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Thomas * disappeared one August morning on his way to school. During the day, his father received a phone call: a transformed, robotic voice informed him that the little one had been kidnapped and that he risked enduring the worst abuse if a ransom was not paid. At first incredulous, Patrice * and his wife very quickly learned that they were not the only ones affected: the same kidnappers have already attacked other families in Goma. So they filed a complaint.
Since then, Patrice sighs, “The authorities remain mouths closed”. If he doesn’t want his son to suffer the same fate as the 3-year-old with machete gashes in his arms he saw after his release, he has no choice: $ 2,000 has already been transferred to eight phone numbers via mobile payment platforms. It would take double.
In Goma, the capital of the province of North Kivu, in the east of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), thefts, robberies, targeted assassinations and kidnappings are still commonplace, despite the establishment of the state of siege in May. At nightfall, a band nicknamed the “40 thieves” terrorizes the inhabitants.
Neither the curfew imposed at 10 p.m., nor the ban on movement of motorcycles after 7 p.m., nor the replacement of the civil authorities by officers of the armed forces or the police have stopped urban delinquency.
“Anguish in the stomach when it is dark”
Worse, citizen associations point the finger at the police that they accuse of being an accomplice in this banditry. Placide Nzilamba, secretary of civil society in North Kivu, a structure that brings together all the citizens’ associations in the region, is fighting for the army and police camps to move outside the city. Today, he regrets, “They are not fenced and they are populated by soldiers out of control.”
The officers, for their part, defend themselves against allowing violence and impunity to flourish. “There are hearings at the level of military courts to reframe those who behave badly”, assures Lieutenant-Colonel Guillaume Njike Kaiko, one of the spokesman for the Congolese army in North Kivu.
Admittedly, the increased presence in town of the police since May 6 has improved the security situation in places. In the Kituku market for example, on the outskirts of Goma, the offices of the police commissioner, the National Intelligence Agency (ANR) and the General Directorate of Migration (DGM) overlook the market halls. Facing Lake Kivu, officials scrutinize the comings and goings of makeshift boats that come to supply the stalls.
Considered one of the strongholds of local crime, the neighborhood has been “Looped” in mid-October. “Today, security has returned a bit. But we always have anguish in our stomachs when it is dark ”, laments Pierre, a local resident.
“Tomorrow, it could be me”
The same evils and the same fears plague the whole province. Today holed up in a narrow hovel in Goma, Bruno, his brother, his mother and his grandparents had to flee Beni, the second city of North Kivu. There, the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF, the acronym in English) – an armed group originally composed of Ugandan Muslim rebels whose leaders have pledged allegiance to the jihadist Islamic State organization – have since stolen, looted and massacred. more than two decades.
Repeated attacks which forced Bruno to give up his studies and his work. ” I told myself all the time that tomorrow it could be me ”, he explains, sitting on the sofa where he now spends his days staring at a tiny TV screen.
According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, Ituri, the other province in eastern DRC affected by the state of siege, had nearly 1.7 million displaced people in August. . As in North Kivu, military operations there have increased since May.
“More than 2,000 members of armed groups surrendered or were neutralized by Congolese soldiers”, says General Marcos De Sá Affonso Da Costa, Force Commander of the United Nations Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (Monusco).
But the state of siege’s goal of ending a never-ending war is still far from being achieved. At least 683 civilians have been killed by armed groups over the past six months in Ituri and North Kivu, according to the Kivu Security Barometer’s count.
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* The first names have been changed.
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Six months after the establishment of the state of siege, the inhabitants of Goma, in the DRC, are still living “with fear in their stomachs”