The following is a guest post by an American aid worker living in Goma who has witnessed the effects of renewed fighting in North Kivu province in Eastern Congo.
In October fighting reignited and CNDP soldiers (a rebel group lead by General Nkunda) marched toward the provincial capital of Goma, taking control of the road leading to the city. Although the rebels have not attacked the city of Goma, they have remained on the outskirts, maintaining control of the surrounding area and effectively strangling the city. The road leading from Goma to Rutshuru has faced serious restrictions and food prices have skyrocketed as much of the produce that typically travels from Rutshuru to Goma is unable to arrive.
For the first couple weeks after the October advance, travel between rebel-held territory and Goma was extremely limited. Even humanitarian agencies were unable to reach rebel-held territory to distribute desperately needed aid. Eventually aid was able to enter the area and as the weeks wear on, travel between the areas has increased, simply out of necessity if not increased safety.
Insecurity and banditry continue to be a large concern. In the past week I know personally of two incidents in which travelers along the road were attacked by gun-wielding men. In the first case an aid worker and his driver were traveling in a vehicle along the road when they were attacked and shot. He was killed and the driver seriously wounded.
In the second case, two elderly women were returning to the Masisi area after visiting a sick relative in Goma. Their bus was stopped by bandits and shots were fired, causing the travelers to panic. In the process one of the elderly women was trampled and has been hospitalized.
Banditry has also increased in the city of Goma. Despite the fact that the massive looting and pillaging sparked by the CNDP approach to Goma in October has subsided, general insecurity remains a significant problem. Bandits continue to attack houses at night, demanding payment and sometimes killing people in the process. In November there were two bandits who worked together to terrorize a particular neighborhood in Goma, and had apparently been responsible for a number of murders. One day in late November they were spotted in the streets. The community surrounded the bandits and stoned them to death.
If you speak to people in Goma about this incident, you will find that the killing of the bandits is regarded as a triumph for the general population, which feels increasingly victimized.
As people lose faith in the willingness or the ability of governing forces to protect citizens, they become increasingly frustrated. In some areas this frustration remains below the surface, stifled by fear of retribution. In other areas, like Goma, it seems closer to the surface. But as the situation with the bandits in Goma demonstrates, the population’s frustration can easily be turned into violence. In this case the violence was aimed at the bandits, but it could easily be manipulated to serve other agendas.
Posted By: Michael Graham | December 29, 2008 | Comments (0)