May 25, 2006
Fighting in Ituri District Displaces Thousands
A few days ago I wrote a post on Congolese warlord Gédéon, a resistance fighter in Katanga. He was targeting people registered to vote in Congo’s upcoming national elections, before being apprehended. Last year, Gédéon drove thousands of people in Katanga to leave their homes and recruited the young men into his movement. The U.N. estimates that 165,000 people have been displaced in central Katanga (southeastern province of DRC), many of them lacking access to food and medical assistance.
This is a story posted today on IRIN News Africa. It’s to help us understand how huge the Democratic Republic of Congo (geographically, it’s about one-fourth the size of the US) and why the country has been embroiled in different conflicts for so many years as unchecked tribal, rebel, and militia fighting continues unabated in the northeastern region, drawing in neighboring countries Burundi, Rwanda and Uganda.
IRIN News has reported that 10,000 more people were displaced from Ituri as a result of an offensive from the Congolese army trying to disarm rebels in this northeastern district. There are 2.33 million people displaced (as of 2005) mostly in the eastern provinces because of fighting between government forces and rebels since the 1990s.
“The displaced are scattered in several small groups, which we could easily identify by helicopter, between five and ten kilometres west of Tcheyi,” Modibo Traoré, the head of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in Ituri, said on Wednesday in Bunia, the district’s capital.
For years, there have been many militia groups fighting to control the mineral-rich Ituri. This has caused the deaths of at least 50,000 people since the late 1990s. Full government authority has been lacking in the area since the establishment of a transitional government in 2003, mostly due to continued militia activity. Joseph Kabila succeeded his father Laurent Kabila, as president of Congo-Kinshasa upon his assassination in January 2001.
Negotiations with rebel leaders led to the establishment of a transitional government in July 2003 with free elections scheduled to for July 30 2006. But you guessed it, in some developing countries there is very little governmental authority outside the capital. So Kabila is president of Kinshasa, pretty much the same way Afghan President Hamid Karzai oversees Kabul, while the warlords have a strong hold on the rest of the country.
I wanted to share a couple more items of interest on DRC. Aweeks ago, the BBCreported that Oxfam criticized donors for nothing doing more to alleviate the humanitarian emergency in Congo.
“Rich country governments have a moral obligation to act when 1,200 people are dying every day from conflict-related causes. The stark reality is that humanitarian needs in the DRC are receiving one sixtieth of what was contributed to alleviate suffering after the 2004 tsunami.” – Juliette Prodhan, Oxfam.
Human Rights Watch also released a report three years ago on the Ituri district, “Ituri” Covered Blood” . This focuses on how what has been described as an ethnic-rivalry is really a struggle for power at the national and international levels. While civilians are often killed based on their ethnic group, in actual fact, the combatants armed and doing the killing are often directed by the governments of the DRC, Rwanda and Uganda.
Continue to stay abreast by following posts made by bloggers on Congo such as CongoWatch, CongoGirl and of course posts on Global Voices Online. People living in Central Africa or working in DRC can give a more in-depth look than the 700 words or so allotted to the mainstream press. They also present more colorful stories of life and the people in Africa. It’s not always about death, despair and disease in Africa–although it is portrayed like that a lot. Let’s continuing working to change that.