The Democratic Republic of Congo
She wore a light blue headscarf, like most of the women at this camp for internally displaced people (IDPs). They were given out to the Congolese people, along with baseball caps for the men, during the presidential elections of 2006. On it is pictures of president Kabila and the slogan: bonne gouvernance—“good governance”— in French.
FARDC Troop in the Kivus; photo keith harmon snow
Yet all Venansia Habimana, a displaced woman in the North Kivu province of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), had to say was that she wished her government would create peace. She said it was promised to them during that campaign, and she wanted to return to her home.
“To be here is to miss what you do, but we all need to be safe,” Habimana said to a single white journalist in a square wood frame no larger than a port-a-potty, covered with blue and white United Nations tarps. Habimana spoke to the journalist in 2007, before the recent wave of fighting forced additional hundreds of thousands of people to flee.
Homeless and income-less, people at the camps lived uncomfortably. There was little space, diets were unbalanced, and there was no way to work or occupy them each day. IDPs are unwelcome in surrounding communities where they try to rebuild a life. They are ostracized for fear they will take the few jobs available and, most depressing to them, they are forced to pay extortionate fees to bury friends and family that die at the camp.
Given the heightened hostilities—and the permanent state of war that has devastated millions of Congolese lives over the past two years alone—Habimana is probably now listed among the unnamed and soon-to-be-forgotten dead.
Safari Majune was an IDP representative elected by the others. He said that while people longed to return to their own land, the biggest problem was that there is not enough food for everyone at the camp. Famine and malnutrition, coupled with malaria and tuberculosis, means high death rates. More than 1000 people have daily died in Eastern Congo for over a decade now and there have been over 1,000,000 IDPs in the North Kivu region alone, for years.
Majune is one of many who, in 2007, had been at the IDP camp for over a year, and another human being likely to become a meaningless statistic in the long, bloody war in Congo.
This camp was in Rutshuru, just outside the “safety zone” designated by the United Nations Observers Mission in Congo (MONUC). There were over 4,250 children, men and women at the one camp in 2007. They lived in banana leaf domes that look like small, brown, camping tents.
With IDPs crowded and scratching at the UN tarps to see the white “mazungu,” hoping to talk to her or to get some food or money, Habimana told her story. It is an all too familiar story for IDP women all over Eastern Congo. A week earlier she had been walking on foot to her village near the border of Uganda, about 24 kilometers (11 miles) away.
“I have been looking for food and I met some soldiers and they took me,” she said. “They were four but only two raped me.”
Habimana claimed her attackers were government troops, the Armed Forces of the Democratic Republic of Congo, called FARDC. After some time, she said, she regained enough strength and walked to the road where people found her and helped her back to the camp. Once she arrived, others helped her find enough money to pay for a motorcycle taxi to the hospital. There they gave her medication and instructions to return once the medication was done to test for infections, like HIV/AIDS. She was still taking the medication when she spoke and said she worried that the soldiers who raped her were infected.
The camp in Rutshuru was one of three in a 15 km radius according to Bruno Matsundo, director of the non-profit Centre of Intervention, Social Promotion and Partner Participation (CIPSOPA), a non-government organization (NGO) that was coordinating the three camps.
Everyone in the Rutshuru area and in the main border town with Rwanda, called Goma, speaks about the rights to home, land and—more than anything—a stable country to live in.
Latest reports say the insecurity has reached unproportional heights. Most of the villagers and IDPs from this Rutshuru region have recently flooded into Goma—walking on foot, carrying what they can. Meanwhile the former “safety zone” demarcated by MONUC has disintegrated.