Democratic Republic of Congo

In DRC, Whistles, Pots and Pans Chase Burglars Away

In one Kisangani neighborhood, police often don’t respond to calls for help. With violent crime on the rise, residents rely on each other to sound the alarm.

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In DRC, Whistles, Pots and Pans Chase Burglars Away

Zita Amwanga, GPJ DRC

Mireille Anissa Bwana shows the pan and stick she uses to alert neighbors when thieves try to break into homes in her neighborhood. Police don’t respond regularly, and sometimes they don’t respond at all, so residents in Kisangani, a city in Democratic Republic of Congo, created their own alarm system, which involves whistles, pots and any other household items that will cause a racket and scare the thieves away.

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Kisangani is frequently plunged into darkness. The city is home to one of Democratic Republic of Congo’s major hydroelectric dams, and the power cuts often last hours, according to residents of the city, the third-largest in the country.

Félicien Aguzu, financial director at the Kisangani branch of Société Nationale d’Electricité, the national energy authority, says it’s because the hydroelectric plant that powers the city is quickly deteriorating.

The plant currently produces 6 megawatts, six times less than what is needed to keep lights on across the city, Aguzu says.

The central African country has one of the lowest electrification rates in the world, at just 9 percent, according to USAID. The government plans to increase this number to more than 60 percent in the next six years. But Kisangani authorities have a more immediate task at hand – keeping residents safe once the sun sets.

Violent crime is on the rise, and offenders get away with it, says one police officer, who asked Global Press Journal not to publish his name for fear of losing his job. When night falls, armed robbers barge into homes and attack people on the streets.

Global Press Journal reporters here took a look at how the city’s authorities and residents are coping in a three-part series. While some families come up with a quick and cheap alarm system, others who call this city home look for a way out.

KISANGANI, DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF CONGO — It’s 9:10 in the evening, in the neighborhood of Mangobo, and a cacophony of whistles erupts. Along with the whistling come cries for help.

Here, when a burglar breaks into a home, the people under attack blow whistles to alert their neighbors. In turn, the neighbors bang pots, lids, metal bars and anything else that creates a racket.

The noise scares the burglars, who hightail it out of the neighborhood.

This low-tech alarm system is necessary these days. It’s known locally as filimbi, a Swahili word that means “whistle.” Crime is on the rise, locals say. They don’t have hard data to back up that claim, but they’re confident it’s true based on their own experiences. When night falls, armed robbers use darkness as a cover to raid homes and even kill residents. Calls to the local police are either entirely ignored or spark long waits for a response, residents say.

Boys who live in this and other neighborhoods patrol the areas near their homes. But residents mostly rely on whistles, and they keep their pots and pans handy. Some say their kitchenware is at the ready next to their beds every night.

“Whenever we shout, blow the whistles or bang the metal bars, burglars get scared away,” says Mireille Anissa Bwana, 48, mother of five and resident of the Mangobo neighborhood.

One police official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, says the force is trying to do its job. In one case, he says, criminals who attacked and looted a shop, killing two people in the process, are now in jail.

But ordinary people in Kisangani tell a different story.

Maurice Masikini runs a bar. He was attacked by robbers, he says, and emerged unscathed only because neighbors began blowing their whistles.

Now, he says, he doesn’t keep his bar open past 9 p.m., because he fears he’ll be targeted again.

David Losotono, a moto-taxi driver with 11 years of experience, says he doesn’t earn as much money these days, because the city is so dangerous. These days, he says, he’s wary of picking up passengers he doesn’t know.

“Criminals make use of darkness in some parts of the city to prey on us,” Losotono says. “And yet, we can’t make more money unless we ride at night.”

These days, he says, he tends to earn between 8,000 and 10,000 Congolese francs ($4.93 to $6.16) each day instead of the 25,000 francs ($15.47) that was once a normal income.

“Where have all the authorities gone?” Losotono asks. “They’re doing nothing while our people are being preyed on, day in and day out.”

Ndahayo Sylvestre, GPJ, translated the article from French.