Still living in fear in the Congo

This post comes to us from Jean Pierre Buledi, Program Officer/Research and Documentation, with Oxfam's local partner in the DRC, The Centre for Documentation and Civic Education (CEDAC).

The defeat of the M23 rebel group by the Congolese army was big news last year. We all hoped that the business of getting on with life could return. But decades of extreme violence, lawlessness and the lack of accountable government authorities in my country could not disappear overnight.

My organization, CEDAC (The Centre for Documentation and Civic Education) wanted to see how life on the ground was changing for the communities of South Kivu. Our work typically takes us into rural Congo, where we teach groups about democratic processes, the functioning of public offices, and good governance. We train communities to understand the importance of monitoring all processes, including democratic processes like the local elections. When we visit communities to learn about their concerns, we hear that violence and threats are now entrenched.

Continuing violence

Violence continues to flourish because the state does not consistently provide protection and state authorities themselves frequently threaten vulnerable communities.

Too often, members of the police and army are left to find their own ways to survive for themselves and their families. Decades of conflict have left the Democratic Republic of the Congo without the resources for education, health and a robust police force.

Supporting women

A rural woman, who has never been able to go to school, who has no economic power, is an easy target; Not only for armed groups but also for the army, the police, and even certain local leaders. Women’s important role in growing food and bringing it to market appears to be making them a target for taxation and fines at checkpoints on the way to the market.. Programs run by CEDAC are making headway; our training involves educating women to read and write, and to learn about their rights. CEDAC also documents abuses, refers them to court, and supports women to demand justice.

Many communities continue to be affected by the conflict, with fishermen and farmers often having to share a portion of their yields with both armed groups and military. Photo: Aimee Brown/Oxfam

Rampant exploitation

More than 1.7 million people remain displaced across North and South Kivu, and people remain a valuable economic commodity for armed actors to exploit.

I’ve heard of a case where a farm owner in South Kivu got some soldiers in to guard his farm while he was away. They put up a barrier and demanded 200 Congolese francs (25 cents) from each person who passed by. They said it was for them to eat. When the community leader heard about this practice, he went to see the army commander – for a day the practice stopped, only to start the following day.

Hope for peace?

The Peace and Security Cooperation Framework offers some hope – that more security in our villages would also mean that more children will be educated, and learn how to hold their government accountable.  I’m hopeful for the first time in a long time, but there’s a long way to go. There will have to be real change, not just talk. More honesty and more justice. Then we will see long-lasting stability in the eastern DRC and we can live our lives without fear.

Will things change for the Congo?

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