Despite being surrounded by rich agricultural land, food is becoming scarcer for the people of Goma, and prices are skyrocketing. The trouble is caused by armed militias controlling the roads and farming areas around this regional capital of the Democratic Republic of Congo’s North Kivu province.
GOMA, DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF CONGO — It wasn’t long ago that a nice, fat pig sold for $50.
Now, with armed rebel groups encircling this provincial capital and its environs, a seller might price that hog at $350 or $400, says Guillain Bishikwabo, a 49-year-old pork seller at Virunga Central Market.
Génerose Kangela, a fish seller, says a stack of salted fish that once sold for $5 now might command $25 — a price few can afford, she says.
And that’s not even the worst of it, says the 63-year-old mother of seven. Traders who travel to and from local villages to supply their stock risk being shot or raped by rebel groups that control the roads. In some cases, the groups demand that traders pay taxes in exchange for passage.
“As if this were not enough, they take us deep into the forests of Rutshuru where they hold us captive for ransom,” she says, referring to the rural area north of Goma.
Recently, a group of fish traders collected $4,000 in ransom to save one of their colleagues who’d been kidnapped, Kangela says.
Mariam Aboubakar Esperance, GPJ Democratic Republic of Congo
Many of the farmers who once cultivated fields in the rural areas have abandoned their crops to flee to Goma.
Now, with reduced agricultural production and price hikes on the food that’s available, Goma-based traders and residents are flooding Gisenyi, a town just across the border in Rwanda, in search of food they can afford.
“We are faced with food insecurity as a result of lack of peace in our remote villages,” says Consolée Kahindo, a 34-year-old vegetable seller. “Before, people could travel from the town to rural villages to buy food, but today this is no longer the case. People have fled villages because of war and harassment by armed groups, then who will till our land for us? ”
Inter-ethnic conflicts and meddling by foreign armed groups have reached devastating levels in eastern DRC, which boasts a vast landscape that includes peaks, plains, plateaus and mountain vistas. Alluvial plains stretch beneath the Rwenzori and Virunga massifs, creating a high-altitude climate favorable for food production and livestock grazing. Wet seasons alternating with short, dry ones create an ideal environment for high-yield crops, while fish are abundant in Lake Kivu and Lake Edward.
Much of that natural wealth is now controlled by violent militias.
According to the United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO), there are now nearly 50 local and foreign armed groups in DRC.
“These militias operate in a dispersed manner in several villages,” says Félix Prosper Basse, a MONUSCO spokesman. “They emerge and reconstruct themselves by changing their modus operandi every day following counteroffensives carried out by the Congolese Armed Forces and the United Nations troops.”
About 60 percent of people living in North Kivu province are experiencing food insecurity, according to an analysis carried out in late 2016 based on the Consolidated Approach for Reporting Indicators of Food Security (CARI). Of those, 21 percent are severely food insecure, says Christophe Ndibeshe, the North Kivu Provincial Minister of Agriculture and Development.
Basse, the MONUSCO spokesman, says his organization is fully aware of the threat the armed groups pose to the area’s civilian population.
“We, as MONUSCO, continue to engage with and neutralize them with the help of Congolese security forces and army,” he says. “We are working closely with the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR) to reduce these groups’ capacity [and] to harm and neutralize them.”
Sylvestre Ndahayo, GPJ, translated the article from French.