When I visited the Luvungi CMC, I had the opportunity to observe the proceedings of a case brought before the local mediation group. The details of the case highlight some of the problems facing marginalized peoples in Eastern Congo.
A young widow brought the dispute in question to the CMC; we will call her Zawadi. Zawadi’s family had fled Rwanda in 1994 following the genocide, and at age 19 she had been given in marriage as the second wife to a much older man. Now, she is 30 and has two children. However, when her husband died recently, the two sons of her husband by his first wife did not give her enough land to support herself and her two children. The two brothers maintained that she did not deserve any more land than what she was given, since she was both a second wife and a Rwandan refugee.
Statements had been taken from both parties by the CMC, and the day of my visit both Zawadi and one of the brothers were called before the CMC. The CMC asked both individuals many questions about exactly how much land was given to the young widow. Zawadi’s voice trembled a little as she described how her and her children were chased from their home by her husband’s family. After many questions, the committee collectively shook their heads; the two brothers had indeed given Zawadi very little land to grow enough food for herself and her children. The CMC told the first wife’s son that he was in the wrong, especially since he did not consider the potential fate of Zawadi’s children.
This case demonstrates just some of the difficulties that marginalized peoples face in Eastern Congo. As a refugee, a woman, an ethnic minority, and a second wife, Zawadi faces many obstacles in Congolese culture and society. It would be all too acceptable for her dead husband’s sons to run her off the family property, and she does not have the means to go to Uvira and file a case in court. The CMC and Arche d’Alliance provide a medium for women like Zawadi to channel their grievances and receive justice before the community. In addition, since the CMC is made up of important community figures trained in civil rights, it is more likely that the other party will listen to their decision and give Zawadi and her children the means to survive with dignity.
Posted By Walter James
Posted Jul 17th, 2009