BRAZZAVILLE, Republic of Congo (AP) — A stampede at a military stadium has left at least 37 people dead in Republic of Congo after large crowds of young people responded to a recruitment appeal, authorities said Tuesday.
The Congolese Armed Forces Command later announced that all recruitment operations have been suspended in Brazzaville until further notice following the tragedy late Monday.
Public prosecutor Oko Ngakala said that an investigation would be launched and questioned why the event was still going on at midnight.
Brandon Tsetou, a young graduate who escaped the suffocation, said he had been lined up in front of Ornado stadium since Monday morning.
“According to the organizers, it was the last day. That’s why many of us decided to wait until late into the night, hoping to register,” he told The Associated Press. “Some were so impatient that they had to force their way in, causing a stampede that left a number of people dead or injured, which we deplore.”
Long lines formed outside recruitment centers each day over the past week as young people have sought to join the army, one of the few institutions offering work in Republic of Congo. As many as 700 people a day have registered, though there are only a total of 1,500 places available.
“The provisional toll established by the emergency services is 37 dead and many injured,” according to a press release issued Tuesday by the prime minister’s office crisis unit.
Among the victims was 23-year-old Chancelvie Oko, according to her uncle Germain Ndzale. Oko wanted to join the military to help her support her two children following her husband's death in a traffic accident two years ago, Ndzale said.
In Republic of Congo, the youth unemployment rate is about 42%, according to World Bank statistics. Despite being an oil-producing country, poverty is widespread in the nation of 5.61 million people, with only 15% of those living in rural areas having access to electricity.
Tresor Nzila, executive director of the nongovernmental organization Action Center for Development, called for a full investigation and for the government to publish a list of victims.
“This human tragedy reflects the distress of a sacrificed youth,” he said. “The Congolese government is incapable of creating other employment. The defense and security forces have become the main job providers.”
“The government must be held directly responsible, because it did not assess the risks of its actions,” Nzila said.