By Chantal Faida,
Goma (DRC) January 17, 2014-The people of Kibumba in eastern DRC can finally return to their homes, after government forces drove away M23 soldiers last November.
Located a dozen kilometres from Goma in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, the village of Kibumba in the Nyiragongo region is surrounded by picturesque landscapes and verdant hills, some close to the border with Rwanda.
In 2012, the area was occupied by the M23 militia. Fighting between the Congolese army and the M23 rebels saw many killed and thousands more displaced. Families were separated and considerable damage was done to the villagers’ properties. It was total chaos, in other words.
“We sleep with our doors open”
“We are finally free again!” rejoices Dieudonné Rurakabje, a land register officer in the Nyiragongo region. “Under M23 rule, we were forced to work, pay taxes and patrol during the night. There were numerous assassinations. But with the return of the government forces, Kibumba is now a safe haven. We sleep with our doors open.”
But Bagabo Hangi is quick to qualify Rurakabje’s statement by denouncing the numerous arrests and threats faced by those civilians who collaborated with the rebels.
“Let the government release those who were forced to collaborate with the rebels, because they did so to save their lives,” he says. “The government should focus more on the safety of the population by recovering weapons from civilians and removing unexploded ordnance left in the forest, and not embark on a witch hunt.”
On the side of the Goma-Kibumba road, flags of various political parties – including the opposition – have been pegged to trees almost every 10 metres. Administrative authorities are back in office, with the exception of the Kibumba locality chief, whose inauguration is delayed due to the usual conflicts.
In general, the inhabitants of Kibumba praise the efforts of both the national and international authorities for the return of peace in the region.
But they also wish to see their problems – some of which are endemic – finally resolved.
The most notable issues include the reconstruction of houses, access to seeds for the destroyed fields, the installation of water supply systems and more security along the Rwandan border.
In fact, besides the free health care services provided by the Italian NGO COOPI and the positive collaboration between civilians and the government forces, the general feeling is that life after the war will not be very different from before.