I recently arrived back in Bujumbura after a productive, albeit dusty and tiring, séjour in Mboko village, South Kivu, Congo. The SOS FED field team, having come together from all corners of Fizi Territory, had some interesting things to share, and really brought me up to speed on the progress of the current campaign of rape prevention they have put into place. The journey to Mboko was remarkably free of problems, and a little bit of planning kept us moving quickly through the road blocks and security check points. Thanks very much to SOS FED’s Uvira team for that. Here is a quick recap of what went during the Mboko meeting.
First, AP and Zivik have provided much needed support for SOS FED’s community fields program, which was a key agenda for the days of meetings in Mboko. The program, in a nutshell, encourages survivors of sexual violence working with SOS FED to form cooperative cultivation teams, then rents them the necessary hectares of land and monitors their production. Money made in the fields is divided among the cooperative cultivation teams, with each woman benefiting directly from their work. This may sound basic, but the key difference from traditional cultivation in Congo lies in the ‘cooperative’ aspect of the current program. Far too many SOS FED beneficiaries have found themselves in their current place-that is, trying to recover from violent sexual violence-because of their need to cultivate fields in often remote regions of Fizi Territory, where land can be rented at the lowest price. So, AP and Zivik have begun providing fields to women once two conditions have been met. First, a field must be located near a principal route or well-traveled footpath. Second, a field must not be worked by one woman, but by her cooperative group. In this way, vulnerability is reduced in that women are cultivating together (strength in numbers) and doing so in areas of Fizi Territory that are not so isolated as to provide ideal striking grounds for the regions roving militias. This slight modification has been showing positive signs of reducing vulnerability and protecting Congolese women trying to put food on their table. We all gave a big ‘bravo’ to this program, and are currently toying with numerous ways to precisely monitor field output in order to determine which types of crops in which areas provide the most profit to SOS FED’s beneficiaries.
In addition, the much awaited ‘Ahadi’ program has been given wings as of this last meeting. Though the program is well underway, the AP Fellow working from Bujumbura and I will be saving details on this until a later date. The program involves art as a means for advocacy, and places SOS FED beneficiaries in the driver’s seat of their own advocacy campaign. More on that will be available later. Materials are in place and the wheels are in motion.
Finally, the SOS FED field teams and I touched base on the current situation in and around the three SOS FED reception centers in Fizi Territory. The news is bleak, in that all of the centers are currently above capacity and receiving new visitors looking for a safe space to stay daily. The current Amani Leo operation in South Kivu has not ended the rape crisis as one might think from listening to Congolese Radio. Surely, Amani Leo is forcing FDLR militias deeper into the forests, but that doesn’t stop them from raping local women. It merely moves the sites of these violations to much less traveled areas of South Kivu where the Amani Leo force ceases to hold influence. Additionally, as the Amani Leo force is formed of FARDC [Congolese soldiers-reportedly responsible for 80% of the rapes in eastern Congo] and the ex-CNDP [notoriously violent militia soldiers once commanded by war criminal Laurent Nkunda], the population is not necessarily much better off than if the FDLR roamed free in the region. Correct me if I am wrong here, but rape is rape, regardless of the militia du jour that commits it. A perfect example lies in the fact that the SOS FED Mboko center was pillaged and forced to empty not too long ago at the hands of the state-sponsored protectors of Congo, the FARDC. No militia necessary. Thus, not a jovial ending to this blog, but a hopeful one in that the work continues.
None of the SOS FED field staff in attendance at Mboko gave any signs of the weariness a life in Congo can inspire. Quite the opposite, their presence at the meeting was a testament to their strength and commitment to improving their region. This will involve making good use of scant resources, staying organized, pulling from that never-ending well of patience and resilience, and keeping SOS FED moving towards their admirable goals. This is a lot easier said than done, especially in such an ‘interesting’ zone of eastern Congo. But, like I said, the work continues.
Posted By Ned Meerdink (DR Congo)
Posted Aug 7th, 2010