AFRICA GREAT LAKES: To Bunia and back

21 February 2009
AFRICA GREAT LAKES: To Bunia and back

by Rosemarie Milazzo and Cliff Kindy

Last November the international press depicted North Kivu, DRC, as a war zone.  Media reported homes burning, people chased by gunfire, the rapes of women, and children taken to be soldiers.  Gunfire and screams filled the TV screen.

On 21 January 2009, Rosemarie Milazzo and Cliff Kindy left in the morning darkness on a bus full of baggage and travelers, eager to get to Butembo on the way north through North Kivu to Bunia.  At the first checkpoint, soldiers laughingly said, "All is well.  The war is over."  The scene was one of movement: CNDP rebel soldiers traveling south towards incorporation into government forces, government soldiers traveling north to replace the rebels.  Further north CPTers saw Rwandan troops.  A passenger explained they had crossed the border under an agreement with the DRC government.

Women sang and danced as they saw the government troops move by.  CPTers saw farmers back on the land and homeowners re-thatching and re-plastering abandoned houses.  Kindy and Milazzo passed through Rutshuru and Kiwanja, where media had covered killings and displacements.  In Kiwanja, immigration officers stopped the CPTers, and, refusing copies of their passports, questioned them for an hour.  The bus driver and passengers kept asking the officials to release the CPTers, who encouraged the bus to go without them.  The driver declared, however,  "No, we take care of our passengers!"  An Immigration official went back to Rutshuru, and returned with the commander who cleared the two.

The bus continued through Virungu National Park where passengers saw monkeys and deer that had returned since the war.  They later spotted elephants.  

Next morning, the Bunia bus filled and departed but later ran out of gas.  A motorbike driver siphoned his gas for the bus.  In Luna, immigration officials again stopped CPTers and requested money.  The bus passengers massed outside the office, refusing to leave the CPTers until the officials released them.

After the CPTers finally arrived in Bunia, Anglican Bishop Henri Isingoma's representative met them and took them to the Hotel Amical.  War had ravaged this large hotel, leaving only the side where Kindy and Milazzo stayed intact.  The CPTers also met with Bishop Isingoma, the MONUC (UN Forces in the Congo) Director and Security Officer, an activist with artisanal gold miners, and a staff member from the Ministry of Health.  In Bunia, relatively free of war for two years, active shops and markets were visible signs of new life.  

The return bus trip to Goma went rapidly in spite of four flats.  In Kiwanja on the return trip, the team witnessed streams of people returning with piles of household goods as others were returning from working their farms.  Villagers seemed to be settling in, with Rwandan troops guarding the area.  Kindy and Milazzo arrived in Goma early evening.