Monday, October 5, 2009

Back in Bukavu

I arrived in Bukavu on Monday, Sept 28th, but I haven't been able to post blogs because the settings for are all in Arabic!

Right now the power is on again, off again, and there is no water. . . ah, Bukavu, how I missed you!

Bukavu seems more prosperous than when I was last here six months ago— more traffic, more people on the roads, and more private cars than white SUVs (the standard charity vehicle), a sure sign of local prosperity. Construction on major buildings downtown has been completed, so the town has a tidier look. And I’ve noticed new stores all around town—internet cafes, grocery stores, guest houses, stereo stores blasting pop music, and two fancy new gas stations, built by Ugandan investors I am told.

Word is that security is good in Bukavu; people are out at night and cars fill the streets after dark. But reports from the countryside are another matter: Random attacks by Interahamwe are occurring in some mountain areas and on the roads from Nyangezi to Kamanyola and from Uvira to Ngomo. Walungu is a dangerous place these days; two priests were kidnapped there, their convent burned, last week. Everyone knows someone who has been stopped or shot at or raped south and east of Bukavu, so people are moving cautiously outside city limits.

This round of violence is attributed to KIMIA II, a joint offensive which began last January of the Rwandan Army, the Congolese National Army, and MONUQ, the United Nation troops in DRC. Their mission is to rid eastern Congo, once and for all, of Interahamwe, Hutu soldiers who were given asylum in Congo by then-President Mobutu after perpetrating genocide in Rwanda in 1994. Over 1 million Hutu soldiers and their families relocated to IDP (Internal Displaced Persons) camps in northeastern Congo, then disappeared into the vast mountain jungles and began a reign of terror that continues today: unspeakable atrocities against women and girls, AIDS, looting and burning of villages, and random murder of innocent people.

I recently met two American women who told me what it was like to live in Congo 20-30 years ago. Both were Peace Corps volunteers at the time, single young women who traveled wherever they wanted in Congo without fear. They explained that the family unit and community morality were intact then: There was no rape, no AIDS, no guns, no tortured women, or kids hopped up on drugs carrying AK47s. In short, Congo was a nice place to live, so much so that each woman opted to stay another year.

So is it possible that this latest military action will bring peace to Congo? Many are doubtful. The Congolese National Army is stationed in the hills above Nyangezi, and many other places, ostensibly to protect villages from the Interahamwe living nearby. But peace will depend on the troops being well-disciplined, and whether or not the Congolese government pays the soldiers' salaries. If discipline is lax and the pay not forthcoming, then the army will simply take the place of the Interahamwe, raping and looting without impunity, living as bandits off innocent villagers.

With love and gratitude,

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