DRC: Despite the words of Pope Francis, violence continues in the East
Pope Francis’ strong words against the suffering they are enduring have warmed the hearts of people in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), but his visit to Kinshasa has not marked a truce in the fighting and violence.
Throughout the papal visit, from Tuesday to Friday, fighting continued in North Kivu province, where M23 rebels captured new villages, sources in the province said.
Diplomacy had been activated in recent months to try to silence the guns and bring the DRC closer to Rwanda , accused of supporting this rebellion on the offensive since the end of 2021. In vain so far.
It was because of this insecurity that the pope canceled the visit he was initially to make to Goma , capital of North Kivu, replacing this trip with a meeting in Kinshasa with victims of atrocities committed for nearly 30 years in this province and those neighbouring Ituri and South Kivu.
With their testimonies in front of the cameras, the presence of women with severed arms, the pope’s indignation at the “bloody and illegal exploitation” of the country’s wealth, “the whole world” is now “aware” of what is passes here, believes Théoneste Bahati Gakuru, 34, Goma resident and human rights defender.
Théoneste now hopes that the international community will “take measures to put an end to this disastrous situation”.
Johnson Ishara, 30, a shopkeeper in Goma, and Calvin Maliro, a youth representative from a commune in Beni, another town in North Kivu affected by the violence, believe that the pope “will continue his plea” for an end to the misfortunes from eastern Congo.
“We are innocent, we don’t know anything about politics,” says Kathungu Matumaini, a nurse in Beni, asking that her “tears and prayers” be heard.
“Your tears are my tears, your suffering is my suffering,” the pope said on Wednesday before the dramas that were described to him. The next day, he called on young people, gathered by the thousands in a stadium, to reject tribalism , corruption, and to act for the future of their country.
“We must take ownership of his message… It is time for young people to stop living in the bush to orchestrate massacres,” analyzes Jean-Marie Ndjaza, spokesperson for the Lendu community in Ituri. “We must avoid making more victims” in the province, pleaded the official.
But in Ituri either, the violence did not let up during the visit of the sovereign pontiff.
On Wednesday, a new incursion by armed men killed at least seven people there, in the “chiefdom” (grouping of villages) of Walese Vonkutu. The attack is attributed to the ADF rebels, which the jihadist group Islamic State (IS) presents as its branch in central Africa, but apparently associated with a local militia.
A particular community was targeted. “We do not understand this new modus operandi”, notes, helpless, Dieudonné Malangai, a member of local civil society.
The ADF is accused of repeated massacres of civilian populations in Ituri and North Kivu as well as attacks, including one in January against a Pentecostal church in North Kivu, claimed by IS.
In South Kivu, the words of the pope echo for some residents of Bukavu the fight led by Denis Mukwege, Nobel Peace Prize 2018 for his action in favour of women victims of rape.
For Furaha Citera, head of a women’s organization, François reinforces the Congolese doctor in his fight for “the establishment of a special tribunal for the Congo, to fight against atrocities”.
The pope’s words “arouse hope in the hearts of the victims, because the sovereign pontiff will be their ambassador”, also wants to believe in Bukavu Paulin Mulume , 30, an activist in a citizens’ movement.
In the meantime, South Kivu continues to grapple with a noria of militias, an infernal cycle of reprisals between communities and persistent obscurantist practices. This week, a 5-year-old albino boy was killed and his body found without a head or legs.