On Sunday, the Democratic Republic of Congo lost Luc Nkulula, a democracy activist and a leader in the nonviolent opposition to President Joseph Kabila’s rule. Luc, one of the bravest people I’ve ever met, died on June 9 in a fire at his home in the eastern city of Goma.
Luc, 33, was a pillar of the youth movement Struggle for Change (LUCHA) since its start in 2012. He dedicated his life to teaching Congolese about their rights and how to use peaceful protest, leading campaigns to demand access to water in Goma and protest insecurity and massacres in eastern Congo. In recent years he called for Kabila to step down in accordance with the constitution and allow for credible, transparent elections.
Congolese security forces arrested Luc often during these peaceful protests, as young people marched through cities. When confronted with security forces who beat them or fired teargas or live bullets, the activists often stopped to hold hands or sing songs to demonstrate the nonviolent nature of their protests. Even after days in jail and police beatings, Luc never appeared discouraged.
Luc understood the obstacles and dangers ahead, but he believed that the fundamental rights of the people would eventually be achieved.
The outpouring of sadness, frustration, and anger since his death shows just how many lives he touched, and how many young people he inspired. As his LUCHA colleagues said in a statement: “We have lost a comrade, a brother, a friend, and an irreplaceable role model.… Luc Nkulula’s sudden disappearance leaves us orphaned and devastated, but we must and will remain worthy of the hero he was, pay him all the homage he deserves, and find in this tragedy one more reason to continue our struggle for a new Congo.”
The cause of the fire remains unknown, and may have been a criminal act. Congolese judicial authorities should carry out a credible, impartial investigation with support from the United Nations peacekeeping mission in Congo to establish the truth and bring those responsible for any wrongdoing to account. I know that’s just what Luc would be demanding.