December 12, 2016
KIRUMBA, DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF CONGO — The sounds of the overwhelming sadness of mourning can be heard throughout this small, rural community.
Some people sit on the ground, weeping for a loved one whose body was just recovered. Others stand in small groups, telling stories about the life of a lost family member or sharing details about how the death occurred.
But some prefer to keep busy. They cook, pound grains with a pestle in the mortar, fetch water—anything to support the families of the deceased.
INSIDE THE STORY: Death comes often in Lubero territory in Democratic Republic of Congo, where armed conflicts have been ongoing for decades. In the community where GPJ’s Merveille Kavira Luneghe lives, a support group was formed to help the growing number of families that have lost loved ones. Read the blog.
This time, it’s the wife and eight children of Ezekia Walumbirene who are mourning. The husband and father, who was in his early 50s, was kidnapped on a June evening from his corner shop in Kikuvo, 10 kilometers (6.2 miles) from Kirumba. He was found dead not long after, with his hands and legs tied.
When someone dies, the community comes together through an association they formed called Silwamughuma, a Nande word that means “no single human being is immune to death.” The group, which has more than 1,500 members, was created so that community members could support one another as family members and loved ones continued to die.
The group’s support is offered in various ways.
“When my brother-in-law disappeared, men in my village mobilized themselves for his search,” says Walumbirene’s brother-in-law Jean Baptiste Mbakaniaki, 32, who operates a motorcycle taxi in Kirumba. “When his dead body was discovered, community members came to our help during his burial and offered any necessary support.”
Merveille Kavira Luneghe, GPJ DRC
Silwamughuma was founded a year ago, says Kalwahali Mulwana, the group’s permanent secretary. When someone dies, the group provides the family with firewood, cassava chips and sweet potatoes. Group members each contribute 200 Congolese francs (20 cents) every time there is a funeral, he says.
“As the name of our association implies, death is not limited to any single person,” he says. “Today it may be my turn, and tomorrow it could be your turn.”
The group has helped more than 40 families since it formed, he says.
Chaos has taken over the southern Lubero territory and has become a way of life here. Killings, kidnappings and sexual assault are all common. With the chaos comes poverty. Agriculture is the primary occupation here, but workers are fearful of being kidnapped from their fields.
Innocent Kipura, deputy commander of the National Police in Kirumba, says the violence escalated recently as armed groups have made their presence permanent and as unemployment forces many people into crime.
“Today, we are witnessing the increase in the crime rates, especially murder and kidnapping,” he says. “Poverty and unemployment are the cause of insecurity.”
Each month, Kipura says, there are about four murders in Kirumba, which has a population of about 35,000.
“We provide security services,” Kipura says. “We deploy a lot of efforts to eradicate this scourge, but we’re requesting the population to collaborate with us by giving us information to facilitate the timely arrest of the criminals.”
Silwamughuma might help with that, too. Local people say the group has prompted their own discussions about the violence—a topic that they often avoid.
“As for insecurity, we do not talk about it,” says Muhindo Mwira, 39. “I wonder if the world has come to an end or not!”
Mwira hopes more conversations will help people come up with ideas to stop the violence, from which he, like most people here, has suffered.
He says his neighbor, a farmer, was camping in his fields when he was kidnapped. A group of men from Silwamughuma set out to look for him.
“His skeleton was found after three months,” Mwira says. “We were able to identify the body through the clothes which were placed besides the skeleton.”
The farmer was 60 years old when he died, Mwira says.
“I am grateful to Silwamughuma because we’ve managed to cope with the loss of my dearest friend and recover his skeleton thanks to it,” Mwira says.
People must unite if they hope to cope with the constant loss of loved ones, says Jeannine Mutangi, a 30-year-old nurse who is a member of Silwamughuma.
“On Aug. 13, 2016, Baide Kakolele was found chopped into pieces and some of his body parts burned to ashes in southern Lubero,” she says. “He was a father of 3. We buried bones only.”
Mutangi knew Baide Kakolele before his death. She says the group gave Kakolele’s wife money to start a small business.
Kavira Karasisi, a farmer, says he joined Silwamughuma to help grieving families access food. He has provided families with beans, firewood, cassava, sweet potatoes, grains, maize, soap, onions, cooking oil, clothing and charcoal.
“I view this mutual self-help initiative as a sign of togetherness and solidarity among the residents in these difficult times,” he says.
For Evariste Kavula, a local trader, joining Silwamughuma was an easy choice.
Death is a frequent visitor here, Kavula says.
“When one sleeps and wakes up alive, it is thanks to divine grace,” he says.
His uncle was killed by someone who wanted the money he earned after selling a plot of land, Kavula says.
“The association was quick to come to the rescue of the bereaved family,” he says. “At the time of his burial, almost every member of the village was present.”
Ndayaho Sylvestre translated this story from French.