[Editor's Note: After a disputed election caused increased incidents of violence and chaos in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Joseph Kabila was finally sworn in as president on Tuesday.
The incumbent campaigned on promises to improve business and increase development in the country, but so far violence has plagued the start of his second term.
But Kabila has another problem, one equally, if not more, important, and that is solving the issue of land rights. In the Winter 2011/2012 issue of World Policy Journal, Megan Camm explores how solving land rights will help bring the DRC closer to a much needed period of stability.]
By Megan Camm
ITURI, Democratic Republic of the Congo—It is July 20, 2010, and Djupanyahonoré is a ghost town populated by 644 ghosts. The heaped skeletons of its dwellings lie cold, but the acrid tang of burned houses pollutes the mountain air. Bending at their hips, the women of this northeastern hamlet scoop charred beans into the folds of their colorful pagnes, multi-purpose swaths of waxed cotton that serve at once as clothing, baby slings, and blankets. With laden skirts, they walk barefoot over blackened thatch to add their beans to a growing heap, where grandmothers with arthritic fingers pick out the edible ones. Old men sit silently in the shade while the young men rummage through rubble, excavating the remains of their huts’ wooden supports. These will fuel the evening cooking fire and protect the oldest, youngest, and weakest members of the community from plummeting night temperatures. It’s the rainy season, and at an altitude of over 5,500 feet, passing the night without shelter is hazardous.
The children, gray with fine soot, are not playing. One boy sits outside the shell of his home, ankles tucked to the side, arms drawn into his shirt, hands clasped under his cheek, staring listlessly at the ground. The only manmade sounds are an occasional solitary wail and the plinking of beans into salvaged cooking pots.
UN Habitat, the United Nations body tasked with mediating land conflicts in eastern Congo, arrives in a neighboring village this morning, just a day after the attack. A small contingent of Indian UN peacekeepers and a sizeable, somber crowd of Djupanyahonoré eager to present evidence of the previous day’s events are waiting for the team of three mediators. Each has already been apprised of the basics. The Djupamula, a neighboring clan that shares a grandfather with the Djupanyahonoré, and the Djuparigi, their allies, ambushed the village of Djupanyahonoré at about 7 a.m., after most able bodied men and women had already left for their fields.
The assailants came brandishing machetes, lances, and clubs. The Djupanyahonoré fled into the forest, leaving behind their tattered Congolese francs, bibles and saint cards, household goods, clothing, blankets, crude farming tools, and recent bean harvest, meant to sustain them through the coming dry season. The Djupanyahonoré insist the attackers arrived with 30 to 40 armed local police, there to loot before the Djupamula torched 80 or 90 houses. Either way, most Djupanyahonoré returned home to find what little they owned gone or ruined.
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Megan Camm, former managing editor of the Harvard Health Policy Review, has been researching land conflicts in eastern Congo under a grant from the Overseas Press Club Foundation.
[Photo: Megan Camm]