According to a well-placed military source in Kisangani, RCD soldiers, including a number of mid-ranking military commanders, launched the mutiny at midnight on the night of May 13-14 at the home of one of the commanders. From there several groups went from one military post to another throughout the city, recruiting supporters and reportedly telling soldiers and police they had to join or be killed.
One group overpowered guards at the military prison and freed the prisoners. One of the police officers who says he was forced to join the mutineers told Human Rights Watch researchers:
I was on duty as second guard at the police station. Towards 5:00 am a group of soldiers of the seventh brigade approached us. There were about 60 or 70 of them. I couldn't tell whether they had commanders with them because it was dark. They disarmed us and then tied us and forced us to follow them.
From there we went to the [next police station]. They disarmed the two policemen who were on duty, but didn't tie them up as they did us. Instead, they asked us to join the mutiny or be killed on the spot. At that moment we didn't have much choice. We agreed at gunpoint. At the [next stop] the group picked up about twenty soldiers who appeared to have been waiting for them.
At one point, profiting from the darkness and the confusion as the group grew bigger, I ran for my life. Two other policemen also escaped at that moment, and we all ran our separate ways.12
The mutineers rallied some members of a youth group from Mangobo district known as "Children of the United States" (Bana Etats-Unis) who in turn tried to enlist more members of the armed forces. According to the wife of one police officer, some of the Bana Etats-Unis tried unsuccessfully to recruit her husband during the night. "They hit him on the arm and it was swollen, he showed me," she said. "They had ordered him to join them, and when he hesitated, they hit him and kept going."13
At about 6 a.m. on May 14 mutineers took control of the RTNC radio station and forced the technicians to begin broadcasting statements detailing their grievances against "Rwandans" known to be the supporters of the RCD. One told listeners:
My dear compatriots, you know very well that today our major enemy is the Rwandans. We call him our major enemy because he left his home, which is thousands of kilometers from here, to loot, please, to destroy, to exploit everything which belongs to us. They've stolen enough, it's enough already, let them leave us alone so we can put our country back together; you see how they are here and there (everywhere). Let's uncover them, that we make them leave, they are not strong, strength lies with the Congolese military....
Today, we don't want to see the Rwandan enemy any more; he has become our enemy, because the enemy is the one who refuses you your liberty, who refuses to let you eat well.14
The mutineers broadcast confused and sometimes contradictory directives. At times, they urged the population, the police, and the military to kill "Rwandans" in language that echoed the vicious incitements that fueled the 1994 genocide in Rwanda. They made no distinction between civilians and combatants and even suggested at one point that soldiers had put on civilian dress, thus seeming to authorize targeting civilians. At another point they said "Rwandans" could be identified by their noses, apparently a reference to Tutsi or Tutsi-looking Rwandans, thought to be recognizable by long, narrow noses.
But the mutineers also gave a different directive, to simply chase the "Rwandans" away so they would go back to their own homes. In one such message, the announcer said:
Dear Congolese compatriots don't be afraid, go outside to kill the Rwandans, all of those who live upstairs [étage, maybe outlying communes], come down, don't be afraid. Take rocks, machetes, hatchets, all the weapons you possess my brother, take them out. Chase them. We have had four years of suffering. The result? We are unpaid, we are suffering, brother. I think today is the last day, we want to have peace in our country Congo. Let us chase the Rwandans, that they go back to their home. Why? In what are the Rwandans better than us? Dear compatriots, do you follow me? In what are they better than us? What do they have in their land? A little country like Rwanda playing with us? Why? It's impossible. And the Rwandans can't play with us. A little country like Rwanda colonizing us? Why? What is it that we Congolese lack for being colonized by Rwanda? Impossible. ...
Today, it is the last day, dear compatriots. All those who are upstairs, come down, take your machete without fear, leave your children at home. Man, woman, come, we are going to chase away the Rwandans.15
In a similarly confused way, the mutineers at one point suggested that anyone who did not support them were "Rwandans" and would be punished, and at another promised that anyone who had worked with Rwandans would suffer no ill provided they switched sides.16
The mutineers particularly addressed their calls to several influential youth groups, like the Bana Etats-Unis and another known as the Vendome, but in an unrealistic assessment of the situation, they also appealed for support from the Kinshasa government and even from the MONUC peacekeepers.17
Mutineers and civilian crowds killed six persons who were or were thought to be Rwandan. At the Lengema building, home to a significant number of Rwandans and Congolese of Rwandan origin, the mutineering soldiers and police captured, beat, and then shot Ndayira Magobe, the fifty-year-old Rwandan deputy director of the Sun Air aviation company, and reputedly a close associate of Rwandan president Paul Kagame.18 At the military prison, mutineers captured a detained "Rwandan" soldier whom they later executed near the Congo Palace hotel, reportedly leaving behind his cellmate who was not thought to be "Rwandan." The body of the dead man was burned by civilian crowds who turned out following the calls for support broadcast by the mutineers.19 Mutineers shot and killed a soldier and his civilian cousin, Felicien Bongungu, in a house said to be inhabited by "Rwandans" on Mama Yeko street in the Makiso commune. They also fired a bullet that killed four-year-old Dieu-Merci Bonganga, who was sleeping next to his mother in the house next door.20
Following the broadcasts, crowds of civilians, especially members of the youth groups, armed themselves with sticks, machetes, and stones and headed for the center of the city. One such crowd encountered a soldier named Saidi and killed him because they took him for Rwandan. A thirty-eight-year-old resident of the Matete neighborhood of Mangobo described the killing to Human Rights Watch researchers:
Around 8 a.m., we heard screaming, "Rwandans, Rwandans!" There was a Rwandan called Saidi. He was on a toleka, a bicycle taxi. He had passed the night somewhere in the area. When the people saw him, they were yelling "Rwandan!" and started chasing him. He was killed with stones and wooden sticks near the municipality of Mangobo. It was a group of twenty to thirty persons. The people who killed him were civilians. When they reached the municipality of Mangobo, they met a group of soldiers with red headbands who had joined the rebellion. They were about fifty or so, and armed.21
Although the mutiny garnered the support of an officially estimated four to five thousand people, it was put down within a few hours. Loyalist commanders retook control of the radio station by 8 a.m. on May 14. The most senior RCD officer present in Kisangani, Commander Yvon Ngwizani, deputy commander of the seventh brigade, broadcast orders for people to go home or back to work. He also warned, "If there are insurgents among you, we will teach them a lesson."22 Another commander added, "The civilian who disobeys will die like a chicken."23 The governor then denounced the mutiny, which he blamed explicitly on the vocal civil society of Kisangani. He went on to formally prohibit any activities by civil society organizations throughout Oriental province (of which Kisangani is the capital). "No civil society group can operate," he ordered. "Not one of them can ask for authorization for a meeting, because no such permission will be granted."24
No shots were fired in the retaking of the radio station and the mutineers who had made the broadcasts were apparently not arrested. That the mutiny was suppressed so quickly and easily led some civil society leaders to speculate that the uprising had been merely a RCD-organized charade to provide a pretext for the subsequent crackdown. Information gathered by Human Rights Watch researchers suggests rather that the mutiny was real, but badly planned. The ease with which it was suppressed may have been due in part to the ambiguous role played by certain commanders who may have initially supported the mutiny and then turned against it. Commander Jean-Francois Ibuka, the police commander in charge of operations, and commander Mabele, in charge of operations at the central command of the Armée Nationale Congolaise (ANC, the RCD's armed wing), who were among those sent to retake the radio station, were later arrested for participating, as was Ngwizani.