Felicia Ibingou is a farmer without land. But she has found refuge in recent months in the old cemetery of Mongo-Kamba, northwest of the city of Pointe-Noire.
Ms. Ibingou used to rent a field at the edge of a creek, but it proved expensive. “Paying a lease did not make things easy for me, because I sometimes had financial troubles and was forced to stop. Here in Mongo-Kamba, nobody comes to claim rent from me,” she explains, removing a weed next to a maize plant.
The city closed the cemetery three years ago. Like Ms. Ibingou, other people grow food there. Peanuts, corn and sorrel all grow nicely on the fertile soil.
The lack of arable land is what forced these people to grow food in the cemetery. Pressure on land is a common reality in the Congo. In 1991, responsibility for land management was given to traditional chiefs. This has been blamed for the land problems in Pointe-Noire. The chiefs have been accused of selling everything, including land reserved for agriculture.
By farming in the cemetery of Mongo-Kamba, residents are trying to resolve the land issue for themselves.
César Ibouanga grows food in the cemetery. He says the rising price of consumer goods means that everybody needs some land to grow food. He continues, “But there is a lack of land. All the land belongs to the landowners. My wife and I … have just harvested two bags of peanuts … so we will not have to spend money on peanut butter, for example. This cemetery is a godsend. ”
But not everyone is happy. Using the cemetery to grow food is considered a desecration by many residents of Pointe-Noire. A woman known only as Jeannice says, “Today I have a hard time finding the grave of my grandmother because it was destroyed and replaced by a field of peanuts. Imagine the pain and suffering that causes me.”
Jacques Magloire Obabaka is director of the department of agriculture in Pointe-Noire. He’s also offended by the desecrated graves. He explains, “This shows insensitivity for the dead who should be resting peacefully. The cemetery is a place of compassion. It is difficult, with our customs, for a Congolese person to consume products of such agriculture.” He feels that lack of agricultural land is no excuse for growing food in the cemetery.
He adds: “The state is trying to find land for agriculture.” As an example, he says that agricultural villages have been set up in Imvouba, north of Brazzaville.
While some consumers feel that eating these products is immoral, others see no problem. Bob Mounbélé consumes food grown in the cemetery. He says, “From a moral standpoint, it must be said that we only live once. We have to stop giving in to these clichés that say ‘the dead are not dead.’ Man is of value only when he is alive.”
The residents of Mongo-Kamba are aware of the criticisms levelled against them. Expressing his regret at desecrating the graves, farmer Faustin Etikono explains that he has no choice. He suggests, “The state has to find agricultural land so that everyone is content.” He says that, like his neighbours, he will keep farming until the harvest is ready.