I am very excited to be back in Uvira again, and am quickly getting acclimated all over again to some of the aspects of South Kivu that make it such an odd/frustrating place to work. I figured the best way to share some of these realities with those who will be reading my entries from Uvira would be to provide just two anecdotes from my first days. I wanted to write more, but as the entry got longer and longer…
1) Crossing into Congo from Gatumba, Burundi (the site the 2004 “Massacre à Gatumba,” where over 150 Congolese civilians of Banyamulenge ethnicity were killed and burned by Hutu militants from Rwanda and Congo) I of course had to pass through the Direction General de Migration (DGM) in order to show my visa, answer some questions, etc. When I entered the office, one of the “officials” had a kid (of Banyamulenge ethnicity) who was about 20 years old by the collar, and was repeatedly shoving him into the wall of the office while yelling at him that he remembered the boy had been a soldier and had fought against the Hutu Congolese through the 2000’s. My former co-worker and I had seen this happening before, usually for two reasons: 1) For quick pay-off, as the official hopes that the Banyamulenge will simply pay off the official to stop the beating and pass through without being seriously hurt or held for hours at the border, and 2) For the sheer enjoyment of humiliating a Banyamulenge, as many Congolese hold deep resentment against them as parts of the Banyamulenge community have traditionally supported Rwandan and Burundian Tutsis during the continual war in Eastern Congo. This time, the kid ended up paying off the official, as we saw him later at his house, which is not too far from the quartier in which I live in Uvira. Naturally, he filed a report against the official with some of the advocacy groups here, but as those continue to pile up, no one expects to see any movement on that. The relations between Congolese Hutus and Tutsis (namely Banyamulenge) continue to suffer in the context of ongoing hostilities in Eastern Congo. For many, the war here is so fresh in the mind that the association of all Banyaulenge with foreign soldiers who continue to trouble the Kivu Provinces is a natural one, which is troubling to see played out on such a practical level at the border crossing at Gatumba.
2) In South Kivu, minerals have been at times a blessing, but much more often a curse for Congolese. Into the current era, minerals are used to fund various militias, as their extraction creates a sustainable source of funding for arms a lure of possible riches for soldiers seeking to occupy mineral-rich areas of the country. Today, the curse aspect of the mines played out before our eyes in a very real manner. There is a man in Uvira rumored to be involved in the coltan and gold trade, who left to go on business in neighboring North Kivu Province about a week ago. With his wife and kids alone in the house, bandits (who people thought were possibly demobilized soldiers) arrived last night and opened fire hoping to steal whatever was there, especially if in fact the man kept minerals in the house. The kids we able to flee into the mountains, but the mama (who was pregnant) was shot numerous times. A doctor was called, but he was understandably afraid to walk the road at night to get to her house. I am less sympathetic to the other reason he gave for not providing care. The woman had no money, and despite the pleas of the oldest daughter, who called the doctor on her cell phone, he refused care until payment was made. In the meantime, the mama bled to death in her house. Though all out war in Uvira is a thing of the past, this is the legacy of the war which, day-to-day, continues to make life in Congo a struggle.
I am always so motivated to speak to those fighting these types of injustices on a local level. The work The Advocacy Project does is essential in Eastern Congo, where advocates for the civilians here are sometimes difficult to find on the ground. The NGO I will be working for, Arche d’Alliance, currently has campaigns targeting issues of insecurity, lack of representation, lack of protection of women’s rights, and human rights protection in place. Their efforts are inspiring when you look at the context in which they are forced to work. When they make field visits to conduct surveys with women who have been raped or children who have been forcibly enlisted in the various militias operating in the region, they too are exposed to the insecurity which made the doctor unlikely to make the walk to save the wounded mama’s life.
I’ve been getting to know everyone at Arche d’Alliance, and we are arranging our work for the next six months. Already, we have had two conferences, one offering training for “parajurists,” who are civilians unable to go to school but educated by human rights organizations on their human rights, rights to protection/representation, and their rights against arbitrary arrest and imprisonment. The other conference covered how to better involve civilians in the processes being carried out by the International Criminal Court (ICC) to rule against and incarcerate some of the worst abusers of human rights in Congo and some of the major perpetrators of war crimes in the region, namely Jean-Pierre Bemba, Thomas Lubanga, and Germaine Katanga, with numerous others on the upcoming dockets. Arche d’Alliance’s feeling on the ICC is that if the civilians who have suffered most due to the war crimes of those being tried have a more significant role in the process, they will also feel more empowered in maintaining security in their own regions and building peace on a local level where there is none. Those attending the conference seemed more than enthusiastic in offering their voices to aid the ICC in their deliberations, as many had either direct or indirect contact with those being tried, and we hope to provide them with a voice more clearly heard by the international community through our work with AP.
So that is my report from my first week back in Congo. I am really honored to have the opportunity to spend time here again, and I hope this blog provides all of the readers with a good look at what life here is like and what groups are currently doing to attempt to reverse the trends of violence and insecurity here in South Kivu.
N.B. I also am continuing to work closely with a group called Mutuelle Jeunesse Active, which is the NGO in Uvira I first came here to work for in 2007. I will occasionally mention activities with MJA as well, as we work to care for kids throughout Uvira, providing educational resources, schooling feessupplies, and a general forum for community-building and peace-building. Their website is mjadrc.org. Thanks for reading.
Posted By Ned Meerdink (DR Congo)
Posted Sep 12th, 2008