Update #3 on Goma
From David Zarembka and African Great Lakes Initiative - Friends Peace Teams
My contacts in Goma and Gisenyi and international news reports indicate that the situation in Goma has calmed down and life is returning to normal. This means that people are out of their houses, walking through the town in their normal activities. There is no electricity and as a result also no water since the electricity pumps the water. Food is scarce because mountainous Masisi is the breadbasket for Goma and travel from Masisi to Goma has been cut. I will return to this at the end of this report.
The M23 rebels who now control the city have asked policemen and any soldiers remaining in the town to turn in their weapons and it seems that they are turning them in. M23 has recruited thousands of new soldiers, many of them deserters from the Congolese army. As I learned when I was in Masisi in 2008 during the previous Tutsi-led rebel movement, young men of all ethnicities are enrolled into the rebel fighting force as the foot soldiers. The command, of course, remains in the hands of Tutsi.
On Thursday, M23 soldier moved 17 miles west along Lake Kivu and took, without resistance, the small town of Sake. This is significant for much more than the few miles separating Goma from Sake. Most of the land between these two cities is volcanic rock. Hardly any trees grow and even the grass is sparse in this lush part of the world. This inhospitable area is where the million Hutu refugees from the Rwandan genocide were placed and later the internally displaced camps for those fleeing the violence in North Kivu. This also is the traditional boundary between the Kiyarwanda-speaking people of Goma and the local Congolese tribes in Sake. So M23 has move outside the traditional Kinyarwandan-speaking areas where they have succeeded in the past. The second signficant reason is that the road to Masisi branches off at Sake, climbing the mountains to an area that has been controlled by the Tutsi since the previous rebellion in 2004 led by Laurent Nkunda. The Congolese army counter-attacked Sake, but was repulsed. M23 claims that they are now moving south on the shores of Lake Kivu towards Bukavu which they are planning on taking. Bukavu is about 60 miles south of Goma on the southern shore of Lake Kivu and is the capital of South Kivu.
We cannot sit around idly while the humanitarian situation in Goma escalates. David Bucura, Central African coordinator for the African Great Lakes Initiative, has gone to Gisenyi, and hopefully, Goma, to develop plans on what we might do. The outline is as follows: Since Goma is lacking food, AGLI will buy food in Rwanda and take it to the Gisenyi Peace Center which is only two blocks from the Congolese border. Since our resources are very limited and can’t possibility serve the one million people in Goma, we are going to concentrate on destitute members of the Friends Church and those rape survivors that Zawadi Nikuze has been working with. They will come across the border – there seems to be no problem with people crossing the border – and receive a ration commensurate with the number of people in the family. Families with children will be targeted. The ration will consist of basic foods like beans, rice, corn flour, and so on. Bucura will meet with the AGLI people in Goma and Gisenyi and work out all the details. I have authorized Bucura to use the AGLI funds that are in the bank in Gisenyi for this immediate relief and we will reimburse the funds used with the hope that we can raise sufficient funds.
What we found when we did humanitarian relief during the 2008 post-election violence in Kenya is that our limited resources could reach only a few people, but it was important to do what we could. But later we did listening sessions, AVP and HROC workshops, which ended up being more important because nobody else was doing anything equivalent to this. I’ll be letting you know when we have more fully developed the project.
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