Democratic Republic of Congo

Families in the Democratic Republic of Congo city of Kisangani are seeking safer places to live to escape rising crime rates. But the military camp where many have moved is running out of space to accommodate them.

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.

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 — Seven years ago, Louise Moke left her home on the outskirts of the city of Kisangani for Camp Ketele. The mother of five says she made the move to the military base, east of the city, after her family was robbed in their home.

Living at the base makes Moke feel safe. Armed robbers wouldn’t dare barge into her home knowing that her neighbors are members of the military, she says.

Moke, a civilian, is not actually permitted to live at the camp. Only military staff and their family members can have houses here. Moke says she got lucky. She rents her home from a military officer, under the radar, for 50,000 Congolese francs (about $30) per month. If senior military personnel get wind of it, she’ll be kicked out. Moke is willing to take that risk. Her family’s safety is her priority, she says.

Moke is not the only civilian that calls Camp Ketele home. Others have erected modest structures and moved their families in, with the help of friends who already live there. Some, like Moke, buy land or rent their homes from military personnel. Many say they’ve come to the camp to escape growing crime in Kisangani, a city with an estimated population of over a million.

Some people who are just settling into the camp say frequent power cuts are to blame for Kisangani’s crime surge. When it’s nighttime and the electricity goes out in parts of the city, perpetrators break into homes.

Many of the people who have left Kisangani and moved into Camp Ketele in recent years were attacked by armed robbers, says Albert Tumu, chief of Katako, a neighborhood not too far from the military camp. These violent crimes are why civilians keep coming to the camp, Tumu says.

Camp Ketele itself hasn’t always been a safe place to live. Human Rights Watch documented killings of both civilians and military personnel at the military base in the early 2000s, when the Congolese government fought Rwandan-backed armed groups in the east of the country.

Now, people in Kisangani consider the military base a safe haven, says Colonel Patrick Losako, the officer in charge of accommodation and logistics for Kisangani’s armed forces.

There are at least 62 civilian homes at the camp, Losako says.

Getting rid of civilians at the camp is a difficult task. There’s no way of telling who’s living in which home, Losako adds.

Marie Jeanne Mosolo, a mother of eight, says moving to the camp was one of the best decisions she’s made.

“My kids and I have chosen to live here alongside the military personnel in search of safety,” she says. “You see, my husband is no longer alive and I have to protect my kids.”

Mosolo has built a home on land that she says a military officer sold her.

It’s not uncommon to see or hear of officers selling land or renting homes to civilians, but this practice shouldn’t be happening, says Albert Masimo, a military officer living at the camp. It happens under the radar, without senior military personnel knowing, he adds. Those who purchase properties here have no intention of moving anywhere else.

As more and more civilians move to Camp Ketele, land has become scarce and day-to-day living has changed for those who are allowed to live here.

“My family and I can no longer find a space in the camp to get fresh air because every inch of unoccupied space has been taken up with houses constructed by civilians,” Masimo says.

Ndahayo Sylvestre, GPJ, translated the article from French.

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