Insecurity in Goma

Salomé Ntububa is Regional Emergency Manager, Christian Aid. She lives and works in Goma and covers the Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda and Burundi.

She has been based in the DRC for three years and has been in Goma for the last 18 months so has seen first-hand the effects of the rebel fighting which started in April.

The situation is changing daily. Fighting has destroyed power cables and now there is no electricity or water. Christian Aid partners and other members of ACT (Action by Churches Together for Development) are currently assessing the need in the ID camps and planning the distribution of non-food items.

She shares more about the situation here.

CT: What is the reality like for people in Goma right now?

In Goma life is very difficult since the M23 rebellion. Since they left on Saturday 1st December to be located 20 km away the population are expecting life to go on as before but they are still wondering if lasting peace is possible due to the huge circulation of guns, and rising banditry. M23 will still have control of Rutshuru territory which is a strategically positioned with links to Lubero - Beni territories where more than 50 % of population are from. Rusthuru is on the border with Rwanda and this is an entry point for all militia and foreign armed groups. It was estimated that the population in Goma could cope with the current situation for a week and now it is the third week; even with the departure of M23 businesses have not yet started back to work. Poor people who are depending on occasional day work are finding it difficult to find enough cash to feed their families. The food prices have increased 30% to 50%.
The influence of other armed groups, including the Mai Mai, has also increased. Masisi is under Mai Mai control and these rebels are either fighting each other, have formed alliances with other armed groups, or are joining with M23 or FADRC.

There have been reports of atrocities committed by M23 rebels in the past. Are you aware of anything like that happening right now?

M23 have allegedly enrolled children to join in combat with them, and are reportedly forcing local communities to support them by providing information. If the village chief or another influential person doesn't cooperate with them, he/she will be considered an enemy and will face punishment or simply be killed.

CT: The situation is changing daily. Is that making it harder to respond to the people's needs?

Insecurity is still the main constraint regarding the ability of humanitarian aid agencies to actually reach and assist local people.

The current situation is changing so quickly and this influences all our plans to support affected people; for example, the crisis started in April in Masisi and we were planning to help families there when the rebellion suddenly moved to Rusthuru and we realised that the situation there was in fact much worse. In the middle of our humanitarian response the population was attacked again. Many of them have now been displaced four times.

Our current plans involve the support of internally displaced people (IDPs) in host families and returnees with agricultural inputs such as simple farming and tools and cash for work schemes, to ensure that they are able to harvest in December and January.

CT: What are the spiritual dimensions of the support you are providing?

We are supporting both secular and faith-based organisations. Our partners CBCA (The Baptist Church of South Kivu) and ECC (the umbrella organisation for 64 protestant churches in the DRC ) providing food and non-food assistance and creating support groups for traumatised victims of the recent and past conflicts. We monitor human rights abuses groups such as violence and discrimination through such solidarity groups and refer victims' cases to appropriate medical or social organisations. Partners are also providing HIV/AIDS prevention education in the communities because cases of sexual violence are very high in the Kivu region. The IDP camp in Kanyaruchiya was recently destroyed by M23 fighting on their way to Goma which is a big contravention of international humanitarian law; in fact, the Mugunga camp was looted and five people were raped on 1 December when M23 was retreating from Goma. FADRC also looted and raped people when they fled Goma.

CT: Is the international community doing enough to stop the fighting and protect civilians? Is there anything the UK Government in particular can do?

The international community is maintaining their advocacy work but it is not enough. Protecting communities in the province is a critical role, but even humanitarian agencies are now targeted. Two Catholic priests have been kidnapped; women, girls and men are raped and killed for nothing; robbery and carjacking is commonplace; people are constantly being moved from their land to live in camps where the living conditions are extremely poor; slum areas are expanding rapidly; and street children are joining gangs and being used in many criminal operations. The UK Government could help the whole of the Great Lake region to reach peace by supporting local peoples' rights to dignity and stop the disproportionate influence of armed groups that currently act with impunity. The exploitation of natural resources such as coltan (used in the manufacture of mobile phones and laptops all over the world) and other 'blood minerals', the unchecked circulation of small arms, the imbalance of power within the government coupled with a distinct lack of civil society representation, are all huge constraints.

CT: What needs to be done within the DRC to secure long-term, sustainable peace?

For the state to gain control of its vast territory there needs to be investment in the country's infrastructure. There also needs to be support for the local administration and civil society groups, support for the millions of people affected by violence, and support for the reintegration or repatriation of foreign armed groups.

CT: How can Christians in the UK support peace in the region?

Christians in the UK can pray for peace in the region and support organisations such as Christian Aid who are assisting affected people in DRC. They could also lobby the UK government and UN to support peace processes in the region and to channel sustainable development.