By Floribert Kazingufu, Insight on Conflict, 4 December 2009
Last month I visited South Kivu in DR Congo, and saw first hand the fears of local people that a new conflict may be emerging, years after the Congo War officially ended. I have now travelled back to the region in order to gauge local people’s experiences as the Congolese army (FARDC) continues their Kimia II operation to dismantle the FDLR rebel forces. This operation is supported by MONUC, the UN mission, and proclaims the protection of civilians as its top priority.
My trip took me deep into the remote regions of DR Congo, where I talked with local peacebuilders, teachers, and community leaders in order to understand the consequences of the present situation on their lives and work. Everything here in their everyday lives is currently affected by political and military decisions planned elsewhere. The violence in Eastern DR Congo is now capturing the attention of everyone in the region, from the intellectuals to the man on the street – it is the only topic of conversation.
Through my work with the Chirezi Foundation and Insight on Conflict, I have had access to the experiences of local peacebuilders in this region, and I wanted to see how they have been affected by the growing conflict. On my trip, I visited 6 Baraza Peacebuilding Forums across South Kivu. ‘Baraza’ is a Swahili word meaning ‘gathering’, and these forums are a method used by the Chirezi Foundation. A baraza brings the whole community together to discuss community issues - its challenges and conflicts, stories and successes. Below is my summary of my findings in 6 communities.
I was interested in Luberizi because of a recent attack carried out on the government army training camp by a group of men in uniform who have not been identified. It is said that an important quantity of munitions was been taken by the group. A woman told me that on the same night she saw people who carried out the attack taking the direction of the mountains. The tribe leaders in the area are much convinced of the possibility of a coalition between Mai Mai and the FDLR. They argue that it will never be possible to remove the rebels of FDLR. A young student argued “it's impossible to distinguish between Rwandan rebels, genuine Rwandan refugees, the FDLR and the Interahamwe. These people represent, for some people, national and international interests in DR Congo. Kimia II is not a serious operation”. Another young person told me “the operation is stopping us from carrying out our daily activities. We don’t know who should we fear, the FDLR or the FARDC. All of them are against our peacebuilding efforts. It will not be possible to start afresh our life after the past wars if these operations continue to distract us.”
Luvungi is on the way to Bukavu, not far from Luberizi, and is populated by many refugees from fighting during Kimia II. Here, a Protestant pastor told me “we don’t understand what is going on. The operation to remove the FDLR from the country ended up as an operation to send them deep inside the country. We have lost our belongings, we can not go safely to cultivate our fields. We are no longer safe in our areas. We had started building up our lives once again but now this operation is disturbing all our efforts.”
Lemera is well-known for being the place where Laurent Desiré Kabila signed peace accords with the RCD. More recently, it has been attracting attention because of mineral discoveries that have attracted everybody – the government, senior military officials, the Mai Mai, the FDLR. According to an elderly resident “economic interests here come before the military operations. When we hear shooting we are not afraid because no one is interested in fighting but in struggling for their belly first. There is no war here at present, but we do fear an international confrontation over the minerals. People here were displaced at the beginning of the military confrontation, and today we need to do all we can to survive with everyone that has entered this region.”
Uvira and Kasenga
I stopped in Uvira and Kasenga because they were both sites of recent shootings. In Uvira in November, a group of armed men attacked the prison, freeing some prisoners and killing others. The national army arrived too late to intervene, and seven people died in total. The local population suspect the operation may have been carried out by a group of Mai Mai not yet integrated into the national army, and backed by the FDLR. (This supports what I was told in Luberizi).
A student told me of the impact of fighting on their studies: “when such an attack occurs, we cannot go to school, or if we do, we are traumatised by the shootings. In this situation, it is impossible to prepare for our futures”.
In Kasenga, I was told that Mai Mai launched an attack because of their unhappiness about the presence of Tutsi soldiers as part of the Kimia II operation. The soldiers have been criticised for their choices for deployment; the people here argue that they have deployed to places such as the port of Kalunda, where there are no rebels, yet have not deployed to the mountain areas where the FDLR have training and trafficking camps.
A local business woman told me “this is how all the wars in our country start; we are at the sunrise of a new general war in DR Congo. An economic war has already taken place, and military one could start soon. All the elements are already on the horizon”.
I went to Swima to meet with refugees who were fleeing the shootings that occurred in Baraka during my last visit. The refugees were occupying residents’ agricultural lands. The president of ACODIF, Mr Sango Shila, told me that this situation was blocking the efforts of local people to develop this community.
The Arrest of Mai Mai chiefs
After the shootings in Baraka and Fizi, some chiefs Mai Mai were arrested and taken to Bukavu by the order of the government. This arrest confirms that the government is aware of an existing coalition between certain locals and the FDLR. The governor of South Kivu called on people to stop working with the FDLR. But my investigations indicate a local mobilization against any invasion. In each place I visited, people are concerned about conflict. They were much concerned about the presence of “Rwandan troops” amongst the government forces. These same fears contributed to the original growth of the Mai Mai in 1996, and already there has reportedly be recruitment of child soldiers in some towns in the region. This fact gives rise to fears of a new conflict.
The ‘sunrise of a new war'?
This report has focused on the experiences of local people in South Kivu, but reports from elsewhere indicate similar problems elsewhere with the Kimia II operations and military actions by other forces. The local population feel that they are paying the cost of an operation which has been decided elsewhere without their consent, but is affecting their interests and peacebuilding activities. In this situation it is impossible for them to build a better future, caught between the various factions. There will be no possibility of constructing peace unless these communities are part of the decision making process.