Peace

Despite the cynicism, there are still Congolese people who believe in a better future

by Nadia Nsayi
Pax Christi Flanders

The elections in Congo seem like a soap: predictable, but also with unexpected twists, even for loyal viewers. In recent years I have worked together with many Congolese for the organization of credible elections. Not because I believe that elections are a panacea to deal with the many problems in the country. But because I consider them as a form of participation to give politicians a mandate and then reward or punish them. In this sense Congolese also have the right to choose their own political leaders.

So it was a relief last year to hear that Joseph Kabila was no longer a candidate for a third mandate. This brought a bit of hope for a historic change of power in Congo. For never before did a sitting president peacefully make way for an elected successor. After the regime boycotted the elections for two years, millions of Congolese went to the polls on December 30th. I saw poignant images that symbolize the desire with which the Congolese people fulfilled their democratic duty, despite pouring rain and logistical chaos.

Question marks

They voted, the millions of Congolese who mobilized to elect a new president and members of parliament. But was their call for change heard? I do not think so. On Sunday, the Constitutional Court confirmed the victory of opponent Félix Tshisekedi by 38 percent. Yet I dare to question this, because according to leaked dates of the electoral commission and the powerful Catholic church – with 40,000 observers on the ground – businessman Martin Fayulu is the real winner with about 60 percent, far ahead of Tshisekedi.

Today I watch with disbelief how Tshisekedi, the leader of the historical opposition party UDPS, enters into an alliance with Kabila, the political enemy of his late father Etienne Tshisekedi. What Kabila actually calls for the winner. Even though he had to forgo a new candidacy under pressure and admit that his ‘crown prince’ lost Emmanuel Shadary. He nevertheless agreed to let an opposition leader win. But he unexpectedly found a surprising ally in Tshisekedi. Moreover, Kabila’s platform – which will shortly become a senator – will retain a strong weight in parliament and can, through the profits in the provincial councils, monitor the Senate and deliver the governors.

Tshisekedi threatens to become just a figurant in Kabila’s strategic political game. After his official installation he will have to compete against the political, economic and security system in the hands of the Kabila clan. But the biggest challenge is to make his disputed victory ‘acceptable’ for Congolese public opinion. He does not have strong political support to govern the large, diverse and fragile Congo. This legitimacy crisis is an obstacle to stability. And without this stability, an appropriate response can not be found to the development challenges of the country. Should Tshisekedi free himself from the Kabila system, then the file of his forged diploma threatens to pop up to drop him off…

Read more by clicking here.

Refugee Stories, Young Peace Journalists

Refugee Stories: Husband reported missing, wife manages to survive in camp

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The following interview was done by Olivier Lungwe Fataki, a member of the Young Peace Journalists. It is the latest entry in the Young Peace Journalists project featuring the stories and voices of refugees. 

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Vizigiro Lambert is a Burundian woma, whose husband was reported missing in Burundi during the post-election socio-political disturbances. Before his disappearance, he had already planned to leave the country. Today, she lives with her three children in the camp of Lusenda in DR Congo, where she looks after the supply of humanitarian aid which appears not to cover all their basic needs.

During the demonstrations in Burundi in 2015, when the population and civil society marched against the third term of the current president Pierre Nkurunziza, Madam Vizigiro, her husband and their three children lived in Rutumo, in the commune of Bugarama, province of Rumonge, in the southwest of Burundi. Back then, the socio-political climate was not good. ”

When someone was abducted at night, sometimes his corpse was found early in the morning on the side of the street; sometimes he was reported missing,” she says, gesticulating.

Two days before she left the country, Madame Vizigiro was terrified because of the tragedy that happened to one of her neighbours. He was visited at night and found dead behind his house in the morning. This had sent a strong signal to her husband who was close to the late victim. So, together with her husband, they thought it best to flee the next day. “But unfortunately we had no money in the house that would allow us to travel abroad,” she explains.

After all that was finally settled, Madam Vizigiro and her three children fled alone to Baraka, in the Democratic Republic of Congo, where they were welcomed in the Mongemonge Refugee Transit Center in the hope that her husband would join them as soon as possible. Once in DR Congo, Madam Vizigiro had to phone her husband to find out about his news and inform him about hers, but unfortunately, she couldn’t reach him.

Desperate to speak to her husband, she tried another number of a neighbour who could easily reach him. He informed her that the day after her departure, her husband was kidnapped at night and no one knows anything about him. “Immediately I started to cry without saying anything to the children because I knew the fate of every person abducted,” explains Madam Vizigiro in a soft voice. She turned away as she gently rubbed the palms of her hands.

Since this unfortunate event, Madam Vizigiro often telephones to Burundi, but noone has the courage to tell her if her husband is alive or not; they tell her that they have not yet received news about him. If he was actually killed, she wouldn’t understand why, because, she says, “My husband never did politics, not even in the neighbourhood or on the street during the demonstrations; additionally, he stepped back from taking part in the quarter debates on the current political situation.” She still tries to cope with the hate, because “it was just enough that one day someone makes accusations against you to the intelligence agents, commonly called Imbonerakure, and then that evening you are visited,” she explains sorrowfully. To this day, she presumes her husband to be dead.

Struggle for Survival in the Camp

Like all other refugees in the Lusenda camp, Madam Vizigiro is mainly dependent on humanitarian aid from the UNHCR and other humanitarian organisations such as Pax Christi Uvira asbl. At the end of each month, “the High Commission for Refugees gives fifteen US dollars to every refugee who has been duly registered,” she notes. This sum is supposed to meet the needs of the entire month apart from the school and health fees, which are taken care of by the humanitarian organizations.

“Beyond the food and the school and health fees, my needs and those of my three children are not always covered,” states Madam Vizigiro, who goes on to say that “this is the reason why many refugees carry on small trade manual labour to get paid money,” in order to cover both ends of the month.

Madam Vizigiro, brave in appearance and medium height, had spent a long time thinking of what work to do so as to find food, pay for shoes for her children, and pay for her clothes and those of her children. One day, chatting with one of her refugee friends, they decided to subscribe to the list of warehousemen, whose main task is to load and unload the vehicles of various humanitarian organisations that come to the Lusenda camp.

Previously, loading and unloading the vehicles was reserved for men only because, “when we went to ask for registration, we were told that men are better suited for this kind of work in terms of their physical strength,” explains Madam Vizigiro. She carries on to say, “They had asked us whether we were going to get by, and we accepted.”

Immediately registered, Madam Vizigiro and her friend joined a group of eight people, including three locals of Lusenda and five refugees, two women and six men all together.

“We receive the salary for loading and unloading a truck daily; it equals the amount of four US dollars,” explains Madam Vizigiro while complaining about the irregularity in which the trucks frequent the camp last time. She deplores that by saying, “Other times we counted seven to eight trucks per week.” This situation has already resulted in the dismissal of two warehousemen who found better work by cultivating the fields of the local residents in order to get paid.

In spite of this life, considered difficult by Madam Vizigiro, she does not think about returning to Burundi because, according to her, beyond the political aspect, there is also a tribal aspect that is worrying. “Due to the tribal hatred, my entire family is no longer in Burundi; they had left for Tanzania where they are now refugees, some in the Nduta camp and others in the Nyarugusu camp. We do not communicate because of lack of connection,” says Madam Vizigiro indignantly.

Refugee Stories, Young Peace Journalists

Refugee Stories: Accompanying the internally displaced in the DR Congo

The following interview was done by Bienvenu Kambale Lutsumbi, a member of the Young Peace Journalists. It is the latest entry in the Young Peace Journalists project featuring the stories and voices of refugees. 

Below is an English version of the interview which was conducted in French. To read the French interview, click here.

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Masika Kahindo Marie Jeanne, 50 years-old, is the Executive Secretary of the Center for the Supervision and Promotion of Displaced Persons, ISPRON, or Social Integration for the Promotion of the Needy. She has been in charge of the accompaniment of the displaced since 2003 in the city of Butembo, province of North Kivu in the Democratic Republic of Congo. She draws this passion from the Catholic church where she has been serving for a long time. She watches over 1,432 households, some of whom live in the Matoto camp in Butembo, while others live with host families. She has succeeded in integrating a dozen of the displaced into the street cleaning team of the city of Butembo and a large number of the displaced are working as day laborers in the rehabilitation of urban roads. Mrs. Kahindo, a married mother of three children, acknowledged that there are still many difficulties, especially in the schooling and care of those Congolese victims who have suffered from repetitive atrocities.

Bienvenu Kambale Lutsumbi: What can you tell us about yourself?

Masika Kahindo Marie Jeanne: I am the secretary of the Social Integration for the Promotion of the Needy, ISPRON, since 10 February 2010. This is the result of my initiative, which is rooted in the suffering that the displaced people have been experiencing since my childhood. Shortly before I started this association, I was already giving myself to this apostolate. As a Catholic Christian of faith, I do not like to see suffering in my fellow man, especially when I can do something to get him out of this painful situation. I am a mother of several children, which is a title that makes me proud because of being able to host children, orphans of parents following the war. I am age 50, married, with three children. And I have lived in Butembo forever.

What is ISPRON targeting mainly for the displaced?

We have many services that we render to the displaced persons; we proceed to their reception and identification in our area of ​​operation. Here we collaborate with the head of the entity that welcomes them to avoid receiving suspects instead of displaced persons. Then we provide them with tokens that allow us to identify them whenever we have an aid to distribute to them; these tokens allow them to access care in all the health facilities with which we collaborate. The same tokens allow displaced persons of school age to enjoy the right to be educated in our partner schools. Afterwards, we collect food and non-food to try to meet, to some extent, the material needs of our displaced.

Approximately how many internally displaced persons or IDPs are you supervising within ISPRON and where do they most come from?

Most of the displaced people we host come from the territories of Beni and Lubero in the province of North Kivu. They say they fear for their security in these areas torn by interminable armed conflicts that are either inter-ethnic or international. It is like those fleeing the wars of the Allied Democratic Forces, “ADF NALU”, pure rebels Ugandan, Rwandan etc. In Lubero, moreover, the Rwandan rebels FDRL are active in this area where our brothers live from agriculture and livestock. In addition to these, we find peasants who are expelled from their land due to land conflicts which are another kind of social insecurity with an extent not at all negligible. Finally, of these, we can also count those who were expelled from their villages because they were suspected of being a sorcerer. In all, we have 1,432 households that we supervise. And at average we have 5 individuals per household.

How do they live in Butembo?

They are living through difficult living conditions. Especially when they get sick, it’s all ISPRON can do to help. Those with relatives are not so much a burden for us. But those who did not have relatives, they live squarely in the camps and the less deprived in the tents. Among them, there are intellectuals, those who need intervention so little by being involved in teaching or in other professions of their choice and according to the opportunities. The ordeal is that the large number of our displaced people are illiterate. These are helped by our efforts in various odd jobs to contribute to their survival. We have already assigned a dozen of them to the sweeping team of the three tarred roads of Butembo. While welcoming the authorities that grant us this favor, we are calling for an improvement in the working conditions of the latter. It is incomprehensible that they work without being protected from the dust and still every six days of the week they sweep through the ballets which oblige them to work bent. Apart from these, many work on the rehabilitation of urban roads. The last category is that of the displaced persons of the third age.

What happens when a displaced person gets sick or dies?

Whenever they are sick we send them to the health facilities partners to follow up with care. And the invoice is paid by us. But we already have a compromise with these caregivers, that is to pay one-third of the bill. And since we ourselves operate our structure, we sometimes accumulate debts without knowing how we will pay. For example, at the FEPSI hospital where we owe 1607.07 US dollars and at Tulezeni, but also elsewhere are 800, 700 dollars, etc. If unfortunately a displaced person dies we take care of all the funeral ceremonies by collaborating with the local authorities who contribute by buying a coffin.

Do you have refugees among the IDPs?

None at all. All are internally displaced. I worked with refugees in the first steps of my career with the wars between nations.

Are you occupied solely with the physical condition of IDPs or do you attend to their spirituality also?

In addition to food and health, we are involved in the spiritual life of our displaced. As proof, we celebrated three marriages of the sons of the displaced with displaced girls. Moreover, we have baptized some twenty children among the displaced over whom we watch.

Do you find that they usually have psychological problems when you are welcoming them?

Several of them come to us stressed and we submit them to psychiatrists and psychologists. Often it is because they have witnessed the carnage of their peers and loved ones. Others, the inestimable number of lifeless bodies on which they walked in flight, create in them an unnamed fear.

Do the residents of Butembo help you with this visibly heavy task?

Some churches and schools help us. It is like the Catholic Church that has already provided us with an office and a meeting room where we gather them twice a week. There are also benefactors who are often married women who come to support those among these displaced and in return they give a monthly support to their family.

The Congolese government does not accompany you financially?

Not often. They had accompanied us for a given period by paying 1,770 pupils in the first quarter at the rate of 10 US dollars each child.

Do the debts you incur in your name scare you sometimes?

I am very afraid that one day they will send me to prison for all these debts. However, we set up small projects such as Amarant Gardens and food products in the small plot of land that the Catholic Church offered us. Sometimes it makes us something. Among the displaced others are grateful and they bring us a little of their income after having mastered some other trade. But this is always insignificant.

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Bienvenu Kambale Lutsumbi is a graduate in sciences of information and communication at ISEAB High School (Institut Supérieur Emmanuel D’Alzon). He’s the manager of a local radio station broadcasting in Butembo city in North Kivu province. He also serves as a casuel camaraman at MCA (Marie Consolatrice des affligés), a Catholic spiritual center in Butembo-Beni diocese. 

Refugee Stories, Young Peace Journalists

Refugee Stories: Listening to the victims of the Beni massacres

The following interview was done by Merveille Kakule Saliboko, a member of the Young Peace Journalists. It is the latest entry in the Young Peace Journalists project featuring the stories and voices of refugees. 

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[Ed. Note: To read this interview in French, click here.]

In Beni, North Kivu province, in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, the La Charité Bilingue school complex is home to 4 orphans of the Beni massacres. More than a thousand people were killed in three years of massacres in the city and territory of Beni. These massacres, attributed to ADF (Allied Democratic Forces, Ugandan militia operating in eastern DRC), have caused the displacement of several thousand Congolese in the region. The displaced are in Beni and Butembo in host families.

In Beni, I had the opportunity to talk with the victims of these massacres, in the compound of the school complex La Charité Bilingue. This school has 208 primary and 22 kindergarten students. Sarah is the only orphan in kindergarten, the other three being in primary school as Julien, familiar to Sarah. Julien’s mother is called Soki Lwanzo. She is the first to express herself in front of my camera, in the courtyard of the school…

Merveille: You are a victim of the massacres. How do you deal with it now?

Lwanzo: We learn manual labor. Because, they have seen that unlike fieldwork, manual labor guarantees us at least a small profit that can enable us to pay the children’s tuition fees.

Merveille: Can you tell us personally how the period of the massacres took place?

Lwanzo: I, God, had given me thanks. We were there with my husband; we had just spent about three months to plant beans and peanuts. Immediately afterwards, I fell ill, very ill even and then my husband had brought me here to the hospital for care. After feeling well, I promised to join my husband after vaccinating the baby who was only one year old … it was on a Friday, that we suddenly learn that there was a massacre In Eringeti center.

As a result, I had forbidden him to return to the field but he had refused. And so I went to tell my mother-in-law but in vain. He left on Monday and by bad luck he was a victim in the massacre on Wednesday of the same week. His little brother had been saved by hiding in the forest. In the morning he had returned to the hut to see if there were any survivors, little Sarah was at home and reporting the death of her mother and uncle killed in the headline. The little brother of the victim and the little Sarah went directly to Eringeti center and without the presence of her uncle (the little brother of Sarah’s father) Sarah was going to die of hunger. That’s all I know.

Merveille: Since that day, have you personally already visited the scene of the drama?

Lwanzo: On the day my relatives were killed, people were called to pick up the body of members of their families. Then the authorities again said that the passage is blocked because the ADF elements prohibit access in the forest. From then on, I never went to see it.

Merveille: How do you experience this trauma?

Lwanzo: There are times that happen to me. But mostly children, sometimes they lose the urge to go to school. When you ask them why, they say they remember their father, sometimes even when they see a face resembling their father.

I, too, begin to understand and mourn today. And since this drama, I live in my in-laws.

(I stop the camera and end the interview with this survivor of the massacres. Next comes Dhimbe Buma Naomi. She is responsible for kindergarten at La Charité Bilingue school complex. For 2 years, she takes care of Sarah whose behavior she describes…)

Merveille: So, madam, can you tell us about this orphan child who is kindergarten here? How do you see her behavior in class? Does it fit?

Naomi: Yes, there is a change in her life in general. Because at the beginning, so her first year here at home, it was really difficult. Because when she met other children outside in the yard, or even in class, there were days when she woke up badly. She was only standing upright. She is told to sit down and refuse. Or she wanted to be left alone. And if you approach her, she pushed people, made that push others without sitting. Or else she was only crying so much that we could no longer care for the other children. All she did was take care of herself until she calmed down. There are times when all toys had to belong to her, even the teacher she wanted to own me to herself. If you want to touch her, she was just typing. On other days she only broke, abused things, in any case everything. If it was in the courtyard, she was just tapping the others. So it was really difficult to frame it. Sometimes if you send her to the board, she wanted to work alone, with no one else beside her, even if you could send four at a time. For her, in any case, she had to be left alone. We endured that for the first year.

Merveille: And how did the change happen?

Naomi: The second year the day she wakes up badly she comes but does not talk to anyone. You greet her she does not answer. And if you’re interested in her, she has to leave school and go where she wants. For how long? Even thirty minutes. And if you try to follow it, she picks up stones and throws them to everyone, even to the teacher, In any case to everyone. You are obliged to leave it, then you let it go by observing it until you tire of it elsewhere. It is afterwards that she will return herself, on her own initiative. And she returns to follow course. Sometimes there is an activity you are doing with other children, she comes in and gets very calmly without speaking to anyone. But if you come to this is what interests her, she is very intelligent, and she is courageous. It may be even hereditary, I think. She also loves her teacher, she loves me anyway, and that’s why I attract her. I begin to make gestures and she approaches by shouting “me too” and then I manage to take it with the others saying “Yes, it’s Sarah’s turn…» And now she works a lot. And I take advantage of this state to motivate her more. I give good examples on her by asking the other children and they appreciate her by her courage.

However, even today, the day when she woke up badly, it does not go! That day, you have to wait until she calms down that things can work. Because she pushes others, breaks things, types, etc. And some situations disturb her. It’s like when she saw the presence of the mother who just came out of the courtyard ah, it disturbed us, she just beats the others, and she refuses things to people…

In short, she is a girl who, on the day when she wants to work, she wins. But on the day when she awakes badly, she only commits blunders, wants to work alone. And the day she misses food (snack or something at home), she begins to ask others and once she is given, she begins to say thank you in the way of the old moms, so in a sincere way. I think it’s something she’s imitated somewhere.

(Adapt! How? After the teacher, I talk with Kasereka Tsongo Siméon. He is the director of La Charité Bilingue primary school…)

Merveille: How do teachers and you school authorities do to answer the whims that can be presented these children victims of the massacres?

Siméon: First of all, I thank you for coming to us to immerse yourself in the reality of the children we are hosting in our Charité Bilingue school complex. Precisely of all that you have just related. We have two sections: in primary school we have six classes, and at the maternal level, it is a rising school that has two levels of level 1 and level 2. Of a total of 208 we have at least 27 Children who are orphans including 4 orphans of the massacres. I will therefore speak of two cases: orphan children who are not massacres, then those who are orphans of the massacres.

Compared to children who are orphaned of massacres, they really have several whims. Fortunately for us, there are games that we organize in the mornings at the show, but also we have been trained in trauma: how to help a child traumatized. All teachers have taken this training at the beginning of this school year. We have been taught that to help a traumatized child, you must first understand, call the child to you, listen to him and feel as if you were the one feeling, as if you were the first one victim. This is where you will know how to help the child. It is in this way that we are gradually landing these caprices. We have also been trained in conflict management, because you know that these children attended the massacres of their parents. We do everything to show them that especially the Eternal God is our father, He is going to help us in all our lives, and we have to trust him. So we show them salvation.

For children who are not orphans of the massacres, we show them that the only father, the father of the orphans is God the all-powerful. We also organize cults often every Monday. There we show the children that it is God who protects us, it is he who keeps our lives, it is God who protects us, even if we can have or not have parents.

Merveille: And you think this trauma can fade after how long?

Siméon: I think it’s little by little, it’s not for a session; it takes time. And we have planned activities for the whole year. Besides, it will be for three years. If we have difficulty managing them because we need money, it can happen. But we have now taken a pedagogical method so that we can overcome these caprices, these traumas.

Merveille: Which method?

Siméon: For example games. We have to have gambling halls. You have to take a short stroll with these children. We organize small conferences with these children where children can express themselves. We also do poetry every morning. And we also have a partnership with UCBC (Bilingual Christian University of Congo). We also have a listening session with a psychologist. She takes care of our children. She spends every Tuesday and Friday to listen to them, their difficulties, to help them. This is in short what we have undertaken to try a little bit to overcome these traumas in which these children find themselves.

(To adapt, that’s what I have in mind when Sarah appears before the lens of my camera. On Wednesday, October 28, 2014, this girl lost her two parents and her maternal uncle in Bango, near Eringeti, on the Kainama road. That day, she and her parents were there. She survived…)

Merveille: Hello Sarah?

Sarah: Yes, good morning.

Merveille: Is it ok for you, being at school?

Sarah: Yes!

Merveille: Here at school Charité…

Sarah: Charité Bilingue

Merveille: Why is it bilingual, in your opinion?

Sarah: I’m here to study.

Merveille: What do you like to study here?

Sarah: The number 1, the number 2.

Merveille: You like numbers. Do you like to play too?

Sarah: Yeah.

Merveille: Do you have a lot of friends in class?

Sarah: Yeah.

Merveille: Like who?

Sarah: Prisca, Gemima, Zawadi,…

Merveille: And the teacher?

No answer.

Merveille: Do you like French?

Sarah: No!

Merveille: Why? It’s too difficult?

No answer.

Merveille: You like the number 1, the number 2. And what else?

Sarah: The number 4.

Merveille: Why do you like numbers?

No answer.

Merveille: Sarah, what would you like to do in life? Do you have any idea what you want?

No answer.

Merveille: Do you want us to speak in Kiswahili?

No answer.

(Now is Julien. He is attending La Charité Bilingue elementary school. He is the son of Soki Lwanzo. On October 28, 2014, he lost his father and his paternal aunt in Bango. This is Sarah’s family … Also adapting to Julien…)

Merveille: Mr. Julien, you are in school La Charité Bilingue. What do you like about school here?

Julien: I want to write English.

Merveille: Can you give me a few words in English?

Julien: Good morning. Yes, good morning. How are you? I’m fine. What is your name? My name is Julien. Where are you going? I’m going to school. I forgot about others.

Merveille: Ah! You have forgotten! But you are already very strong in English. You amazed me. Hey! Julien, what would you like to become in life?

Julien: I would like to become a motorcycle because Mom says so.

Merveille: Do you have a lot of friends here at school?

Julien: Yes, we play football and basketball with them.

Merveille: How are you playing?

Julien: The basketball is marked with hands and foot with feet.

Merveille: You are in what grade of primary?

Julien: I’m in my third year.

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Merveille Kakule Saliboko is a Congolese journalist based in Butembo, North Kivu province, in eastern DRC. He works for radio, television, online and written press. In May 2016, he was awarded the Amani Presse Prize for peace journalism in North Kivu, awarded by AJVPD Tupashe Amani and MONUSCO. Its award-winning article, “l’agriculture contre la guerre”, which appeared in Afrique Agriculture in March 2016, speaks of displaced people fleeing the ADF massacres and who, pending the return of peace to their respective communities, cultivate land in the Butembo to re-socialize. With Pax Christi International, Merveille hopes to be the bard of peace.

Refugee Stories, Young Peace Journalists

Refugee Stories: Interview with Bigirimana Musa in Lusenda Refugee Camp

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The following interview was done by Olivier Lungwe Fataki, a member of the Young Peace Journalists. It is the latest entry in the Young Peace Journalists project featuring the stories and voices of refugees.

Bigirimana Musa is a Burundian citizen, 35 years old, married with a child. He ran, locally, the youth league of the political party known as FEDES-Sangira (Forum for Equity Development, Democracy and Sovereignty). Nowadays, he lives in the Lusenda Refugee Camp in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

His situation as a refugee is the result of the political opinion he was supporting in his country, while the regime in place was witch-hunting for anyone who had participated somehow in the demonstrations against the third term of President Peter Nkurunzinza.

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Mr. Musa, can you introduce yourself please?

As you have just called me by my name, I am a Burundian refugee living in the Lusenda camp where I hold the position of Village Chief IV; I am married and father of a child. I was born in Burundi, in the Province of Cibitoki, Mugina Municipality, Rubirizi Hill.

How can you explain your presence here in DR Congo?

Today I’m in Congo to seek refuge. I had to flee my country during the demonstrations in Burundi in 2015, which had ended in a coup d’état which, unfortunately, had failed. In short, people were protesting against the third term of the current President of the Republic, Peter Ngurunziza.

Personally, I was a member of an opposition political party called FEDES-Sangira, in which I was the leader of the youth league in my city, after I had left the FRODEBU (Front for Democracy in Burundi), which is also a radical opposition party. There I was holding a similar position.

Then, after the failure of the coup d’état, a witch-hunt had been started against anyone who, somehow, has taken part in the enterprise. That is why I had to flee the country, because I was also being sought.

Can you tell us how you managed to leave Burundi even though you were wanted?

Oh, I only left the country because I was being chased behind my back, as if they were running behind a murderer, who has just barely knocked a person down.

Explain to us what has happened?

As a matter of fact, I was sitting at home. All of a sudden, there was a neighbour, who suddenly entered my house to beckon me the presence of the armed forces in front of my home, who were looking for me. And then I did not ask any more questions, because I had already received alerts two days ago. I immediately jumped out of the window and fled.

Fortunately, after they saw me running, they ran behind me, but in vain.

So, all of a sudden, I had taken the road to the river Ruzizi to take the canoe to the DR Congo. Once at the river, I was desperate to call home to find out what happened after I left. It was confirmed that they were looking for me and before seeing me running, they first came to the house to see if I was there.

This is how I had the chance to come to Congo.

Mr. Musa, as leader of the youth league in the FEDES-Sangira party, what was your role in all these events?

In fact, I would say that the demonstrations were often held in Bujumbura. Then, when they unfolded I was there too, but I soon realized that the situation continued to get worse. So I decided to go home to Cibitoke, where everyone knew that I was coming from Bujumbura and I have been there for demonstrations.

But I had to face the fear of being arrested and rumours in the neighbourhood about me. But alas, after the coup failed, I was being sought.

Regarding my role in all these events: physically I did not take part in it, but I shared the ideology and the motivation of the protesters, because we were all from the opposition. Except that I was not fully involved, because I had also other matters for which I had been to Bujumbura.

Then, once in Congo, how could you find your family?

To reach the Congo, I had to take a lagboat for which I paid money to get to Luvungi (in DR Congo) where I had found a refugee reception center. I got enlisted and two days later the UNHCR agents came to give us refugee cards and transfer us in a convoy the long way from the Luvungi transit center to Lusenda.

Once in the camp, I tried to reach my family on the phone but in vain, and afterwards I managed to reach them by the number of a relative, who had informed me that I was still a wanted person by the security agents, commonly known as “Imbonerakure”. When I spoke with my wife, she told me about the threats she also suffered from, to bring me back to Burundi. So I told her to sell some goods so that she can join me here in the Congo. This is how she joined me here in the camp through the transit center of Sange.

Explain for us who are the “Imbonerakure” please!

The “Imbonerakure” is a militia group, composed of young people, under the orders of the President Pierre Nkurunziza, who play both the role of intelligence and security police.

How was your reception in the camp?

From the transit center to the camp, UNHCR took care of us; once in the camp it entrusted us to the AIRD, which is its partner and the camp manager.

Tell us how you live in Lusenda Camp.

You know that the life of a refugee cannot be as good as that of your home, but I do not want to go home because I fear for my life. This life is not really easy, but we will endure it as long as we are still refugees, because here we feel safe.

I have no other job here apart from being village chief, as I told you earlier. This is an unpaid position; we only live on the $ 15 US dollars that UNHCR gives us monthly and per each person, and also on humanitarian aid from various humanitarian organisations working in the camp, for example, Pax Christi Uvira asbl.

Moreover, those who are not satisfied with this aid go out of the camp clandestinely to trade and do handicrafts here in Congo to get some money.

And finally, what do you think of the idea of returning home?

I do not think it will be today or tomorrow that we’ll go back home, because the targeted killings and also the kidnappings are still common today. Here is one example: in the past months, February and March, we all followed the news on the radio about the assassination of the Minister of the Environment and of a colonel of the Burundian army. In conclusion, we, the ordinary people are still wanted.

As you seem to be in the habit of informing yourself about the situation in Burundi, what is the current situation in relation to this crisis?

In the news they say that all the political parties of the opposition gathered in a platform called CNARED (Conseil National pour le respect de l’Accord d’Arusha pour la Paix et la Réconciliation au Burundi et de l’Etat de droit). They are in dialogue with the regime of Bujumbura in Tanzania under the mediation of the former Tanzanian President Benjamin Mkapa. But I do not think there will be a solution, because President Ngurunziza always acts according to Machiavellianism. He tries to ease the tension by seeming to be open to dialogue in order to show those who would like try to return home that the situation has normalised.

Read this interview in French by clicking here.

Refugee Stories, Young Peace Journalists

Refugee Stories: My visit to Lusenda Refugee Camp in DR Congo

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The following interview was done by Olivier Lungwe Fataki, a member of the Young Peace Journalists. It is the latest entry in the Young Peace Journalists project featuring the stories and voices of refugees. 

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In the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of Congo, precisely in the South Kivu Province in the Fizi territory, a Burundian refugee camp has been built in the Lusenda area since June 2015. Initially built for 20,000 refugees, the Lusenda Camp contains today more than 29,000 refugees who continue to flee the socio-political tensions in their home country. These refugees get humanitarian assistance from various organizations working in partnership with the UNHCR, including Pax Christi Uvira asbl, for which I am responsible for the youth program for human rights, and as a member of Pax Christi’s Young Peace Journalists team.

My visit from 12 to 14 April 2017 in Lusenda camp was my first as a journalist. However, in the past I had already visited the camp several times as an agent of Pax Christi Uvira asbl through its interventions in terms of projects for Burundian refugees and local host communities.

On my arrival, the administrative authority of the camp, to whom I had to present my civilities, took me to the village chiefs. After that I got the chance to speak to the residents regarding my mission. Talking to these chiefs, I noticed their curiosity and eagerness to hear the message that I brought them. It was of course about the Young Peace Journalists project and its purposes. By their reaction, I understood that each refugee in front of me had a personal and touching experience in the past that they would have liked to share with the entire world. Considering their reasons to flee and the way each of them had managed to leave Burundi, and especially the way of life they have in the Lusenda camp, the village chiefs told me that no refugee can be silent on such an occasion.

So, when I had a look around the camp, I realized that all the spaces, formerly used as cultivation areas, were occupied by tents made out of the “UNHCR tarpaulins” which shelter new refugee families. Indeed, the large amount of refugees coming from Burundi was already reported to me by the camp’s administrative authority, who highlighted the problem of camp overcrowding and the gaps in humanitarian assistance (health, education, nutrition, etc.) that remain enormous and far from being filled in terms of humanitarian responses from both the Congolese government, national and international partners.

At the end of my encounter with the village chiefs, they gave me the opportunity to choose one of them or other refugees in the camp to conduct the interview. At that moment, one of them, Mr. Bigirimana Musa, seemed to me timid, a little as if he was suffering, yet he has the appearance of a giant. I was curious to approach him and to know what was on his mind, then I understood that he was remembering the events and dramatic sequences that surrounded his escape to the Democratic Republic of Congo. So I offered him an interview for the next day which he willingly accepted.

Before the interview, Mr. Musa looked neither fearless nor shy, and it was this attitude that he carried during the whole interview. Nevertheless, his voice sank a little, especially when he had to explain the way he left the country, thinking of his survival, which he considered wretched in the country of refuge.

Finally, when I had returned home after conducting the interview, I felt satisfied in spite of the long journey I made, because I achieved my mission of finding a refugee and exchanging with him. But deep down, I understood how painful it is to be forced to flee one’s country because of one’s political opinions.

Read this article in French by clicking here.