Democratic Republic of Congo

How Mediators in DRC Are Doing What the Courts Can’t

Land disputes in Democratic Republic of Congo are common – but getting justice often isn’t. Frustrated with the court system, local people in a North Kivu village are now taking their cases to a mediation organization, hoping for quicker turnarounds and fair resolutions.

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How Mediators in DRC Are Doing What the Courts Can’t

Merveille Kavira Luneghe, GPJ DRC

Salomon Kakule Kaniki, the spokesman for CIDDHOPE, a mediation service, tells people in the village of Kamandi how the service works. People in DRC who seek court resolutions in disputes say they often wait years and pay large bribes and fees, only to be left with an unresolved problem. CIDDHOPE’s mediation, some local people say, lets them bypass the local court system.

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KAMANDI, DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF CONGO — This mountainside community is known for its rocky soil and cool breeze that sweeps in from Lake Edward. There’s a school here, as well as a military camp for the national army.

It was about three kilometers (just under two miles) from here, at the border of the neighboring village of Vuhoyo, that Muhindo Karupiya, a 65-year-old traditional chief, was involved in a land boundary dispute. Such disputes are common here, where land is often a person’s most tangible form of wealth.

Karupiya says he took his case to the local authorities in Kamandi. From there, he says, he was referred to the Batangi chieftaincy in Bingi, a community about 55 kilometers (34 miles) away. Finally, Karupiya and the other party in the dispute went to the district court, known as the Tribunal de Grande Instance, in Butembo, about 150 kilometers (93 miles) away.

But even there, Karupiya says, there was no resolution.

“Each and every day we were advised to pay money, but the case resulted in an unsatisfactory judgment because the other party had already bribed the judges,” he says.

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Merveille Kavira Luneghe, GPJ DRC

People in the village of Kamandi in DRC’s North Kivu province must often travel far to have their disputes heard in court. CIDDHOPE, a mediation service, works in the immediate area so that people can resolve their cases without spending too much money.

Like in most instances of corruption, there’s little hard evidence that bribes are common in DRC’s local court systems. But local people say money often changes hands among officials here.

In the end, Karupiya says, he returned to Kamandi and asked for help from CIDDHOPE, a local organization that has provided mediation services since 2013. The organization’s name stands for Cercle International pour la Défense des Droits de l’Homme, la Paix et l’Environnement. It now operates in North Kivu and Ituri provinces.

(In English, the name translates to International Circle for the Defense of Human Rights, Peace and the Environment. Read more about CIDDHOPE’s work.)

Immediately, CIDDHOPE launched an investigation, Karupiya says. The dispute was resolved soon after that, and no one paid a dime.

CIDDHOPE’s program is free to people who need it, says CIDDHOPE spokesman Salomon Kakule Kaniki. Its funding comes from Amnesty International, he says.

Kaniki says that Lubero territory, where Kamandi is located, is a hotbed for land disputes and other conflicts. He adds that the organization mediates about one dispute each month. Local people save time and money and eliminate the potential for minor spats to grow into major problems. The mediation process involves respected local people, including religious leaders, land chiefs and others.

In one example, Kaniki says, three families in a community about 5 kilometers (3 miles) from Kamandi had a boundary dispute that became so severe that there was a possibility of violence. The case had been pending in a court in Goma, the capital of DRC’s North Kivu province, to no avail. In 2018, Kaniki says, CIDDHOPE took on the case and successfully resolved it.

Each and every day we were advised to pay money, but the case resulted in an unsatisfactory judgment because the other party had already bribed the judges.

CIDDHOPE resolves 70% of the cases it takes on, he says.

That’s a far cry from the bureaucratic holdup people say they experience when they rely on the government’s court system.

“Corrupt state services thrust us into perpetual conflicts, and we can no longer put our trust in them,” says Siméon Kambale Katughuta, a 30-year-old farmer. “CIDDHOPE manages conflicts to such an extent that both parties remain friends.”

Katughuta and others say that CIDDHOPE’s mediation strategies help both parties maintain dignity. The court system, on the other hand, nearly always requires both parties pay large sums of money, including fees to corrupt officials, and ultimately there is still a winner and loser.

“At CIDDHOPE, there’s no discrimination or corruption,” says Kumba Muhindo Mughanda, a 68-year-old neighborhood chief. “There isn’t anyone who pays for the service. Not one penny. And expressing gratitude is all it takes.”

Ndahayo Sylvestre, GPJ, translated the article from French.