I got tied up at work this evening and left for home around 6:30.
Right from the onset of leaving the office things seemed a little odd, not only was it pitch black, which I am not used to seeing, but it was raining (a little) in mid-December, which I am also not used to seeing.
Aside from the nocturnal and meteorological aberrations, I also heard emergency sirens coming from what seemed like every direction, and I even heard what sounded like a simultaneous mixture of a celebration and a protest.
Somewhat perplexed, I fastened my toque, hoped on my bike (well “our” bike, since mine was thieved a while back and I still ride my wive’s) and proceeded to head for home.
As I got halfway between my office and the University of Ottawa campus I happened upon a police road block and saw about 150 people standing on the street outside of an embassy. Being the curious Gerard monkey that I am, I slipped along past the road block, through the side walk, and stopped to see what was going on.
I soon learned that the Congoese (hope I have that right) community of Ottawa was protesting the corruption and general state of chaos in their homeland. They were symbolically voicing their frustration at the one building in Canada that officially represents their country.
What was surprising for me was that the police showed up in full force and actually had a fairly large riot squad (of about 40 officers in full gear) standing on the front yard of the consulate protecting the building. Clearly this is not something that happens often in Ottawa, but the police were prepared for any escalation.
I spoke with a CBC reporter (David Gerow) who I recognized from his days in Edmonton, and apparently before I arrived things were a little tense, but by the time I got there the protest seemed very peaceful, yet still very passionate.
The crowd sang songs and chanted protests, alternating between sitting and dancing. At times you could sense the genuine frustration and even anger as they expressed their dissatisfaction with a desperate situation that has seen over 5 million (!) people die in what is called the African World War since 1998. The worst of the killings were years ago but violence still continues in the eastern part of Congo, Africa’s second largest country, and home to 70 million people.
Today they were protesting that recent elections were undemocratic and that President Joseph Kabila should leave Congo, while at the same time venting frustration that the West, including Canada, sits idly by while women and children are victims of corruption and brutality, and that the dysfunction leads to oppression and death on a daily basis.
Apparently there were similar protests in several other capital cities around the world.
Talking to some of these young protesters I was struck again by the good fortune that we have here in Canada and the trivial nature of most of our obsessions.
Below is a very poorly lit look at the scene. In the clips you are able to hear the group as they vocalized their frustration, as well as one of the protestors as he was interviewed.
Just as a footnote, some of the sirens that I heard as I left the office had to do with what I saw after I left the Congo consulate – several blocks later I saw a three car pile-up that ended up in someone’s front yard – thankfully nobody seemed hurt. I decided not to take a photo of the unfortunate mishap as I sensed the drivers would not appreciate the gesture.
Anyway, here’s to the good people of Congo as they continue to struggle for peace, security and improved democracy.