Journee Mondiale du Refus de la Misere 2008

22 Oct

This past weekend began with demonstrations across Congo recognizing the “Journee Mondiale du Refus de la Misere.” Although this is a global event, the first I had ever heard of it was in Congo last year. The theme of the day is that in war-torn places like Congo, the shared experience of misery among the community can be used as a “starting-off” point from which to mobilize and act. It is an opportunity for those who struggle through life to assert that misery throughout the world need not be accepted as a given, but must be proactively fought against through unified thoughts and actions on both the local and international scales. Discussions for this year’s events centered around the practical efforts that can be made by anyone to reduce the misery lived in South Kivu, and the major issues targeted in South Kivu were sexual violence, orphaned children, starvation and general food insecurity, and ongoing violence in the region.

The beginning of one of the marches in Sange, South Kivu.

A Sange woman speaks about how sexual violence is destroying the sense of community and efforts to gain security in South Kivu.

Demonstrations were everywhere, but I was with some friends in Sange village, which has been a hot spot of the types of misery which organizations here rallied against for the day. Sange village suffers because of phenomena left over from the war like orphaned children, rising HIV/AIDS rates, large numbers of former child soldiers now considering rejoining militias because of the lack of practical alternatives, and a generally traumatized community. In addition, there are currently rebel soldiers hiding in the peripheral areas around Sange, and Interahamwe militiamen from Rwanda regularly come down to Sange from their mountain camps to rob the market, rape women, and some mentioned them kidnapping children to work as domestics or join militias. In an example of the misery to be fought in places like Sange, the morning of the demonstrations, there was a shooting in the village, when a thief tried to steal some cattle from a local herder, and was caught by a Congolese FARDC soldier in the process. The Congolese soldier shot and killed the thief, and when the UN arrived to investigate, they found that the thief was actually an FARDC soldier himself, who had removed his uniform to steal from the herder. It is abundantly clear that in Congo even the “protectors” of the population often have their hand in creating more misery for civilians.

Since she became an orphan last Spring, this Sange girl has taken care of her family alone.

The sad start to the day, however, did not keep local organizations from arriving to exchange ideas and testimonies. There were speeches, theater pieces, drummers, and pretty much everyone fron the village came out, including the street kids and those who were supposed to be in school.

One of the Sange theater pieces. This one concerned the rights of a wife to leave an abusive husband.

Ned Meerdink

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Posted Oct 22nd, 2008

Ned Meerdink (DR Congo)

Ned Meerdink (Sos Femmes en Danger – SOSFED): Ned earned his Bachelors degree from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where he studied humanitarian work in Central and Eastern Africa. After graduation, NED worked for human rights NGOs in the US and Congo. They included Mutuelle Jeunesse Active (MJA) in Sud Kivu. AP deployed Ned to Uvira, in South Kivu, in September 2008 to work with civil society organizations including Tunza Mazingira, Arche d’Alliance, and SOS Femmes en Danger. Ned launched the partnership between SOSFED and AP in 2009.

Journee Mondiale du Refus de la Misere 2008

18 Oct

As I left Congo last January, the thoughts of everyone across North and South Kivu were centered on the developments of the cease-fire arrangements being made in Goma at the time between twenty-two armed groups involved in the conflict. The conference had two overarching goals. First, those invited committed to a cease-fire, “zones of separation”, and common following of international human rights law in order to bring an official end to the conflict in Eastern Congo. Secondly, armed groups signed onto a comprehensive plan for peace, security, and transition from war across Eastern Congo, which became known as the Amani Program (amani is Swahili for “peace”). The agreement demanded a “…total cessation of hostilities, including acts of violence, military movements, and reinforcements.”

It is disconcerting to read the current news from Eastern Congo and see that the Amani Proram was not much more than a temporary diplomatic victory, and not an actual source of relief or improvement in terms of reality on the ground for Congolese civilians. No one was so optimistic as to think that the Goma Agreements would actually result in a complete cessation of hostilities which had endured for over a decade, but officials from the European Union, the United States, the African Union, and the United Nations all agreed that the negotiations marked the beginning of the real peace process here. Who could have predicted that within months of the cease-fire agreements, there would be an increase in violence, leading to the current reporting from North and South Kivu showing that in fact the peace process is on the brink of complete collapse?

Goma, North Kivu-Throughought Eastern Congo, the security situation has continued to deteriorate.

Bernard Kouchner commented on Thursday concerning the resumption heavy fighting around Goma, North Kivu and Kalehe, South Kivu that he now fears, “new large-scale massacres” and the resumption of all out war. Over the last few days, aid workers and journalists have been unable to access most of the war torn regions, but have reported the capturing of a large Congolese military base (Rumangabo) by rebels aligned with Laurent Nkunda as well as the displacement of at least 130,000 Congolese.

When you ask people here (in Uvira, South Kivu) about why they think the peace process has failed so quickly, most attribute it to one of two factors. First, many say that there is just too much to gain here by maintaining chaos. Rebel armies have always been lured to Congo’s rich mineral deposits, and a well-organized Congo might have the ability to regulate mines, thus cutting rebels and other non-state armed groups out of the profits. The current conflict in Congo is definitely rooted in the struggle to control the resources here, with ethnic rivalries often taking a back seat to the primary issue of the “resource grab”. Thus, conflict profiteers’ answer is to derail the peace process in order to ensure chaos throughout the East, allowing whoever has the strongest weapons (or largest support network abroad) to move in on possibly the most lucrative mineral deposits on the planet. That being said, the network of profiteers of war in Congo reaches far and wide, and therefore is difficult to sever. Secondly, many here say that the peace process was bound to fail because of the Congolese military itself. The FARDC is famous for a lack of discipline, lack of proper munitions and training, and a refusal to follow well-established human rights law. When you talk to civilians here, you can see this is true, as groups claiming to protect Congolese citizens (Mai-Mai militias and FARDC troops) are unanimously feared for their tendency to rape, burglarize, torture, and often times kill civilians. For example, just last night in Uvira a commerçant was stabbed and robbed by an FARDC soldier who stole cases of beer and $300. This leaves the region to depend on the United Nations troops here (MONUC) to offer proper defense. Yet, even the MONUC force has been continuously accused of crimes against the Congolese civilians (recently sex trafficking, mineral smuggling), and an inability/unwillingness to protect civilians under heavy fire and make full use of their mandate to defend civilians by demobilizing militias by force when necessary. Additionally, numbering 17000, they are too small to cover most of North and South Kivu, as well as the rest of the country where there are less concentrated deployments.

Whatever the real reasons are that the Amani Program appears to have failed, or is at least at the breaking point, the fear of all out war remains the ONLY topic of discussion here in Uvira, which is about 150 km from the fighting. There are lots of rumors, which have yet to be substantiated by the MONUC force, that Rwanda is preparing to send soldiers into Congo in order to support Laurent Nkunda’s rebels, the Congrès national pour le defense du people (CNDP). They claim to be protecting the Tutsi population in Eastern Congo from the bands of Hutu Interahamwe who fled to Congo after the 1994 killings in Rwanda to avoid prosecution and continue to hide here, but their real intentions are unclear. First, the grand majority of Hutu from Rwanda currently living in Congo are not related in any way besides Hutu ethnicity with the 1994 perpetrators of genocide in Rwanda. At the most, as a Journal of Modern African Studies article by Kisangani Ezimet (2000) commented, the Hutu refugees from Rwanda residing in Congo are possibly 6% Interahamwe, meaning that at least 94% of the Rwandan refugees are innocent victims of Central Africa’s conflicts and not a threat to any Tutsi in the region. The number of Rwandan Hutus currently residing in Congo is in itself a big question, as huge numbers of them were massacred over the last decade as many sought “revenge” against all Hutus, regardless of involvement in the genocide. In addition, during their crusade to protect Tutsis from human rights violations, Nkunda’s forces themselves have committed innumerable human rights violations of their own, including rape, forced recruitment of children for their militias, and burning and pillaging of entire villages. The Congolese government has offered lots of proof of imminent Rwandan invasion, including pictures of troop concentrations and tanks resting at Gisenyi, Rwanda, which is a border post between North Kivu (the heart of Nkunda’s rebellion) and Rwanda. Also, yesterday the government published pictures of different articles supposedly taken from Rwandan forces already in Congo, including identity cards, AK-47s, and uniforms. That is all in the “wait and see” category, as the Congolese government is notorious for their willingness to distort the truth when convenient, especially when it comes to quelling rebels in the East. Additionally, the Rwandan government has quickly denied any troop concentrations or intentions to aid the CNDP rebellion.

I intended that this serve as an update for the current situation here, as Congo has been making the news lately. Today there were articles in the New York Times and Washington Post, and in lot of French-language papers if you are interested in reading more. Also, if you look at the website for the newspaper, The East African, they have been covering the question of a possible Rwandan entry into the conflict. Finally, the website for MONUC ( has really good coverage, but the site in English is definitely less substantial than the site in French as far as current news goes.

It is definitely frustrating to be here to see the devolution of the Amani Program and the peace process that had just began when I was leaving Congo ten months ago. Hopefully, the international community’s recognition of the collapsing peace process here will yield some practical action and a means of keeping things from taking another destructive turn. An intervention allowing the involved parties to separate, re-commit to the cease-fire, and get to the negotiating table might go a long way in preventing the Amani Program from completely disintegrating. There is not much time to wait as every day there are more fleeing, terrified, and newly homeless IDPs caught up in the escalation of hostilities here.

Ned Meerdink

Posted By Ned Meerdink (DR Congo)

Posted Oct 18th, 2008

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