This article is typical of the US media’s coverage of Africa, in that there is much discussion of ethnic conflict, poverty, hunger, displacement, western aid agencies’ attempts at rescue, etc., but nothing about any of the positive efforts toward change by Africans (unless funded by western NGOs), or about which western powers buy the resources people are fighting over and fund and train their armies, or about the three centuries of western slavetraders, colonialists, and imperialists who divided and conquered by pitting one ethnic group against another. The consistent presentation of African countries as embroiled in corruption and ethnic conflict, without discussion of the broader context, reinforces the prevailing myth that the only remedy is western crisis intervention, however inadequate. Reposted from the San Francisco Chronicle, September 3, 2007.
(09-30) 04:00 PDT Mugunga Refugee Camp,
Democratic Republic of Congo —
Eugenie Luhendo was shot in the foot when soldiers loyal to a renegade Tutsi commander attacked her Hutu village in July.
While her children fled into the forest with other villagers of Ngugu, Luhendo was carried by a neighbor on a weeklong journey to Goma, the capital of North Kivu province some 60 miles away. There she became one of thousands of refugees at a camp called Mugunga run by United Nations aid workers and international peacekeepers.
“Many people died during the fighting,” said Luhendo, a 45-year-old war widow, while resting in the grim makeshift camp built among lava rocks. “Many times, we flee, then go back (to their villages). Thousands of people have the same story here.”
More than 200,000 people have fled their homes in eastern Congo this year, including more than 163,000 in North Kivu province, according to the United Nations. Since November, more than 3, 440 villagers have arrived at this dusty camp, according to camp administrators.
More than 1.2 million people have been displaced in eastern Congo, with some 800,000 in North Kivu province alone, according to the United Nations.
Although most of the Congo is at peace since U.N.-sponsored elections in 2006, the mineral-rich eastern provinces have been engulfed in violent ethnic clashes in recent months between troops loyal to dissident Congolese Tutsi Gen. Laurent Nkunda, the Congolese army, and the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda, the main Hutu rebel group in eastern Congo.
And if fighting continues, U.N. officials say another 280,000 Congolese may be on the move by the end of the year, crippling an already thinly stretched emergency effort.
“A huge need will explode and we’ll try to limit the death toll from hunger, a lack of health care, (and) epidemics that may occur,” said Patrick Lavand’Homme, head of U.N. humanitarian efforts in the North Kivu province. “We are very close to a huge humanitarian crisis if armed groups” continue.
The genesis of the recent fighting is continued ethnic tension following the 1994 genocide of more than 800,000 Tutsis and Hutu moderates by two Hutu militias – Interhamwe and Impuzamugambi. In its aftermath, more than 1 million Rwandan Hutu refugees and militiamen who committed the genocide sought refuge together in the Congo. Since then, sporadic clashes have flared between Rwandan and Congolese ethnic groups and armies of both nations.
In 1996 and 1998, Rwandan troops invaded the Congo, claiming former Hutu soldiers and militiamen posed a threat to the nation’s security by attacking Congolese villages. The invasion sparked a war that caused the death of more than 4 million people. Even though Rwanda withdrew its troops in 2002, it has repeatedly threatened to invade the Congo once again, citing the Congolese government’s failure to disarm the Rwanda liberation forces.
At the Mugunga camp, many refugees have lost contact with their children and abandoned their land, and they depend on international aid agencies. But camp officials say the monthly food distribution has not been enough to feed new arrivals. A shortage has forced refugees to share food with newcomers even though they lack food, clean water and medical care.
“There is no food and no school for the children,” said Ngulu Mongera Tanganika, a refugee who helps coordinate aid distribution at the Mugunga camp. “We need medical assistance because we are facing diseases” such as diarrhea, malaria and cholera.
Many refugees arrived at the end of last year after Tutsi soldiers under Nkunda clashed with the Congolese army, and again in May, after the two sides agreed to integrate their troops and concentrate on attacking the Rwanda liberation forces.
Now, according to Mugunga officials, the camp is experiencing a third wave of refugees as a result of increased fighting between the army and brigades of Nkunda against the Hutu rebels. The refugees, who are of numerous ethnic groups, have suffered rape, mutilation and armed robbery, says Moho Faustin, a refugee who serves as the camp’s spokesman.
At Mugunga, more than 2,500 hovels made of banana leaves and plastic tarps have been erected, with another 1,400 more to be built, said Faustin, who fled his village last November.
Last month, a 71-year-old woman became the first to die from cholera, an often-fatal disease usually caused by contaminated drinking water. Since then, 10 new cases have emerged.
Faustin says an average of five babies are born each week, and many do not survive. Camp elders are negotiating with local authorities to obtain more land to bury the dead. “We have people dying from cholera, diarrhea and hunger,” he said. “We have a small health center, but it is not sufficient. We are in a war against time.”
Farther north, the violence is even worse.
“We have at least four armed groups here,” said Dominique Bofomdo Lofeko, the government administrator for the Rutshuru administrative territory in North Kivu.
Lofeko says his area also has “Mai-Mai” militias, a local term for community-based groups led by warlords and village elders, many of whom claim to be fighting in self-defense. “All of these groups are raping, looting, murdering the civilian population,” said Lofeko. “They are killing people like cows and goats here in Rutshuru.”
As the situation deteriorates, aid agencies say it will become increasingly difficult to provide humanitarian aid to the most vulnerable populations.
“Our politics is not to put people in danger,” said Paulin Nkwosseu, program manager for Solidarites, a French humanitarian organization that works with the World Food Program to distribute emergency relief in North Kivu. “It is very difficult to respond to this kind of need.”
Back in Mugunga, Faustin spends most of his days distributing blankets, metal cups and spoons. Each family receives 132 pounds of cornmeal flour, 40 pounds of peas, 1.3 gallons of soy oil, and one cup of salt. “The families who arrived yesterday have yet to be registered,” he said. “Even those who were registered three weeks ago are hungry and waiting for help.”
Gabriel Hanyurwabake, the neighbor who carried Luhendo to the camp, lost six children in the latest fighting. He has fled violence repeatedly in the past 15 years. His brother, Alphonse Batibwira, was taken in 2006 by Nkunda’s soldiers, castrated and killed.
“We are suffering here,” said Hanyurwabake. “We ask you to think about the kids. As adults, we’ve lost a lot of things, but we would like to save our kids.”
As Luhendo sits on a pile of lava rocks among the sick, she can barely move. Although medics removed the bullet when she arrived at the camp, her foot hasn’t healed properly and is visibly swollen. She does not know the whereabouts of her six children, who scattered during the attack.
“I am fed up. I lost my kids. I lost my husband,” she said. “I may live or I may die. But I will remain here.”