A Message on the Tragic Death of Mr Joël Imbangola Lokwa

On August 8th the Belgian magazine Le Vif/L’Express published an article entitled « Mort d'un activiste congolais : la Belgique interpellée » (Death of a Congolese Activist; Belgium Concerned).

30-08-2019

A Message on the Tragic Death of Mr Joël Imbangola Lokwa

On August 8th the Belgian magazine Le Vif/L’Express published an article entitled « Mort d'un activiste congolais: la Belgique interpellée » (Death of a Congolese Activist; Belgium Concerned) in which the author implies that the company Feronia, a client of BIO’s, is in some way or other involved in the tragic death of Mr Joël Imbangola Lokwa.

First of all, we would like to express our sincerest condolences to the victim’s family and friends.

However, according to the information that reached us from different sources, local witnesses and the Belgian embassy in Kinshasa, Feronia was not involved other than that Mr. Lokwa, the pilot of a small motorboat, drowned on July 21st following a dispute with a security agent employed by Feronia, while on annual holiday leave in the village of Bempuba (some 18 kilometres from Boteka and outside the Feronia concession area).

The victim’s family has confirmed that his name was Mr Joël Imbangola Lokwa, and not Mr Joël Imbangola Lunea, as has been reported by local ngo RIAO (« Réseau d'information et d'appui aux ONG »).

Together with his mechanic, Mr Lokwa ran a transport business for goods and people with wooden canoes equipped with a diesel motor. Allegedly, the victim was also a member of RIAO, though it is unsure in which capacity or how far his involvement reached.

On Sunday, July 21st, around 7 pm, according to witnesses, Mr Lokwa was embarking passengers on his boat when a certain Mrs Falonne wanted to board with merchandise she wanted to sell in Mbandaka. Allegedly, Mr Lokwa and his associate refused her on board because the canoe was already overcrowded.

It seems that Mrs Falonne then requested the help of her uncle Ebuka (the Feronia security agent on his annual 32-day holidays). Upon his arrival, Mr Ebuka got into trouble with Mr Lokwa, who decided to leave with his passengers on board. Thereupon Mr Ebuka took a small canoe, together with a certain Mr Eonga Yves, and followed Mr Lokwa on the Momboyo river. Once he reached Mr Lokwa’s canoe, witnesses testify that Mr Ebuka hit the mechanic and Mr Lokwa, who both fell into the river.

While the mechanic managed to swim back, Mr Lokwa drowned. At that moment, Mr Ebuka took the canoe and its passengers back to the shore, upon which he fled with his accomplice.

The police went after the fugitives and has arrested the perpetrator in the meantime. The victim’s corpse was found on Wednesday, July 24th following searches by the local communities, the police, the boat’s owner and some members of the local Red Cross. Mr Lokwa was buried the same day in his village of Ilongo.

We would like to stress that neither the police, nor the local communities consider that Feronia is in any way involved in this tragic incident and that the company has not been contacted about it.

Following the incident BIO and the Belgian authorities have requested the Belgian embassy in Kinshasa to investigate the incident. Based on testimonies from RIAO, Feronia, and several external witnesses questioned by collaborators from the local hospital in Boteka, the Belgian inquiry corroborates our information. The investigation by local authorities is still ongoing.

There are no elements that confirm RIAO’s alternative version of these facts as published on its website, according to which a certain « Mr Imbangola Lunea » would have denied transporting containers with palm oil stolen from the Feronia plantations in his canoe and that the security agent thereupon would have brutally beaten and strangled the victim before throwing his corpse into the river Moboyo.

It is clear that the exact circumstances of Mr Lokwa’s death need to be clarified further and that the perpetrators must be brought to justice. However, it is unacceptable that RIAO’s twisted and incorrect version of the facts is used to frame the debate on Feronia.

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