In press reports this weekend and in the 2008 Blood Coltan documentary Gen. Laurent Nkunda, the Tutsi warlord who recently displaced 250,000 Congolese and killed and raped hundreds more identifies himself as a Seventh-day Adventist and a one-time pastor. [I’ve asked the General Conference for details and will post them as they come in.]
Before folks comment there is an essential larger context to this story that includes the Coltan trade, religious syncretism, globalization, and ethnic violence. These fascinating angles are covered in the 50 min. documentary Blood Coltan embedded at the bottom which also includes a filmed interview and the most direct statements about Adventism by Gen. Laurent Nkunda.
On Nov. 8, the Associate Press reported:
The first sound we heard climbing through mud and curtains of rain to Nkunda’s camp was a monotonous hum: It was the sound of prayer emanating from a darkened room — a makeshift chapel in one of several brick structures scattered around the jungle.
A drummer started to beat a rhythm, and the congregation of uniformed young men started to sing.
Hours later, when Nkunda finally appeared, he held forth on his religious faith.
“I was born into a Christian family and I have always believed,” he said.
The man blamed for a 10-week offensive that has forced 250,000 people from their homes as his fighters captured great swaths of eastern Congo says he’s a born-again Christian and one-time Adventist pastor who’d rather be teaching than soldiering.
He’s often seen wearing a lapel button reading: “Rebels for Christ.”
The conflict in eastern Congo is fueled by festering ethnic hatred left over from the 1994 slaughter of a half-million Tutsis in Rwanda, and Congo’s civil wars from 1996-2002, which drew its neighbors into a rush to plunder Congo’s mineral wealth.
Nkunda defected from the army in 2004, saying he needed to protect his tiny Tutsi minority from Rwandan Hutu militias. He has since expanded his mission to “liberating” Congo from an allegedly corrupt government.
New clashes between the army and rebels erupted Friday just outside Goma near Kibati, where about 45,000 refugees have taken refuge. Thousands fled toward the relative safety of Goma.
Nkunda called a unilateral cease-fire last week when his forces reached the outskirts of Goma, but the truce has crumbled.
On Thursday, Nkunda appeared in crisp camouflage and a bush hat, with an expensive hardwood cane topped in silver.
“We will continue fighting and we will fight all the way to (the capital) Kinshasa,” he vowed.
According to War News:
Nkunda has been indicted for war crimes in September 2005 and is under investigation by the International Criminal Court.
According to human rights monitors such as Refugees International, Nkunda’s troops have been alleged to have committed acts of murder, rape, and pillaging of civilian villages; a charge which Nkunda denies. Amnesty International says his troops have abducted children as young as 12 and forced them to serve as child soldiers.
The New York Times Two for the Road (with Nick Kristof) blog notes after a visit:
Tall, young in appearance, and good looking, Nkunda was wearing camouflage, tinted glasses, a beret, and a lapel pin that read, “Rebels for Christ.” He is the son of farmers, the father of six children, a psychology major in college, and a former teacher. He considers himself “a soldier and a trainer” and also a “traditional chief.” He speaks with great conviction and glowing excitement, he quotes everyone from Gandhi to Gen. MacArthur. In short, Nkunda is charisma defined.
He proudly sported a pin, “Rebels for Christ.” Before each drink and meal, he and his faithful prayed. “We fight in the name of the Lord,” he told us. “That is what I tell all my troops. When they fight, they have God on their side.”
The Adventist Development and Relief Agency reports:
The Adventist Development and Relief Agency (ADRA) is preparing emergency relief for tens of thousands of displaced persons who fled their homes near Goma along the border between Congo and Rwanda. The aid is coming after an outbreak of violence in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo’s North Kivu province.
. . .
“Food prices have soared more than 50 percent in Goma, and food is barely available for purchase,” said Romain Kenfack, country director for ADRA in Goma.
. . .
Since November 4, new fighting has broken out between the National Congress for the Defence of the People (CNDP), Congolese Tutsi rebels led by General Laurent Nkunda, and the local pro-government Mai-Mai militia. The rebels report that Rwanda Hutu Democratic Liberation Forces of Rwanda (FDLR)
rebels, and government forces have fought along with the Mai-Mai at Kiwanja, near Rutshuru, but were pushed back.
Approximately 250,000 persons were displaced during the last two months, resulting in a total of nearly one million refugees in the Congo, the United Nations said.
Watch this 50 min. documentary which makes the connections between the cell-phone Coltan trade, the market-driven inhumanity, liberation theology European Christian activism and rebel leader General Nkunda. Nkunda explains Seventh-day Adventism to the interviewers: “This is a large organization. It started in America. They often come and preach. . . . He adds that “living in the forest doesn’t stop me from carrying out my ecclesiastical mission.”
It’s interesting to see the varieties of religion captured in this documentary – a Catholic liberation theology-trained priest protesting the violence, a pastor war criminal mixing “abundant life” scriptural bromides with his just war theory of being a “rebel for Christ” and a Christian activist pragmatically trying to tackle the root causes of this international tragedy.