Touring the city of Goma today, the presence of the United Nation’s Peacekeeping Mission (MONUC in French acronym) is one of the remaining pieces of evidence pointing to years of war in the Congo. Otherwise, Goma’s main roads are congested by cars and motorbikes. New and big homes have or are being built. Shops are full of imported goods. Markets are filled with produce from remote villages, western style supermarkets and bakeries are found in downtown, and internet service is available in cafes, offices, private homes, and rental apartments. Rwanda-D.R.Congo cross-border commerce between Gisenyi and Goma continues to improve. Many Rwandan undergraduate and graduate students enrolled in Congolese institutions commute everyday from Gisenyi to Goma. A few families of Tutsi ethnicity who fled the war fearing ethnic retaliation have started to move into the city.
The presence of international non-profit organizations has injected a huge amount of money into the city’s economy and has boosted business and employment industries such housing, hotels, car rental, and construction to name just a few. Though difficulties may arise when those NGO’s leave, for the time being, it is a trigger for development in war-weary eastern Congo.
Taken in the context of the war, these are all signs of hope for peace. However, the challenge before the Congolese people, no matter one’s ethnic background, is to try to move past the war and to learn how to live together peacefully.
Life in the Villages Around Goma
Many people have left the displacement camps to return to their villages to restart their lives. “Although many had nothing to go back to except their farms, returning home is the only choice they had and the only desire of their heart,” said a chief of a village who chose to remain anonymous. The absence of checkpoints has created some kind of confidence that the war is relatively over. The traffic on the roads that link Uganda, Butembo, and Beni to Goma has resumed and consequently has revitalized businesses in many towns along the way. Also, the reopening of major markets such as Ntamugenga, Kalengera, Kisharo and Bunagana provides an additional sign of relative recovery and hope.
During AFJN’s trip to towns previously under CNDP control such as Kibumba, Rugari, Rumangabo, Gisiza, Nkokwe, Biruma, Rubare, and Kiwanja, we found positive signs of new beginnings in the agricultural sector. However, people are experiencing many challenges related to land justice. Most concerning are cases of retaliation by returning members of the Tutsi community whose farms were occupied illegally or who are forceibly taking back farms they sold when they had to leave the Congo because of ethnic tensions that arose in 1996. Many of these cases are found in Masisi and Rutshuru territory.
Although the Congolese people are determined to not let the trauma of the war hold them down, recovering from the memories of the war is still a long journey. The massacre of innocent people in Kiwanja and Kalengera, the resistance of the Congolese army in Rubare and Ntamugenga, are still very vivid in memory and often spoken about by residents of these areas. The Congolese people are waiting on their government to deliver definitive and positive results on their rights to peace, justice, adequate pay for workers, creation of more jobs, an end to corruption, good governance, freedom of speech, and most importantly, holding presidential elections in 2011. While AFJN is encouraged by the progress made in a few corners of the D.R Congo, we are not satisfied with the overall result and believe that the Congo can and will do better than this. Thus, our advocacy campaign continues in favor of justice, peace, and prosperity for every Congolese.
Posted by Bahati Jacques