The biggest group of marchers, and the one that receives the most cheers, is the PPRD, the party of current President Joseph Kabila. The great majority of people I talk to here say they plan to vote for Kabila, crediting him with bringing peace to eastern Congo. Many believe he'll receive a good chunk of votes in the west as well, and with the main opposition party boycotting, Kabila appears on his way to an easy victory.
After four hours of this raucous fun, the parade ends and the crowd is brought back to reality with a somber speech by Petronille Vwaweka, a tough human rights activist who is now Ituri district commissioner. She announces that this morning, not far away from Bunia, dead-ender militias who are refusing to give up the fight have clashed with the fledgling Congolese armed forces, and that several government soldiers were wounded. "Our brothers are dying, for what?" she asks, implicitly blaming the silent crowd.
She then draws cheers from the women in the crowd with a jab at their local men's preference for fighting over working. She also refers to several Nepalese U.N. peacekeepers whom rebels had taken hostage nearby: "You wait for the foreigners to feed you, and then you kidnap them." (They were released a week later.)
"After the elections we have to work hard. … We are tired of war, tired of fighting. Enough is enough," she finishes, and the sobered crowd disperses.
But some Congolese have not had enough. The rebels continue to advance, pushing the government forces with heavy mortar fire. Just a few days after Independence Day, they reached within 12 miles of Bunia, prompting the U.N. peacekeepers to cordon off the city and police to institute a curfew. The irrepressible spirit of the Congolese and their bloody civil war keep shimmying along, side by side.
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