Cablegate: Mobutu's Hometown of Gbadolite "the Most Forgotten

Published: Mon 4 Oct 2004 07:54 AM
This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.
E.O. 12958: N/A
1. (U) Summary. A visit to Gbadolite in northern Equateur
Province showed a region suffering substantial decay, massive
poverty and serious neglect by the national government.
Although security had improved with the departure of large
numbers of MLC soldiers for the east, abuses by remaining
soldiers continued. Vice-President Jean-Pierre Bemba and his
MLC party were unpopular with the local population, despite
the fact that this area is Bemba's stronghold. Demobilization
of child soldiers in Gbadolite started recently, but has run
into obstacles due to lack of resources and expertise on the
part of local NGO's running the program. End Summary.
Gbadolite Longs for the "Glory Days" of Mobutu
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2. (U) Poloff visited Gbadolite September 18 to evaluate the
current situation in the area. He stayed at the once
exclusive Ndekele Hotel owned by Joseph Mobutu, currently in
a state of decay and disrepair. The Ndekele's cracked and
empty swimming pool, peeling walls and broken fixtures are
representative of the general condition of Gbadolite, once
the site of Mobutu's favorite retreat in the Congo. Mobutu's
luxurious Chinese palace and his main mansion in the city lay
in ruins, looted and overgrown by tall grass. The Coca Cola
factory, which ceased production in 1999, lay idle, and the
vast African palm oil plantation Mobutu owned in Gbadolite
was overgrown with vegetation.
3. (U) The only signs of recent progress visible in the city
are the new offices of Vodacom and Celtel communications. A
weekly flight by Wimbi Dira Airlines keeps Gbadolite linked
to Kinshasa, although goods flown from Kinshasa cost two to
three times more in Gbadolite. Trade with the nearby Central
African Republic is minimal due to cumbersome border fees
paid by local merchants and theft by remaining MLC soldiers
(Note: Local officials indicated that the border has been
open only once or twice a month for trade. End Note.)
Subsistence agriculture of crops such as rice, manioc, corn
and peanuts is the main economic activity in the area. There
is also some level of fishing and cattle raising, although
most cattle were killed during the war. The main roads around
the city, however, were actually in good condition and a
local hydroelectric plant produced sufficient electricity to
supply the city and its outlying areas.
4. (SBU) A visit to a Belgian-built hospital 13 miles from
Gbadolite showed empty shells of buildings, a rusting
operating room in which a medical assistant without any
formal training had just performed a cesarean section on a
patient who, to our surprise, had survived the procedure. The
hospital had a handful of unpaid staff and no medicines or
equipment to speak of. A Catholic nun explained that
malnutrition was rampant and that although Medicinis Sans
Frontieres-Belgium (MSF) was present in Gbabolite, their
assistance was limited and most people in the region lacked
access to health care. (Note: MSF was the only international
NGO that we found in the area. End Note.) The same nun noted
that school attendance outside Gbadolite was well under 50%
due to parents' inability to pay school fees.
Bemba's MLC Unpopular with Locals
5. (SBU) Members of civil society, NGO's and local officials
expressed relief over the departure of a significant number
of soldiers from Jean-Pierre Bemba's Movement for the
Liberation of Congo (MLC) to the east. They estimate that out
of approximately 7,000 soldiers deployed in the area prior to
August, only 600-800 remained. Local NGO's said that MLC
soldiers had caused substantial insecurity for the local
population, stealing harvests and destroying agricultural
fields and raping women at will. Such abuses had a
detrimental effect on agriculture, as farmers did not want to
harvest only to essentially feed MLC soldiers.
6. (SBU) While poloff was in Gbadolite, Vice-President Jean
Pierre Bemba made a brief visit to the city, but did not meet
with any local officials. He spent 30 minutes in his private
residence and then left the area. Civil society
representatives said that the MLC had not done anything for
the province and that Bemba was not popular in Gbadolite, the
MLC's former base. The mayor of Gbadolite referred to
Gbadolite as "the most forgotten city in the Congo" and noted
that local people had lost faith in the national authorities
and that the region had yet to see any tangible benefits from
the transitional institutions. According to him, five
political parties are already present in Gbadolite: the MLC,
the Congolese Rally for Democracy-Goma (RCD-G), the People's
Party for Reconstruction and Democracy (PPRD), and the
Popular Movement of the Revolution (MPR).
Demobilization of Child Soldiers Faces Challenges
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7. (SBU) Poloff visited two centers for the demobilization of
child soldiers run by local NGO's in Gbadolite. The
demobilization of child soldiers in the area started on
September 1st. The initial idea involved housing over 120 of
these children in one center. Within the first two days,
these children had threatened a journalist who visited them
and attacked a local teenager. At this point they were
divided into two groups of 60 and placed in two separate
centers. Although there were no credible reports of further
problems with the local population, the demobilized child
soldiers looked restless and angry. (Comment: Some local
activists voiced concern about the lack of expertise on the
part of the NGO's running the demobilization program. Indeed,
poloff did not see any evidence of the availability of
professional staff such as psychologists who could conduct
anger-management sessions for children who openly displayed
high levels of frustration during our visit. End Comment.)
8. (SBU) The NGO's running these centers want to reintegrate
children into their communities. Most children, however, come
from different parts of the Congo and the process of family
reunification could take some time. In the meantime, the
children are being sensitized about community reintegration
and civilian life. The children themselves told poloff that
they were angry at not having received any pay from the
government after several years of military service. Most said
that they came from very poor families and did not want to go
home empty-handed; many were anxious to start school and felt
that the centers did not have enough activities for them.
(Comment: Poloff raised the issue of school attendance with
the NGO's, but they said they did not have the funds to
provide for education at this time. Since most children will
likely spend several months in these centers, this will be an
ongoing source of frustration and a potential problem for the
NGO's and the surrounding communities. End Comment.)
9. (SBU) The Gbadolite region faces many of the same problems
experienced by other regions of the Congo following five
years of war: massive unemployment, insecurity resulting from
unpaid soldiers who prey on the rural population, and lack of
government support for basic services such as health and
education. Gbadolite, like other parts of Equateur Province,
however, has received less attention from international NGO's
and UN agencies, whose primary focus remains the East. The
transition government is unlikely to provide significant
support to the region in the foreseeable future. With
thousands of Congolese refugees expected to return to
northern Equateur Province from the CAR and Congo-Brazzaville
in the next several months, it will be important for the
international community to pay attention to the humanitarian
situation in the area, before it, and security, deteriorate
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