At least 31 young people died on the night of Monday to Tuesday in a stampede during an army recruitment operation in the Congolese capital, Brazzaville, the country’s authorities announced Tuesday, November 21. Some 145 people were also injured, government spokesperson Thierry Moungalla told the press. A judicial investigation has been opened.
A provisional report released by the crisis unit set up by the Prime Minister showed 37 deaths. Agents responsible for securing the site claimed that there were several thousand young candidates for recruitment. Some forced the gate, others jumped over a wall. Numerous images, shared on social networks and some of which have been authenticated by Agence France-Presse, show dozens of lifeless bodies deposited at the municipal morgue, as well as injured people admitted to the university hospital center (CHU) of Brazzaville and at the military hospital.
In at least two videos filmed inside the morgue, the remains of young men lie on the ground, some are shirtless, others in shorts and t-shirts.
“We couldn’t all come in at once”
The Congolese army announced last week the recruitment into its ranks of 1,500 young people aged 18 to 25. Monday, late at night, candidates forced the gate of the Michel-d’Ornano stadium, where recruitment is taking place, in downtown Brazzaville. A stampede ensued, during which many people fell and were trampled, residents said.
“There were too many people, we couldn’t all get in at once”says a 24-year-old survivor on condition of anonymity. “People fell and others stepped on them”, he continues. Some of the injured are in serious condition, according to testimonies from relatives.
In a video shared on Facebook, André Oko Ngakala, public prosecutor, who went to the scene of the tragedy, claims to have opened an investigation “in flagrant procedure” to establish responsibilities. Accompanied by military officials responsible for site security, the prosecutor then declared that he would go to the three hospital structures where the injured were being treated.
“Recruitment operations are suspended in Brazzaville until further notice”according to an announcement from the Congolese army command broadcast on state television.
The opposition denounces the responsibility of the State
This drama translates “the dismay of a sacrificed youth” in a country where “the defense and security forces have become the main providers of employment”denounced the Congolese human rights NGO CAD (Action Center for Development).
“The responsibility of the government must be directly engaged, because it did not assess the risks of its action”declared the executive director of the NGO, Trésor Nzila, calling for “an exhaustive investigation”.
For its part, the Federation of the Congolese Opposition (FOC), which supports the imprisoned general Jean-Marie Michel Mokoko, castigated “unemployment, poverty and precariousness (…) imposed on the youth by the failure of the economic policies of President Sassou Nguesso’s camp. For the FOC, “the State is civilly and criminally responsible for this national tragedy”.
Updated November 21, 2023 at 8:30 p.m.: the provisional report released by the crisis unit set up by the Prime Minister, which reported 37 deaths, was revised downwards by the authorities.
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