OBSERVATIONS FROM A VISIT TO THE DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF CONGO
by R.B. Kabambire
My trip to Democratic Republic of Congo grew out of a burden that God has been putting on my heart since 2008, and through my people. In this report I won’t cover everything I did and saw while there, because I want to focus on what God put on my heart, especially in regards to children`s ministry. When I reached Congo the first thing was to review what has been happening there over the past 14 years . As we all know, the former Congolese president Laurent Kabila with his regime was (ab)using children by enlisting them in the army and the rebels were doing the same.
My first question for planning the future was:
Given the present situation in DR Congo, what can I do to help the children who will be the future leaders?
Are any of the organizations that work with children affected by the violence, and are they perhaps even complicit with what the army is doing?
How are cases of rape reported in Kivu?
What can I do to help?
More or less 11 million people have died in the wars of Democratic Republic of Congo between 1998 and 2015; mostly from violence, hunger and disease. Others have been much affected by sexual violence, under-aged children were ‘recruited’ by both sides of the war. Since then, the region has been plagued by instability as dozens of armed groups compete for its vast natural resources. The people who were most affected by this warfare are women and children.
Dirty Work for NGO’s in DR Congo/Kivu
Many NGO’s working in DRC helping victims have been reporting since 2008 on the violence, especially in Kivu province as well as other areas of DR Congo. Tragically however, the world is silent about this. One notable exception is the Congolese Doctor, Denis Mukwege. He has been helping victims of rape, gaining international recognition which won him the Sakharov Prize, Europe’s top human rights award last October. He also earned the Nobel Peace Prize last year.
With regards to the children, I was deeply concerned as I heard terrible reports of how children were forcibly taken to join the army. Often they were abducted while going to school or church. One such an example comes from Al Jazeera, “The report said missions in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Liberia, Haiti and South Sudan accounted for the largest numbers of accusations. It said 480 allegations of sexual exploitation and abuse had been made between 2008 and 2013, of which one-third involved minors”.
I conducted a survey of southern Kivu, including the city suburbs of Bukavu, Uvira and Fizi. I arrived in Bukavu on the 6 August from Bujumbura via Uvira. My trip focused on the most affected areas. I looked at NGOs which work alongside the government to fight poverty and help children. In my efforts I tried to evaluate whether they are really helping those in need or not.
I discovered that many international NGO’s as well as peacekeeping forces are actually causing a major problem in the Great Lakes region. It is well known that MONUSCO previously had a mandate in the war zone of the DRC.
“On 1 July 2010, MONUSCO took over a previous UN peacekeeping mission called the United Nations Organization Mission in Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUC). The original mandate of the MONUC mission [MONUSCO] was established by Security Council Resolution 1925 of 28 May 2010, for the protection of civilians, humanitarian personnel and human rights defenders from physical violence and to support the stabilization and peace consolidation efforts of the Democratic Republic of the Congo”.
In my survey of Bukavu, I learned that peacekeepers and the UN organizations are very highly paid. For example a normal soldier earns from $3000 to $15000 per month. Renting a house with 4 rooms for just for one person costs $300 a month. Meanwhile a lawyer in Bukavu earns only $1000 per month. Teachers earn about $100 per month and so on.
People whom I interviewed in Bukavu said, “It is difficult during the day to find a vacant hotel room around town as they are often occupied by peacekeepers sleeping with teenage girls. It is not uncommon to find them giving $100 for the services of a teenager.”
It becomes more difficult to give parental guidance to a young teenager who earns this kind of money, meanwhile the father who is perhaps paid $100 as a teacher manages to earn this same amount after working the whole month. This is why in Bukavu, and across the country, many children are not listening to their parents and misbehaving.
NGO’s in DRC
In my observations of Uvira I found a large population in the area from Kavinvira to Kalundu. When I asked one of my friends why there are so many people, he assured me they are not foreigners but they have come from the suburbs, like Mutarure where there was a massacre in June 2014. Also some came from rural areas around Uvira. I even had time to speak with a fellow student from my schooling days who originally came from Kabone. I found him living at Kalimabenge Bridge. He was living near the bridge and changing money there for a living. I asked him why he came all the way to live in the valley.
My colleague said it is not easy to return to his place as some members of his family were shot and killed by unknown people carrying guns. He told me that 4 of his family have been killed since 2010. Then I asked him what time of day these attacks happen. He replied, “The attacks happen at any time but mostly around 4 am.” I also asked my colleague how the peacekeepers where responding to that? He told me, “If peacekeepers are hardly defending victims at Mutarure village in Ruzizi valley, how could they manage to help them in the hills?”
The Situation in Baraka/Fizi
In Baraka I had a good interview with a lady, Faida Regina, who has administrative oversight relating to women and children`s activities in Fizi territory. She is a civil official. I asked her how NGO’s such as, Save War Children, SOS and others are helping women and children victimized by war. She told me, according to her knowledge, it seems like NGO’s in Fizi and entire DRC are actually destroying core values of future leaders of Congo.
This can be seen in the way they teach children an attitude of self reliance, independence and non-submission to parents. This results in them becoming rebellious towards their parents. As a result of this many teenage girls as young as 14 are going to night clubs without needing permission from parents. Emboldened by the “new” teaching, they flaunt their new-found freedom by staying out until 11 pm. Young people show an unteachable attitude. They refuse to accept reprimands from parents, saying that they know their rights.
Ms. Regina told me a new teaching about “Droit de parite” (as enshrined in article 14 in the constitution) This means that women have equal rights to men. However, it remains unclear whether this equality applies to the work place or at home too. This kind of “new” teaching, as well as the values being taught to children, is contrary to long-held traditional cultural values.
Another illustration of this clash of values relates to a simple issue involving parents giving duties to children. According to the new teaching, children are not obligated to do duties asked of them by their parents. As in the previous example of teenagers, here too, children are learning to flaunt their independence. Consequently they refuse to comply with their parents requests.
A trend that has become evident in the last 10 years is teenage girls becoming pregnant. This spawns an increasing number of single parent homes and a tendency towards breaking down cohesion and unity among families.
I asked Ms Regina what she perceived could be a constructive response by government agencies to these problems. She replied, that they need help from people who know African traditional values to help and to give advice. Great caution should be exercised when introducing so called “western/modern” values to the life style of Africans. If this is not done wisely it will cause a breakdown of the family unit along with other negative side-effects.
She concluded by saying that good cultural values need to be maintained, including teaching children a healthy respect for and obedience to their parents.