"The Congo is like a human body that bleeds"

KAS E-Lection Bridge Interview with Pierre Mpiana

Also available in Deutsch

The first spring buds sprout in the lavish suburb of Dunkled West in Johannesburg. Sprinklers make the environment humid and fresh. Pierre Mpiana and other participants of the KAS South African Summer Academy for Political Communication enjoy their lunch buffet in the garden. Pierre has usually much tougher hardships to overcome in a political campaign: He organizes the campaign of Eve Bazaiba Masudi, the candidate of the party “Mouvement pour la Liberation du Congo” (MLC) of the east Congolese county of Basoko – a district heavily shaped by the years of civil war. A video of the last campaign testifies: Pierre sends his candidate over bloated slopes and turbulent flows to the region’s market squares, always searching for the direct contact with the voter. One thing however puzzles me: Photos of war crimes and their victims are held up during these events. What does that mean?

KAS MEDIA AFRICA: In your stump speech you showed shocking images of the war shaped reality of your country: abused children and cut-off foots. Why does your party do campaigning with these images in the heated and violent political environment of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC)?

PIERRE MPIANA: I understand if these images are shocking. However, the conditions of the DRC are shocking and we do not want to hide this reality. Our voters are confronted by it on a daily basis. War and violence are the principle concern of the people. Our message behind the images was that the Congo itself is like a human body that bleeds with every sore caused to him. We told the people that our nation depends on all parts and groups of the society such as a body needs it’s foots to walk and hands to build. Only if we are able to stop this violence together, we as a nation can go forward united.

KAS MEDIA AFRICA: Is there a danger involved in using shocking and disturbing pictures?

PIERRE MPIANA: Of course we have to consider carefully between the benefits and possible dangers of our campaigning methods. Pictures are a powerful instrument, because people believe in what they see. Dangerous messages have caused terrible and violent outrages. Our mission beyond the images was to explain that we do not want revenge and hatred but unity and peace. This of course, has to be done in speeches and discussions. Our ambition was not to heat up the atmosphere. We made clear that peace comes first. And we were successful: my candidate was elected national representative for here county.

Pierre H. Mpiana
Pierre H. Mpiana is the assistant of Eve Bazaiba Masudi, the Mouvement pour la Liberation du Congo (MLC) representative of Basoko county in the department Orientale in the Democtaric Republic of Congo (DRC). In addition he works as consultant for different MLC departments such as the Secretary for Youth and Education Affairs or the Women League for Election. Before entering politics in 2005, Pierre Mpiana worked as a sports journalist for a national newspaper in Kinshasa. He holds a diploma in computer science of the Istitut Supérieur de Commerce de Kinshasa and a first degree in biological chemistry.


KAS MEDIA AFRICA: How do I have to imagine myself a political campaign in the DRC? What are your means to reach the voter?

PIERRE MPIANA: Well, you have to know that the district we are campaigning is basically rural. We have severe problems with electricity, water and washed away dirt roads. On the countryside people do not have internet access and not everybody has the money to afford a television. Our means are therefore very simple (laughing): we go directly to the people! We go into the villages and gather them around us. Sometimes we even have to take a boat that brings us to the villages off the roads. We arrange events, seminars and workshops to talk to the voter and explain them our mission. On the other hand we actively engage with communities and improve their social conditions. Especially on the countryside, the government does not provide the basic needs of the people. Doing it ourselves, we show that we care about their wellbeing. In one village for instance, we made sure that the school got equipped with stools and tables. For us, it is also a priority to help women. If you gain their favour, the whole family will support you. So we teach them in the fieldwork or simply organising transport to the hospital.

KAS MEDIA AFRICA: Your party relies on a direct face to face connection with its voters. However, the DRC is vast in extension. Are you not making use of any form of media that would cover larger parts of the country?

PIERRE MPIANA: Oh yes, we do indeed! Radio is very important for us. We have special election programmes with our candidate on local radio stations. Listeners also call from their cell phones and ask direct questions to Eve. You know, Radio is a big thing in the Congo! The leader of our party, Jean Pierre Bemba has even an own broadcasting chain. He owns the radio channel RALIK (Radio Liberté Kinshasa) and the television station CKTV (Canale KIN Télévision). Unfortunately both channels are far away from our district. They operate from the capital, Kinshasa. That is some 1000km in distance.

KAS MEDIA AFRICA: Is it normal that political parties have their own public media chain?

PIERRE MPIANA: What else can we do? Most of the media is basically controlled by the government, or by other political parties. In the “2011 Press Freedom Index”, Reporters without Borders rated the DRC on position 145 of 179! The media is heavily suppressed, especially when it comes to elections. Our TV channel, CKTV was actually set on fire during the 2006 elections campaign. Can you imagine that? Soldiers of the government started to attack the building! If our followers were not there to save the station, it would be completely destroyed.

MLC

The Mouvement pour la Liberation du Congo (MLC) is one of the main opposition parties in the Democtaric Republic of Congo (DRC). The MLC is a former militant organisation actively engaging in the Congolese civil war. It was founded as a political party just before the peace treaty of 2003 by its leader Jean-Pierre Bemba. 2006, The MLC came second in the countries first democratic elections, that were overshadowed by violent outbreaks between followers of the different parties. At the 2011 presidential elections Bemba was not allowed to candidate, owed to the legal proceedings taken against him by the International Crime Court. Den Haag prosecutes Bemba for his role during the civil war.


KAS MEDIA AFRICA: With the KAS E-lection bridge interviews we also want to bring new impulses to German political communicators. What can they learn from your experience in the DRC? PIERRE MPIANA: The spirit of unity! The Congolese people as a whole need a change and they need it now. We must stop to work against each other. We must not allow that our country and its people fall further apart. Instead, led us tackle the big challenges together. For us that means basically to ensure safe and just elections in which the candidates pay respect to one another. Starting from there, we can speak about development.

KAS MEDIA AFRICA: Pierre, what can we expect from future campaigns or “what is the next big thing”?

PIERRE MPIANA: A big thing for me would be if politicians and candidates stop seeing their office and legislation as an individual self-enrichment tour! Instead, they have to work for their nation. It will be very important to address the issue of corruption and nepotism in our country. Only this way we will be able to establish trust amongst our people and get their cross in the voting booth.

Pierre Mpiana was interviewed by Stefan Möhl.