A walk through Uvira’s most heavily militarized zone (not counting rebel/Mai-Mai areas) directly south of my home reveals a wealth of information concerning the present relationship between civilians across Uvira and the FARDC, the Congolese military. This weekend, I took advantage of the recent calm throughout Uvira to visit the militarized zone and came away with a few new perspectives.
Beyond being a quartier dominated by bombed-out and bullet-ridden buildings, FARDC military encampments, and Belgian colonial houses currently occupied by any number of FARDC troops, ‘the Zone,’ as it is not so affectionately called, has become a staging ground for a variety of public outcries against the FARDC’s consistent negligence in terms of civilian protection and enforcement of regional security. Manifestations and marches often aim their sites at the Zone, forcing the FARDC there to address their complaints and demands for changes within the military, in particular their demands for better treatment and protection of civilians. In 2007, after a series of violent FARDC rapes in civilian houses unlucky enough to be located in the Zone, large marches of protest were organized in front of the houses then housing FARDC generals and commanders, pleading with them to punish FARDC rapists and tighten their control over their soldiers. This, of course, wasn’t ever realized. When I visited the Zone after these marches, I ended up wandering into an abandoned building, not particularly different than any other in the area. Nothing remarkable happened at all and I went on my way as normal.
These days I walk through the Zone area pretty frequently, but this last time I was surprised to remember where the abandoned building I had seen in 2007 was located, and decided to walk in to see if anything interesting had changed since I was last there. The situation in the Zone certainly has changed during the years past, as the number of soldiers has increased significantly in an effort to draw soldiers from more secure areas into Uvira to respond to different rebel-led ‘incidents’ in the area since December. A huge camp has seemingly sprung up out of nowhere, full of Bashi (Bukavu origin) soldiers where there once was a completely deserted beach and unused factory full of spent ammunition shells. As most of the unoccupied buildings in the area have been taken up quickly by the influx of new FARDC soldiers, I was surprised to see no one inside, but quickly noticed a new addition on the walls. In charcoal, there was graffiti written all over the walls, new enough that touching it left black smudges on my hands. Considering the changing situation in the Zone, these writings summarized to me a lot of what I have heard from the Uvira community concerning the failings of the FARDC.
This first writing (above) drawing my attention read: ‘LA PITIE NE FAIT PAS LA FORCE DE L’ARMEE.’ This is a sentiment which I hear almost daily, speaking of the ruthlessness of the FARDC towards Congolese civilians in comparison to their relatively careless treatment (or ‘pitie’) of the rebels surrounding Congolese towns. Let us not forget the FARDC’s tendency to flee combat from worthy rebel adversaries, while abusing the civilians during the flight. Look to the incidents in Goma and Kalehe in December 2008 for this part of the story.
Another writing (above), written in Swahili, commented, ‘FARDC KEDA NA ULIMZI.’ Translated, this writing seemed more like a warning, telling the FARDC to ‘WATCH CLOSELY THE BAD SECURITY.’ Written in an imperative tone, this is more of a demand than a request or suggestion, and summarizes the frustration of civilians here. Many years have passed with Congolese all but begging the FARDC to pull themselves together, get their jobs done, and redirect themselves towards increasing security rather than destroying it.
Whichever way you look at images like these, one intention of anonymous graffiti in a military zone is to have it read. Obviously, the person or people writing in the abandoned building in the Zone in Uvira had something to say to the FARDC camped out around the corner. Unfortunately, given that Kabila and others in Kinshasa aren’t listening to General Assembly members pleading the case of increasing the peace the East, it is unlikely that they’ll ever listen any more attentively to the writing on the wall despite it’s logic.
In a region of the world where no governmental bodies seem to work, where the government has lost control of its military and its borders, and where the national military is largely considered as much of a predatory force as the rebels, there are a lot of messages which need to be sent which generally go unheard.
Posted By Ned Meerdink (DR Congo)
Posted Jun 15th, 2009