The 1997 to 2003 “all Africa war” that consumed most countries in the heart of the continent had its roots in the Rwandan genocide and civil war. It continues to complicate political alliances and state stability to this day, especially in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Pamela Couture’s We are Not All Victims makes a distinctive contribution to the vast literature on this war with a richly documented focus on war-time and postwar peacebuilding in the northern Katanga province of the DRC. The volume describes the significant interventions of United Methodist bishop Ntambo Nkulu Ntanda and his circle of pastors, builders, agricultural development experts, pilots, and medical specialists in dealing with the war and its aftermath in the region identified by the cities of Lubumbashi, Kamina, Kabongo, and eastward to Lake Tanganyika, as well as many villages in between.
The book situates this local (or regional) story within the context of the larger international conflict from 1997 on. The reader is able to see the local expressions of the larger conflict, and compare the North Katanga situation to other regional settings in the DRC where similar phases and patterns prevailed: the collapse of Mobutu’s state and the rise of the opposition alliance headed by Lauren Kabila, backed by Rwanda; the backlash by Congolese in the government, catching many people in the crossfire between warring sides; the invasion of Congo by Rwanda, Uganda, and Burundi in hot pursuit of former Rwandan government cadres, again catching many people in the crossfire; the engagement by troops from Zimbabwe and Angola on the side of the Congolese government; the rise of local militias like the Mai-Mai in Katanga and Kivu, self-appointed to protect their populace, but also eager to gain power and cash in on the economy of war.
North Katanga, like many areas, witnessed the flight from the fighting by large masses of people, resulting in these masses trying to survive in forests and the bush, on their way to secure camps for the displaced. Bishop Ntambo’s remarkable story of the restoration of civic order in the midst of the ongoing crisis includes his courageous leadership in building shelters and other structures with permanent kiln-burned bricks, thereby instilling a sense of confidence in the population; feeding multitudes of the displaced, including orphans, and setting up food production farms to increase food availability; cooperating with other religious leaders—traditionalists, Catholics, Protestant groups, Muslims, Pentecostals, independent charismatics—to resolve conflicts between armies and citizens. In sum, the story of Bishop Ntambo and his amazing interventions in a war-related crisis needs to be told both to give witness to the particular case study, but also to demonstrate how one can enable local reconciliation and rebuilding anywhere. Couture argues convincingly that there is in this story a model for many other peacebuilding situations.
Couture’s methodology is as compelling as the story. The book’s narrative combines references to the widely available scholarly literature on the All-African War with extensive detailed accounts by individuals she calls “witnesses.” These are identified in Appendix 1 as “Characters in Order of their Appearance.” Their accounts are sometimes given verbatim, but much of the narrative is the author’s slightly enhanced prose to provide vivid details about what people wore, what food they ate, what the weather may have been like, how peace conferences were organized and who sat where, who threatened to leave, and how Bishop Ntambo spoke to the combatants to calm them down to move toward agreement.
Throughout the book, but especially in her conclusion, Couture reflects on the implications of this story for practical theology, a subject she teaches at Emmanuel College, University of Toronto. Considered under this rubric are: the relationship between Christianity and indigenous religion, in this case Luba-African spirituality, and how the two overlap and must be taken into consideration in working with adherents of both; the place of ritual, especially prayer, in the work of peacebuilding; the all-important role of food especially in a setting where hunger is widespread, and marauding armies demand to be fed by the populations they “protect” or harass, but where feasting has often celebrated reconciliation, where antagonists share their scarce resources in the most visible expression of newly-found social harmony.
In sum, this book makes a significant contribution to writing and practicing theology in action in the context of war and its aftermath. The rich, often painful, yet in the end victorious experience of United Methodists in north Katanga and worldwide offers a model of local peacebuilding and hope for Congo’s future. We desperately need this as new rounds of conflict emerge in this troubled land again facing transition and tragedy. Bishop Ntambo of North Katanga, and the work he inspired, should be a beacon to all involved in peacebuilding wherever it is needed.
John M. Janzen is professor emeritus of sociocultural anthropology at the University of Kansas.
John M. Janzen
Date Of Review:
September 14, 2017
Pamela D. Couture is the Jane and Geoffrey Martin chair of church and community at Emmanuel College of Victoria University in the University of Toronto.
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