In-depth: Internal Displacement
DRC: Peace deals fail to improve the lives of 2.2 million IDPs
Internal displacement has reached staggering levels
NAIROBI, 14 October 2002 (IRIN) - Despite the almost complete withdrawal of Rwandan and Ugandan forces from the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) in recent weeks, fighting has intensified throughout eastern regions of the country where most of the over 2.27 million internally displaced persons (IDPs) are located, according to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) as at August 2002 [See "Affected Populations in the Great Lakes Region
However, this figure probably falls short of reflecting the true extent of displacement, according to OCHA, because IDPs in the DRC are difficult to count due to limited access and the broad scope of dispersion. Moreover, the figure does not include the numbers affected by the most recent substantial displacements occurring in the east and northeast, such as the thousands of new IDPs scattered in the Ituri region of Orientale Province following recent clashes. Nor does it reflect the fact that people who fled their villages might have had to flee again to escape violence.
On 30 July 2002, the governments of the DRC and Rwanda reached a peace agreement to restore the sovereignty of the DRC and the security of Rwanda; the DRC and Uganda reached a similar accord on 6 September 2002. Whereas it was hoped that implementation of the agreements would improve the security situation and allow many IDPs to return home, the humanitarian situation remains as desperate as ever. Constrained by insecurity and a lack of funding, the international response is far from sufficient to cover the needs of the displaced.
Analysts say the staggering levels of internal displacement in the DRC have resulted from confrontations between various competing groups - both external and internal - struggling to accede to power and to control and exploit natural resources - situations that have often exacerbated inter-ethnic rivalries.
According to the most recent report from the UN Panel on the Illegal Exploitation of Natural Resources and Other Forms of Wealth of the DRC, the humanitarian consequences of the financially driven conflict have been horrific: in the five eastern provinces of the DRC alone, the number of excess deaths during the period of the Rwandan and Ugandan presence since the outbreak of war up to September 2002 has been between three million and 3.5 million people.
Meanwhile, a rush to fill the power vacuum left in the wake of Rwandan and Ugandan withdrawals has meant that Congolese civilians continue to pay the price of war, moving from village to village, town to town and province to province in the hope of eluding attacks and reprisals by various armed forces.
With over two million IDPs, the DRC has one of the highest rates of displacement on the African continent.
Along the eastern border with Rwanda and Uganda in the provinces of Ituri, North and South Kivu, and farther west in the provinces of Maniema and Katanga, movements of populations are on a scale difficult to monitor, let alone break down into categories of newly displaced, not so newly displaced, old returnees, new returnees, successfully resettled, not so successfully resettled and so on.
But if North Kivu Province is any indication, relentless and exhausting displacement has become the rule rather than the exception in eastern DRC. According to an OCHA study, four-fifths of the rural population of North Kivu has been displaced at least once since the beginning of the conflict in August 1998. "Practically everyone in eastern Congo has been displaced at some point or another," Joel Hirst, of World Vision in Goma, said. "The strange thing is that one person’s secure area is where the next person has run away from."
The main road to Goma, going to Sake in the west and branching off to Bukavu in the south, is a perfect illustration of this phenomenon. On one side of the road, people with large bundles on their heads stream towards the relative security of the urban centre; on the other, people with more modest bundles move in the opposite direction, determined to regain their fields after months of increasingly harsh and impoverished permanence in Goma.
As in conflicts elsewhere in Africa, the effects of constant displacement are the all too familiar ones of sickness and malnutrition determined, in the first case, by the lack of access to health care and, in the second, by the inability to plant and harvest.
In North Kivu, malnutrition has reached such levels that only the young and relatively strong manage the passage to the few existing feeding centres. In the meantime, lack of access to medical facilities has raised female mortality at childbirth in the DRC to three times the average of other African nations, according to a World Health Organisation report published in July 2001.
For the humanitarian community, perhaps the most maddening trait of the war in the DRC is the inability to discern patterns of displacement. "It would be nice if there were some kind of method, but there isn’t," said Sarah Cushing of World Relief. The sheer number of parties to conflicts - as many as eight in some places - and the different dynamics of attack and reprisal render even the largest shifts in population hard to predict.
In the area known as the Hauts Plateaux in South Kivu Province, for example, few could have anticipated the recent mayhem. Although discontent was rife among the Banyamulenge - Congolese ethnic Tutsis who were often said to be associated with the Rwandan occupying force - the revolt of Patrick Masunzu, formerly an army officer with the Rwandan-backed Rassemblement congolais pour la democratie (RCD-Goma), gained unexpected scope and momentum, with one humanitarian source telling of "large numbers of troops and helicopters" dispatched by Rwanda to quell the rebellion. The resulting exodus from the area of combat - roughly 50,000 people - caught most humanitarian players unawares.
In Kindu, a town west of Bukavu in Maniema Province under RCD-Goma control, the extraordinary besieging of as many as 40,000 civilians by the Mayi-Mayi remains a geographical oddity. To achieve the siege, the Mayi-Mayi - native Congolese combatants opposed to all foreign forces - moved well beyond their regular theatre of operations, walking hundreds of kilometres westward. The result, after three years of relative quiet, was the complete disruption of life in the countryside around Kindu, with people abandoning their fields to seek sanctuary in the town.
Nowhere, however, has the scramble for the DRC’s mineral wealth wreaked consequences as bloody as those in the Ituri region of Orientale Province. The interference of the Ugandan army in the ancient conflict between Hema pastoralists and Lendu agriculturalists has produced the largest ethnic massacre in the region’s history, displacing half a million people, according to humanitarian sources in the region. Tens of thousands more have crossed the provincial border into North Kivu, descending en masse on the towns of Beni and Lubero. Beni was already hosting several thousands of refugees displaced by fighting between the Ugandan army and a Uganda rebel group in 1993. As for Lubero, it had absorbed several waves of Rwandan refugees, some of them associated with the genocide of 1994.
Taken as a whole, however, North and South Kivu provinces face by far the most serious crisis, hosting over 50 percent of the whole displaced population of the DRC, or roughly 1.2 million people, according to OCHA.
Paradoxically, only a fraction of the fighting at the root of such massive displacement is between Rwanda and its original enemies, the Interahamwe (Rwandan Hutu militias) and the ex-FAR (Forces Armees Rwandaises, the former national military), both of whom were held largely responsible by the Rwandan government for the 1994 slaughter of some 800,000 ethnic Tutsis and politically moderate ethnic Hutus, and in whose pursuit the Rwandan army crossed the border into Congo.
"The Rwandan army has departed, but the surrogate RCD-Goma army is still present with RPA [Rwandan Patriotic Army] cadres in disguise, and will work for the secession of Kivu if they cannot win power in Kinshasa," said US former Assistant Secretary of State for Africa Herman Cohen during a recent interview with Congopolis. "I believe that one of the politico-strategic objectives of Kigali has been, and continues to be, the dismemberment of the Congo. The main objective is to create an independent state of Kivu that would be ruled by Kigali surrogates, and would become Rwanda's motor of economic development."
Future scenarios will depend to a great extent on the attitude of the international community, and in particular the actions of the UN peacekeeping mission in the DRC, known as MONUC, according to one diplomatic source.
"I believe [MONUC] already has both the mandate and the resources to make a difference and to have a decisive influence, the source said. "What is needed is leadership and a swift reallocation of resources. MONUC should immediately establish a strong political office in Goma, staff it properly, and send capable political officers for extensive missions to Bunia, Bukavu, Uvira and wherever else necessary."
The source added: "The main task in the very near future is political, not military. There is no need for 10,000 peacekeepers, but for 10 skilful political officers/facilitators."
One regional analyst said that reaching out to the Mayi-Mayi would be key to any political efforts. The Mayi-Mayi are not one cohesive organisation, but at least half a dozen groups each operating with considerable independence. Their communication capacity has always been poor and, according to the source, they have not had time to prepare politically for the departure of the Rwandan army and the collapse of RCD-Goma.
"If an Ituri-like scenario with commercially-motivated warlordism is to be avoided, the international community has to facilitate contacts among the Mayi-Mayi, the Banyamulenge and RCD dissidents, and actively promote inter-community reconciliation," the source said. "And this has to happen fast, i.e. in the coming weeks. It can work, and it can lead to the restoration of peace in the Kivus, which is in everybody’s interest. But if nobody does anything, there is a high risk of political and military fragmentation and further trouble."
Finally, according to Cohen, it is important that the DRC government send a message to Congolese Tutsis that they are considered to be Congolese citizens with all the rights and privileges attached to that citizenship.
"Because of the grievous errors committed by the National Conference, some Congolese Tutsis joined with the Rwandans who attempted to overthrow the Kabila regime," Cohen said. "These Tutsis were exploited, betrayed, and killed by Kigali in the Mulenge highlands. The vast majority of Congolese Tutsis wish to remain Congolese and contribute to the country's development. They should be reassured and reintegrated."