As a young student, Anny Kapenga used to cringe at the cult-like worship of Mobutu Sese Seko, the then Zaire’s President. By then, in the early 1990s, Zaire was still under one party rule, and calls were increasing for Mobutu to open political space to allow other parties to operate. In the meantime, however, all Zairians were expected to show affection for Mobutu wherever they gathered in public.
Students across Zaire’s schools were required to sing and dance adoringly before his (Mobutu)’s portrait every morning before they went to class, and all school scholastic materials were emblemed with his portrait. A young Anne never really appreciated the obsession:
The stifling of freedom of expression and association was Anne’s awakening to the importance of human rights, and she would soon be drawn into, and eventually fall victim to her country’s troubled political history.
In 2010, in conjunction with a colleague, she formed Maman Kulutu Foundation, to campaign against communal violence in her native Province Orientale in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), which was being propagated by Hema and Lendu militia fights for provincial supremacy.
In 2020, DefendDefenders learned of Anne’s story and plight, and reached out to her, giving her subsistence support, and post traumatic counselling. She says she’s now trying to look beyond her traumatic past and look to the future but challenges the international community to do more to help with exiled human rights defenders like herself.