Interview with Gilbert Lokombu Limela, President of the Civil Society of Basoko (Lokutu side)

Traditional chiefs in Lokutu for the arrival of the PHC/KKM delegation, February 2021.
RIAO-RDC | 15 February 2021

Interview with Gilbert Lokombu Limela, President of the Civil Society of Basoko (Lokutu side)

(Translated from the original in French)
In this interview with the Congolese organisation RIAO-RDC, the President of the Civil Society of Basoko (Lokutu side), Mr Gilbert Lokombu Limela, talks about the recent mass arrests and police violence following peaceful protests against the oil palm plantation company PHC in Lokutu, in the province of Tshopo, DR Congo. The text below is based on excerpts from the interview.
RIAO: Tell us about what has happened in the last few days in Lokutu?
At the arrival of the PHC/KKM delegation, the local community of Lokutu, from the Mwingi area, showed up with banners saying that we can't understand how they can have an owner of a company that hasn't finished with our disputes, and then today they come and greet us with a new boss. When the plane arrived, we took the banners there and the next day we presented them in town and then we tried to talk to them about the social clauses that the company had signed with the communities from Kisangani in the presence of the Governor to tell them that nothing had been done so far. 
The timetable that the company had given for a period of ten years to finish building everything that the communities had asked for was just done to mislead people. Despite the signing of other protocols, we can see that things are not going well. 
There were about seven people in the PHC delegation that came to Lokutu--five white and two black people. Kalaa Mpinga, the new CEO of PHC, was not there. But we were told he would be here today.
RIAO: What was the reaction of the PHC company and the police?
In Lokutu, there's a police holding cell which has been turned into a prison. A holding cell can hold people for a maximum of 48 hours according to the Congolese constitution, but today the people there are suffering for 30 days in the holding cell here, under the command of Captain Jean-Claude Nongo. So, the Lokutu holding cell has been transformed into a mini-prison. 
Today there are people who are suffering there. There are three people from the Mwingi community who were put in the holding cell and then transferred to Yangambi prison. There are three others who are currently in the holding cell in Lokutu who will be transferred at 4am tomorrow morning. We managed to get one person released. Then there are four men and five women from the Bolesa group who are being held in the holding cell here and there is another group of four from Yanongo who were arrested and detained there. 
People were beaten and tortured. They were taken away in handcuffs. There is one person who was tortured and is in hospital.
Who is coordinating this campaign of violence against populations?
Here in Lokutu there is a security service which is supervised by a Mr King. I remember that King was taken here by Kalaa Mpinga's group. Kalaa Mpinga knows Mr. King very well. It was he who brought him here. When they arrived at PHC in 2017, Kalaa had taken three personalities with him. He had King who was in charge of security. The first day when King arrived, I had started to make noises and King arrived at my house around 7pm with the ANR security people and also the two others taken by Kalaa's group, José Ndolo and a white South African. We talked for at least 40 minutes. These are Mr. Kalaa's confidants. Kalaa knows King very well. It is King who decides everything, everywhere here. 
First of all, King had recruited security guards from PHC and in addition he had brought a team of policemen, no less than 50 Congolese policemen, detached from the government, from Kisangani. They have weapons; they have everything here. They do everything and everything. All this to traumatise the population. They have reached the level of torture, contemporary torture. 
It's these police units under King's command that beat people, that torture them, that do everything. King is the security manager of the PHC/KKM company. He has been here since the time of Feronia. 
The police commander told us that since the company has filed a complaint, the prosecutor has decided to transfer to Yangambi all those detained in Lokutu. A motorised pirogue is already there to transfer them and it risks leaving around 4 o'clock in the morning because they are afraid of the reaction of the villagers. 
There is a man who has been tortured and is now in hospital. He is an indigenous man from Yambula who openly declared that the community should cut the fruits off the palm trees because the company does not want to pay for their disputes. So the people say they will cut the fruits because the company owes them, because the company is not doing anything. They have even built artisanal factories all over Yambula. For the grassroots, the problem is clear; it's a problem of social clauses that are not implemented.
But the fundamental problem for all Lokutu is a problem of land. Our demands start with the land first. First we have to get the land back and, if there are negotiations, then it's afterwards. What are we going to do with these social clauses, social clauses that are never realised? Nothing will be done here with their promises.
In Mwando, they got their land back and they organised themselves very well to produce palm oil themselves. This is a very welcome initiative. The people there work calmly and everyone is well paid. They have even installed prefabricated machines from Kisangani. They've done a really good job. 
We still have hope that one day the promised mediation process will take place, but not here in Congo. All the state authorities are corrupt. We had passed protocols several times without any change. So we want mediation, but it has to be where the investors access their money.
Here at home there is no law. The government does not respect the law. Here, it's money that rules. Here, the company dominates everyone. 
I remember one day the Provincial Minister responsible for the interior was here. We were invited to his house for a meeting. He told us that with this company you won’t have the means. You can’t say anything because the company has possibilities. He said this publicly, that the company can give the governor US$ 50,000 or US$ 200,000. He said this outright in front of everybody. You can do what you want to protest but you’ll get nowhere, he said,  because the company has money, the company collaborates with the authorities. 
Original source: RIAO-RDC

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