In the east of the Democratic Republic of Congo, many are fleeing the violence between FARDC troops and Ntaganda’s rebel forces. The displaced are men and women, young and old. And they all have the same look on their face – of fear.
Passy Mubalama, Goma
Mattresses on their heads, tired children on their backs, goats and a few pots in hand. This is just a snapshot of the displaced population in Sake, 27 kilometres from Goma. To date, hundreds of people are moving towards North Kivu’s capital and the region’s largest city. Others seek refuge right across the border in Rwanda.
Mostly from the territory of Masisi, they have left to escape the continued fighting between Armed Forces of the Democratic Republic of Congo (FARDC) and General Bosco Ntaganda’s cronies. Clashes began when Congolese soldiers belonging to Ntaganda’s camp defected last month. Shortly before, Congolese President Kabila had expressed intent to hand over Ntaganda to the International Criminal Court for war crimes.
Fear, despair and starvation are the daily realities of the displaced.
Shashire, a mother of five from Kimoka, testifies to this. "When the fighting started, we only saved the children and nothing more. We are going to starve to death here, since morning we have not received any food. No assistance from the authorities,” she says. “It is very difficult for us and for the children."
Migihaba, a 50-year old man from Mushaki, recalls what forced him to move. "We heard several gun shots, and even bombs exploded,” he says. “And then they take young people from us by force to integrate them into the army. It is against this background that we took flight.”
A conflict with unknown origins
The soldiers Migihaba refers to are from the former National Congress for People's Defense (CNDP) rebellion. Ntaganda served as their chief of staff alongside leader Laurent Nkunda, who was arrested by Rwanda in 2009. That very year, the CNDP was integrated into the Congolese army and Ntaganda was promoted to general.
According to Sake community chief Lawi Katahanwa Mbira, the army’s split compelled people to flee. “We do not know why they fight, because, in principle, they form a single army,” he says. “The problem is that we do not differentiate between CNDP and FARDC, because they all wear the same uniform. The population is simply the victim of a war whose origins are unknown."
The battles plague the local population. No offer of aid has been reported. "We have not received any help from the government. We need water and food. We sleep outside, on the ground," says Shashire.
Even more worrisome, it is rumoured that rebels are advancing. On 1 May, shootings by a drunk military man in a Sake square incited retaliation from soldiers in hills surrounding the city. Residents panicked.
Military sources of the special commando unit based in Mubambiro, which is two kilometres from Sake, are confident the FARDC will soon get the situation under control because of the CNDP defection from the national army. In a press release, CNDP chairman Edward Bangashusu requested Congolese authorities to negotiate a way to ending hostilities.
Meanwhile, the population fears the situation will worsen. Nobody wants to relive the 2008 war. Sake community chief Mbira says: "Even if we fail to eat, we must stop the war because we do not want to die. We want peace."