Pages in the Nebraska Legislature usually are young students, observing and learning about state government while they assist senators and run errands.

One of the pages this legislative session shatters the stereotype in a dramatic way.

Jean-aime Mbiya Bondo, 43, is an African immigrant who is experiencing democracy first-hand in preparation for his return to the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where he plans to be a candidate for president in 2016.

Congo has been torn by civil war and is marked by poverty and sexual violence and military domination. 

Ask Mbiya Bondo whether it's safe for him to return to his country and challenge their rule, and he replies simply through a thick French accent: "I say I have to go."

The people are suffering, he says, despite a wealth of natural resources.

"People do not have freedom. We need a peaceful revolution. We will fight violence with non-violence.

"If God will help me, I will be safe."

From afar, Mbiya Bondo started organizing a political party in 2010 to prepare for the challenge. Union des Democrates pour la Justice Sociale has about 5,000 members today.

As in other countries that recently have experienced fundamental change, cellphones will be the tool that provides communication, collaboration and grass-roots training, essentially jump-starting the coming campaign.

"We believe we have to change Congo," Mbiya Bondo says.

And, he says, he wants the United States to be a witness to that effort, helping assure a peaceful and legitimate election.

One of the challenges inherent with the deep poverty in his country, he says, is to convince people not to sell their votes.

Mbiya Bondo immigrated to the United States seven years ago after he was selected for a diversity visa. In Congo, he had been working in the government finance ministry after earning a degree in economics from the University of Kinshasa.

While living in Lincoln, he has been earning a degree in public administration from Doane College. 

Mbiya Bondo has four children, three of whom were born in the United States.

Before he left Congo, Mbiya Bondo started a nonprofit organization to help poor children who live on the streets, matching homeless orphan children with families. 

Children and women are the chief victims of poverty and violence.

"I have to do something about it," he says. "We can do something. I will go back."

Mbiya Bondo says he has experienced how democracy should work now.

"I see democracy every day" in Nebraska's non-partisan, one-house Legislature, he says. "I see how senators respond to the interests of their districts and the state.

"God bless this country," Mbiya Bondo says.

"People do not have the freedom in Congo," he says. "You cannot express your ideas. They have shut down the media. You cannot be safe anywhere."

Mbiya Bondo has sought help in organizing and training his party back home from campaign professionals in Nebraska and in Washington.

Andrew Curran, legislative aide to state Sen. Bill Kintner, has been working with him to adopt a training program and has connected him with Nancy Bocskor -- a former executive director of the Nebraska Republican Party -- who is known internationally as an expert in applied democracy.

Later this month, Mbiya Bondo will meet with faculty members at George Washington University's graduate school of political management. Bocskor is a faculty member and may travel with him to Congo to help train his party members on how to organize a non-violent revolution and conduct an effective campaign.

Reach Don Walton at 402-473-7248 or at dwalton@journalstar.com.

Correction

A previous version of this story included a map with incorrect information.