, the relations between adjacent groups and clans are modulated by pacts, blood bonding.  There are people you do not betray to the outside; you wait – or else far worse will happen. Let Tradition bring its own justice.

These were not small crimes committed by Bernard’s Mai-Mai and Fidel’s Mai-Mai:

A teacher from Boyela was kidnapped and tortured over 12 days;
A shop-owner was tortured and his wife gang-raped; she miscarried their baby;
Another shop-owner tortured and robbed;
An influential villager beheaded, cut up and eaten, his bones used to make fetishes;
A bicycle vendor stabbed multiple times and his goods stolen;
A chief forced to torture himself;
An Ngo employee shot and beheaded (not FZS-TL2).

These crimes and many others had witnesses or survivors.  Some came all the way to Kindu to witness at the open trial, but then decided that they could not give testimony.  They were more afraid of Tradition, and possibly of those Mai-Mai not yet arrested, or the brothers and uncles of those arrested that might take revenge.

The judges
The President-Judge of the military tribunal addresses the defendants.

And there was abundant reason for fear: Who paid for the 8 defence lawyers? Who raised the 3,000 USD to lighten their sentences, that the President of the Military Court turned down?

One Comment

  1. Daniel Alempijevic
    Posted 2021-02-23 at 5:57 pm | Permalink

    Wow. What unimaginable horror Fidel, Bernard and their followers have inflicted in TL2. Thank you for sharing such an intimate and revealing report, that once again shows how deep-seated these traditional beliefs are.

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