An unassuming Indian soldier, Naib Subedar Samson Naveen Hiwale, has acquired the status of a super peacekeeper in strife-torn Congo.
The five-foot-ten Hiwale has been delivering sermons in Swahili to rebel militias and government forces for the past five months. A frequent flyer in UN choppers, Hiwale tours far-flung Indian bases for his sermons in surrounding areas. His cameo in this barbaric conflict, which has left four million people dead in eight years, constitutes a compelling portrait of hope.
In the killing zone of Tutsi warlord Laurent Nkunda's private army, Subedar Hiwale, a pastor, works tirelessly to heal the rift.
Even as the national army and rebels find themselves locked in a raging battle at Rumangabo, barely 50 km away where 47 troops were massacred, Hiwale says, “Bullets are screaming through the air and the whole place is simmering with unease. But I see a ray of hope when soldiers and rebels turn up for my sermons.”
On the banks of Lake Kivu, evidence of wounds of war abounds is everywhere with its streets swarming with refugees, the distrustful gaze of natives, bombed buildings and 12.7 mm shells strewn all around.
Ridiculing the January 23 Goma peace accord, rebels holding advantageous hillside positions have repeatedly brought Sake’s fringes under heavy mortar and machinegun fire to push back Congolese soldiers and seize control of one of the most vital roads in North Kivu.
Worries about the turmoil worsening have ratcheted up, but Hiwale’s confidence remains unshaken. Equally comfortable in his battle fatigues and white robes, he points out, “Every religion seeks to achieve human unity. Maybe we can trigger a change of heart about this futile conflict. I have translated sermons into Swahili, it has helps break the barriers.”
Hiwale's battalion, 10 Assam, has arranged holy water, sand and olive oil from Jerusalem for him to distribute to churchgoers.
Describing Hiwale as Picasso’s dove of peace, his commanding officer Colonel S. Murugesan says: “He has helped revive abandoned churches in inaccessible villages. The natives share an extraordinary relationship with him. He's our superstar.”
The candle of peace flickers uncertainly in eastern Congo, but so long as Hiwale enters churches to a chorus of shikamoo (Swahili greeting for elders meaning ‘I hold your feet’), not all is lost.