I first set foot on Congolese soil on July, 14 1994. Aged 12 I was among the thousands of people that crossed over the Rwandan border fleeing my war-torn country of birth. Then I didn’t know that almost two decades later, the turmoil would still be troubling the region.
As evidenced by both conflicts in 1996 and 1998, this “new” on-going clash in eastern Congo isn’t going anywhere, any time soon, I’m afraid. Why so sombre, you ask? Because for the last 16 years this has been going on and 6 million people are believed to have died as a result of this conflict. 6 million people is more than the total population of my adopted country of Norway. Can you imagine a whole country wiped off of the face of the world?
A very close friend of mine has family down in Goma and every day she tries to speak with them. They are afraid but have nowhere else to go. The feeling of safety is something they’ve long forgotten, so a day with no attacks is a “safe” day for them. The girl who is close to my age fears she will be raped at the hands of the military or rebels, as both sides have often used rape as a weapon in this sordid conflict. The boy is afraid he will be abducted and made to become a soldier. Their stories are not new. Their tales are not unique. This is the life of thousands of people, the every day reality of innocent people who are victims of someone else’s greed.
Because at the end of the day, the war and conflict in eastern Congo is about one thing: minerals. What would have been a blessing for a country so rich it can elevate its people from misery and poverty has now become its curse as insurgents, yet again, try to gain control in the region. M23, named after the March 23 peace treaty meeting between President Joseph Kabila’s government and the rebels in 2009, have been speaking with two tongues since capturing the towns of Goma, Masisi and Sake last week. They first claimed they would be leaving this week, but they are still dragging their feet. But one fundamental question I’ve been asking myself is where will the M23 rebels go if – not when – they leave these towns they’ve fought and displaced thousands of people for, towns that are strategically placed for them, where do they go? The situation isn’t getting better and the world doesn’t seem to grasp the seriousness of the conflict. So, yes, I’m gloomy because it’s taken almost 20 years of destruction and death for us now to turn our eyes to the sufferings of the innocent Congolese civilians, and I don’t see a solution or resolution on the situation, as it stands now.
When I left Goma and DRC at the end of 1994, already touble was brewing, though no one ever spoke loudly about it. Those of us, who were fortunate enough to have the means and opportunities, made sure we left well ahead of time and within months, mid 1995 first signs of conflict erupted. I have friends who we’ve never heard from ever again, school friends I played with at school and with whom I crossed the Rwandan border that fateful summer’s day in July. They were never seen again. Whenever I speak to my friend, I feel powerless and helpless by the pain in her voice. I can feel the fear she has for her younger siblings, but yet again we sit and watch while bureaucrats shuffle their feet in the UN headquarter in New York City. What will it take for the powers that be to realise the state of emergency in North, south Kivu and all of the Great Lakes region is real?