Congo is also like a little child, everybody thinks that they can bring us a solution without even properly reflecting on it, everybody on the outside.
Last week I was in Congo to train a group of journalists and activists in social media and activism. During this trip I interviewed 2 Goma-based journalists and a youth activist on the challenges of working in an area with conflicts that have no permanent front lines Conflicts, in which often civilians pay the highest price as different armed groups fight over ever-changing political interests. Late last year, Oxfam released a report that showed there were more than 25 armed groups in North and South Kivu provinces.
The latest conflict to hit Goma, the capital of natural resource rich North Kivu province in Eastern Congo, was last year when M23 rebels temporarily occupied the capital over disputes with government regarding their integration into the national army.
Often in these times, we mostly feed on reports from international media, written by journalists who fly in and out and can be fairly protected. In the case of Uganda we had most reporters covering the conflict from M23 frontline at the rebels invitation.
For Congolese journalists who are part of these communities who have suffered the wars for over a decade, the conditions are different. They often don’t have the protection of a large media house and they can make enemies with any groups no matter how ‘objective’ their reporting can be. Also in a country where the government troops commit crimes just like the militias do, the work of a local journalist or activist is tougher in Congo.
I am in Brussels where two days ago Congolese community had clashes with Police when they went out to demonstrate agains the president Joseph Kabila’s ‘re-election’ which has so far been rejected by international election observers and leading opposition candidate Etienne Tshisekedi.
The Carter Center said “we find the irregularities are significant enough to undermine the credibility of the election results.”
Again the contention is on the tallying process. Earlier the opposition had warned that the Electoral body had chosen to announce first results from Kabila’s strongholds in Katanga, a move seen by many as way to psychologically prepare the population if Kabila is finally announced as a winner. But Once again we have a Cote d’Iviore situation, both men have announced themselves as winners of the election. There are reports of government moving troops into Kinshasa and rounding up youth linked to the opposition. The situation is unpredictable and no one seems to know how this stalemate will be solved. And as tensions flare I am reminded of women of DRC, eastern DRC in particular who have endured all sorts of inhumane acts by soldiers and militias. On this day they see the little hope of having a government that can bring peace wane.
A few months ago there was a report that put DRC as one of the worst places in the world to be a woman. I found this kind of description troubling even in the face of what many of the women and Congo as a country have gone through. I even wondered how Dr.Denis Mukwege, the director at Panzi hospital, a man who has dedicated himself to the care of sexually violated women, would think.
I had learnt about him through the media from a few awards he had won. I never expected to be in Bukavu, South Kivu and at Panzi soon. This week am at Panzi with a group of psychologists and Psychiatrists doing an assesment of trauma among health workers at Panzi. It’s the main hospital caring for survivors of sexual violence which is unacceptably high in South Kivu. Many health workers wondered how they could deal with trauma and sexual violence yet the source of all this-the conflict-is far from being solved.
I always wondered how their hearts are not in pieces, how they are not resigned amidst all this heart breaking stories. But now interacting with them I am learning from their resilience and their frankness on the challenges they face. For this week we are listening to the stories they listen to on daily basis. I am here with Isis-WICCE and the Stephen Lewis Foundation on their program- African Institute for Integrated Responses to Violence Against Women and HIV/AIDS which aims to create a network of African-based, women centered technical support on issues of violence against women, HIV/AIDS and counseling.
Not everyone here is a victim of sexual violence but it’s the hospital that has a big department dedicated to sexual violence. Below are random pictures i took during morning prayers and training of health workers.