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Democratic Republic of Congo

A monthly column featuring stories on the nuances and realities of life in Kirumba, Democratic Republic of Congo.

KIRUMBA, DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF CONGO — On January 29, a young man was hacked to death by a furious mob because of rumors that he had stolen rabbits. It was 1 p.m. He died in the middle of a street.

Four days later, in a town 30 kilometers (18.5 miles) away, a thief was hacked to death and his body set on fire by a group of young people.

About three weeks later, on February 21, in a town 7 kilometers (4 miles) from my home in Kirumba, a young man was caught stealing solar panels from someone’s home. All hell broke loose. He was killed on the spot.

Then there was the father of five who on March 20 was tracked down on suspicion of stealing small livestock. He was killed that night, and his home was destroyed.

That episode was followed by the discovery of a body tied to a group of goats on a highway. That man was killed because he was suspected of having stolen the same goats.

The stories go on and on, because mob justice is the new normal here.

And as a mother doing double duty as a grandmother, I have some questions for my compatriots.

Why have we become so barbaric? Do you remember the days – not too long ago – when, as neighbors, we offered advice to each other and behaved as a community?

Why have these crimes become commonplace? Why are these killings treated with impunity?

Do we remember when a pickpocket was caught and would be marched to the village elders for his fate to be decided calmly and fairly? Village elders, where are you? Are you so corrupt that you no longer seek justice? Are you listening when we say we want peace to prevail here?

Have we forgotten that we love our country?

Do we need more education and more infrastructure to remind ourselves that we love each other? Did we forget that we were once a united, dignified community?

Or, maybe, do we need new forms of justice? Do we need better courts and more prisons to remind us that people deserve due process rather than violence, when mistakes are made?

Do we want to be known as the generation that turned DRC around? Or are we content to be known as remorseless killing machines?

As a reporter, it’s my job to document this place. I will write the truth, whether I like it or not. So it is up to us, my compatriots, to change our story.

Ndayaho Sylvestre, GPJ, translated the column from French.