Poverty still a reality
By Newton Kanhema
Published: 01-MAY-03

My visit to the Eastern Congo province of Ituris in April opened a new world that I never imagined was still in existence on the African sub-region. The province is one of the richest in minerals, with the best agricultural soil and best weather and yet its people are poorer than any other on the continent. I had never thought there were so many people still living under so much mass poverty in central Africa.

When one flies over or drives through this province, one can only think of one word - paradise. The landscape is breathtaking and hence Iturians have fallen victim of a power struggle of three governments fighting to establish control.

The people of Ituri have found themselves in the middle of a crossfire that they have no understanding of. And lately some of the villages have been turned into killing fields. Attacks by rival militias have claimed thousands of innocent lives. Hundreds of the killed were victims of machetes and pangas.

The ethnic fighting in the region which has been raging on for the past few decades claimed few lives because the communities used bows and arrows in their fights but their fighting has been turbo-charged by an incredible supply of modern weaponry by governments of Rwanda, Uganda and Kinshasa in their quest for control. The militias, who worked independently, have now been trained and now co- ordinate their attacks which have become so efficient to grab headlines through out the world.

The conflict has been poisoned by the infiltration of the their fight by some Rwandan hardened killers who were on the forefront of the 1994 genocide. Apart from adopting their killing style, the lendu militias especially has adopted the interahamwe ideology which advocates victory via the extermination of their perceived enemy. This ideology calls for killing all women and children in the neighbourhood of the rival villages.

This ideology calls for killing all women and children in the neighbourhood of the rival villages

The attackers in this village are also known to eat human flesh and my visit there revealed more information than I could stomach. The attackers are reported to eat the liver, heart and men's genitals raw soon after they kill.

Most of the bodies, buried in mass graves at Drodro, had their chests opened with the heart and liver missing. Some men were buried with their genitals removed. Yes, a Lendu chief has confirmed to me that his people do cut off these parts but for a different reason from eating. He claimed there are some people with juju (people who wake up the dead from their death) so the idea is to make such activity impossible.

The province does not have a single inch of tarred road, therefore travelling on these roads is almost impossible. Unless one drives a four-wheel drive it is futile to drive when the roads are wet.

Apart from being muddy, the roads are also dangerous because militias ambush vehicles. I took the risk of driving from the provincial capital to a village called Drodro where 1,037 people were killed in three hours on 3 April.

One villager, Loyiwa Mulindo who had his hand chopped off and his abdomen cut open with a panga, asked me several questions, which made me realise the complexity of conflict in this region.

"Now that you have visited us and you have seen our suffering, does this mean things are going to be better? Will I come out of this hospital alive? If I do, where will I go when they burnt my home and left me with one hand? Who will help me build another one? Is there any authority out there? We accepted Joseph Kabila as our president and he has never been here since he took power.

So, who is our leader?" asked the villager. I had no answer.

Of course I had no answer to these questions but neither does the people in the UN, in South Africa, in Kigali, Kampala and Kinshasa who make decisions with far reaching implications on little lives of people in this mineral rich region. At least mine is to report and not to decide and I wish those who played God did so from a point of knowledge and not from mere ego, ignorance and selfish interests.

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