I was talking to my cousin a couple weeks ago in Goma, North Kivu province to check on how they are doing, I could hear the sound of children screaming, the voice of my cousin sounding like someone on the run and tired, she couldn't speak loudly. She told me, "Bukeni, our neighbors left already". I asked, "Why are the children are screaming?" (sic) She told me, "Because they see we're packing our belongings".
The day before I talked to her, I talked to my father in Uvira, South Kivu province; they were all under alert and prepared to flee; talking about what is going on, he told me "We're on the run again" and added, "You're lucky Bukeni, you won't be here to flee with us".
People in the eastern part the Democratic Republic of the Congo, DRC, have continued living an ongoing nightmare since 1996, where militias, rebels and other armed groups and the DRC's army are fighting, causing grave human rights violations: millions of displaced people, thousands of women are victims of rape and other sexual violence, thousands of child soldiers recruited, hundreds of social and humanitarian infrastructures looted, massive killing and assassinations, hundreds of people disappeared... an unprecedented humanitarian catastrophe. The war in the DRC has caused over 5 million deaths since 1998.
When the first war began in October 1996 in Uvira, I was student at the faculty of Economics at the Evangelical University in Africa in Bukavu (the capital city of South Kivu Province). My colleagues and friends from Uvira and I had to walk over 152km (almost 94 miles) in two days. All the roads were blocked and there was no way to get public or private transportation. In Uvira, a city that is usually warm and crowded, it was exceptionally quiet and many people were on the street looking almost on the same direction, north, because the previous day, 11 people were killed in Kiliba (at 20km northern Uvira, almost 12 miles) by Banyamulenge combatants. That night, young people, including myself, were told by local and traditional officials to organize "Rondo" (in Swahili, means "civilian patrol") to provide security for the city, but despite huge number of young people involved, Uvira was taken by rebels of AFDL (Alliance of Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Congo-Zaire) on October 25, 1996.
On that day, when rebels took over my city, my family and I were not in Uvira any more. We had fled to the south, to Fizi territory. On the way to Fizi before reaching the nearest village of Makobola, which is my parents' native town, we saw thousands of people walking, women, children, soldiers, men, disabled persons, handicapped persons, everyone was on the run.
At that time the country was known as Zaire under dictator Mobutu Sese Seko's regime. The war went across the country and Mobutu was ousted, and Laurent Kabila proclaimed himself president on May 17, 1997 in Kinshasa.
The second war started in August 1998 in Goma and swept across the country, dividing the country in three parts. The conflict also resulted in the assassination of President Kabila in 2001.
Each time war came, hundreds of thousands of refugees fled to neighboring countries: Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, Tanzania, Zambia, Angola, Congo-Brazzaville and Central African Republic. Many others went to South Africa, Mozambique, Zimbabwe and Namibia.
The current fight involves the DRC army, rebel groups such as PARECO and the Mai-Mai, the Interahamwe (the Rwandan armed group accused of having caused the genocide in Rwanda in 1994) and General Laurent Nkunda's CNDP (National Congress for the Defense of the People), which is supported by the Rwandan army.
Massive human rights abuses and the growing humanitarian crisis are not only due to the rebel groups. The DRC army is also responsible for human rights violations. Additionally, the country's valuable natural resources are illegally exploited to benefit the efforts of all parties in the conflict.
Today, the entire eastern part of the DRC is on maximum alert; Nkunda has followers and fighters all over the eastern part of the country, at any time they are ready to strike.
Last Friday, the international community (the UN, African Union and other influential leaders in the region) convened a high level meeting in Nairobi to engage the governments of Rwanda and Congo in the peace talks because it believes that Rwanda, which is a strong supporter of the CNDP, has influence on the renegade Nkunda, and that President Kabila Joseph of the DRC can calm his army.
The prosecutor of the International Criminal Court in The Hague, has indicated that he will launch investigations for crimes committed in the Kivus and I am on my way there tomorrow to talk with the ICC about those possible investigations. That action will help to end the cycle of impunity, but I'm unsure if it will establish peace. The Ituri experience has taught us much; the process in The Hague simply takes too long. The people of DRC can't wait any longer for a solution.
The people in eastern Congo are tired; we have been running for more than a decade now. We need to sit down, live in peace and raise our children.
The rape of women has been used as weapon of war, child soldiers are viewed as expendable and cheap goods, social and humanitarian infrastructures have become the property of militias, the army and any renegade faction who can get their hands on these items.
It is enough, it has to end now. I urge you to take action. Here are three suggestions:
* Write to President Kabila to urge him to stop mass rape, recruitment of children and bring an end to the conflict: http://hub.witness.org/DRCinCrisis
* If you're a blogger -- embed this video interview talking about the crisis: http://hub.witness.org/DRCinCrisis
* Urge your local media to cover this issue -- write to the editor and write your own opinion piece