DR Congo: “We want to be sovereign”

As of: 11/20/2021 5:56 a.m.

More and more attacks on the population have triggered a wave of refugees in the DR Congo. Most recently, the infamous M23 marched in – a militia that actually has a peace agreement with the government.

By Norbert Hahn, ARD Studio Nairobi

Their belongings, tied in brightly colored cloths, transported on their heads across a border that they had passed in the other direction a few days ago: the women from the region around Bunagana, in the east of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, know their way. They know where to run when the gun thunder gets louder and the fear unbearable. If there are rebels on the march again, it goes over to Uganda. When it gets quiet, it goes back to the DR Congo.

Norbert Hahn
ARD-Studio Nairobi

The most necessary belongings on their heads: women like Neema Sifa flee from the DR Congo, sometimes several times across the border to Uganda – and back.

“We have just walked ten kilometers,” says Neema Sifa when she arrives in her village of Tshanzu on the Congolese side of the border. When she enters her house with her six children, she already knows what to expect: “Everything I have is gone. Thieves broke into my house before the rebels,” says Sifa. “Mattresses and chairs are gone too. The authorities should help us.” But the authorities are happy that they were able to repel the attackers at all.

Militia M23 causes panic

“The rebels came from Rwanda and went back to Rwanda,” says Colonel Luc Nyengele Bakole, local army spokesman. “We have called on the people to remain calm. They have their army and police to protect them.”

It is often not that far. Even the first reports that the attackers could be the notorious M23 militia group had panicked the region. After just a few hours, 5,000 people were on the run. The Congolese government had actually signed a peace agreement with the M23. Because the government is still not adhering to it, this incident has now occurred, according to the leadership of the group.

The horror has long since become part of everyday life in Eastern Congo: That is why there are now five million refugees in the country, and another million have left the Congo. In the first half of this year alone, over 1.3 million people fled within the country – more than anywhere else on the continent, complains the UN refugee agency UNHCR.

Colonel Luc Nyengele Bakole assures that the authorities are protecting the population. But she doesn’t feel safe – and flees again and again.

“Our state takes it too easy”

At the same time, the UN Food Organization (FAO) warns of the worsening food crisis in the country: For 27 million people – almost a quarter of the population – daily food is not secure. And where there is food, there is often not enough money to buy it, according to the FAO.

People have fought and died for years. 20,000 UN soldiers are supposed to ensure a peace that does not want to occur. The number of militias has increased over the years, but the ability to fight them has not. And so people continue to die in the DR Congo. “Why are we constantly being attacked by people our government knows?” Asks Samson Kukira, who is a civil society representative in the Rutshuru region on the Ugandan border. “Our state takes all of this too lightly. We want to be sovereign, but we are not.”

The world public has long got used to the suffering in the Congo and so it is no wonder that the FAO has only raised $ 4.5 million for its projects there to date – but 65 million are needed.

“We finally want peace,” says Amani Mudumbi from the border town of Bunagana. He’s on his way back too, with a full yellow plastic bag on his head and a backpack over his shoulder. A young man behind whom there is more than an escape stage. “The authorities should finally protect us from the enemy,” he says. “We would be happy if we didn’t have to leave our villages every day.”


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